One of the worst kept secrets in skateboarding is that most pro skateboarders have other “real life” jobs outside of riding a skateboard. Many of your favorite pros pick up set production work on the side or grind coffee beans at local hipster oat milk espresso bars, and plenty more take way worse gigs just to sustain their career. Riding a fast moving plank of wood isn’t really an impressive resume builder, but there’s one area where all the sacking and jumping around can actually be an advantage: being a stunt double.
James “Fidel” Gonzalez was never a pro skateboarder, but he skated and tumbled well enough to get recognized and become a union stunt double. Now he willingly gets slammed by cars, falls down stairs, takes punches, and jumps out of windows for a living, which might be the best side gig for skaters who already huck themselves down rails just for Instagram followers. If you’re gonna get broke off skating anyway, might as well not be broke doing it!
How did you become a skateboard stunt double?
I had just quit working at McDonald’s when I got a call from my boy Nick Sassa, asking if I wanted to be in a movie called Disconnect. He had the in and did some gigs a few times before me. So he told me to get there at 8 a.m. and I got there super early, like 5 a.m. If you’re there early as shit, stunt coordinators are psyched on you. They’re like, “I can trust this motherfucker. He’s not some bum skateboarder.” Even though I am.
What kind of stunts did you do in that first role in Disconnect?
They wanted me to double for this character Colin Ford and skate through this mall, knocking shit off the shelves and stuff like that. They shut this entire mall down and made specific benches for us to skate on. They would call “action” and these people would walk past, and my friend Nick and I would skate the bench. I think I was more into it than he was. He’s not in SAG-AFTRA.
What does an average stunt gig pay if it’s skate related?
It’s not really about whether it’s skate related or not. The going rate for any stunt is upward of $800 for eight hours, so it’s like $100 an hour. There are pay bumps, like if the coordinator thinks it was a hard stunt. Most of the time if I bring my skateboard they give me a bump because it’s my own.
Do you do more than just skate stunts?
I do plenty of other stuff. I do stair falls, flips. I wasn’t a gymnast but I used to hang out with the gymnastic girls in high school. One day this kid came up behind me and ripped my pants down in front of two different gym classes. Half the kids saw my beef jerky and the other half saw my ass. The gymnastics teacher was sitting at a little desk directly in front of me taking attendance and she saw too. She gasped and so did half the kids on the bleachers, which made it so much worse. I pulled my pants up so fucking fast and took a seat with the kids that got the ol’ moon. I felt they were less damaged.
“Half the kids saw my beef jerky and the other half saw my ass.”
The gym coach walked over to me after. I guess she felt bad because she saw I was sitting on the gym equipment and she asked if I wanted to hang out with the gymnastics team. I was like, “Boy, do I,” and I ended up hanging like every day.
Did you ever bang one of the gymnastics chicks?
After we graduated, of course, one of them tells me, “You know a bunch of those girls on the team wanted to get in your pants, right?” I never banged any of them, I didn’t see them like that, and I didn’t think they saw me like that either.
If a director asked you to put something up your ass for a stunt, would you do it?
Yes, but they’d have to give me the same rate as a porn star. A female porn star who does anal. That has to be at least a $3,000 bump. And I don’t do ass to mouth. That’s on my resume.
Have you ever been offered a role to be a penis double?
No, but I would do it if they were looking for a man with a regular-sized small wiener. Ladies, if you’re reading this and you know who I am, I got the smallest dick in the world. The secret is out.
“That has to be at least a $3,000 bump. And I don’t do ass to mouth!”
Have you ever backed out of stunts because they seemed too dangerous?
No, but I do know my limits. I’ll tell them straight up if I can’t do something, but I am pretty fearless. Except for spiders and shit, I don’t fuck with spiders.
If the director told you to jump out of this window into a pit of spiders, would you back out?
You’d have to give me like $10,000. I don’t fuck with spiders. But I think $10,000 is my breaking point. I can’t pass that up. Fuck that. $3,000, I’d let them do whatever they want. But $10,000 for spiders.
Who is the most famous person you’ve been on set with?
I would say that’s a three-way tie between Lucy Liu, the Broad City girls, and Suki Waterhouse, this famous model. She’s really beautiful.
What was it like hanging out with those celebrities?
The chick Ilana Glazer [from Broad City] is so cool. Literally the coolest woman in the industry. She straight up was like, “Hey, you guys smoke weed?” She showed us the Vape Life thing they do on the show and asked if we wanted to smoke with them. I don’t smoke weed that much, but given that opportunity, I was like, “Hell yeah! I’m in!”
I also got to talk to Lucy Liu for a bit. I was trying to really schmooze and be all slick. I tried to get a picture with her and she was like, “No, I’m sorry. Wardrobe won’t let me show off this outfit.” But she did give me a hug and told me I was cute. Me being a fan of Charlie’s Angels when I was younger, I was ready to profess my love to her right on the spot.
Maybe Lucy Liu will read this and remember that hug with the stunt double.
Yo, put my number right underneath this in big font! Nah, actually don’t do that. I’d probably get a call from some old dudes like, “Yo dude, I heard you put out for $4,000.”
What’s the best way for the average schmuck to find a skating stunt double gig?
One way is having a unique trait, like being very small like me. I double as kids and they usually need that. The other way is to sign up with a background casting company. They make you choose if you have a special ability, which obviously mine would be skating. You’ll end up working a lot of background jobs as an extra obviously, but one call might be the one that gets you into the stunt double game.
Another way is, and this worked for me one time, going on Background Casting New York, or maybe it’s called Central Casting… Either way, go on their Twitter and they’ll post the specific kind of people they need. One time I saw a call for a young skateboarder and I showed up. It was at Astoria skatepark and there were like 50 kids. The guy chose me and one other kid out of everyone. That’s how I really kept going and doing more stunts. That job helped me progress.
Have you ever been seriously hurt on set?
Not really. When it comes to falling, I got rubber bones. I’ve never been really hurt on set physically or mentally, knock on wood. I’m sure they would cover my expenses if I did, knock on wood again. I’m their property when I sign a contract for them, at least during those hours, so whatever happens to me during that time, like if I break my leg in half, I’m pretty sure they would pay for all my hospital bills.
Any tips for bailing and avoiding getting hurt, either skating or just doing dumb shit?
What I did when I was younger, I watched a lot of YouTube videos from karate guys and learned how to roll the right way. It sounds weird saying practicing for skateboarding, but if you practice rolling and jumping with speed it will really help you out in the long run. It’ll save your knees, big time.
With ledges and rails, go really fast. The faster you get on the faster you get off. It’s also safer because if you bail, you want to fly over the obstacle and not land on it. If you’re skating a mini ramp or tranny, fall toward the coping, not to the bottom. Landing in the middle will tear your ACL, get your shit fucked up.
Do you ever get to give any creative input about how skate scenes should be filmed?
Sometimes, but it’s not so much the filming. They’ll ask if the actor looks good skating. Like one of the actors pushing mongo — whose name I won’t mention — we got him to push regular because we knew somebody would’ve said something about it. We told the director straight up that he can’t do that and it does not look good. They were like, “Okay, we get it,” and they made him push regular. The actor was not happy about it but he understood after a while.
Apparently professional athletes aren’t supposed to jerk off before a big game, is that how you feel about big stunts and skating?
I didn’t know that was a thing for other people, but I believe it fully. Before skating any contest I can’t jerk off. If I did, I would feel like what the word “blubba” feels. You get Jell-O legs. You feel like shit. My friend was telling me that he jerks it every day before we go skating, like he has to do it in the morning. He’s a Rasta dude and he was like, “It’s irie man, it’s just fucking irie, Jah man.” Save that shit for the end of the day.
Is being a stunt double strictly a young person’s game?
There are a lot of old vets, more than you think. Some dudes that still do this are 60. The stunt industry is like skateboarding, everyone knows when someone does a crazy stunt. Like, “Jimmy kickflipped the fucking Hollywood High,” and then like, “Janice did a front flip over a school bus while she was set on fire!” It’s the same shit. It’s really like as much as your body can take. You can only hope to be the Andrew Reynolds of the stunt industry. He never slows down, it’s crazy. I don’t know how that dude walks!