Risk and Reward: Clay Donahue Fontenot is One of the Most ‘Sought-After’ Stuntmen in the Business
You may not recognize Clay Donahue Fontenot, but if you’ve seen a Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes or Jamie Foxx movie over the past 15 years, you’ve most likely been dazzled by his skill set.
Fontenot is a stuntman. A unique breed of men and women on a movie set, that work behind the action, putting their safety and sometimes their lives on the line during the production and filming of a movie.
Their stunts or gags, are usually intended for use in motion pictures or dramatized television. Fontenot’s raw determination and boss-level work ethic has propelled him into rare air.
With a body of work that’s been as solid as a rock, Fontenot has been the unsung hero in some of the biggest action blockbusters these past two decades. They include movies like “Iron Man,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” “Unstoppable,” and all three “Blade” movies.
He was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana and grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. He spoke to Black Enterprise and discussed how he got involved with what is obviously a dangerous, though ultimately rewarding career.
Fontenot tells BE, he started seriously thinking about getting into the film business shortly after high school, but thought it was a goal that was unattainable for a “small-time, small town” guy out in Florida. Then one day while he was watching television everything changed.
“I’m watching television and a girl that I escorted to the prom was starring on a TV show and I figured at that point, if she could do it, I could do it. So three months later I saved money, packed all my things and moved to California to be in the business.”
It was an impulsive, some might think reckless move, that ultimately paid off, but at the time Fontenot wasn’t sure which way the cards would fall.
“I didn’t know anyone in California. I didn’t know anyone in the business, I didn’t know anything about the business, so when I got there, I acclimated for about six months, read the trade papers trying to figure out how it worked and then went out and got an agent,” he says.
Eventually he started doing work as an extra and then got his Screen Actors Guild Card (SAG). SAG is the union governing all on-screen performers in film and some television. Not long after he earned his SAG membership, Fontenot met a group of motion picture stunt coordinators and stuntmen who took him under their wings and showed him the ropes.
“My first stunt job was pretty small, but then my second job sort of kicked off a wave of interest in myself and my skill set. At that point my career took off like a rocket ship and I’ve been working every day since,” he says.
Fontenot’s first legitimate SAG job was the “The Parent Hood“. After that he went on to do the first “Men in Black” movie starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. It was his first big budget “A” list job.
“I had done some low budget non-union jobs before this, but this job placed me right in the middle of a group of Stunt Coordinators that were doing Hollywood’s biggest shows at that time and they kept me busy for my first few years.
It also helped that he was the right size and weight to double for a few of the leading actors. He also possessed a skill set which met Hollywood’s demands and soon began to work nonstop.
Stuntmen are not daredevils. They calculate and are always looking to minimize risk as much as possible. People don’t just walk off the streets and onto a movie set demanding an audition. It takes time to develop a unique range of physical skills. There is meticulous care to craft. Careful planning, intense preparation, attention to detail, and endless, inexhaustible reservoirs of courage.
“It’s my natural calling. What I was put on earth to do,” Fontenot reasons. “I played all sports in high school, lettered in all of them, and then beyond that I did a lot of extreme sports stuff. I swam, ran, sky dived, scuba dived, studied marshal arts , gymnastics, acrobatics, skate boarding, skating, motorcross, street bikes, kart racing, Indy car racing, you name it, I did it. Just a ton of stuff. It made the perfect background to becoming a stuntman.”
Getting into the stunt world, usually requires a background of participating in extreme sports or a history of consistent, extreme training. Cultivating a specialty, like horseback riding or snow boarding, is an additional expert level skill that can come in handy. It helps carve out a niche and open more doors.
Fontenot’s background solidified his résumé.
His accomplishments include stunts or “gags” in a roster of movies with Wesley Snipes, with whom he worked for 14 years. Some of the movies on their list include, “US Marshals,” the “Blade” trilogy, “The Art of War,” “7 seconds,” and “The Detonator.”
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