Hollywood stunt co-ordinator Tom Struthers has worked on some of the biggest films ever, from Titanic and the Batman franchise to Braveheart and Blood Diamond.
He is now something of a fixture in Abu Dhabi too. He was in town last year to shoot Bollywood hit Tiger Zinda Hai, and he's back for the Salman Khan-starring Race 3. Also, if Struthers gets his way, we might be seeing much more of him in the UAE.
“I’d love it if twofour54 offered me a job and I came back out for a year or something,” he says. “I’ve got some great friends here, both expats and Emirati, and I love it. My partner’s from Morocco, so culturally it’s quite close to her, and I really enjoy it.”
Struthers seems to be developing a close affinity for Liwa, where both films have shot extensively. "It's a lot like the part of Australia I come from, with all the dunes," he says. "But the dunes here are phenomenal. It's an amazing place. It reminds me of those epic shots from Lawrence of Arabia – it's a really special place."
Struthers' route into Hollywood was far from traditional. The stunt don was born in Australia, and then started his career as a rancher on his family's Zimbabwe farm. His first brush with celebrity came in Africa when a friend he met through polo was working on Young Indiana Jones and asked if he could supply some horses for the film. This led to an offer of a job on the movie.
"I knew nothing about movies but they were paying so I said, 'Why not?'" Struthers says. This job led to calls for Braveheart and Titanic, and the wheels on his new career were in motion. Struthers describes this phase of his career as his "apprenticeship".
When the Zanu-PF party came to power in Zimbabwe, he lost his home during the farm reclamations and moved to London. It was here that he started meeting big names from the industry, in particular, Christopher Nolan, who would become a mentor, regular collaborator and friend.
Struthers' work on Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond in 2006, meanwhile, led Leonardo DiCaprio to put him forward for a Green Card. And then suddenly he was part of the Hollywood furniture.
It has been a glowing career so far, although Struthers says he would struggle to pick one favourite stunt.
"We were actually talking about this today," he says. "One of the team said to me, 'You're always so intense about this, you never say this is just a commercial or whatever.' For me, whether it's a commercial film or a music video or whatever, I always give my all. It's just about work ethic.
“When I leave this world, if I can leave a product behind and people in 500 years will say, ‘he had a great work ethic’, that’s the legacy I want.”
But Struthers admits certain films do stand out. "One that sticks in the mind, I guess, was the first really big film I worked on, Braveheart," he says. "It was just so huge and I was running around like a dog, and that was when I realised I was really in my element."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his past in Africa, Blood Diamond is another personal favourite. "I loved Blood Diamond, and had a lot of input on that film," he says. "It was very personal because I married in Zimbabwe and my family lost our farm in the land reclamations, and that really is why I am where I am today."
His work with Nolan is another personal highlight. "The work with Chris was huge," he says. "I first started out as a stunt supervisor on the Batman films, so second-in-command of stunts, then he offered me the top job on Inception. That was intense.
“There were parts where Chris would have just two lines of script and I’d have to work out what to do with all these amazing actors. But I have a reputation for bringing out the best in actors and putting them in some amazing situations – but safely – and I think that’s helped my relationship with people such as Leo DiCaprio and Christian Bale.”
Despite Struthers’ evident respect for the actors he has worked with, it is clear that Nolan has been his greatest inspiration. “Chris has been a great mentor for me,” he says. “He’s such a brilliant mind but I don’t change the way I work for him. I’ve learnt so much from him about cameras and angles and what’s needed and what isn’t. I’m still a stunt co-ordinator but I’ve learnt so much from him.”
Struthers says that these experiences have been crucial to help him get the best out of the Race 3 shoot, which has travelled from Thailand to India and recently wrapped up in Abu Dhabi.
“Those lessons have really helped on this shoot because a lot of the Indian crew haven’t worked on something of this scale before, but I can put those lessons to good use and make sure we get the shots we need. I’m not here to direct the film, but I’m here to give the director exactly what he needs.”
Understandably, Struthers can't reveal too much about Race 3, but he does reveal that he is only working on the film's opening and closing sequences, which suggests that we can expect the film to begin and go out with a bang.
“I can say that they are epic sequences and the director is really happy with what he’s getting,” he says. “I’m determined to deliver the very best, and everyone understands that. I had Salman Khan on set today jumping sand dunes, and he’s great.
“He’s doing everything I say and taking my lead and he’s a delight to work with. He’s doing a great job. I know he’s well thought of in the UAE and that reputation is totally deserved.”
We often hear from Bollywood stars who have made the leap to Hollywood, and a recurring theme is that Hollywood productions are more organised than Bollywood ones. But Struthers has made the move the other way, and is full of praise for the Bollywood crew and the producers.
"I've got exactly the team I wanted, which I've never managed on a western film," he says. "I've got world championship winners on motorbikes, my main guy has doubled for Daniel Craig on the last four Bond films, I've got German stunt performers who I think are the best in Europe, my other co-ordinator is a brilliant engineer, a full engineering team, one of the Dunkirk team is running the cars … if I was going to do the next Bond or Bourne, I would take exactly this team with me."
Struthers concedes, however, that Bollywood can, at times, be a little less organised than the incredibly slick Hollywood machine.
“Western films are more organised, there’s no doubt about that,” he says. “But everyone’s heart is in the right place and they have a great work ethic and do a great job.
“If you’re willing to work hard, that’s half the job done. It’s a little different to Hollywood, too, in that I’m expected to look after the stunts, the effects, the budget.
“There may be less organisation, but the job gets done. They make thousands of films a year in India so they’re doing something right.”