Staying in the Fight
Action movie and TV crime drama buffs may have seen him plunging from impossible heights, crashing through a plate glass window, being stalked by a red-eyed, slimy, other-worldly creature, or suffering a deadly gunshot blow.
“I die a lot, and I die well,” Lane Erwin ’15, says.
For Erwin, a history and philosophy double major who calls Atlanta home, a vocation as a Screen Actors Guild stunt performer was shaped early.
Growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of a Delta Force commander, Erwin found himself in a unique position. When his father wasn’t deployed, he made a point of including Erwin in training at the Army’s Fort Bragg compound. It was there that a teenage Erwin learned Brazilian jiu-jitsu and other martial arts and practiced tactical weapons handling.
But he was also a theater kid, exposed to acting, dancing and singing at an early age, and later influenced by action flicks and comics. Once Erwin learned he could get paid to be catapulted through the air or be pummeled and kicked like a human punching bag, it was all over.
“This is what I was put on this Earth to do,” he says.
Erwin counts himself lucky to have discovered his purpose early. His parents insisted on college, and, fittingly, Erwin first found Furman through the rough-and-tumble sport of rugby. Then, he discovered a love for history and philosophy – both shaping his sense of self and his place in the world.
With a nod to faculty members Brent Nelsen, professor of politics and international affairs; history professors John Barrington, Carolyn Day, Jason Hansen and Marian Strobel; and Aaron Simmons in philosophy, Erwin remembers how they helped mold his worldview through reading assignments and a study-away May Experience class, War and Remembrance, where he toured battlefields, cemeteries and memorials in England, France and Belgium during the 100th anniversary of WWI.
He fondly recalls looking forward to his 8:30 a.m. Colonial Latin America class with Barrington, who besides being an “amazing professor,” says Erwin, has a gift of drawing countries or continents freehand with uncanny precision. With his philosophy professors, Erwin wrestled with questions surrounding existentialism, the power-knowledge dynamic and otherization of individuals and groups.
Outside of classes, he earned a reputation for leaping from second-story balconies. A PAC rat, he wasobsessed with fitness and pushed himself hard in the gym and on the ROTC obstacle course, running for hours at a time.E rwin spent time in the Furman Outdoors Club, hung out at the club’s Rabbit Hole near the Swamp Rabbit Trail and continued hiking and rock climbing, a passion he’s had since boyhood when he participated in USA Climbing junior competitions.
Flash forward to his career in film and TV. Erwin points to his stunts with “L.A.’s Finest” as some of his best work: Cue the plate glass window scene where he busted through as a stunt double for Kurt Yaeger. He also describes an underwater fight scene with fellow stunt performer Tamiko Brownlee, a double for Jessica Alba.
“So I’m in this fight scene with Tamiko, who’s just awesome. She’s in full kit with flak vest and boots in a 13-foot dive pool. We’re fighting, we have to maintain good breath control, the hits have to read. At the end, about at the minute mark, when we’ve burned through our oxygen, I have to drag her and swim with her to the top. Stuff like that was a blast,” Erwin says.
It brings up an important point, Erwin says, about the value of his profession as a member of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. His role is not only to protect the principal performers, but also to make them look good on screen.
“I’ve worked with talent, and I am trusted with talent,” he says. “My job is to make sure they’re good. I get a lot of pride from that.”
Erwin’s biography includes stunts for DC Comics series “Swamp Thing” and Marvel Studios miniseries “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Inhumans” – particularly surreal experiences for Erwin who appeared with characters that literally leapt from the pages of his childhood comic books.
His bio features appearances in “NCIS: New Orleans,” an episode on “9-1-1” and other many other TV dramas. His big-screen resume includes stunting for “Home Team,” “Body Cam” and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”
Deciding on stunts as a career was easy, Erwin says. Actually making a living the first three years was not.
“It was hard,” he told a crowd at a Furman Cultural Life Program event he headlined in February. He soldiered through pilots that didn’t get off the ground and other circumstances that led to eviction notices and his power being shut off.
“I ate a lot of ramen,” he says, laughing. Side gigs kept him afloat until stunt work came his way. “I worked in coffee shops, restaurants, rock climbing gyms. I did whatever I could to make some money so I could keep going.
“My dad has a saying: ‘Stay in the fight.’ How can you find a way to keep fighting for your dreams, keep going for your goals? There was no way I was going to let this go.”
Living in Atlanta for the last eight years, Erwin told his CLP audience how long he planned to be doing stunts. “’Til the day I die,” he says. “But honestly, it’s got a timeline. I can’t hit the ground forever.”
He expects he’ll do hard-hitting stunts for another 15 years barring serious injury. He is also dabbling in stunt coordination, where he selects and trains talent and choreographs the stunts – a natural segue in the world of “hits and misses,” chase scenes, high falls, fights, fiery crashes and fatal gunshot wounds.
Tapping another side of his creative sensibilities, Erwin is building a small acting reel, has solid ideas for a TV series, and is working on a movie script – a “Point Break” meets “Pineapple Express” story, he says, based on an actual 1970s airplane crash in a Yosemite National Park lake.
In the meantime, Erwin says, it’s “a dream come true” to work stunts in L.A., New Orleans and far-flung places like Diamond Head State Monument in Honolulu, a location that eased the burden of an 80-hour workweek for “Inhumans.”
Erwin has another saying he wears on his wrist: “Never give up.” The tattoo is red, his favorite color, and is a permanent reminder to press forward in any circumstance. He urged the same to his CLP audience.
He says a lot of energy is placed on getting to the right college, selecting the right major, the right degree, the perfect job.
“I’m fortunate to be in a position where I knew what I wanted to do.” But, at the same time, he says, “It’s never too late to go after your goals and what sets your heart on fire.” And unlike the fate of many of the characters he plays, “It’s never the end of the road.”