Three years ago, Danny MacAskill was working at Macdonald Cycles in Edinburgh, Scotland, spending his days building and repairing bikes, and his nights -- and lunch breaks -- riding them.
Then he put a five-minute video of his mesmerizing trickery on two wheels on YouTube (Google it). Sponsorships and jet-setting followed, and the 26-year-old from a remote Scottish isle has been spending his time recently getting his first taste of Hollywood. In the upcoming thriller Premium Rush, about a New York bike messenger and a crooked cop out to kill him, MacAskill doubled the film’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, for those scenes necessitating the parkour-on-a-bike tricks that the trials rider does so well.
“Danny is a f***ing madman,” says director David Koepp, the screenwriter behind Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man and Carlito’s Way.
Given biking’s renaissance in America’s big cities, Koepp was eager to throw a spotlight on the culture surrounding it, especially the grit and speed of the messenger community. “It’s real,” says Gordon-Levitt. “It’s not about how much you can spend on a bike or how you look or even who you are. The only thing that matters is: Can you ride?”
"I hit the rear windshield of a car. Funny thing was, I didn’t feel a thing. I was surprised and disappointed.” --Gordon-Levitt
Gordon-Levitt had to be in shape but says he had four others doubling for him: New York’s fastest bike messenger, Austin Horse; Hollywood stuntman Victor Chan; Tom LeMarche, a track-bike trickster, “and then, of course, Danny.”
There was no bike scene to speak of on the windswept, sparsely populated Isle of Skye in Scotland where MacAskill grew up, which explains a unique riding style that combines the techniques of trials riding with the speed and vision of BMX. On film, he evades the cops by riding deftly along a stacked parking structure, before jumping his bike off it.
“Danny was competing against cop cars, rolling over them,” says Koepp.
MacAskill says that he would keep his own fear in check but would speak up if something didn’t feel right. “Sometimes, [stunt coordinators] would move a jump too far away or ask for something that was outside of what I could do, and I would have to let them know.”
Though he came away from the shoot unharmed, the same wasn’t true for the film’s star. “I got ahead of the motorcycle that was shooting me,” says Gordon-Levitt. “I got cut off and had nowhere to go. I went over the handlebars. I hit the rear windshield of a car. Funny thing was, I didn’t feel a thing. I was surprised and disappointed.” He gashed up his arm and came away with a war wound (and a bloody video of the carnage too).
But there are fonder memories (for both) as well. “Late at night, when the shoot would be over and New York’s streets were empty, we’d all get on our bikes -- Joseph too -- and we’d ride through the city, under those buildings and across into Brooklyn,” MacAskill says. “It felt so great. The city was ours.”
Check out the September 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands August 14) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.
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