Welcome to D’Marge’s first chapter of How To Get My Job, a celebration of the world’s most intriguing men with the world’s coolest jobs. In every interview we’ll be asking the hard questions so that you’ll know whether or not you have what it takes to cut it in a career path less travelled.
While most of us toil away behind the glow of an iridescent computer screen, Mark Higgins has a job that every child (and man) can only dream of. He’s a professional stunt driver for movies and for the last three James Bond films, he’s been filling in for Daniel Craig when things got gnarly behind the wheel.
Stunt driving as a career is like every other job according to Higgins. What one sees from the outside is often very different once you get involved.
“There’s a lot of work involved behind the scenes,” he says. No tertiary qualifications are required as a stunt driver but your talents must excel in other practical areas. Higgins has no issues in accomplishing this since he’s been rally driving since he was a teenager. He does add that being a team player is vital to getting the job done right.
At any given time on the job there could be 1,000 people working on a set for a two car chase, so stunt drivers are often a small cog in a big wheel. “If there are clashes in personality, you might be the best driver in the world but they still won’t have you back,” he warns.
Getting into the world of professional stunt driving is no easy feat either. More often than not, it’s not what you know but who you know – contacts.
“I’ve worked on Top Gear and knew Ben Collins (The Stig) and he approached me asking to work on the gravel scene for Quantum of Solace, and a rally driver is perfect for that. We’ve worked together before and it started from there. You do other car movies and shows and once you get a name in the business, they come back to you. It’s a very small clique and they look after themselves well.”
“It’s very hard to get into from the outside,” he adds.
Of course, once you do make it in, there are rewarding perks that come with being part of the glamorous Bond franchise. “The best part is driving the cars,” he says. “Dressed up as Bond for the duration of filming, the make-up, the hair. You feel like Bond for a few weeks.”
Naturally with the good comes the downsides. The worst part of the job, Higgins tells us, is the hanging around part. When the cameras switch off, stunt drivers can be working day-in-day-out for months at a time rehearsing the same scene.
“It can be monotonous and there’s time away from your family. When they’ve got you, they’ve got you there for the whole time. I was driving every night in Rome. Flat out every night,” he explains.
There’s also the inherent risks involved in such a dangerous job. They are calculated but at the end of the day, launching an Aston Martin into a river isn’t exactly one’s idea of workplace OH&S.
“The amount of work going into health and safety is high.” Higgins tells us. “Driving in Rome we had diving equipment in the car so if we went into the river, I could breathe under water for twenty minutes.”
If you haven’t caught on by now, being a professional stunt driver is not just a nine-to-five gig. It’s physically demanding and Higgins himself still participates in rally competitions which are often interrupted.
“When you’ve got other things in your career like motorsport, it just shuts it down. Then when you keep saying no to people, it’s very easy for them to forget you. It’s all about trying to get the balance right.”
When it comes to experience, Higgins has a lot of it. He began his driving career as a kart racer at twelve. The fact that his entire family were also petrolheads helped fuel his ambitions even further beyond the confines of Isle of Man.
“It was in my blood. You need to have a natural ability in the car. Getting into stunt driving, I didn’t choose it, the opportunity arose and I took it,” he says.
A surprising aspect to the job is its longevity. Whereas most race car drivers often retire by their mid-thirties, stunt drivers can enjoy a healthy and comfortably paid career spanning anywhere between twenty to twenty-five years.
“You’re getting it from experience. Experience in this job is important,” he says.
“You’re working hard at the moment to maximise [earnings] but as you age it’ll get less. So you have to maximise while you can.”
Higgins’ personal advice for people wanting to try their hand as a professional stunt driver is blatantly clear. Talent always comes first. If the natural side isn’t there, it’s near-impossible to develop the working opportunities.
“If you want it enough, you’ll make it happen. It’s not going to come to you. You have to work hard.”
007’s Latest Mission Now Available on Blu-ray to take home. Watch it to see Mark in action behind the wheel of the gorgeous DB10.