Interview: Travis Pastrana of the high-octane ‘Nitro Circus: The Movie’
With his tightly-knit group of daredevil friends and athletes, this 3D film showcases some of the most dangerous stunts ever performed
Imagine riding a motorcycle up a self-built ramp on the top of one skyscraper and doing a flip over a deadly 60-story drop to the top of another skyscraper. What about bouncing off that skyscraper with a parachute, trying hard not to smash against the building on your way down? These are among the truly death-defying stunts shown in “Nitro Circus: The Movie,” a jaw-droppingly intense but extremely entertaining 3D adventure that features Travis Pastrana and his group of highly skilled, adrenaline-addicted friends. The film also features commentary by a range of Nitro Circus fans, from Channing Tatum to Johnny Knoxville, who was involved with the group’s MTV show. After several seasons of tempting fate on their TV show, the group now brings their insane, impossible, eye-popping adventures to the big screen. (As of this week, you can watch “Nitro Circus: The Movie” on VOD or on Blu-ray or DVD.) Despite the craziness involved in attempting these stunts, the film is surprisingly moving, as we see this group of hard-core daredevils, including one inspiring athlete who is wheelchair-bound because of Spina Bifida, conquer their fears and go for it using motorcycles, rally cars, mountain bikes, monster trucks, and more. With no safety nets in sight! Gulp. Needless to say—don't try this stuff at home, kids!
I spoke with Travis Pastrana, motorcross champion, multiple X Games winner, NASCAR driver, and founder of Nitro Circus.
MSN Movies: I loved watching the camaraderie of your troupe. It’s such an interesting cast of characters and I admired how you all supported each other even though I spent half the film wanting to scream, “ARE YOU INSANE?!”
Travis Pastrana: People always say you gotta be crazy to do that stuff but honestly, the guys who are at the top of their sports, they’re there year after year, and the trick to anything like that is figuring out how to be successful and not get hurt, to figure out where the boundaries are.
One of the most touching scenes in the film involves Aaron “Wheels” Fotheringham, who’s been in a wheelchair since he was three years old. He must be an inspiration to all of you.
Totally. Since he was a kid they told him he’ll never do anything in his life, he’ll never get to be what he wants to be, he’ll never do this or that because of his Spina Bifida. But I’m telling you, he is the most optimistic guy you’ll ever meet in your life. And the funniest. When I see him do the stuff that he does, how can I NOT step up and go for it?
I love that moment in the film when you see him about to do some insane stunt and he says, “Okay, I’m done thinking,” and then just takes off in his wheelchair. Is that what you all have to do at a certain point—just stop thinking about what you you’re about to do?
Yeah, absolutely, and in Wheels’ case, everything that he’s ever done in that wheelchair, no one else has ever done before, so you don’t have any real guidelines to follow, you just have to believe in yourself! For me, there comes a point where I have to decide whether I’m going to do it or I’m not going to do it, but then at that point you can’t change your mind. Once you decide that it’s worth it—once you’ve weighed out the risks, the positives and negatives, you can’t bail out or you’re really going to start hurting yourself. Wheels has a way of saying, “Okay, I can’t be sure of the outcome but whatever it is, I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”
You obviously have to have a very high skill set to do what you guys do, but is it also largely about a specific mindset you have to develop as well as a certain amount of luck?
You know, I have a lot of respect for Johnny and the “Jackass” crew, but that’s not what we’re doing. Everyone in our crew, well except for Tommy (Passemente, the group’s out-of-shape comic relief who is often goaded into doing stunts), they’re all very good at what they do, very good at the sport, at analyzing the risks. You have to have a base understanding of physics and be prepared as best you can, even though most of the stuff we do has never been tried before.
How did Nitro Circus get started?
We actually started because I had a foam pit at my house! All of the best motorcrossers, BMX guys, skateboarders, all the best in the world started coming over to use the foam pit, which at the time was kind of cutting edge for our sport and really helpful. Everyone was crashing all over the place and trying new stuff and we kept growing, with more and more athletes coming out. One thing led to the next and soon Nitro Circus was born!
I was glad that the film didn’t present you guys as super-human. We get to see that you DO have fear but that you find ways to conquer it.
It’s different with each sport. With motorcycles, you have to have faith in your equipment, faith in your abilities, and a basic understanding of how far something is and how fast you need to go. But when we’re doing stunts using the Big Wheels, we’re just making that up as we go, building the stuff ourselves, and things break all the time! In that case we still have to be committed a hundred percent, but even if our abilities are great, something could still happen.
I imagine in the early days there was a lot of (dangerous) trial and error going on?
Oh yeah, there were a lot of errors, but with motorcycles and BMX and even skateboards, you jump so many different things, you start develop this mental computer to guide you that is actually better than any understanding of the physics involved. The scene in the film with the bus jump, for example, we knew that the bus couldn’t go as fast as we figured out we had to go for that distance, but luckily, the guy who was driving said he just had a feeling he could make it so he went for it and was able to find a way to get just the right extra amount of speed to make the jump. Physics and mathematics are important, but you also have to use your gut instincts!
How on earth do you deal with liability issues? Is it even possible to get insurance for these stunts?
To be perfectly honest, that’s why we did this as a self-financed film. Our budget was going to more than double if we had to get all kinds of insurance. Sure, there are big risks involved, but we love it, we have a lot of fun with it. Everyone who participated in the film loves doing what they do. They love getting the opportunity to jump off a building in Panama, to jump between two skyscrapers. We do it for the love of it!
“Nitro Circus: The Movie” is now available online and on Blu-ray and DVD.