Watch David Holmes discuss his new Sky documentary:
David Holmes is keen to change the narrative around the accident that changed his life with documentary, David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived, he tells Yahoo UK, because he wants to show the world he’s “not just a disability”.
Holmes worked as a stunt double to Daniel Radcliffe throughout the Harry Potter film franchise, it was the “best job in the world” according to Holmes but in 2009 a stunt test for The Deathly Hallows Part 2 went wrong and left him partially paralysed after he broke his neck and suffered a spinal cord injury.
The Sky documentary, which was executive produced by Holmes’ longtime friend Radcliffe, sees the stuntman reflect on his career, and the accident, in a way that is “empowering” — something that Holmes was keen for the world to see.
“As a disabled man, if we can highlight the fact that I’m not just a disability, there is a person here, and I shine through past my disability [that’s a positive],” Holmes says of the film.
“I remember the early days telling Dan [Hartley, the film’s director] that I don’t want a single camera looking down at me, everything should be shot up. Everything should be empowering instead of disempowering with regards to framing my disability.
“Throughout the journey all of my friends and peers, my support group in the disabled community, have been part of this film… in helping me survive and seeing myself as a survivor and not a victim.”David Holmes
Holmes lamented the fact that “in society we don’t celebrate the artist that are the biggest risk takers”, the stunt performers who train relentlessly and “risk their lives and their bodies for the sake of storytelling”.
“I have friends that still risk their life every day for the sake of storytelling,” he adds.
“Quite often audience members just think it’s a visual effect, or don’t realise that there’s been months of rehearsals, or 18 years of gymnastics training that have gone into getting qualified as a stunt performer.
“If our story raises more awareness for that then it’s just been another positive effect.”David Holmes
Holmes needed time to get to stage where he felt ready to tell his story, saying that now fans of the Harry Potter films have grown up he feels they’ll understand his experience.
“My story is not the most positive of things to be associated with those films, and I’ve always been very protective of what those jobs mean to everyone,” Holmes admits.
“Now people are rediscovering those films again with their own kids, and they’ve grown up. My subject’s quite a grown up subject matter and we touch on some really emotional things for the film because my journey is just that, it’s emotional.
“My legacy on film is not me hitting that wall 14 and a half years ago anymore.”David Holmes
“It’s people understanding the contribution made by stunt members, and then the contribution made by the NHS, my caregivers, my friends, my family, that are all a part of making me who I am today. Sharing that it’s been cathartic but also really rewarding for all of us, myself included.
“So, even though I haven’t seen [the documentary] —and I have my reasons why I haven’t seen it— I know that I trusted all the people involved in creating it because I love them all and they all love me, and that’s why I was able to be so honest and open, and hopefully that’s shown in what we made.”
Hartley, who also worked on the Harry Potter films as a video assistant operator, began working with Holmes not to make the documentary but to interview him when he was preparing to have serious surgery, and once the stuntman recovered it snowballed into a full blown film from there.
“[David] asked me to come and film, we just wanted to capture it and make sure we had him because it was a really risky situation,” Hartley says of the surgery. “Then it’s evolved and through that evolution has just been this profound experience.
“We’ve been able to journey back to a really significant time in our lives where we’re all part of the Harry Potter family, but also provide an opportunity for these incredible friends of Dave’s and mine to talk about something that I think they really need to talk about: A life changing situation [that happened] to one of their dear friends, and I think everyone needs to do a little healing.”
It was Radcliffe who suggested that a film be made about Holmes, because he felt strongly that the stunt performer was “the real star” of the movies.
“He really wanted to turn the camera on Dave,” Hartley adds. “So when Dan and Dave brought me into the project it was clear that we could tell this story of stunt performance and stunt performers but through Dave’s story.
“Dan was there from 2015 onwards, he’s given absolutely everything for the film… he couldn’t have done more. He’s been incredible and he’s just a delight to work with.”
While the documentary focuses on his accident and its aftermath, Holmes is keen to remain positive despite his difficult experiences particularly when he looks back at his time working on the films.
“It really was the best job in the world, and, you know, my biggest thing when I woke up in hospital was ‘when can I go back to work?’ Obviously I never made it back, but I still absolutely adored it.”David Holmes
“There isn’t much in your life that’s the same after breaking your neck and suffering a spinal cord injury, it touches on every aspect of your life,” he adds.
“Well, one of the things that is the same is watching a film, and after my accident I put a film on straight away and it helped me just like get through a tough time.
“Harry Potter does that for a lot of people, so I’m just really proud of my little contribution to… a great story that gets them through tough times.”
David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived airs on Sky at 8pm on Saturday, 18 November.