RIDING INTO HOLLYWOOD
Robbie Maddison is the ultimate motorcycle daredevil, leaping over and across some of the world’s most iconic landmarks. Now he’s living a childhood dream, appearing in Hollywood blockbusters while planning for his next gravity-defying stunt.
What do I refer to you as these days Robbie? Motocross extraordinaire or award-winning actor?
Well there’s no awards yet but a budding actor and stuntman.
No awards? I thought you picked up a Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) Award for the Bond movie Skyfall?
Yeah I won a SAG for that. We won best stunt ensemble and we’ve been nominated for a world stunt award as well. That’s huge.
So you were the stunt double for Daniel Craig?
Yeah I was. I had to put on a shirt underneath that had muscles sewn into the shirt but we made it work. Haha.
So no shots walking out of the beach in your swimsuit mate?
No no. All long distance. All blurred out.
That has got to get you a bit of street cred working as his stunt double?
Yeah it was cool to work with him. He’s such a nice guy and a humble dude considering how highly he is respected for his role as James Bond. But a great guy to work with and I was stoked when he told me he is a fan of what I do. He told me he’d watched all my New Year’s Red Bull No Limits events that I’ve done. So he was just stoked that I could bring that to the character. Working with him was great but being part of the whole Bond family has been amazing. There have been opportunities that have come from it so it’s like a dream come true. I’m pinching myself. It’s been great.
It must be a bit of a thrill to be a part of a Bond film? It’s a legendary franchise.
It’s amazing what that film has done for me. I’ve met some amazing people and I took the stunt co-ordinator along with me to do the Air.Craft shoot with DC Shoes. And then after that and its release they kind of used that as a resume and sent it over to some other guys who were doing another Hollywood film and they threw my name into the mix. Then after seeing Air.Craft we just signed a contract of intent to take the lead role for a new Hollywood movie coming out soon. So there’s been a lot going on and Air.Craft has been huge to show people my ideas and the different way I can use my bike.
Well I’m just recovering from shoulder surgery but I’m heading to America to plan for a new stunt with Red Bull and Skullcandy. Originally it was just going to be a social media push with Skullcandy but then I had some chats with Red Bull and they’re doing a documentary on how motorcycles are used in everyday society. So we’ve brought them both together and I’m going to be one of the main characters in it.
Sounds like a small project just got a lot bigger?
Yeah exactly. It will be a behind the scenes look at what I go through personally when I do one of these stunts, what it does to me physically and how I commit myself emotionally and spiritually. So there will be the behind the scenes flavour of the rituals I go through and the day to day process for how I get my head straight. So it will give the fans an inside look into who I am and what I do and how I conquer my fear and work through these projects.
So can you tell me anything about the jump itself or is it top secret stuff now you’re a Bond spy?
Haha. There is a bit of secrecy about it. I’m actually going to be jumping an Olympic ski facility in America. So I’m going to be sailing my motorcycle down the giant ski hill.
Sounds like you’re looking to take things to another level?
It’s never been done before. It’s 400 feet down the hill. We’ve had to go through a lot of work. Skullcandy have been doing a lot of planning with the American Olympic training facility. But now that we’re coming out of winter and moving into fall, the snow is drying up and we’re going to get a chance to get into it.
Is a surface like that safe?
It’s going to require a bit of a build-out to make sure the motorcycle can ride on there. We are actually going to lay multiple layers of carpet over there and we have a certain way that we tie it all together to make it sturdy and stable and bring some safety to it. I can’t actually practice for this jump because you can’t replicate it anywhere. So I’ll kind of just roll the dice and go with it. I’ve done all the mathematics behind it and worked out the angles and speeds I need but there’s a lot more elements to it to go out there and perform.
When are we going to see this happen?
It’s set for June 6.
That’s Queensland Day. Nice work. I guess everyone wants to know why you do these stunts though?
Lately I’ve been asking myself the same thing. But it’s been my dream. That’s why I do it. It’s what my heart is all about. It’s what my soul is all about. When I think and dream at night it’s what I dream about. I’ve never thought about the consequences before. But now that I have a baby boy I do. But you know a lot of people can ride freestyle motocross but it takes a lot more than that to make a living out of it. For me it’s been such a climb. It takes more than just being a rider. You need to be a business man. You need to be people’s friend. It’s knowing when to do the right events and when not to.
So you’re saying you need to surround yourself with good people?
Yeah. And a lot of times it’s not just me it’s the team around me. But I’ve built that team myself. I’ve got a great group of people around me that care a lot about me. Originally it was just for the passion. I wanted to break records. Well now I have done that so you look for something else. If it was just about breaking the same records you’re not doing it for the right reasons and I think that’s when you can get lost in what you’re doing and that’s when life comes and catches up with you. This has been my dream since I was kid. My whole life my motto has been “live your dream.” Well I’ve faced my fears and now I’m living my dream.
How much of what you do is mental conditioning?
I’d like to say it’s 100%. If your headspace isn’t in the right place then physically you can’t go out there and do it. There are a lot of guys that have the ability to do what I do but mentally they’re just not ready for it. I’ve been working with fear for a long time and my career has led me down this path.
Yeah there’s the fear of other people. I’ve got to deal with my wife and she’s pregnant and we’re going into another big stunt right through the mid-term of her pregnancy. So yeah it’s stressful and not only for me but for my wife, my unborn child and my two year old. I think everyone around the extended family feels the tension of what could potentially happen around an event like this. So that’s why it’s so important for me to get my head straight. It’s a life and death situation so I have to treat it with respect.
How do you do that then?
I like to meditate. I don’t do it all the time but when I’m working towards something I do. Around these jumps its mandatory that I do that to condition the mind and stop the negative thoughts coming up. If your mind is throwing things up that have nothing to do with the jump it’s definitely going to be detrimental to the outcome. So I start doing that as a ritual in the months before a jump. It changes me as a person but after the jump comes the celebration and then the move onto the next thing so I’m not really in a position to make the meditation part of my daily life. But in the lead-up to a jump I’ll just be at my home and making it a routine. It’s just something I feel like I need to do. It quietens the mind and silences the chatter. And it’s the chatter that will make you splatter!
Ouch! You jumped over Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Tell me what that feels like to fly 98 metres through the air on a motorcycle. What were you thinking as you were soaring?
Absolutely nothing. And that’s what all the meditation is about. Clearing the mind so there’s no thoughts. Because if you have thoughts while you’re up there you’re not paying attention in the moment. When you’re up there you need to be 100% aware of the sound of the engine and the way the bike is flying. Even the noise of the chain. You need to be listening to five different noises. Paying attention to all of them at the same time. You need to be feeling with your legs. With your feet. With your hands. With your face. You really need to be 100% present and that’s what meditation leads to. It’s turning the mind off and being 100% focused on the moment. Just full awareness. Not many people know what that’s like but it’s transforming. I think over the next few years a lot more people are going to be open-minded to meditation because it’s something that’s going to elevate people and increase quality of life. I know when I go through those processes and ride my bike with a clear mind, the fear doesn’t bother you. The negativity is fear and if I didn’t go through that process there would be so much fear in my head and I wouldn’t be able to go ahead and do what I want to do. A lot of time your fear and negativity can stop you from enjoying some of the greatest moments of your life because you’re pre-determining what the experience is going to be, based on what’s happened in the past.
So in hindsight then, are you able to articulate what it feels like?
Well it’s just such a rare thing to do. It’s kind of like riding a roller-coaster ride but it’s even a lot different to that. It’s a very freaky thing because it’s so scary up there. You’re on your own. You’re flying at a speed that will kill you. You can’t control the motorcycle. You’ve got the wind in your face. You’re flying like a bird but at the same time gravity is pulling you back to the ground. It’s scary. Every time you leave the ramp you don’t know if you’re going to live or die. You’re fighting for your life. You’re trying to use all your awareness and all of your ability to make sure you land and you live. After you’ve finished I guess you realise that it’s so scary. It’s so full of fear. It’s so dramatic. But because you’ve been through all that after you’ve landed it’s so peaceful. You’re like ‘man I just faced that. I feel like I could do anything.’ Freestyle Motocross is scary enough but after I’ve done a world record jump I feel like I could do a freestyle motocross blindfolded. I could do it naked. I wouldn’t even need any protection. It’s so much more dangerous than anything I’ve ever done on my motorcycle.
You also jumped the Arc de Triomphe. You’ve jumped San Diego Bay. I’ve been to those places and I must admit I never once considered jumping over them. Is it fair to say you are a different tourist to most of us?
Yeah. I’ve always had that dream of jumping off a building on my bike. So whether I’m in Sydney, or New York or Abu Dhabi I’m always looking for different buildings, different landscapes, different structures that I could potentially do something with. But I’ve been looking at the Sydney Harbour Bridge since I was a kid and I still have that thing on my radar. But I don’t want to go out and do these things because someone else thinks it’s a good idea. I only want to do them because I think it’s a good idea.
Well I live near the Sydney Harbour Bridge so make sure you wave to me on the way over.
Haha. I will mate. We’ll see which way I jump it. But from the things I have done in the past I’ve got a lot of ideas and I know the sky is the limit with these things. So there’s a lot more growth yet.
Did you have the Evil Knievel posters on your wall as a kid?
I didn’t have the posters but I was a huge fan. Evil Knievel. Robbie Knievel and all the daredevils that followed them. I’ve actually just been filming a documentary that comes out next year that documents what Evil and Robbie started and all the people after them. I remember when I was 8 years old watching Robbie Knievel jump the Caesars Palace and it gave me goose bumps. I didn’t realise that those goose bumps would mean I would be in a similar position one day.
Yeah I dreamt as a kid of doing stunts and being in movies. I’ve done the stuntman thing and now I’m getting an opportunity to act in movies. I’ve just made all decisions in life based on where I’ve dreamt of going and whenever I get myself in situations where it’s not really helping out I re-assess and go and put myself back where I think I should be and where I want to get to. So I think living my life like that and making decisions and sacrifices based on where I want to get to have led me down this path.
You were pretty ill as a child weren’t you?
Yeah I was quite sick when I was born and I was actually pronounced clinically dead when I was about 18 months old. Through croup. Then when I was 16 I had meningitis encephalitis. That was about a three-year recovery. After that meningitis attack I sort of went ‘why am I working as an electrician in the steelworks when I had a dream as a kid to be an actor and a stuntman.’
So you chased it pretty hard then?
Well I still had a small window of opportunity at that point to go out and follow my dream so I walked out of hospital, recovered from that and decided I would quit my job and give up a steady income and go and risk it all on my motorcycle. It wasn’t an idea that my parents or anyone around me thought was the smartest move but it was one I was willing to take. I set up a back-up plan if all else failed so I wouldn’t be left broke and homeless. So I’ve been taking calculated risks and still to this day even with these jumps I take I analyse them properly and they’re like a science project for me
Gee a hospital bed and the steelworks must feel a mile away when you’re flying 98 metres through the air over Caesars Palace?
Yeah it does. It’s humbling though to keep those memories and thoughts close to you. You can never to get too cool or too cocky because I think that’s when things go wrong. I’ve always tried to stay humble and really try and stay in touch with where I’ve come from. I think if you get out of touch with where you’ve come from or who you are you become really shallow as a person. I don’t want to live a materialistic life. I’m really doing it for personal reasons. The growth reasons. The wisdom and all of that kind of cool stuff. But being in hospital and working a trade I think are two of the main reasons why I’ve been able to get to where I’m at. It’s given me a different appreciation and helped me work with people a lot differently. And I think people recognise that side of me when they deal with me.
The last time I spoke to you we spent most of the interview rattling off all your injuries. There’s been plenty of them hasn’t there?
I remember as a kid people saying aren’t you worried about arthritis and I said ‘no because by the time I get it technology will have caught up and they’ll be able to cure it.’ So I’m actually about to go and get the procedure done to get rid of the arthritis in my left knee. They can cure that stuff now. So instead of getting a replacement knee they’re going to re-build my own knee with new practices. I’ve had so many injuries but they’ve all brought awareness and led me down the path I’m at now. So I just try and keep them all in mind and not get too far in front of myself.
What you do is so dangerous. Do you fear death?
No, because it’s coming to all of us. But I fear it in a way that I don’t want it to come too soon. And that can happen by being stupid and making the wrong decisions in life and being all about something that’s not you. But I know that I am aware of that. I don’t let myself get carried away by chasing materialistic goals. I think if I was to, that’s when death would definitely come around and meet me. But I’m not fearful of it. And no one gets out of life alive. That’s the cool thing about it. I think when it comes around it’s going to be really peaceful and beautiful but I don’t want it to come around too soon because I have a lot of time, energy and love that I want to give to my kids and my family.