An Interview with Jack Reacher’s Stunt Driver, Joey Box

In honor of today yesterday’s DVD/Blu-Ray release of Jack Reacher (much better than most people gave it credit for, in my bro-pinion), the residing publicist reached out to see if I’d be interested in interviewing the stunt driver who worked with Tom Cruise on the movie, Joey Box. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. How could I pass up the opportunity to interview a guy who sounds like a Soprano’s character?

“It’s actually the name I was born with, but yeah, I get that a lot,” Joey Box told me, sounding like a guy who gets that a lot.

I reached Joey Box by phone a few days ago as he was in the middle of some paperwork.

VINCE: So how did you originally get into stunt driving?

BOX: I had been a stunt man in motion pictures for 25 years now, and doubled many actors over the years. And, you know… as a stunt man you start out mostly hitting the ground, doing stunt falls. Unless you’re a racecar driver and you start out that way. But for the most part, driving’s something that you evolve to.

I don’t know what Drive world I was envisioning where stunt drivers are plucked from the motorcycle spheres at the Schenectady County Fair, but I was hoping for a better story than “it’s something you evolve to,” no matter how true it might be. Here’s the thing about stuntmen, plus a broader generalization about people who do crazy shit for a living: to them, it’s not crazy shit. To them it’s a job, and for a lot of them, talking about it is about as fascinating and you or I talking about filling out TPS reports. You kind of have to take them outside themselves, because in their world crashing cars is pretty banal.

VINCE: So the driving was something you sort of transitioned to from stunts?

BOX: Yeah, pretty much. The older guys teaching you some tricks, and going out and experimenting. And just being around it. Setting up car jumps, setting up turnovers, pipe ramps, cannon rolls. So much of stunt work is on the job training. You come with a certain set of skills, but the whole filmmaking aspect you’re learning as you go.

I suppose my fascination, though perhaps poorly articulated at the time, was first, how does one decide he wants to be a stuntman, and two, how does one go about making that a reality?

“I was an acrobat,” Box tells me. “I grew up with youth circus as a kid. I was a trampolinist, trapezist, and I high dived. And then I started doing some commercial work, and I met some stuntmen, and I was in college at the time, and it just sort of drew me in.”

Ooh, a circus family! The old-timey slang, the tigers, the juggling – now that sounds like a story…

“Oh no, it wasn’t a family business,” Box says. “I come from a family of engineers. So.”

Darn. Do you get to wreck a lot of cars?

“At times we do. And that’s more often than not you’re wrecking. But in many cases, you get on the set and the first thing the producer will say to you is ‘We only have two of these cars. Don’t wreck them.'”

Okay, fine, I’ll ask about Tom Cruise. Yes, Cruise did “100 percent” of his own stunt driving in Jack Reacher.

“The funny thing with Tom was, he comes with a very high skill set driving. He’s done so many movies. What we really do is set up the car. Any training we do is more car set up, so it performs how it needs to perform. So pretty much we’re just setting the cars, dialing the air pressure, dialing suspensions, trying to reenact surfaces that we’re gonna encounter in different parts of the chase, and do our homework in that way.”

VINCE: When you watch a movie about stunt driving like Drive or Fast and Furious, are you enjoying it, or are you just like “Aww, they’re doing it wrong!”

BOX: You know what? Each story is unique. You’re trying to tell the story through the driving, you’re not just trying to do gratuitous stunts for stunt’s sake. Like in Jack Reacher, you notice, we didn’t do any cannons, there’s no turnovers, it was all about him being pursued by the lieutenant. That was the story we were trying to tell, and to use the environment of Pittsburgh, with all the cool bridges and tunnels and stuff.

VINCE: What’s the least realistic car stunt that you see often, like the old seventies thing where one car would run into the back of another, but then it’d sort of shoot up off the back of it and turn over.

BOX: That’s a pipe ramp, and you’re right, that’s very telegraphed, you see that coming. A lot of times they’ll try to incorporate that ramp into another car or a panel truck, so that when they hit that ramp, it smashes through the back of the car. In MI3, I set up one like that, where we incorporated the pipe ramp into the back of this panel truck, and then filled the panel truck up with all these kids toys. So when we hit it, all the debris goes flying.

So what did I learn today? I learned that if you want to hear stories about all the crazy shit a guy’s done, like smash a car through the back of a truck filled with children’s toys, ask him a technical question. Because if you ask “Hey, what’s some crazy shit you’ve done?” Chances are it’s not even going to register.

Jack Reacher hit DVD yesterday, and FYI, we’ll have a copy to giveaway for this week’s Comments of the Week, so keep up the nominating.