Theatre grad leads double life as stuntman

Professional stuntman Peter Wallack (B.A. ’08 Theatre) flips through photos of his recent work in New York City. “This is where Mick Jagger’s kid jumped off a stage and punched me in the face.” “This is me on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” “I got paid to throw up on this 8-year-old.” He pauses to explain how lunch breaks work when you have a fake beard pasted to your face (surprise, it’s difficult).

You may have seen Peter on screen, but it’s doubtful you’d recognize him. As a stuntman, he’s an invisible element to that movie magic. His laptop, fittingly, is adorned with a Band-Aid.

As a theatre major, Peter worked both on and off the stage at UAA—acting, lighting and, importantly, planning fight scenes. A professor once commented that his fight choreography could convert to professional stuntwork, but he brushed off the comment. “That’s really dumb,” he remembers thinking. “It’s ridiculous.”

A bike accident convinced him otherwise. One summer morning, Peter was pedaling to work through Ship Creek when a reversing truck forced him to swerve, clip the curb and sail face first into the concrete. He ran the rest of the way to work, arriving energized and mostly unharmed, with a crumpled bike frame and a single drop of blood streaking his face. Close calls make most people more cautious, but the wreck just made Peter realize he could be a stuntman after all.

So he moved to New York and found work in the theatre scene. He made his first industry connections rigging lights, and soon started as a stand-in on USA Network’s White Collar, taking actor Matt Bomer’s place as the director of photography lined up shots. According to Peter, it was “the top level of the bottom rung,” but it got him connected to film sets. After that, the hustle was on.

Peter is fit—he spent six years in the Marine Corps before UAA, he leads Arctic expeditions for his family’s tourism business—but, surprisingly, it’s his baby face that lands him most roles. At 34 years of age, he regularly doubles for high school kids. While talking, his phone buzzes; a casting director needs to know what he looks like right now. Stuntwork is the rare industry where selfies are shamelessly essential, and these immediate images land him more roles than a professional headshot ever could.

Whether he’s doubling in fight scenes on Netflix’s Jessica Jones, jumping off ships on Fox’s The Following or coordinating stunts on David Bowie’s final music video, he always prioritizes safety. “People ask, ‘Are you a daredevil?’ No.” he says flatly. “We’re not Superman. We get hurt just like everybody else … It’s as dangerous as it looks, but we take a lot of pride in the safety of it.”

Yet it remains a risky business and, in stuntwork, higher risk literally equals higher reward on payday. On a recent stunt on CBS’s Blue Bloods, Peter launched into a screeching car’s windshield. The car selected had a long, flat hood. Peter paced his steps so he could tip onto the car, aiming his back at the slightly more forgiving windshield. But after a day of rehearsals, he only ran the actual crash once. After all, he’s still hurtling into a moving Chrysler.

How does one unwind after that kind of workday? Peter slept most of the next 36 hours, waking up for his men’s roller derby practice (he’s a blocker for the agreeably named New York Shock Exchange). He sat on the sidelines, honestly telling his teammates, “I feel like I got hit by a car.”

Peter is regularly in Alaska, guiding Arctic expeditions, and he plans to return full time in the future. “Alaska is my home, and I hope to come back before my body gives out,” he noted.

For now, though, he’ll keep falling face first down marble steps in New York and linking UAA’s theatre grads one step closer to Kevin Bacon.

And as for that car hit, Peter earned some payback. A few days later, while playing a protester, he got to punch a car as it rolled past.

Peter-hit-by-car

See our website for videos of Peter’s fight choreography and a clip of that jarring car hit.  Visit tinyurl.com/AlumniSpirit.