So a few weeks ago at the worst convention I ever did I had the pleasure of meeting a super nice guy, Danny Nero. He notice the Jayne Cobb Damage My Calm t-shirt and said “Oh, I’ve never seen that Adam shirt.”
(shirt image below courtesy of the television t shirt category)
While I know many fans who refer to characters by the actors name, there was something a little more familiar in the way Danny said it that caught my attention. I started talking to him and it turns out he had worked as a stand in for both Adam Baldwin and Nathan Fillion on Firefly and Serenity. Furthermore, he has worked in Hollywood for years on any number of sci fi or horror films, and has had the pleasure of working for Joss Whedan several times.
For me this was like finding a winning lottery ticket in my wallet. I asked if he would be willing to do an interview with me for this blog and he was kind enough to agree. We then began corresponding via email with me sending him questions and he responding. I have done this before and have gotten good results, but nothing prepared me for the wealth of material Danny provided me. Great stories and awesome insights into the nuts and bolts of working with Joss and in Hollywood in general.
I will now present the interview over several blog posts. I think you will all agree what a great guy Danny is (also, he gave me some great behind-the-scenes photos).
Dave: Danny, you were a stand in on Firefly for its entire run, yes? Could you describe for those readers not familiar with film production what it means to work as a stand in? What are your duties, and what function is served by your role?
Danny: Yes I was both Nathan’s and Adam’s stand-in for the entire run which I believe went from July to December. It went by so quickly! If Nathan and Adam were in the same shot together, then we had an additional guy. Being the same height of the actor is important so the camera crew can line up on you as you proceed through the setup of the scene. We watch carefully everything the actor does and then become the “2nd team” as the “1st team” goes off to makeup, wardrobe, hair, or the comfort of their chair. It saves wear and tear on them and if any changes need to be made, we give the actor the notes concerning the change. It might be just something regarding where they should look or a slight change in their position.
D: Is it a good job? Would you recommend it for any viewers wanting to work in Hollywood? If so how could one get into it?
Danny: I really enjoy the job but it’s not for everyone! It requires a concentration and focus that not everyone is able to do. It also usually only places you in front of the camera when it’s not rolling, which is fine with me! I hate seeing myself on screen! There are times on my current show “Grey’s Anatomy” that we stand-ins double as doctors but it’s almost always deep in the background. I really just got into it on a fluke when the guy who was standing-in for Craig T. Nelson on “Poltergeist 2″ quit because he hated the bluescreen work in a harness on cables. It was 1985 and I had been doing Extra work off and on for about 4 years so I jumped at the steady work with extra pay for the wire work. Yes it was uncomfortable as Hell but it led to me doing the rest of the feature and every job since! If you want to be a stand-in, you really have to work your way into it from being an extra most of the time. It also requires you to be a member of the Screen Actors Guild or AFTRA. You might get lucky if you can work on a show that’s non-union somewhere. Along with height, your skin tone should be close as well as your hair color. I never could get close to George Hamilton’s skin color when I stood in for him on “Jenny” several years ago!
D: Did you work directly with Joss Whedon? If so, what is he like to work with?
Danny: I met him some time that first week of episode 1 season 1 of “Angel”. I’d heard of “Buffy” but had never seen it so I didn’t know much of the back story of the character I was going to stand-in for. I think Joss was directing and several crew members thought we were brothers! I watched him as he effortlessly set each scene both with an artistic eye and practical eye for what would be possible to do with the least amount of camera setups. That’s the luxury you have on a feature film when you can take 3 months to shoot a 2 hour film but must shoot an hour TV show (42 minutes actually) in 8 or 9 days. It didn’t take me long to realize how Joss could juggle 2 shows and who knows what else he had in development at the same time. He has one of those remarkable minds that is going non-stop and has more memory and knowledge than is humanly possible!