Kiwi stunt doubles find love on Mad Max

Dayna Grant on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Dayna Grant on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road.

They met in the Namibian desert, their love blossoming in the usual ways.

A shared look, a touch, spending hours blindfolded while taking apart firearms, hanging off speeding vehicles, punching each other in the face.

*On the set of Mad Max: Fury Road with director George Miller
*Review: Mad Max: Fury Road
*Men's rights activists call for boycott of Mad Max

So maybe not usual by most people's standards, but for a couple of stunt professionals it's run of the mill.

You wouldn't recognise them on the street and you may not know their names, but they've played pivotal roles on films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Death Race; Underworld and King Kong.

Dane and Dayna Grant are the ultimate power couple.

Kiwi stunt performer couple Dane and Dayna Grant on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road where they met and fell in love.

Kiwi stunt performer couple Dane and Dayna Grant on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road where they met and fell in love.

They spend their days being lit on fire, riding horses, stunt driving, fighting, weapons training and all but leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

So it makes perfect sense that they met on the set of one of this year's biggest action films – Mad Max: Fury Road.

"I saw Dayna straight away – she was the only girl from New Zealand and she stood out like a sore thumb," says Dane.

"I saw her bag with her name on it and my opening line was literally, 'Hi. I see you're Dayna. I'm Dane'. That was about it."

Dayna's been in the stunt business for some 20 years, starting off where most of New Zealand's thriving stunt industry did; on Xena and Hercules.

The 39-year-old's reputation and previous experience doubling for Charlize Theron earned her the call up to Mad Max, and she was immediately shipped off to Namibia to begin a vigourous six-week training boot-camp.

Dane Grant on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Dane Grant on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road.

"You need to have a lot of strength for holding onto the side of trucks and under trucks. Everything was on the move. Instead of cutting you'd just reset and carry on and you'd still be underneath the truck, still holding on. You go until you can't go anymore," Dayna says.

"Mad Max is definitely, hands down the most... you're just happy to be alive, I guess. The stuff that we did, I've never done anything like."

Dayna also spent hours every day learning fight choreography and training with weapons – learning the ins and outs of every different firearm on the film.

That's where Dane came in.

Before fellow Kiwi Jacob Tomuri was cast as Tom Hardy's double, Dane was called in to fill in as his rehearsal double for scenes with Dayna.

"So the two of us were doing this – dare I say – very S&M-type fight, it's a love/hate mixture between these characters. They're very close, there's chains, they're holding each other in very intimate positions, and the longer we were doing it the more we're kind of eyeing each other up," Dane laughs, a little abashed.

"We've said it before and it's quite cheesy, but it really was love at first sight. While we were punching each other we were falling for each other – quite rapidly."

Kiwi stunt performer Dane Grant performing parkour.
Nick Muzik

Kiwi stunt performer Dane Grant performing parkour.

It's an unlikely meeting ground, and Dane calls it fate, saying "stars aligned".

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It was no mistake Dayna was on set – her path to stunt fame seeming equally as fated.

"I literally fell into it. I was training in the gym, did gymnastics, horse riding, dance, but I had some friends that were into it that invited me to an audition, so I went along to do this daredevil thing and I ended up with a year-long contract," she says.

She signed onto Cleopatra 2525 and Xena: Warrior Princess, and from there went on to work in lead stunt roles on Spartacus, Power Rangers, Narnia, Snow White and the Huntsman and more, heading for Fury Road.

On the other hand, at 38 years old Dane is still somewhat new to the game, having spent a lifetime travelling before an unusual interest led him to stunting.

He's been a dive instructor in Egypt's Red Sea, lived in Ghana, Jordan and the UK, where he eventually found parkour – otherwise known as street running.

"I was completely amazed by what I saw. I had a gymnastics background and this was kind of outdoor gymnastics but better – there were no rules, no-one holding up a sign saying 'you can do better'," he says.

His penchant for parkour saw him travel the world doing shows, coaching, and signing on to do parkour for commercials until he eventually nabbed his first stunt job.

"Once you do that first [job], you get into somebody's database, they pass your name on and that leads to another job and another job and then you can start calling yourself a stunt performer."

His path to Fury Road wasn't as straight forward as Dayna's, though.

He battled through a vigorous audition process in his homeland, South Africa, before surviving boot camp and getting the golden ticket, at which point it was pure luck he was chosen to fill in opposite his now wife.

Fast forward three years though, and Dane is now living in New Zealand helping Dayna run the NZ Stunt School she founded in 2010, and helping raise their one-year-old son Ryder.

With Dayna currently working as stunt coordinator on upcoming Kiwi film Ash vs Evil Dead, it's Dane's turn to be off while Dayna's on.

That's how it works in a relationship where both people stunt.

"It helps to have somebody who understands what you're going through, especially the long hours," Dane says.

"It's nice to have one person on and the other can relax and look after little one – we can almost dictate when we want to take a job or have a break."

If the success of Mad Max: Fury Road is anything to go by, the pair won't have much time to relax.

Critics and fans are already raving about the non-stop action of George Miller's latest addition to his now infamous franchise, which has been more than a decade and a reported $150 million in the making.

And as it goes in the stunt world; the bigger the success, the more jobs that result, and the more the industry will turn to New Zealand for their stunt performers.

Productions like Xena and Hercules put New Zealand on the film-industry map, as Dayna says they acted as an ongoing training ground.

"We needed to be able to do anything, and we did those shows for so many years for five or six days a week, all year round, for years," she says.

"And they weren't little gags, we were doing big stunts every day. Those shows have trained up a whole team of really talented performers."

Allan Poppleton, a Kiwi stunt coordinator, started at the same time as Dayna, beginning on Xena and coming to work on films like The Wolverine, The Expendables 2 and The Hunger Games.

He's currently on set in Boston in the US, working on upcoming film Central Intelligence with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and comedian Kevin Hart, but he makes time to take a call – especially if it gives the Kiwi stunt industry a chance to shine.

He's worked with both Dane and Dayna and says they are talented performers, and two of many – that's why the industry comes here.

"It's that thing with Kiwis – how easygoing the are. How they're hard workers, get stuck into it and do what needs to be done without making a big song and dance about it," he says.

In the US, stunt performers split jobs into specialities, he says; so one will drive, one will fight, one will ride and so on – a luxury we don't have in New Zealand.

"We don't have the workflow, they have to be a jack of all trades. That good ol' Kiwi attitude is hard to beat."

He says there's a handful of Kiwis who have done especially well in work outside of New Zealand, like Dayna, but also including Ben Cook, who doubled for James Bond in the last two films, and Zoe Bell, who's been in Kill Bill and Iron Man and had a lead role in Raze.

"The Kiwis are doing really well and they don't get a lot of recognition. It's tall poppy syndrome and you'll find it with most Kiwis; they don't really talk themselves up, so it's kind of cool for everyone to hear more about it," says Poppleton.

Dane and Dayna both say the success of Fury Road has taken them all by surprise.

"We weren't sure if it was going to be that big. You just never know what it's going to be like but you hope that every film you do is going to be epic," says Dayna.

"Between our budding relationship, keeping it professional when everything's rolling, dealing with this intense shoot in the Namibian desert, going from boiling hot to freezing cold, sand storms, fatigue – it was crazy," Dane says.

"But I cannot say it enough; the work that Dayna does – that everyone does on this – absolutely shines through in bucket loads. I'm so proud."

While Dayna Grant doubled Mad Max's leading lady, another Kiwi was also taking the lead.

Jacob Tomuri was cast to double the film's male lead, Tom Hardy – a role which changed his career in a way stunt performers only dream of.

Tomuri too, fell into the stunt life by accident, originally pursuing acting in his early 20s.

However, ahead of his third year of drama school at the New Zealand College of Performing Arts, he took a role on Lord of the Rings that changed everything.

"While I was there, they needed extras that could swing a sword – not stunt people, just extras. They selected 30 people, and then later, four of that team were chosen to join the actual stunt team," says Tomuri.

He never did his third year.

He continued to work on all three Lord of the Rings films, as well as the Hobbit, Spartacus and Avatar, among other credits, learning as he went.

Eventually, his path crossed with Dayna's and it was that relationship that saw a now 35-year-old Tomuri land his role on Fury Road.

They worked on Spartacus together and others were questioning her about her upcoming Mad Max role when talk turned to the male lead, Tom Hardy.

"I said, 'I absolutely love Tom Hardy, he's brilliant'. And Dayna looked at a picture [of Hardy] and said, 'that's a real uncanny resemblance, you could double him'," Tomuri laughs.

"Anyway she went off to Namibia and I got a phone call out of the blue saying, 'hey Dayna just dropped a photo on our desk and you'd be a great double for Tom, would you be interested?'."

After checking with his wife, Tomuri was on the next plane out.

"I'm not going to lie, it was a gruelling shoot. We were battling the elements and doing practical stunts... in harnesses all day, fighting, doing wire work – non stop.

He worked closely with Dayna and Charlize Theron, but more so with Hardy, forming an ongoing relationship which has seen him get the call onto at least two more projects with the actor.

"You do form quite a good relationship and trust with the actors. You're rolling around on the ground for days, so you do get to know each other. That's how Dane and Dayna met, after all," he laughs.

"But yeah, it's a dream for a stunt performer to be linked to an actor and I actually can't think of another actor that I would rather be linked to, he really is phenomenal.  Some big things are coming for him and I might be there for the ride, which is even better."

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