Writer Drew Pearce Rides a Trojan Horse Into The Fall Guy

How Saturday afternoons and Alex Garland affected the remake

Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy, a movie that is writer Drew Pearce's tribute to the original show, his love of stunts, and to the shaggy detective dramas that influenced him (Image Courtesy of NBC Universal)

Like many British people of a certain age, Drew Pearce remembers watching the 1980s TV show The Fall Guy as a kid. It broadcast in the late Saturday afternoon slot, between televised wrestling and inane game shows, in the slot reserved for imported American action shows.

He admits that his memories of the original show may be different to how most Americans experienced it, as a prime-time show. Instead, he reminisces about being a young boy in Britain, watching other imported American hits, “teatime on a Saturday, sandwiched between very weird, parochial UK shows, and then there’s The Fall Guy.”

Those smash ’em, bash ’em shows have obviously had an impact on the writer of Iron Man 3, and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Now, having handled one small-to-big-screen adaptation with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, he’s penned the script for the film version of The Fall Guy, the new action rom-com starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt that was a critical hit and opened to number one last weekend but fell short of box office expectations.

Out of all the U.S. shows that made it across the Atlantic, the Magnum: PIs and A-Teams, The Fall Guy was Pearce’s favorite, and most especially it was the show he shared with his dad. “I still have the Matchbox car of his truck,” he says. “You can find it on my Instagram feed.”

It’s also arguably the show that helped him into show business. “One summer,” he says, “I decided I was going to be a stunt man. … We had a little back yard, and for my birthday that summer I brought a crappy digital watch from the market, but it had a stopwatch on it. So I built a stunt man circuit in the back yard, and every day, for hours, I would time myself around the circuit.” However, he adds, “This was before I discovered I have a crippling fear of heights.”

“I think they thought I’d be like, ‘Ooh, a remake of a TV show but from the ‘80s?’ but obviously my reaction was ‘Let me at it.’”
So he changed tracks and became a scriptwriter, and eventually met up with director David Leitch and producer Kelly McCormick. They formed a strong working relationship on Hobbs & Shaw, as well as a handful of projects that never got made. So when producer Guymon Casady approached the three of them about reviving The Fall Guy, “I think they thought I’d be like, ‘Ooh, a remake of a TV show but from the Eighties?’ but obviously my reaction was ‘Let me at it.’”

However, even as a fan of the original adventures of hard luck stuntman Colt Seavers, he wasn’t interested in just repeating the show. “I went back and watched the pilot and some of the key episodes,” but that was it. Instead, his biggest influence was another British writer and filmmaker: Alex Garland. “I read that when he did Annihilation he didn’t go back and read the book to adapt it. He went off his memory of what he felt reading the book.” Pearce realized that’s what he wanted to do with this show: “I wanted to tap into the feeling I had when I was a kid, which is nonspecific but emotional. And that’s why I’m so proud of this movie. Amongst all the things that it manages to be – including a Trojan horse for a very grownup love story – I think it was the joy in it that I had when I was 8 years old and wanting to be a stuntman.”

And that Trojan horsing is important to Pearce, and a big part of what attracts him to blockbusters. That’s why the eagle-eyed may spot the influence of British activist documentarian Adam Curtis in Iron Man 3, while The Fall Guy “smuggles that Altmanesque looseness and fuzziness of some of my favorite Seventies movies, and updates them.”

“I never realized why I was so obsessed with shaggy dog L.A. investigations.”
In taking on the film script he saw how much the show, and other down-at-heel detective series like The Rockford Files, had influenced him as a writer. Even as a fan of The Long Goodbye and Paul Newman’s 1966 noir homage Harper, creating a modern version of the perennially broke stunt man/bounty hunter Colt Seavers “joined some dots for me. I never realized why I was so obsessed with shaggy dog L.A. investigations.”

In some ways, Pearce sees his script as a reaction against the majority of films about making films, which tend to be a little jaundiced, “shrouded in a bit of meta and a bit of cynicism.” At the same time, it’s not like those overly-arch remakes that littered the 2000s, like Starsky & Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, and Scooby-Doo – movies that were almost embarrassed by their love of the source material. By contrast, Pearce says, “I tend to think this is just a big, uncynical, openhearted movie.”

As for his next project, Pearce is working on “a big AI movie for Netflix called Dolly,” which he hopes to film later this year. Don’t worry, it’s not AI-generated, but about an AI. “It’s basically a courtroom drama,” he says, “set 10, 15 years in the future where a courtesan robot kills her owner. So far, so normal, it’s a malfunction, but when the cops arrive at the scene she asks for a lawyer. So it’s like The Verdict or Philadelphia but with a robot who is claiming sentience.” While most movies about AIs posit them as an existential threat, in Dolly he sees the mechanical protagonist as “the Che Guevara, the civil rights pioneer. The counter intuitiveness of that makes me very happy.”

His expectation is that there are going to be a lot more films about AI in the next few years, and that’s only natural. “We’re still in the stage where people are going, ‘Oh, there’s already an AI film.’ It’s going to be such a part of our lives that it’s like saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a corporate thriller.’ Corporations exists across all genres, and AI will exist across all genres as a subject.”

The Fall Guy is in cinemas now. Read our review here, and don’t miss our SXSW interview with director David Leitch and producer Kelly McCormick.

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The Fall Guy, Ryan Gosling, Drew Pearce, David Leitch, Kelly McCormick.

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