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Fairfield native acts as stunt double on 'Jack Ryan'

Photo submitted

Kendall Wells has combined his two passions of acting and martial arts into a career as a stunt double and stunt choreographer.
Photo submitted Kendall Wells has combined his two passions of acting and martial arts into a career as a stunt double and stunt choreographer.
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FAIRFIELD – Those who watch the Amazon Prime series “Jack Ryan” might be able to recognize someone familiar, if they look closely.

Fairfield native Kendall Wells performs as a stunt double in the show. The character he doubles for is the lead, Jack Ryan, played by John Krasinski. Krasinski got his breakout role playing the character Jim Halpert on NBC’s “The Office,” and has performed in several movies such as 2018’s “A Quiet Place.”

Amazon released the first season of “Jack Ryan” in 2018, and is about to air the second, with a third season already in production. It’s based on the series of books by author Tom Clancy, many of which have been made into films such as “The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger” and “The Sum of All Fears.”

The first season of Amazon’s series follows the titular character Ryan, an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who must investigate a string of dubious bank transfers carried out by a rising extremist named Suleiman. The second season thrusts Ryan into a “dangerous field assignment as he uncovers a pattern in terrorist communication that launches him into the center of a dangerous gambit,” according to imdb.com.

More than stunts

Needless to say, the show has plenty of action, which keeps Wells busy as a stunt double. But Wells does more than just Krasinski’s stunts.

“Anytime you see action without John’s face, it’s probably me you’re watching,” Wells said. “I [double] for John when he’s jumping from place to place, in a fight scene, or if he’s running down the street. It’s also the double’s job to teach the actor the choreography of the fight scene.”

The Union asked Wells if he performed any dangerous stunts on the show.

“There’s definitely always danger involved,” he said. “There are some decent explosions, and on a couple of them, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t think they were supposed to be that big.’”

Wells said one of the most hazardous parts of the job is firing guns. Even though the stunt crew are not using real bullets, Wells is quick to point out that “blanks are no joke.” A blank is just an empty cartridge, but the gun is still firing bits of gunpowder and releasing compressed gas. A blank round is just as loud as a live round.

“It’s a gun-heavy show, so we do a lot of gun fights,” Wells said. “We wear ear protection, but when we’re inside, the [shots] still echo like crazy. The sound is ridiculous, it’s like thunder. And sometimes we’re firing fully automatic weapons.”

Wells said the actors and stunt crew never fire guns directly at each other, even when using blanks. That’s not always easy in some of the big firefights that use 50-60 extras, with people who are firing back at him while he’s diving under tables and chairs.

Any injuries or close calls?

Wells said he’s had good luck in his show business career avoiding serious injuries from stunts. Oddly enough, it was in his early theater career that he suffered his worst and most painful accident.

He was performing in a play in Portland in 2007. His character was fighting another with fake daggers. Though they were not sharp like a real dagger, they were still metallic.

“It was nice and blunt,” Wells recalls. “The guy I was fighting did something I told him not to, and stabbed me deeply in the arm.”

Wells said things like knives, swords and guns are normally made of plastic or rubber, especially if they’re being used in close range. But nothing about this fake dagger felt soft. Wells bled from his arm, but he kept on acting because the scene was just seven minutes into the show, and there were many scenes left to do.

“The director asked if I was all right, but I said I was fine,” said Wells, who went to the hospital a few hours later after he started feeling funny.

“I took public transport to the hospital. That probably didn’t look shady at all, with my bleeding arm going to the hospital,” he said. “I remember that on that very same train on a different day, someone was on their way to the hospital and had just been stabbed for real.”

Early career in acting

Wells was born in Fairfield, but lived in upstate New York until he was 6, when he moved back to Fairfield to attend Maharishi School. Wells began taking acting classes with Jenny Lee in Fairfield at age 12. People like Tim Hawthorne and Randal K. West were influential in coaching him and encouraging him in his young acting career.

In high school, Wells enrolled in an acting conservatory, which meant four hours a day of acting instruction, and the rest of the day spent on correspondence courses through Kirkwood Community College on top of private tutoring.

Wells has also studied martial arts for many years, beginning at age 8 with karate, which branched into Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, fencing, boxing and kickboxing. That led to an interest in stunt training. At 17 years old, Wells started training with Anthony De Longis, one of the top fight choreographers in the film industry.

The Union asked Wells if he had visions of being the next Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, an actor specializing in martial arts. Wells said that was not really his dream. He was more interested in directing fights, and when he moved to Los Angeles after graduating from his acting conservatory in 2004, Wells realized he could turn his skills into a career.

Wells divided his time between Los Angeles and Portland, where he choreographed fight scenes for Shakespearean plays like Macbeth, for which he won an award. He soon realized that theater doesn’t pay the bills quite like television and film, so he began focusing more on those lucrative ventures.

National debut

His stunt and acting teachers in Los Angeles helped him land appearances on television shows. In 2009, Wells made his debut on national television when he was interviewed on the show “Deadliest Warrior” for his expertise in weapons.

“It was one of those semi-reality shows,” he said. “I was playing myself, but they directed me to be meaner.”

Wells has been active in Hollywood ever since, working as a stunt coordinator, fight choreographer, and of course, a stunt double. He did extensive stunt and choreographic work on the television series “The Librarians,” which ran on TNT from 2014-2018. His other credits include working as a stunt double in “The Man in the High Castle,” and “Z Nation,” and a stunt coordinator and stunt double in an episode of “Portlandia,” along with many other shows.

Performing as John Krasinski’s stunt double in the critically acclaimed series “Jack Ryan” is another step forward in Wells’s career. Producers have confirmed they want a third season of the show. Wells said he’d love to come back if the producers ask him.

“It’s the American James Bond. I can’t say no to that,” he said.

When the opportunity allows, Wells returns to Fairfield to visit his father Kevin, married to Lili, and his brother Liam, who is 16 and attends Fairfield High School. He also has an aunt in the area, Heja Keseru, married to Imre Keseru.