The right shape: Actor Marco Sellitto (left) and body double Graham Jahne on the set of Kangaroo Jack.
Sometimes you just can’t be in two places at once, unless you have a handy double to take your place.
The recent opening of Australia’s first Madame Tussauds in Sydney has provided several celebrity Australians, including Dannii Minogue, Mark Webber and Nicole Kidman, with a body double.
But when celebrities require a more active second version of themselves, they look for specialists in the field.
On stage and on screen are stunt performers and versatile understudy “triple threats” who can sing, dance and act another role at short notice.
The stunt double \
Graham Jahne, 50, left his day job as a high-voltage electrician climbing towers to jump off buildings, crash cars and set himself on fire.
As a youth he trained in martial arts and circus skills and says he’s always liked a life of action.
When Jahne’s idol, actor and stuntman Jackie Chan, came to Melbourne to film Mr Nice Guy in 1996, he decided to take the plunge. He made falling off buildings for cameras his career and has met and doubled for many actors. Jahne’s similar body shape to US actor Nicolas Cage had him wearing the star’s Johnny Blaze leathers for stunt motorbike scenes in fantasy thriller Ghost Rider, shot in Melbourne in 2006. He also doubled for Cage in the film Knowing, and for Eric Bana in Romulus, My Father.
Jahne has saved actor Ben Mendelsohn from much strife by crashing cars in his place in both Beautiful Kate and Animal Kingdom, and he also played his double in TV series Tangle.
Actor Marco Sellitto handed Jahne the wheel in film Kangaroo Jack, shot near Alice Springs.
“I was stunt-doubling Marco for some crazy 4WD chases through canyons and deserts, and for a big fight scene between a whole bunch of bad guys,” Jahne says.
“The 4WD I and two others were in eventually ends up rolled on to its side and wedged into a canyon, and as there was no room to install a roll cage in the car for us, or to get to us to feed us dinner, it was decided to use dummies.
“There are some things even a stuntie won’t do. Especially if it means missing out on a feed!”
Much of Jahne’s work is in his home town of Melbourne. TV series jobs include Rush, in which he doubled Callan Mulvey as Sergeant Brendan Joshua, Halifax fp, in which he stepped in for actor Shane Lee and was rammed into a pillar, and the Underbelly series.
“As Underbelly was a local production, I got used over and over again. But if you got your face on camera you might not come back as somebody else later on.”
Fortunately Jahne could cover his face with a balaclava to play several murderers before switching to a policeman, a pedestrian and a driver.
Role reversal: Luke Joslin plays Bert Healy in the musical Annie but is on standby to double Todd McKenney’s role, Rooster.
The understudy \
Luke Joslin, 32, took the call early on a Sunday morning. A star of the hit musical Annie, Todd McKenney, couldn’t do the matinee and Joslin had to step into his shoes.
But not literally. Joslin has his own stage footwear as part of a complete duplicate of McKenney’s costume in the musical that began its journey in his home town of Sydney in January and opens in Melbourne this month.
Joslin says he was ready to step in. As McKenney’s understudy, he watches the star’s performance and rehearses the script, songs and choreography twice a week.
The switch meant Joslin’s own understudy, Todd Goddard, had to play his role in the musical – radio show host Bert Healy – while Joslin played conman Rooster. “The cast is sensational and they get right behind you. Without understudies the show would be cancelled.”
Dirty Dancing, in 2003, was the first show Joslin understudied for. He covered six main roles. “It was extremely challenging … and it was a great way to fast-track learning the business.”
In 2008 he understudied Magda Szubanski’s role Big Jule in Guys and Dolls in Melbourne and says he went on stage at least 50 times over five months. “It’s a whole other ball game understudying a celebrity, and that celebrity may be the reason people have come to see the show. You feel that disappointment from the audience when they have come to see Todd or Magda but see it’s you in the role.”
On opening night for Annie in Sydney it was not celebrity canine Coodgie in the lead role of Sandy, as billed. The dog suffered stagefright so extreme at the first preview that producer John Frost says he had no choice but to sack him and bring on the underdog, Mickey.
“One of the performers brought their dog in to understudy the understudy,” Frost says. “(Coodgie) was sacked, and he was going back to the pound but Alan Jones adopted the dog and now it lives on Alan’s farm.”