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While working on Kenneth Branagh's superhero film, Vic Armstrong was forced to shoot footage of Natalie Portman looking through the sunroof of a car from a perilously close helicopter.
Vic Armstrong: ''We couldn't use zoom lenses because there might have been a visual effect they wanted to put in. Everything with helicopters is dangerous and we had to get in close. So we said, 'Natalie, when you stick your head out, it's going to be scary as hell and it is dangerous.' 'How dangerous? Terminal?' 'Yep. But if it's any consolation, we're going down together because I'm in the chopper.' So I come roaring in and we stop probably 30 feet [away] the first time and she was fine. She came out, as if she was on a Sunday afternoon drive. I took my hat off to her, because I know how scary that was.''
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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Armstrong was Harrison Ford's stunt double on the first three Indiana Jones movies, a job that included battling the villainous Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) during the rope bridge sequence.
Armstrong: ''We were high up. Probably 200 feet. Frank Henson [the stuntman doubling for Puri] has to fall past me and I grab him and we end up fighting. He came past me, but he's going too fast, I swore the wire had broken. I thought he had gone. I've seen cables break in the past. I grabbed him and I'm punching him and going, 'Christ, Frank, I thought you'd bloody gone then. You scared the life out of me!' It was so bizarre. I'm showing my compassion for him and he's hitting me and kneeing me in the balls going, 'Jesus Christ, you're right, Vic. I thought that was it, mate.'''
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You Only Live Twice (1967)
For this classic, Sean Connery-starring Bond adventure a young Armstrong slid down a rope from the ceiling of a huge volcano set at U.K.'s Pinewood Studios.
Armstrong: ''It was absolutely massive. The roof could slide open and a helicopter actually flew in and landed on the platform. That was my introduction to the big time. I never liked heights in those days. But money's money. At lunchtime I'd just stay at the top and look and look and look and look. It got slightly better. In those days, there wasn't any of the safety that you have to have nowadays. You're on this beam, it's cold and slippery, and you've got to crawl 60, 70 feet out to the middle, where your rope is hooked. Then you've got to hold on to the rope and come down 125 feet. It was terrifying. But it was exhilarating afterward.''
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Die Another Day (2002)
Armstrong was second unit director on 1999's The World Is Not Enough and the next Bond movie, Die Another Day, for which he oversaw the frozen-lake-set car duel.
Armstrong: ''I'm thinking, 'What do I do?' There's two cars chasing each other on a frozen lake. There are no buses, there are no nuns on fire running across the road. So we thought, 'Okay, we'll make it a one-on-one duel and we'll just use the landscape and make it balletic.' I thought it was a great chase. I'm very, very proud of that sequence.''
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Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980)
Armstrong doubled for the late Christopher Reeve and coordinated the stunts on the first two Man-of-Steel movies, which were filmed back-to-back (although much of director Richard Donner's work on Superman II would be scrapped after he was replaced by Richard Lester). In the latter capacity, he performed a stunt in which he ''flew'' through a roof — which was achieved by using an upside down set — and was thrown by Terence Stamp's General Zod into the side of a truck (although, in his autobiography, Armstrong misremembers his assailant as being Jack O'Halloran's Non).
Armstrong: ''Superman was such a long show. The most technically difficult stunt was probably falling through the roof. Being thrown against the truck wasn't so bad. They beat you up. But they're not life-threatening. It's funny, I've had lots of people say 'That wasn't Non that threw you into the truck, it was Zod.' I don't know! I haven't seen the movie for donkey's years! I assumed it was Non because Jack, is about six foot, six inches, and I used to spar with him every day. But apparently it's Terence Stamp!''
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Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)
The third entry in the Omen franchise starred Sam Neill and was not the series' best-remembered chapter, but Armstrong is never going to forget having to fall off a viaduct into an airbag.
Armstrong: ''I had to fall off a horse and then they cut to me coming over the side of a viaduct. That was 100 feet. That was scary. The heart's thumping as you're looking down and you're thinking, 'Oh my God. You get that wrong, you're dead.' But it's the little ones that bite you. Stepping off a tank [on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade] nearly crippled me. That was after they'd said, 'Cut.' You take more precaution on the big stunts and then it's the little ones that bite you on the arse.''
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A View to a Kill (1985)
Armstrong's chief problem on this Roger Moore-starring James Bond movie was stopping Grace Jones — who was playing Christopher Walken's henchwoman — from beating the hell out of the stunt team.
Armstrong: ''She could not pull a punch. All the guys were like, 'Oh my God, don't make me fight her.' You'd pad someone up and she'd find somewhere to hit them where they didn't have a pad and knee them in the balls, or something. She was a wonderful girl. She wasn't doing it maliciously. But all bets were off once she started shooting.''
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Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Armstrong and game superstar Tom Cruise paid homage to the first M:I movie in a sequence that found Cruise's superspy Ethan Hunt freefalling down a 75-foot-high wall and halting just above the ground.
Armstrong: ''It was supposed to be when he drops into the Vatican. We went to Caserta, outside Rome, and built our own wall. He gets to the top, lays on the top of the wall, hooks onto a wire, rolls and — zzzzz — and stops. He actually came down and kissed the ground with his chest on the take we used — and a little puff of dust comes up. It's all manually operated. I don't trust computers that much. I screw up sending e-mails, I ain't going to trust a computer with a superstar. It's all measured out and everything else. But at the end of the day, it's a man dropping 70-odd feet, face first, and then stopping an inch from the ground. You think, 'Oh my God, he's going to be a quarter of an inch thick when he hits the ground.' But he did it. Tom Cruise could have been a stuntman, 100 percent. He rides bikes, he's a great driver. He's fantastic.''
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As second-unit director on last year's spy thriller, Armstrong oversaw a sequence in which Angelina Jolie had to make her way around a building ledge that was 10 floors up.
Armstrong: ''Angelina is unbelievable. She has no fear of heights whatsoever. We did a bit with a stuntwoman, basically for the rehearsals. But the money shot is seeing Angelina come out there and seeing everything below, no CG. What pissed me off was they all kept asking, 'Is she going to be safe?' I said, 'Guys, none of you ever asked, 'Is the stunt double safe?' I said, 'Angelina is so important to me, absolutely.' But so is the stunt girl. I feel totally responsible for anybody I put out there. I feel so responsible for it. You get your heart beating when you're a stuntman and you do a high fall. But I don't think it's as terrifying as being responsible for someone else doing it.''
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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Second-unit director Armstrong is wary of saying much of anything about next year's superhero reboot, on which he just completed work. But he does reveal that, whenever possible, Spidey will be portrayed by a real-life person and not a computer-generated one.
Armstrong: ''We wanted to do as much as we can for real. We're using CG but in the right way. We're using it to get rid of his flying cables. We did this thing in the studio the other day where [Spider-Man] drops through this huge chasm between buildings off an air ramp, but he landed on a pad. In the old days, you'd have to disguise the pad. But now you can just erase it. CG is like morphine. It's wonderful, but only when used correctly.''