Eric Norris hops into a director’s chair that’s attached ?bizarrely to the front of a motorcycle, which also holds a video camera. The contraption rolls down a steel track — right into the path of a massive truck. The truck swerves at the last minute. Eric, satisfied with what he sees on the viewer, hops out of the motorcycle rig and looks at stunt double Karin Justman for the next shot. She’s practicing jumping from the hood of a Chevy that the truck will hit. After a while, Eric calls in the star of the show, outfits her with pads and orders another round of rehearsals. “Don’t Superman it,” he says as Kelli Giddish, star of Chase, jumps from the car again and again, performing her own stunt.
After nearly six hours of filming multiple stunts to build the climactic scene, the truck finally barrels down on the set for real and slams into the Chevy, obliterating it. The director yells “Cut!” and stunt man Jim Henry pops out of the truck unharmed. While the crew pushes cameras and wardrobe racks down the streets of Dallas for the next shot, Eric’s stunt team heads for lunch. On TV, this whole scene will take minutes, but the stunt team has been out in 40-degree weather since 6 a.m., running, getting run over, jumping off cars and flying through the air. There are worse ways to make a living. “You get up excited to go to work,” says Eric, grinning.
Still boyishly good-looking at age 45, Eric Norris makes a living on stunt work, coordinating “gags” and performing them ?himself — whether he’s driving cars at a relaxed 20 mph for a crowd scene or slamming a brand-new Lamborghini under a semi at top speed. “Every stunt man’s favorite job is doing car chases,” Eric says. Last year, he was all over the silver screen, doing car chases in movies such as Salt, Due Date and The Town.
“In Salt, I was driving an SUV with Angelina Jolie in the backseat with two other stunt men. In the scene, she takes out the two guys, throws them out the side door and Tasers me. Every time she would Taser me, it would cause me to push the accelerator,” he says. “Eventually, the car I was driving flies off the bridge,” says Eric. Luckily, he was not in the driver’s seat: “They put a real dummy in for that shot.”
Why does anyone get into stunt work? A death wish, maybe? Hardly. Eric began doing stunt work in 1985 on a film called Invasion U.S.A. His uncle Aaron Norris, a stunt coordinator, hired him to play a drug dealer who gets blown up. As a little practical joke, Uncle Aaron hit the explosion button a bit early, throwing Eric 10 feet into the air. When Eric opened his eyes, he saw red. What he thought was blood turned out to be his red bandanna. (“Ha-ha,” he says.) The star of the film was another relative of Eric’s — his dad, the legendary martial arts master Chuck Norris. So a little nepotism was involved in his hiring? “Nah,” Eric says laughing. “A lot of nepotism.”
Probably Eric’s most dangerous stunt of late, he says, was for Redline, filmed in the desert outside Las Vegas. “It was crazy,” Eric says. “I was driving a $500,000 Porsche, another guy was driving a million-dollar Ferrari, and another guy was driving a $700,000 Mercedes. We were doing 170 mph about a foot apart with a helicopter coming at us. It was a complete dream job.” The high point? Driving the Lamborghini under the semi — with only a couple of inches of clearance. He lost control and crashed. “It was a bit scary,” he admits. “Sometimes we try just a little too hard, and it bites us in the ass.”
Eric has to think hard, however, to come up with just one injury in 25 years. He got second-degree burns on his hands while doing a stunt for his dad’s show Walker, Texas Ranger. The stunt — called a pipe ramp — involves a car flying into the air. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong. It caught on fire,” he says. Afterward, tough guy Chuck Norris stuck his head into the ambulance and said to his son, “Listen, you want to do stunts, you do them on another show.” Eric ended up directing 18 episodes of Walker instead.
This year, you can see Eric (not really, if he’s doing his work right) in The Green Hornet. He also coordinated stunts for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night and Tekken when he wasn’t working on Chase. (Confession: The truck driver in the crash, Jim Henry, is my brother-in-law.)
“What I really want is for the viewer to believe it was real,” Eric says. “I want the moviegoer to leave a movie and wonder how the heck we do that.”
As the sun sets, after almost 12 hours on the job, Eric films the last stunt — a motorcycle accident that sends sparks flying into the cold night air. Stunt man Stanton Barrett stands up, unharmed. How the heck did they do that?
“Good job!” yells Eric. He’s not telling.