If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to take on Chris Hemsworth in a fight, Michael Lehr could give you some expert tips.
After all, the Sinclair Community College theater performance graduate has enjoyed success in Hollywood for more than 10 years as a fight coordinator and stunt performer. His latest contributions can be seen in “Extraction,” a brutal yet riveting Netflix action thriller which debuted last month. Directed by Sam Hargrave, the film stars Hemsworth (“Thor”) in one of his strongest roles as a fearless mercenary on a mission to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned crime lord.
“‘Extraction’ was a wild ride,” said Lehr, who spent five months from late 2018 to early 2019 on location in India and Thailand. Working with Hemsworth, he said, “was phenomenal. From an acting standpoint, he’s so good, which is reflective in all of his work. A lot of people see him as an action star but he’s also a powerful dramatic actor with great nuances. As for the fight choreography, we were able to attempt some very intricate stunt choreography because he was able to pick up the (routines) very swiftly. He was able to do about 80 percent of what he was told just by looking at a routine for the first time.
“He’s also very athletic and is trained in martial arts, which is completely clear in the movie. He had a stunt double for the big moments that were very dangerous but (for the most part) in the fight scenes it’s entirely him doing all the work himself.”
In his duties as fight coordinator, Lehr, 36, was responsible for choreographing most of the fight action, training and rehearsing the cast, shooting and editing the pre-visualization for the action scenes, and leading the fight teams on set.
“I get killed five times in the film and four of those were via Hemsworth,” he said. “My favorite is actually in the beginning, where I fall down the stairs in (a) red hoodie.”
He is especially proud of appearing in a fantastically gripping sequence seemingly shot in one long compelling take centered on Hemsworth battling a slew of police officers inside an apartment building.
“The scene is very special and meaningful to the stunt community,” he said. “It was challenging but everyone was up for the challenge. We knew Sam Hargrave’s history as a director and fight coordinator on films such as ‘Atomic Blonde’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and we all had a high respect for him. So, when we heard the pitch for the sequence, we were all very honored to be a part of it. I feel that sequence is a part of a stunt legacy.
“When I retire from the industry, I want to look back on that scene and say I gave something to the stunt community, the next generation, that hopefully inspires, creates change, and helps (the stunt community) be more creative in the future. The scene has received a lot of feedback and people are really raving about it which makes me very happy.”
Lehr, whose work includes “The Fate of the Furious,” “Hotel Artemis” and “Alita: Battle Angel” among numerous others, is currently the fight coordinator for the Sylvester Stallone film “Samaritan.” He was a month into production in Atlanta with just two months left to shoot when the project was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. He is excited to return to work when the time is right.
“Sinclair is where a lot of my performer spirit was born even in terms of stunts.”
“Obviously, a film set is not just a small gathering of people but a mass gathering of people who are with each other day in and day out,” he said. “There was the potential of being shut down and I don’t think any of us were surprised we were sent home on hiatus. Luckily, I’m very fortunate to have people in my life who help me stay creative and inspired. The great thing about the stunt community is that it’s a family. There’s a great video going around the internet right now featuring stunt performers doing fight scenes in which they punch the camera and other performers react to it. It’s a fun idea.
“For me, it’s the best we can do. It’s more important we’re all being safe and trying to help each other in the broader sense. If it takes a while for stunt performers to get back to work, I won’t be super upset. Obviously, it’s not great and we all want to go back to work but I would hate to think I went back into an environment making money and getting my job done at the expense of someone’s else’s safety. From an ethical standpoint, I would feel terrible about putting someone in danger because I wanted to go back to work.”
Lehr’s passion for the arts began as a child growing up with his military family in Fairborn. At age 12, he became interested in acting while watching a childhood friend perform in Actor’s Theatre of Fairborn’s production of “A Thousand Clowns.” Upon moving to Huber Heights and graduating from Wayne High School, he ultimately appeared at Sinclair in “The Front Page,” “Richard III” and John Fleming’s acclaimed staging of “The King Stag.” He also interned at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. Reflecting on his journey, he fondly credits former Sinclair theatre professor Brian McKnight and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati producing artistic director D. Lynn Meyers for encouraging his artistic gifts.
“I’d love to go back to Sinclair to visit and step onto (Blair Hall) stage once more,” he said. “Sinclair is where a lot of my performer spirit was born even in terms of stunts. Its origins are there. I still believe in the academic training of actors as well. If someone chooses Sinclair, I hope they have as good of an experience as I did. Sinclair will always be dear to me until the very end.”