Hooked on action roles
Derek Hamilton marries pugilism, performance
Former Golden Gloves champion Derek Hamilton doesn’t have to act like a fighter.
His fight training as a teen has lately supplemented his acting work, giving Hamilton a unique sideline as both actor and stuntman, most recently on TV’s Arrow.
“I’ve been getting the crap beat out of me by superheroes,” the 40-year-old actor says over a coffee.
Hamilton fought competitively as a teen back home in New Brunswick before following an actress girlfriend to Vancouver nearly two decades ago. A casting director spotted Hamilton when he accompanied her to an audition where his own film career was launched.
“I didn’t know what a monologue was, what sides were,” he explains. “I approached it like a boxer, went into the room, stepped out of my corner and said, ‘here we go.’ I worked at it. I read a lot of books.”
Work as a nightclub bouncer supplemented Hamilton’s acting gigs until his career took him to Los Angeles. The fight background came in handy when he returned to Vancouver in the middle of the last decade to raise a family.
“I still do the speed bag. It’s good discipline,” says Hamilton, who drew on his fighting past to mixed acting with stunt work — throwing punches and being thrown himself.
“It’s taught me a lot about acting,” Hamilton says. “When you’re young, you’re wound up and you’re tight but stunt work is about staying loose — your muscles and your mind and everything else, so you can flow, so you don’t hurt somebody.”
That looseness came in handy for a role last year in the first episode of TV’s Arrow. In that episode, Hamilton played the Red Mask, leader of a gang who kidnaps and interrogates the title character, a crime-fighting billionaire, played by Stephen Amell.
Hamilton and the stunt team worked on fight choreography for a day before Amell joined them to film the scene. Arrow started out tied to a chair and ended up thumping the whole gang.
“During that scene there was a point where I take a big swing at him. It’s right from my boot heels. One from the old days,” Hamilton says. “I swing at him, he ducks and my fist just clears the top of his head.”
They went through the scene several times and during one take, director David Nutter behind the monitor called out for Hamilton to throw the big punch.
“I immediately fired that right hand, a big looping hook. Stephen didn’t duck and I stopped that fist about three inches from his ear in mid-flight,” Hamilton recalls. “That could have been a catastrophe. I don’t think Stephen saw it happen.”
Similar prep work went into choreographing a season four episode of TV’s Smallville wherein Hamilton played a character with his own superpowers who fights Tom Welling’s Clark Kent.
Computer-generated effects were added later to turn Hamilton’s fist to rock. In addition, Hamilton had a dialogue-heavy arc as a seemingly benign character who turns murderous.
“It wasn’t just come in for the fight. I was a red herring. You thought I was a good guy.”
Another kind of arc was involved in an episode of TV’s demon-themed drama Supernatural last year. Hamilton played a father killed by his possessed daughter.
The scene involved the girl throwing her father against a wall. Hamilton wore a harness attached to a wire at his hip. A ratchet yanked the other end and threw him five metres through the air at the wall.
“They want you wild-looking in the air — the ass gets above the arms and legs.”
A new wall was slid in to replace the damaged one for each of the three takes. “We hammered it, the whole wall moved.”
The brief scene ended when Hamilton’s character died on the ground and with apparent special effects, his hands and feet severed. All in a day’s work. He took a break from the beatings last year to play a troubled father in the festival-hit indie drama Becoming Redwood.
Now Hamilton and that movie’s writer-director Jesse James Miller are collaborating on a screenplay about a bare-knuckle champ who returns to his small-town home to look for his missing brother. Hamilton will star, again mixing the fighting with the acting.
“(I’m) widening the arsenal and I’m really enjoying it,” he says.
Stuntman Derek Hamilton is often around for more than just the fight scenes in his film and television appearances.
Derek Hamilton took what looked like quite a beating in a scene from TV’s Supernatural last year.