Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Tell us about yourself and stunts, Zak!
I was born in Italy and grew up in Rome and Sicily, I always led a dynamic and passionate life. I was considered a charming champion and a keen martial artist who, from the age of 9 until my retirement from tournaments, won many Italian, World and USA national martial arts tournaments in several different federations such as JKA, FESIKA, SKKI. USKAA. WKA, WAKO, ECKA. I have been recognized as the youngest pioneer in Europe as a dynamo martial artist.
It all began with the aspirations to teach children and adults karate and kick boxing, I am a certified trainer under NCEP, and NCCPT. I always came back on my feet when I reached several times "the rockbottom" in my life, but always I kept intact the desire to follow my dreams and my life's purpose. I've been in the Industry since the 80’s starting in Italy, and moved to the USA in my early 20’s, I worked on Live Shows, TV shows, Music videos, and commercials. Although I only ever wanted to be a stuntman, or an Action Actor, either one was good for me as long I can do stunts on my own.
I love being on set and see every aspect of the productions, I couldn’t be doing anything else, this is what truly fulfills my happiness, this is what I truly love. Ultimately today I’m became also the inventor of the X3S Bench (www.X3Sbench.com) - the hybrid chair bench used to strengthen the core, abs, and legs. I’m recognized as the creator of the successful fitness video series “Tai-Box Kick To Fit.".
The program was the first of its kind to combine kickboxing, martial arts, and aerobics, becoming a smash hit in 1998-1999, selling over a million dollars in retail sales reaching number 6 on the Video Billboard Chart, but believe it or not I was able to make just the distributor rich, not me, lesson learned. So I decide to release a follow up to my first tape by producing and starring in a DVD series, "Zak Lee’s Street Kickbox Workout."
I also use my strength physical ability not just for stunts but to help charities organization to raise funding and awareness for animals and environment protection. It all started when I climbed for 24 hours ascendant and descendant, non-stop, on the 189 steps of the popular Santa Monica stairs in California at age 47, 316 times. It was a total of 59,754 steps, which burned over 10,000 calories and climbed as high as one and a half of Mt. Everest.
I have been in training nearly all my life, I own and worked as a group fitness manager at two sports clubs in Italy and developed and taught my fitness programs at Equinox, Spectrum Clubs, Sports Club LA, Bodies in Motion, 24 hour Fitness, David Burton Gym and many more. I continue to train in Filipino martial arts ad Kali under my Guru Daniel Inosanto at the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts in Marina Del Rey, California.
I studied with such renowned masters and champions as: Hirokazu Kanazawa, Toshio Yamada, world kick boxer champion Dev Barrett, the legendary kick boxing champion, Benny “the Jet" Urquidez and world kick boxer champion Peter "Sugarfoot" Cunningham.
At the early stage of my life, I also spent time in China perfecting moves and forms through rigorous training at the Shaolin temple, and trained in Wing Tsun under the W.T.O. organization founded by Master Leung Ting. I have been recognized for my creative form (kata), a specialty that has earned me countless trophies.
My first fun comedic acting role was in the romantic comedy feature film "Everybody Wants To Be Italian" - and I have acted in many other feature films since then. I spent six years in the Academy of Art in Rome Italy, studying fine arts, sculpting, graphics, illustration, set design and photography. I have also taken method acting under Joanne Barron & DW Brown (Meisner Technique).
What inspired you to become a stunt person?
The first time I saw a movie set was when I start learning working as PA at age seventeen in Rome at Cine-Citta Studios on a feature “I Hate Blondes” discovered by the Italian producer Marcello Crescenzi where I had the first epiphany watching a stuntman perform and thinking, “I can do that.” I fell in love with stunts and acting and followed my ultimate dream, to migrate, become US citizen and work with American productions in Los Angeles.
What is your greatest skill as a stunt performer, is there a story behind it?
My skills are many and I consider myself an All-Around Stuntman. I’m a fast learner, and passion is my constant motivation. For me, learning skills in stunts is like learning several styles in martial arts, you can focus and master a few, and taste many other styles or systems to get familiar and borrow what fits for you the best.
Growing up in Italy in the early 1970’s, I was considered the weirdo, the crazy guy, and delusional for having a passion for martial arts and being a serious Bruce Lee fan. I got insulted, discouraged, and ultimately even my family tried to detour my interest, thinking was for my own good.
I never was a fan of following the traditional culture of my nationality, I had a solid vision with a free spirit, and the more people tried to discourage me or stop my passion, the more my desire increased and proved to me exactly that being a stuntman is my life destiny.
What is the best part about being a stunt performer?
As an artist my life reflects my visionary ideal. From the day I was born I began to materialize my own vision, so for me it’s always important learn from other stunt veterans, then develop something new or different, and not just as a stunt performer, but as a fine artist.
I’m full of energy and my adrenaline has no expiration date. In my first 20 years of life, after surviving several major life threatening car and motorcycle accidents, I started really focusing on becoming a stuntman and a fine actor. It started making more sense getting paid to crash things in a safe environment and have fun, rather than getting into excessive accidents and pay the consequences... also office work never was for me, unless I’m in my art studio.
What advice would you give other stunt people?
Each person is different, even if they have the same skills or personality, it is very much like a suit that doesn’t fit to all, or a diet that might work for me, but not to anybody else, so I say just have a strong passion, a vision that will lead to a stronger desire to achieve your dreams, love what you chose to do in life, listen your body and never take your health for granted, build your health equity, continue learn from anyone no matter who they are, and do your craziest stunt in the safest environment as possible.
As well by now everyone should know to follow the basic rules, being on time is being late, make everyone look good, respect everyone like yourself, it is very important to be aware about what you are doing on set as sometimes no one's going to protect you better than yourself. It’s an amazing profession that we do, we bring so much excitement on set, and finally it is really cool watching our work on the big screen.
Anything else you would like to tell the community about?
This is valuable to anyone out there. In my life I constantly had naysayers try to keep me from living my dreams, but I kept dreaming, and I keep on living. Life may
demand much of me, but I demand more of life.
I’m the underdog that won’t quit. I never stop investing myself, the pay-off is what I live for.
Stunts Unlimited: https://directory.stuntsunlimited.com/profile/zak-lee-guarnaccia/
Stunt Players Directory: https://www.stuntplayers.com/player/zak-guarnaccia/