Indiana Jones stuntman still in show at Hollywood Studios
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The role was so secret that Kevin Brassard didn’t know what he was auditioning for.
Some character named Jack, he thought.
But when he found out the character was Indiana Jones, the 29-year-old actor knew he couldn’t say no. He got the part.
“Heck, yes! Where do I sign?” Brassard said Thursday.
It was 1989, and Walt Disney World was on the verge of opening a third theme park. Disney-MGM Studios was built as a place to bring movie-making magic up close.
Brassard, a California native who had been performing in the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue dinner show at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, was cast to play the stuntman portraying the Harrison Ford movie role and entertain guests in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
The $20 million show would take the audience behind the scenes and re-enact three famous action scenes from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
For nine months, Brassard and two other Indys rehearsed outside on an unassuming makeshift stage at a Disney warehouse. Passers-by driving assumed the scaffolding was there was to paint the building.
It was a time when secrets were easier to keep. No Instagram, no Twitter, no relentless Disney bloggers speculating since the show hadn’t been officially announced yet.
Playing Indiana Jones was relentlessly physical. There’s always a rope to climb up or down, something to dodge, a rooftop to leap off. Even the simpler stunts were sometimes hard, like rolling on the concrete ground.
Brassard felt sore at first as he began conditioning his body for the role.
Teaching him how to crack the famous whip and throw a punch was Glenn Randall, who coordinated the stunts on the actual film set.
As they rehearsed, Disney MGM-Studios opened without them on May 1, 1989.
More than three months later, it was finally the show’s opening day — Aug 25, 1989.
Brassard felt the excitement during the hustle and bustle before the debut 11 a.m. show.
His favorite part: The grand entrance.
“As an actor, I’ve been given one of the most wonderful entrances onto any stage in the world, and you only get to do it if you’re Indiana Jones,” Brassard said. “That’s the rope drop.”
For the first time, the crowd in the 2,000-seat theater watched the iconic scene that followed as Brassard was chased by a giant boulder and fell, disappearing.
George Lucas and Disney CEO Michael Eisner ran onto the stage.
“I’m OK!” said Brassard to them, getting up.
As the plane appeared on stage for the finale, the crowd went berserk, Brassard remembered.
The run for what is the park’s longest running attraction, 30 years later, had begun.
Brassard sometime performed in four shows a day.
“If you did a double (shift), you did eight,” he said.
Show after show, day after day, he told himself, “First time,” his mantra to remind him it was the first time anyone had ever seen him perform. It energized him.
Brassard became a Disney celebrity of sorts.
Sometimes, people looked at him at the mall, trying to place where they’d seen him before.
After each show, no matter how tired, he gave autographs to children waiting to meet him.
And Brassard was the major hit at Parent’s Day at his children’s school, wearing his Indy hat and using his whip on the teacher — safely, of course.
But on stage, the stunts he performed came with a real risk that perhaps the audience didn’t fully understand as they laughed and gasped for 30 minutes.
In 2009, a performer practicing a routine tumbling roll in the show landed awkwardly and later died. OSHA cleared Disney of any wrongdoing after the investigation into his death.
Brassard said he only had minor injuries over the years, like a dislocated ankle or shoulder in the 27 years he played Indy full-time.
Now called Hollywood Studios. the park celebrated its 30th anniversary this month amid a transformation different from the park’s early days as Disney plans to open Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in August.
But the show still connects with Disney-goers, said Matt Roseboom, publisher of Orlando-based Attractions Magazine.
“It’s a classic,” Roseboom said.
And sure enough, the venue is packed for the 3:15 p.m. show Thursday where Brassard, now 58, who has salt-and-pepper hair and the same chiseled jaw from his youth, still performs. He trains the next generation’s of Indiana Jones actors and also plays the part of the show’s “director.”
“That’s a wrap!” Brassard says at the show, which stars a 36-year-old actor playing Indy.
One of the audience members — retired Valparaiso basketball coach Homer Drew who led the team to a famous Cinderella run in the 1998 NCAA tournament — lingers afterward to shake Brassard’s hand and praise the show. Drew’s granddaughter, Anna Shaw, 18, had been handpicked from the crowd to be an extra.
But Brassard hasn’t quit the whip.
He fills in for the lead role, from time to time, like he did a few weeks ago which makes him the oldest performer to ever play the role.
He’s not ready to give up his active membership in the exclusive club — the roughly 40 Disney performers who have played Indy over the three decades.
“I’m going to do it until my body says, ‘No,’” Brassard says.
Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/