And I'm like, what? And I come to find out that they've been hiring all these stunt guys. Basically, they wanted somebody to be a G.I. Joe who was a stunt man. And I wasn't. And I didn't know it at the time, but Vancouver had a pretty good size stunt community. When these stunt guys found out that an actor had gotten the lead role, had to do all these stunts, needless to say they were less than pleased. So, you know, they basically had to give me a crash course in doing stunts. And none of them really wanted to.
So they hired a stunt man by the name of Scott Nicholson. Really great guy. At that time, he was fairly inexperienced, or what they call inexperienced. What the rest of them would call inexperienced. He's a rather big guy now in the stunt community. But back then he wasn't, and he was a stunt coordinator. He was about my age at the time. And I gotta give that guy credit, 'cause he basically taught me everything I know about, you know, how to take a fall, how to take a hit. How to do squibs and all kinds of things. Then there was another guy, another stunt guy which would've been on the second round of G.I. Joe commercials. That would've been, ah, I think '92. That's the one where we did the Air Commandos.
YJ: Yeah, I think that's '92, yeah.
WR: Ah, see I'm not sure, I don't really remember, but I know it was the second round. We didn't have Scott Nicholson that time, we had Betty Thomas, who was a stunt coordinator. And we were using Betty Thomas, and the guy who basically taught me was a guy by the name of Mitch. He taught me how to do an air ramp. And an air ramp is - I don't know if you know much about stunts, but it's like a giant rat trap. You step on it and it throws you, it's a catapult, like a mini-catapult.
YJ: That's kinda cool.
WR: Yeah, so the explosions, where guys were running and the land mine goes off and they fly thirty feet in the air. That basically was an air ramp.
YJ: They used that a lot in the commercials then!
WR: Yeah, I learned right away. I mean, I had to. I mean, basically, when we started out they taught me how to fight. And they taught me all kinds of different things that I would, you know, need to know. So, I mean, I probably spent - it would have been about a week rehearsing the stuff we were going to shoot.
And then I remember the first day I came on set and they had a studio, North Shore Studios. They're called Lions Gate now, back then they were Cannel Films. And they had this whole studio, the largest one there, which was Lot 3. They had all kinds of - they had five sets in there. They had this giant Cobra command center, and they had G.I. Joe command center, and they had this giant pool, and this great big, like, desert scene. And that's where we shot the little helicopters. And the first day - this was the Plasmatox campaign. (Editor's note: these are the 1991 commercials.)
What I had to do was I had to do this stunt where I get shot in the chest with an air cannon. And basically it's just a giant propane tank with a valve that they open all at once so everything in the propane tank comes out at once. Of course it's a propane tank just filled with air. And then they put a big, like, nozzle on it, like a Clorox bottle, right? And they filled the Clorox bottle that's cut open on the one end. The fill it full of, like, fake debris, which is basically all styrofoam. And then they shoot this at you and it looks like a giant explosion because it hits you all at once - all the air does. And then it's supposed to blast you backwards and then I got shot in the chest with a fire hose which was this little, um, I think it came from the Paralyzer? And it shoots me in the chest and I have to tumble down this little ramp into a pool. Well, I remember I got there on the first day and I saw this on the, ah - what they do is they draw it out on boards.
YJ: The storyboards, yeah.
WR: Yeah, storyboards, and they drew all the storyboards up and I'm looking at all this stuff. And I was kinda standing there, it was January, and I'm standing in there in my coat in the studio and the big door's open so it's kinda cold, and I see this little boy pool, you know, like people have in their back yards? And they're filling it up, and it's got all this neat set around it, and I see them, you know, they're filling it up from a fire hydrant. It's January. And I remember the guys looking at me, and he goes, "Whoa, hey, how ya doin'?" And I said, "I'm fine." He didn't know who I was. And I walked over and I said, "What are you doing?" He goes, "Well, I'm filling up this tank 'cause some poor bastard has to go in there today." And I looked at him, and I said, "Well, I'm that poor bastard." And he goes, "Oh, so you're Wren? Oh, well, I'm sorry, pleased to meet you, Wren." And I said, "I don't think you really are because you're getting a kick out of filling up this pool!"
And they hadn't done it days before, so basically - they'd taken my measurements a few days earlier for a wetsuit because they said I'd be in and out of water a lot. So they made me a three mil wetsuit to put on under all my G.I. Joe stuff. The first day of shooting I probably tried on nine different costumes before all the Hasbro guys decided on which costume they were gonna do. And back then they had this via satellite thing with some of their clients back in New York and I had to go stand in a room for two other people that couldn't be there to agree on the costume I was gonna wear. So that took about all morning.
I think my first day of shooting was 19 hours.
WR: Yeah, and basically I just got a flat rate of about a grand a day. You think, you know, guys who make commercials make a lot of money? I had a friend in Los Angeles that made a Burger King commercial just before I left L.A. and he made about 160,000 dollars. You know, because they get paid every time they show the commercial.
YJ: Yeah, residuals, yeah.
WR: Well I don't know how many times they showed my commercial, but I never got paid squat. I got a thousand bucks a day. And so did the kids that worked in the commercial with us about the same time.
One of the other guys - Cobra Commander was played by a guy by the name of Roger Cross - he's the only one of us that I know that's really famous today. He was on - he's on "24" now, and he was on some movie called "Mad Money" with Queen Latifah, and he also did "First Wave" here in Vancouver.
YJ: Now there - Cobra Commander appeared in commercials in '91 and '93. Was he in both those years, or just one of them?
WR: He was only in the first year. Cobra Commander in '93 had this weird mask because they changed him. He had this - kind of looked like Ku Klux Klan, only black - only a black hoodie. And I remember we were all making fun of it - we thought it was quite the joke that, you know, it looked so different.
YJ: It does kind of look weird [in the commercials].
WR: Well it was. It looked like a big, black sock on his head!
YJ: Splays outward at the bottom, too, like it's distended.
WR: So basically we - yeah, in '93 we had two different guys that actually played him. And I don't remember either of the names 'cause they were both stunt guys. But in '91, the majority of the G.I. Joe stuff was by, let me see, there was me, and there was Gerald Paetz, who is a pretty famous stuntman now. Gerald Paetz played... I don't remember, he was one of the G.I. Joe guys. He wasn't on Cobra's side, he was on G.I. Joe. Ah, this was the little helicopters. (Editor's note: Major Altitude)
YJ: Yeah, that's one of the ones we don't have, sorry.
WR: I can't remember the name, we used to tease him about his name, too, because he had a really, kind of, interesting name, his character's name. Something like "Freefall?" He played this character. There was Scott Nicholson who I told you was the stunt coordinator. He actually played the guy I fight most of the time. One of the utility bad guys from Cobra. I broke his nose.
I had to jump off the helicopter with the Plasmatox and land on this little vehicle, then I had to fight him on this vehicle. We were just rehearsing, so he didn't have his headgear on. 'Cause if he had, it was all fiberglass, right, and pretty hard for him to see or breathe. And I jump down, onto the vehicle. They didn't have the vehicle on a track, they had it on pieces of plywood. The plywood's kinda put down like roofing - one overlaps the next. So as they're dragging it along, 'cause they were pulling it by hand, and three guys on the rigging were pulling a rope. And they're pulling this thing along, and every time it hit a bump, it would kind of stall, and jerk. So I jumped onto this thing, and I was just barely trying to hold my balance while swinging and fighting. And just as I went to swing, it hit this little bump and it got caught, 'cause they yanked it so I lunged forward, and Scott lunged forward at the same time, and it was just a perfect hit. I didn't even hit him very hard, but I hit him so perfectly that his nose was sitting sideways on his head.
YJ: Yeah, but I bet it filmed great!
WR: Oh, he was not too happy. I just - I felt terrible, I felt absolutely terrible that I popped him in the nose. So that was his battle scar.
We had the fight scene, I don't - you've seen all the commercials, I take it?
YJ: Well, the ones we have. Otherwise, I'm relying on what I remember from being a kid, which really isn't much!
WR: Yeah, 'cause, I got 'em all on tape somewhere. Yeah, they are on tape, they're not on disk.
YJ: That doesn't surprise me.
WR: Yeah, I do have them all. I think there was nine? Seven or nine in the first season. And most of them were that little helicopter. In '93, we did some more with the helicopter, but it was a completely, sorta, different helicopter, new and improved. 'Cause what I do remember and Hasbro's gonna hate me for this, is they did the little helicopter, and they show the kids pulling the string. They had a little pull-string. The helicopter flies in the air.
YJ: Yeah, I had one.
WR: Well, you pulled the thing and the helicopter went up and straight down on it's ass.
YJ: That's how I remember it working, pretty much.
WR: Yeah, it worked like crap. Well they had this fancy, little helicopter that had been all taken apart and put back together, and they had a little motor in it that turned the blades. And then they had three guys up on the rigging with fishing poles. And fishing line. And the kid would pull the string and the helicopter would soar through the air with the greatest of ease. 'Cause it was on a fishing line. With a little motor turning it.
YJ: I always wondered why mine never worked quite right!
WR: They - they didn't work. They didn't work at all because I remember, you know, they tried 'em like, twice or three times and I remember our director just went out of his head. John, oh jeez....
We all had a t-shirt that said "I Survived G.I. John[ny]." And that was because John, the director - and I wish I could remember his last name. He was from Fireside Film. Great guy. Absolutely a great guy. Tough as nails, and he didn't stop shooting for anything. 'Cause I got injured quite a few times on G.I. Joe and like I said, Scott Nicholson, I broke his nose.
I ended up with six stitches on the back of my hand. Some stitches in my shoulder for something else I did, I don't even remember what it was, I just remember getting an injury and I had the craft services guy put duct tape over it so it wouldn't bleed. Well we'd been there, like I said, this was really tough. I mean, we'd been there probably, you know, anywhere from 16 to 20 hours. And it was getting to be the end of the day, and at this point, people aren't even, you know, we aren't even mapped into each other any more, everything just became funny because the crew and everybody was so exhausted. And I remember it was that time of day, and we had to get this shot, and there was just basically nothing we could do. So I had him put some duct tape on it and I went to the hospital when they wrapped. And they stitched me up. And I remember coming the next day and the director saying to me, he goes, "You've got some stitches!" And I'm like, "Yeah." And he goes, "Oh, why didn't you tell anybody?" And I'm like, "Well, why should I? We would've been here another seven hours!" So he was like, for days after that, bragging to everybody how Duke's the real thing. Because I'd gotten stitches and didn't tell anybody.
Those little helicopters, they had this rigging - the guy who actually rigged Broadway's Peter Pan. They brought him in from New York to do the rigging of these helicopters. He was supposed to be the best in the world and the rigging was supposed to be something amazing and now rigging is so different because because, I mean, you see, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger, Flying" whatever it's called.
YJ: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
WR: Yeah, they have all that neat, sort of rigging nowadays. See, back then it was all basically pulleys and motors and mechanical. I was expecting the best guy in the world's rigging so this is gonna be some cool stuff. It was just painful, because the rigging worked for about five minutes and then it went down. Then it worked for about five more minutes, and then it went down. The problem was it went down when we were in mid-air. The wonderful effects guy, guy by the name of Al Benjamin, really great guy, he just figures, you know, we'd all be plenty comfortable because we'd be strapped into a rigging and then the helicopter would be strapped into a separate rigging. So our weight wouldn't actually be on the helicopter. So he had a bar with foam on it. Like, literally one little round of foam and it was a bar.
If you've worn climbing gear, it's right in your crotch, and it pulls up so hard it feels like the world's worst Melvin. Worse than that, the helicopter's weight, with your weight combined, on this little foamy seat was excruciating. I don't think I've ever, ever, ever had so much pain. I think, you know, I haven't had any more kids because of that. The rigging was just nasty, I mean, in '93, Al made - he made some adjustments. Actually, in '91 he made some adjustments. He took mine apart that night when we wrapped for the next day, and he welded an old bicycle banana seat. And then he padded the seat up, so it actually was more comfortable 'cause you could lean back on it a little way. I mean it was a little better, but not much.