An unexpected journey towards becoming a stunt actor, and building a successful career
Mel Gibbons // Contributor
Canadian actor and stuntman Clint Carleton explains that it started during his childhood. As a child, his hobbies included downhill skiing, backcountry skiing, motocross, rock climbing and martial arts such as taekwondo. He admits that he enjoyed mimicking monkeys and creatures. Chuckling, he mentions “I would go to the forest a lot and pretend that I was a Jedi. And I remember when I was 10 somebody asked me what I wanted to be and I said I wanted to be a stuntman.” He confesses his first stunt video was on a toy hybrid bicycle motorbike that he rode and did jumps on as he dreamt of flying.
Carleton also talked about how his “ego came crawling down” in his twenties when he was the Canadian National Freestyle Jet Ski champion and suffered from bankruptcy, losing his financial security. It was a tough moment, but he overcame this challenge by accepting a job in the Cayman Islands. Through this job, he managed to start saving money. While living in the Cayman Islands, he visualized the places in the world he wished to explore.
After saving enough money, Carleton traveled to 28 countries, his last stop being Tibet. While in Tibet, his interest in becoming a background actor started to grow and thrive. It was there that a friend mentioned a film called Lord of the Rings was being filmed in New Zealand. Clint didn’t know much about it, but he did remember his sister owned the books. The filming was “very hush hush, they weren’t telling people where they were shooting,” so he travelled to India and then he made his way to New Zealand with very little money and a heart full of hope. “I had only $10 to my name and I was sleeping on park benches for a while,” he says. “I got a squeegee and went door-to-door to clean people’s windows and I raised enough money to get a car.”
Once he got a car, the young Canadian travelled to the North Island where, rumour had it, Lord of the Rings was being filmed. He had to go door-to-door to investigate the right locations for the film as it was very secretive. Carleton explains “I didn’t apply for this movie, but I knew I had to do it.” Once he managed to get to where they were shooting, him and his friend camped out on the side of the road and “every time a car would drive by we acted a fight scene.” After various failed attempts, they were redirected to the casting office, where they told him to “go take some headshots and then send an email.” Confused about the email concept, Carleton managed take his headshots and send them at last. But, he uncovers, “that wasn’t was got me the job, it was actually when I took a picture with me and my baby niece and wrote underneath: ‘this one is to warm your heart.’” Thus, Carleton proceeded to be a background actor for Lord of the Rings. At times, Clint would come to Peter Jackson’s house to take care of his kids and teach them gymnastics. So, with that special connection, he ended up playing 11 different characters in the film. He also began to work alongside character developers to teach background actors how to behave like specific creatures, through a system called Neutral Slip, which you achieve by removing your daily masks and getting into your “inner ape” in order to build different mannerisms.
The eager stunt actor had previously acted in high school, where his favourite class was drama. As a teen, he trained with his “Acting Guru” Warren Robertson who believed in “embodying truth in the character.” Carleton affirms that he didn’t study acting in university, but he always believed in pursuing his dream regardless. After being a part of Lord of the Rings, he played various different characters in films such as Planet of the Apes, Watchmen, I, Robot, and many others. Drawing from his own experience, Carleton’s advice for young people is to follow their hearts, as life is permeated with opportunities. In order to learn from the biggest actors, you have to be dedicated, and always seek new knowledge about life and yourself. “Leave space in your life for magic, because [life] is filled with infinite possibilities. If we live in the moment, we will know our true path.”