6 June 2024

Corrimal's own Jake Bennett and his badass lady love ride onto Mad Max set

| Dione David
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Stunt man Jake Bennett and Mel Eckert on the set of Furiosa

Jake Bennett on the set of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. Photo: Jake Bennett.

Stuntman Jake Bennett rode his motorbike full circle to arrive on the set of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

The former Corrimal coal miner first realised he could leverage his passion and skill for motorbike racing, freestyle BMX riding and martial arts into a job in the film industry when his buddy, former Kiama lad Cody Mackie landed a stuntman gig on Mad Max: Fury Road.

“I used to ride motocross with him growing up. When he moved into the film industry, he told me stunt work would be right up my alley. Before then, I didn’t even know you could make a career out of it,” he says.

“I think a lot of people thought I was mad at first, to leave a stable coal mining job in Wollongong to go on the travelling circus of film – they thought it was a bit of a cowboy move.

“You only have to look at all the sports stars and Aussie champions who’ve come out of Wollongong to see that growing up in a place like this moulds you to this kind of work. I was always surfing, riding bikes in the mountains, doing gymnastics and playing footy.

“People in the Illawarra have so much choice for outdoor spaces to get active. They can go to any of the many surf breaks along the coast from Towradgi to Sandon Point or to the mountain biking networks around the back of the hills in Corrimal and Mount Keira. The Southlake Illawarra BMX Club in Croom and Wollongong Motorcycle Club at Kembla Heights are both great places to go, too.”

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Jake says as part of the core stunt team for the latest film in the Mad Max franchise, no two days were the same. Among his changing duties he worked on pre-visualisation (the process of breaking the script down and translating it into stunts on camera), helped train the likes of Charlee Fraser, David Collins, CJ Bloomfield and title-role actress Anya Taylor-Joy, and stunt doubled for the character “The Octoboss” (Goran D Kleut).

Some of his favourite scenes were the ones he got to do alongside his wife, fellow stunt actor Mel Eckert, a drift riding master Jake met on the set of Chinese trilogy Smoke Screen.

“We’d do those big hoard bike rides out of Broken Hill and then you’d see the playback of those iconic Mad Max scenes – hundreds of bikes charging through the desert with massive dust plumes billowing out behind … Those are the times you think to yourself, ‘I have a pretty cool job,'” he says.

Mel, who stunt doubled for “Mister Norton” (Elsa Pataky), was one of the few stunt women on set, and almost missed out.

“I got injured and was faced with the prospect of having to pull out, which would’ve been devastating. In the end the filming got pushed, so I made it,” she says.

“I only started to ride motorbikes when I met Jake, so it wasn’t my area of expertise. The people we were working for are perfectionists, they expect the best. So to get the call to go out riding in formations over sand and the dunes, on bikes that were not in any way, shape or form designed for that kind of riding, and to pull it off – it was challenging, but very cool.

“One day George Miller came up to me after a particularly tricky day on set. He knew my name and personally thanked me for my work that day. That was pretty special.”

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On an impressive resume that includes working with A-List celebrities like the Hemsworth brothers, Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, Jake says working on The Fall Guy stood out as a “once-in-a-lifetime type opportunity”.

In filming this movie about a stuntman, everything was done “for real”.

“It’s like a film within a film,” he says. “Like when we were filming the opening stunt, where you’re plummeting through a building, I got to a be a rigger on a platform who’s hooking into safety lines, and the camera is rolling as you’re doing it. So the audience gets to see a bit of the world we live in.

“If you want a glimpse of a ‘day in the life of a stuntman’, it’s a good starting place.”

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