Stunt Performer Spotlight: Lon Gowan

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Tell about yourself, Lon!

My family moved a lot when I as kid. I had to learn to fit in and prove myself every year or so. Born in New Orleans, lived in Texas, moved up the coast, Indiana, Ohio, a few places in Pennsylvania including West Philadelphia, and finally found home on a farm in rural Vermont.

I enjoyed theater in high school but was also into sports. It was a small high school, so I never had to choose, I was able to do both. I was a decent athlete. Good enough to play four years of College soccer, but I always lacked a competitive edge. I liked to play and be part of the team but winning was not as big deal to me.

That same mentality I took into acting and stunts, I never was competitive, I just wanted to play, be a part of it. I wanted to be in the game. I wanted to keep getting better and improving, but never saw it as competing against others, only myself.

Because I was able to play sports and get a degree in theater, it was natural to believe that I could do both stunts and acting. Nobody said I couldn’t… not that I would have listened.

When I first got to Hollywood I was told, "you have a great ‘Commercial Look." I was too naive and wide-eyed to know that they say that to everyone. But I took it to heart… and I did well. I was a working Hollywood actor in a relatively short time. Still I wanted to do stunts. I auditioned for The Miami Vice Stunt Show at Universal Studio, it was bad ass. But at the audition, because I could act, they hired me for a new Western Stunt Show. I was fortunate because that put me in a group of extremely talented stunt people. Trying to hang in with them stunt-wise was humbling and great training. From there, I started booking TV gigs that split between acting, stunts, and some that where both. None of it was easy, but because of my time living on the farm, I didn’t mind the hard work. I was in the game.

The lack of competitiveness has served me well. I never get down when I don’t get a gig and I never feel jealous when others have success and I’m not booking. I’m on the team, in the game, and I have always enjoyed being part of it.

What inspired you to become a stunt person?

When I graduated college, I could have gone to New York, but to be honest I was tired of the cold. I really wanted to be a character actor in Hollywood. One of those guys you see on TV that you cannot remember their name, but you say, “I love that guy!” That was the “plan," except that I didn’t actually have a plan, at all, I knew nothing about Hollywood or the business.

Someone told me there was a guy who had just moved from Hollywood a couple towns over. I called him up and we met. He had worked on a few movies as a stuntman. As he talked about it, it sounded more like what I wanted. I could use my acting and still be physical. I then found more stunt performers in New England and started to train with them before I made the move. Other than that, I watched Burt Reynolds, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood movies, BATMAN and GREEN HORNET reruns on TV, and loved when Dar Robinson was on “That’s Incredible.".

What is your greatest skill as a stunt performer, is there a story behind it? I am an action-actor. I am blue collar, beat cop, janitor, guy next door. I play lawyers and dirtbags. I am the best friend or the shitty middle manager. I physically do what those guys do. I am not Jason Bourne or John Wick, but I am the truck driver that says the wrong thing to them or the security guard that unwittingly tries to get in their way.

I worked hard to become a good character actor that can do the action required. I know how to break down the story and what my part and purpose in that story is. When I do double people, it’s always doubling roles that I could play. I am the average joe, every man, taking his lumps, that can handle any acting required.

What is the best part about being a stunt performer?

That’s the easy question, isn't it? There is an amazing sense of pride that comes from being a member of the stunt community. I got my SAG card on a film in Vermont. I was working as a PA on a film. I had already been training stunts with some east coast guys. On this film the coordinator couldn’t make the winter drive up from Boston because of the roads.

I convinced the producer that I could do the gag. I got Taft-Hartley. The next Monday I made the drive 4 hours down to the local office in Boston and proudly joined the union as a Stunt Performer. I drove back the 4 hours full of pride. I was a professional Stuntman.

I still feel that pride when I drive onto a lot or when I see my name on a piece of white tape on a trailer door, “Lon: Stunt Guard” I am a part of a legacy. I am responsible to that legacy and the image it holds. It has weight and value. It carries respect and awe. I find it to be sacred. My actions reflect on others and theirs on me. That’s the agreement, the trust. The image and legacy that this community holds, the talent, fortitude, history, and integrity of its members… I am honored to be in it and filled with pride when I get to say, “I’m a stunt performer."

Tell your all-time personal favorite stunt story!

So, I’m working on a TV show. I’m playing the amiable Security Guard who unwittingly stumbles upon a crime. I’m going to say some lines, fire some shots, take a couple squibs, and then go to the ground. I distract the bad guy so the Hero can be heroic. We are shooting near downtown, big network show.

The 1st AD introduces me to the Guest Star that is going to shoot me and hands him a prop gun for rehearsal which he takes from her and starts pointing it around like he is firing it, “bang, bang, bang.” The 1st AD grabs it from him and the Guest Star says incredulously, “it’s just rubber?” She calmly says, “I know that, but they don’t…” and points to the police officers working the set, "or anybody else." He gives her a smart ass “whatever” look. I look at the Coordinator and whisper, “this should be good." He chuckles.

We walk through the action and it turns out the Guest Star needs to go to the ground and shoot me from there. So, we lay a pad out. The Coordinator says to him, “you don’t need to fall, this isn’t where we are going to be shooting, just lay down so we can see it." “I got it,” he says. I am looking at the set up, I can see he is getting amped, so I say to him, “there is a pole back there, don’t..." “I got it!” he snips. “Okay."

They call rehearsal action and sure enough, he throws himself backwards. I stop. “Keep going!” the AD yells. “He’s out." “Keep going!” "No, he’s out cold. He knocked himself out on the pole. He needs the medic.”

He ended up okay, he still went home after a trip to the ER. If it had not been his last day, they would have replaced him. We ended up having to shoot the scene three weeks later on the Warner Brothers lot.

This is why you hire action actors, even for the Guest Star roles. Although, I did get an extra day and an ADR session out of it.

What advice would you give other stunt people?

Know who you are and be true to that. That honesty of self-awareness translates into trust from others. Think of the people you admire that work the most, I bet they are all people you would love to spend 16 hours a day on set with. That is not coincidence. Those people are comfortable in themselves and it makes people trust them and want to be with them.

I have watched repeatedly stunt people coming up do the hard work to build confidence in themselves and learn who they are. When they do, and that light goes off, their career takes off.