In His Own Words: What it's Really Like Being Marvel's Go-To Stuntman, According to Khalil Pickett
From Black Panther to Avengers: Endgame, professional stuntman Khalil Pickett has worked on some of the biggest movies of all time. He shares what it takes to thrive and survive in the stuntman game.
Khalil Pickett has been in the stuntman game for eleven years. At 37 years old, he’s managed to stay light, limber, and — most importantly — un-injured. This feat seems nearly impossible, given how his occupation calls for him to, sometimes, jump off of tall buildings riding a motorcycle.
How has he done it? Well, he has two pro tips: eating right and stretching.
Clearly, these two things have been working for him; staying in the game has given him amazing opportunities. Some highlights from his career include being featured in Black Panther as a Wakandan Tribesman; in Avengers: Infinity War as an alien Outrider; and in Avengers: Engame, as the Black Panther himself. Most recently, Pickett was Chadwick Boseman’s stunt double in Spike Lee’s upcoming joint Da 5 Bloods. (Which is being shot in Thailand.)
If Pickett goes to show anything, it’s that the life of a stuntman doesn’t have to be as mortally dangerous as people might think. On the contrary, it shouldn’t be. The key to a successful career in this field is avoiding injuries on set. It doesn’t only benefit a stuntman’s health and wellbeing — it saves production money and, ultimately, bodes well for their reputation in the field.
The risk is still high, but men and women like Khalil Pickett choose to do it regardless. They’re what makes action movies — one of the cornerstones of the film industry — what they are. Audiences want to feel that thrill of hanging on for dear life, or taking that wild leap into open air. These experiences wouldn’t be possible without the daredevils jumping off buildings, flying across set, being flung through space seven or eight times to capture that feeling.
So, what does it take to be the person creating these scenes? Khalil Pickett shares what it takes to thrive and survive as a stuntman.
You have to be a student.
Make sure you go train and research a lot of the movies. YouTube is very useful. You can go on there and learn techniques, you can learn tricks, you can learn weaponry, you can learn combinations. There are gyms where you can go learn martial arts. There’s gymnastics gyms where you can go and train and learn from people there. Go to open gyms — there’s information all around us. There’s always room to train, always room to learn, always people willing to help. We have so many sources.
You can just go and type in: basic martial arts. Anything to start off to get you going, and then find out where your nearest gymnastics place is, find out where open gyms are, find out where the parkour guys go. So many sources that we have that you can learn and reach out to.
Once you get all those resources down, start recording yourself. Once you start recording, you can post it. Post it on Instagram. You can do a lot of business on there, a lot of people can see you, especially with all the hashtags you put up, and you never know who’s looking for what. If you’re trying to get with an agency, tag that agency in your video so they can see you.
Train all the time.
I go to the gym about five, six times a week, and I get my cardio in and all my weight lifting. And then I drill: my punches and my kicks and everything. Almost every day I work on weapons at about eight in the morning. It’s all about your training: education and discipline.
Stuntmen, we’re in all shapes and sizes. A friend of mine is 280 pounds, but he’s the lightest on his feet. So, I mean, we have some men that are 110 pounds, you know? It’s not really like, about how your physique is, it’s about how healthy you are and how well you train and stretch. Stretching is the main thing. That’ll end your career quick — if you don’t stretch properly and warm up your body to keep it limber.
If you eat trash, that’s what you’re going to feel like. Those five Hour Energy things — that’s crazy. I do not mess with that stuff. You’ll feel a difference. I know how I’m going to feel based off of what I eat. Take care of yourself and eat right because your body will heal faster.
What about injuries?
We have insurance through the Screen Actor’s Guild, and it’s very good. They take care of us. I have nothing to worry about, I have the best of everything on that insurance. So if you get injured on set, you’re taken care of. No matter where you are, you’re taken care of. A friend of mine got sick in Thailand and the insurance took care of him out there. So, no matter where you are, SAG takes care of us.
I’ve been injured training in the gym before, but never on the job. Thank God. They’ll keep you working and keep people from thinking that you’re a liability. What I mean by that is, you don’t want to be that guy that’s always getting hurt on set. What that does, for one, it’ll take up more time, because if you get injured on set, they have to wait on the medics to come, the cameramen and all of them — they get paid by the minute. So you’re costing the production more money. You want to be able to go and do a job and execute it without wasting time.
If you get injured back to back to back on multiple projects, you’re going to burn your name and no one’s going to want to hire you because they’ll say, “Well, he’s been getting injured these past four projects. So why would we hire him?” You don’t want to be that guy.
There’s a great brother and sisterhood on set, too. We always look out for each other. So if a person is gonna do a wire gag that’s going to throw them across the room, we already have things set up to catch them just in case they overshoot, or if they roll after they land. We always look out for each other and make sure everyone’s safe. So that’s another thing. I love working in this industry. Everyone is looking out for each other.
It’s cliche, but…work hard.
Nothing will come into your life until you’re grateful for what you already have. We always see things that we wish we had, but I always say just look at where you are now, where you used to be, and where you want to go, and keep that focused and you won’t really care about anyone else because anyone that’s out here that you wish you had, you’re able to get if you want it, if you work for it. So, never dwell on what you don’t have because you’re able to get it, you just have to work on getting it if that’s what you want.
And finally…favorite stunts
I started out jumping out of abandoned buildings onto mattresses. I will try everything. I love it. If someone asks if I’ve ever done a stunt before, I say: “No, but I’ll try it.” I’ve never refused to do a stunt.
One time, I was fighting one of the Outriders in Infinity War and they made it where one of them hit me, and I got dragged across the set. So that was a lot of fun, cause I’m getting dragged and I’m rolling, and I’m seeing all this dirt, and I’m still holding on to my weapon at the same time. We did maybe six or seven takes of that. Another one is called Dead Man’s, where they anchor a wire in the ground and they attach it to a harness that you have on under your costume. You just have to run as hard and fast as you can. You know how a dog is on a leash and they try to run and then someone pulls them back? That’s exactly what the wire does to you. So you’re running full speed and that thing yanks you and your legs pull up in the air and you just smack the ground. I love doing those as well.
And then another one is when I was on tour, and there are moving vehicles going around, and I had to run and jump on the back of them and I got dragged by the car. So I’m swinging and then stuff falls, behind us flying across the floor, turning, holding on with one arm. It was a lot of fun.
Caira Blackwell is a writer out of New York City. You can follow her @caira_blackwell