‘Expendables 4’ Director Scott Waugh Talks Doubling Rufio in ‘Hook’ and Learning a Hard Lesson on ‘Last Action Hero’

Before John Wick ushered in a new era of stuntmen turned directors, Expend4bles director Scott Waugh was one of the few exceptions to pull off the feat. Following in the footsteps of his older brother Ric Roman Waugh, the younger Waugh made his own luck by funding 2012’s Act of Valor and co-directing the action film alongside Mouse McCoy. The film starred active-duty Navy SEALS, and its success then opened the door for Waugh to direct Need for Speed for Disney, as well as DreamWorks head Steven Spielberg.

Expend4bles is now Waugh’s fifth feature film, and he managed to cross off a major bucket-list item in working with Sylvester Stallone. The duo were supposed to join forces with Jackie Chan on Waugh’s other 2023 film, Hidden Strike, but the volatility of Hollywood schedules led to Stallone’s exit. However, Waugh still managed to bring a bit of Chan’s influence to Stallone’s final go-round as an Expendable.

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“I really wanted to elevate the fights,” Waugh tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And having just worked with Jackie’s Hong Kong stunt team, I went to Jason Statham and I was like, ‘Hey man, what if we brought in [stunt coordinator] Alan Ng from Jackie’s stunt team to really bring some special sauce to the film?’ And he was super excited about it.”

Both the Waugh brothers grew up in the entertainment industry, as their father, Fred Waugh, was a noted stuntman turned second-unit director. They even worked as stuntmen on many of their father’s sets. Waugh also regards his father as the original Spider-Man, since he was the stunt double for Nicholas Hammond’s Spider-Man in TV movies and series during the late ‘70s.

In light of the recent 30th anniversary of John McTiernan and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero and its positive reappraisal over time, Waugh has complicated feelings about the film that included his father as second-unit director and him and his brother as stuntmen.

“I learned a very valuable lesson from my father on Last Action Hero,” Waugh says. “He got blackballed after that film because they blamed the film’s budget on him, and it was just very unfortunate. So it made me aware of how quickly a fall guy [stuntman] can become the fall guy.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Waugh also looks back on Spielberg’s impressive memory and how he remembered him as the stunt double for the iconic introduction of Rufio (Dante Basco) in Hook. Then he recalls his unique history with Oscar winner Rami Malek.

So Expendables 4 took a while to develop. When you came on board in the middle of 2021, was the script pretty close to what ended up on the screen? Or did you still have to do some tinkering?

No, I was blessed to have come on board the franchise four weeks before filming. And at that point, most of the cast was set and the script was locked. So I just came in to direct the film and hopefully elevate some of the action and try to lean into some of the fun.

The Expendables 4
Scott Waugh on the Set of The Expendables 4

You have a credit on Stallone’s The Specialist, and you also did stunts on The One and The Italian Job, which co-starred Statham. Did those points of connection come up at all in order to build rapport?

For me, I just talked about what was at hand. That’s what I did with them, but if they wanted to bring that up, sure, I’d have no problems with it. But I’m the kind of a guy who believes that there’s a reason why the rear-view mirror is so small and the windshield is so big. When I was a stuntman, you really do remain in the shadows. You’re there to do your job and leave. And like on those particular films, I’ve been blessed to have worked with pretty much every single action hero back in my stunt days. But now, most people don’t look at me like that. So I don’t think [Stallone and Statham] even associated me with my previous career.

From your Jackie Chan movie Hidden Strike that was released earlier this year and now this, you’ve added a lot of big names to your list of collaborators as director. Does that sort of thing still affect you like it probably did in your early days? Has the movie star novelty worn off? 

Being raised by my father [Fred Waugh], the original Spider-Man [from the late-‘70s TV movies and TV series], I’ve been super lucky to grow up in the film business. So I don’t look at anybody any different whether they’re the grip or the actor. I really treat everybody the same and look at everybody the same. We’re all there to service the film. Yeah, there are some childhood idols that led me into the business or inspired me to be a filmmaker, and Sly is one of them. I cannot deny that Rocky is one of the greatest movies. So to work with Sly and direct Sly is a box I’ve always wanted to check. It was a thrill for me to collaborate with somebody like him. It’s pretty special.

The Expendables 4
Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 4

I’d love to hear about your experience with Jackie and how that led to some of his stunt team working on Expendables 4.

Well, the impetus for me signing onto that film, Hidden Strike, was that it was originally Sly and Jackie together. I was super excited about working with both of the pioneers of the action landscape, but the timing didn’t work out. We got closer to production, and Sly’s schedule didn’t align, so he couldn’t do the film and we got John Cena instead. But working with Jackie was really special. Of course, he’s another actor who can do all his own stunts and he’s always even better than the stunt double. His skill level is so high that I’d always go, “Hey Jackie, can you do this because you’re better than your double?” And he’d laugh.

And when it came to doing Expendables, I really wanted to elevate the fights. And having just worked with Jackie’s Hong Kong stunt team, I went to Jason Statham and I was like, “Hey man, what if we brought in [stunt coordinator] Alan Ng from Jackie’s stunt team to really bring some special sauce to the film?” And he was super excited about it, so that’s how it came to be on this film.

The Expendables 4
The Expendables 4

I’ve gone on trips with big groups of friends, and it’s impossible to get everybody on the same page for something as simple as breakfast. So how does one manage this many action stars in one room and get them on the same page? 

You just have to be confident in the story you’re telling, but let’s answer that question from a military standpoint. If you’re in the military and you’re a lieutenant, you’ve got a bunch of sergeants and ensigns below you, and you need all of these alphas to do what you need them to do. So you have to lead in a way that they trust you, and if you gain their trust, they’ll do whatever you want. So, to me, it’s very important as a director that you know the story you’re telling and that the actors believe in the story you’re telling. They will then adhere to your advice because they know we’re all telling the right story and the same story. So when you’re dealing with alpha males and alpha females, it’s extremely important to put another alpha into that equation or you’re going to get eaten alive.

Does it take a gifted camera operator to track Tony Jaa’s speed? 

Absolutely. The way I liked to move the camera during all the fights, you need a very agile cameraman. And Tim [Maurice-Jones], my DP, ended up operating most of the fights because he’s a really strong camera operator as well as a DP. So we pushed his envelope on comfortability and that style of fighting, but he did a great job.

Is Tony one of the fastest action stars you’ve ever seen?

No, to be honest. He’s fantastic, but Iko Uwais is equivalently as fast. They both have a very snappy style, but what I admire about Tony is his grace. His fights are extremely beautiful to watch in the way that he moves and his Muay Thai style. So it’s really pretty to watch.

Sly said a while ago that this would be the final Expendables movie, but maybe that’s outdated information. Did everyone approach it as the last go-round? Or is the door still open?

I think the door in any franchise is wide open when the fans want one. I mean, how many times have you and I heard that? They said the same thing on John Wick, but they’re talking about John Wick 5 now. So if the fans want one, Hollywood’s not shallow enough to deny the money possibility.

So it really feels like a special time for current and former stunt professionals, as more and more of your peers are making their way to the director’s chair. Of course, you and your brother [Ric Roman Waugh] did it, but now guys like Chad Stahelski, Dave Leitch, Sam Hargrave and J.J. Perry have all followed suit. Do you feel that the industry has a newfound respect for your stunt community?

It’s been a long road to have us action guys get into the first-unit seat, and it all really stemmed from [stuntman-turned-director] Hal Needham. Going back to Smokey and the Bandit, he was really the pioneer, and he was a quintessential stuntman. For guys like Chad, Dave, J.J. and Sam, they all really came from the fight world, and so Hollywood is letting them do what they do. They’re pretty much designing these movies around a “kicking ass and taking names” fight style, and it’s awesome. They are crushing it, and they’re at the top of their game. So Hollywood is finally embracing that action directors can direct actors.

When you and your brother pulled it off, did you feel like exceptions at the time? 

When my brother and I first got into the foray of first unit, it was definitely a difficult task. Hollywood was not really open to that. On Act of Valor [2012], I only got that chance because I put my own money into it. My company funded the film. So once the success of Act of Valor happened, then it kind of opened that door for myself. My brother has his own story, but for a while, they definitely looked down on stunt players as just stuntmen who needed to stay in their box. So I really do feel like the door has been cracked open, and I know there’s another push that’s been going on for decades to hopefully open the door a little bit wider into the Academy Awards. It’s been a fight that’s been going on forever, and they just love to keep the stuntman in his little chamber.

Progress is definitely being made on a stunt category at the Oscars. Has that lack of recognition always been a bit aggravating? 

To be honest with you, I don’t personally chase accolades. It’s not in my wheelhouse, so it’s not important to me at all. I make movies for my fans; I don’t make movies for the critics or the people giving awards. So for those of us making action movies, we really don’t fit too well in the Academy Awards as history will show. So do they deserve recognition? Absolutely. But there’s a lot of professions in the film business that deserve recognition. It’s not just stunt players. There are a lot of incredible grips and gaffers. You could go down the line, but there’s a lot of people that never get recognition, which is unfortunate. So if they get a category, great, but I’m still happy remaining in the shadows. Maybe that’s my DNA.

Despite what you’ve just said, I hope you’ll indulge me anyway. If you had to pretend that there was already a stunt category, what stunt would you submit for Oscar consideration during your time as a performer or as a director?

People always ask me, “What was the biggest stunt that you did?” and categorizing it would be very difficult. Whether it’s being lit on fire or jumping a car, how do you categorize which one’s more dangerous or more spectacular? They’re both very dangerous and unique in their own way. So there are a lot of stunts that I’ve been a part of in my career that were exciting and fun, but they all had their inherent danger. So I can’t categorize them because I’ve been lucky to have been a part of so many.

I remember taking my dad to see Need for Speed almost a decade ago, and the character who quit his job by streaking through his office building made quite an impression on us at the time. So you can imagine our surprise when that actor later climbed the ranks to become an Oscar and Emmy winner. So are you just as shocked by the career that Rami Malek has gone on to have?

(Laughs.) Rami and I go back even farther than that. I used to stunt double Rami on a [2005] TV show called Over There. He did a couple episodes, and I came in to stunt-double him. So when the idea of casting that Need for Speed character came up, Rami Malek was brought up, and I kept going, “Rami Malek!? I used to double him!” So when he came in to audition, it was super hilarious. We laughed together, because now I was on the other side of the camera and he had to read for me. So it was a special treat. And when you look at that film, there were several big pops that happened off of that film. Rami was one, and Dakota Johnson was another one. This was way before Fifty Shades and all that.

Dom Cooper, Imogen Poots …

Yeah, Imogen Poots is having her own rise now, too. Aaron [Paul] has obviously gone off to do what Aaron does, which is awesome. And honestly, that was the predecessor to Michael Keaton’s resurgence, too. It was right before Birdman and all that. So there were a lot of people that somehow got launched or relaunched off of that film.

You’ve done uncredited stunts on a number of movies such as Speed. What’s the reason for that lack of credit, usually? Did you not work enough days? 

It’s purely IMDb’s way of figuring out who was on it and who wasn’t, I guess. On bigger movies like Speed, hundreds and hundreds of stunt performers come in throughout the film, and somehow, some get lost in the IMDb world. I don’t know if it’s an algorithm thing or what, but you’re right. There’s definitely a lot of uncrediting happening, and it’s unfortunate. Everybody deserves credit when they do work on a film, and I don’t understand why the algorithm does that.

Another one of those uncredited situations was Hook. You likely answered this question already in regard to Stallone and Statham, but when DreamWorks hired you for Need for Speed, did Hook come up at all between you and Steven Spielberg? 

Yeah, that one is awesome. They brought me in to meet with Steven, and I was extremely nervous about that one. I have to be absolutely honest. It’s Steven Spielberg, and I was a stunt guy being asked to direct one of his movies. So I came in and they made me sit in this boardroom with everybody, and Steven was right next to me. So I looked at Steven, and we kind of idle chatted for a second. And I said, “Steven, you and I actually worked together, but it was a long time ago.” And then he looked at me and gave me that Steven look. And he was like, “Which movie?” And I said, “Hook.” And he went, “You doubled the kid on the skateboard, didn’t you?” And I thought, “How does he remember every single person? We worked together [21] years ago.” He remembered me as a young guy. So that’s why he’s Steven Spielberg, and that’s why I’m Scott Waugh. (Laughs.) He’s just got this incredible attribute to remember everything.

You doubled Rufio (Dante Basco)!?

Yeah, we did all the halfpipe stuff. [Writer’s Note: We’ve found his Oscar submission.]

Amazing. Last Action Hero just turned 30. What’s your takeaway from that experience?

Last Action Hero was kind of my father’s last hurrah as a second unit director, and a big highlight for me was what my father was able to accomplish on second unit with the camera work and the style and all the action with John McTiernan. But I learned a very valuable lesson from my father on Last Action Hero. He got blackballed after that film because they blamed the film’s budget on him, and it was just very unfortunate. So it made me aware of how quickly a fall guy [stuntman] can become the fall guy.

Well, he did great work, and that movie is finally getting the respect that it’s always deserved. I consider it a classic.

It’s a very fun movie, and I feel like people forgot that movies can be fun. So you’re right. It somehow got lost, and it’s cool when films finally find their light.

Expend4bles is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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