Stunt Performer Spotlight: Ronny Mathew

Featured Interview With Stunt Performer, Ronny Mathew.

Ronny Mathew is a stuntman born and raised in Livingston, NJ, but currently residing in Atlanta, GA.  

What inspired you to become a stunt person?

I started my professional career as a Master Technician/Foreman for a BMW/MINI dealership, but have since shifted into film.  

The original inspiration to join the film industry was actually a bit of a spiritual one.  While exhausted at my desk on a late day at the dealership, I realized that I can't manage the workload or stress of my position without breaking down.  In the midst of prayer I felt like God impressed me to pursue the film industry.

I started as an actor, but quickly learned my knowledge and skills surrounding cars could be useful in other areas as well.  I still study acting, but am also a 728 Teamster as a Picture Vehicle Mechanic, and am a regular stunt driver for a few productions.  

What is your greatest skill as a stunt performer, is there a story behind it?

As you might imagine, stunt driving is my forte.  Between my time at BMW, and my years of racing with the SCCA [], I have learned tons about driving cars to their limit, how to control cars past their limits, and manipulating them under a variety of circumstances.  Whenever customers had complaints about vehicles not performing at higher speeds or in more dangerous conditions, I was the go-to guy to replicate those scenarios.

This translated abnormally well to stunt driving, and my overall comfort with any car.  I should also mention, shortly after BMW/MINI, while I was still trying to make my way into the film industry, I worked at a Mom & Pop repair shop that got an abnormal amount of Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Aston Martins, so I ended up familiar and comfortable with those kinds of cars as well.

What is the best part about being a stunt performer?

The best part of being a stunt performer to me, is being valued for my skills and presence.  To know what I've worked for and trained for is actually being valued and can be put to use in telling a bigger story.  It's also a great feeling to be around a set not just because I have the skills, but because people enjoy having me around.  That really makes me enjoy my job and my days.

Tell your all-time personal favorite stunt story!

My favorite day on set had to be with Jahnel Curfman and Hiro Koda on Season 2 of COBRA KAI.  I was doubling an actor who was doing a "run away" sequence, but he was running away in a 2007 Dodge Caravan.  The car chasing me was a 2017 Audi RS7.  So in an attempt to make it somewhat believable that this mini-van could somehow shake off the 550hp monster, I was instructed to drive as "aggressively and dynamically as possible.  Like take up the WHOLE road."

So on one shot, we had a long lens down a roadway facing a T-intersection.  I was going to drive from the left side of the T onto the main road where the camera was.  Using my mechanic skills, I found out how to disable the ratcheting system on factory pedal e-brake.

I had a fair amount of lead up and got the car going pretty fast, but looking through the lens, all you could see is this Dodge Caravan entering frame full sideways, and drifting onto the main road.  Once on the main road, it was just a full series of manji slides into oncoming traffic, and straight towards the lens.  Everyone on the crew (even though it was a small splinter unit crew) went ballistic.

The crew couldn't stop talking about how they never thought a Minivan could look that cool or aggressive.  I personally have always been a fan of Minivans, and I felt like this was the day that sealed that philosophy.

What advice would you give other stunt people?

To that end, the advice I would give is to not just work on your hard "sellable" skills, but to work on your "soft" skills as well.  Being a personable person, learning to read the temperature of the conversational atmosphere, being introspective before being judgmental, being authentically kind - these kinds of things help make everyone feel at ease and make the job not feel so much like "work".

There are plenty of people and things that can make a day on set unnecessarily difficult - we as individuals shouldn't be one of those things, lest we are speaking up for the sake of safety.

Anything else you would like to tell the community?

I would also like to say, we can always do better.  This is not to say that things aren't going well, but "better" should be kept in our minds somewhere.  How to keep people safer, how to make the community better, how to give people a fair shake while providing constructive criticism.

Though things may have been one way before, the world keeps changing.  Doing anything for the sake of history or tradition or tenure has seemed to result in more harm that good, by my observations.  We can constantly work to make our community better, and make it so those that are serious about their craft, can make a decent living just by doing good work, and being good people.