Stunts 101 with Patrick Kelly

Headshot of pro stunt man Patrick Kelly
Patrick Kelly is a professional stunt coordinator and performer. His credits include "Vikings" and "I Am Patrick."

You have Patrick Kelly to thank for the stunt choreography seen on the History Channel’s Vikings. Kelly and the Vikings stunt team, led by Richard Ryan, have created some of the most exciting visceral fighting yet to grace the small screen.

The bearded, burly Kelly, BA’92, MS’06, appears in some battle scenes as a Viking warrior, but don’t expect to see him in a leading role.

Patrick Kelly crosses swords with a student in class
Whenever he needs inspiration, Kelly turns to the 1995 film Rob Roy and the climactic sword fight scene between Liam Neeson and Tim Roth. “I go back and watch that probably once a month just to remind myself how it should be done,” Kelly says.

“You can catch me killing people and dying a couple of times on Vikings,” he says, “but [mostly] I just enjoy the actual work, the preparatory work. Filming is fun, but the preparation, the training, and the relationships that you make is my interest.”

When he’s not on set, Kelly, martial arts program coordinator at IU, teaches students how to translate combat arts like Jeet Kune Do, German longsword fencing, or advanced Hapkido to the screen.

“People who come from the martial arts world, like I did, have a certain aesthetic,” he says. “We’re like, ‘Well, you’re doing it wrong.’ But it has to be done wrong because I don’t really want to take a person’s head off.”

The adaptation can be a monumental task, requiring him to rethink the way a fight would play out in real life.

“In the real world, telegraphing or cueing your opponent to what you’re about to do is not wise. But in stage and film fighting we have to tell the story, so we have to see the choices being made prior to movement.”

He also keeps his scholarly chops in shape, contributing to conferences like “The World(s) of John Wick,” an IU symposium focusing on the John Wick films, which are considered the benchmark for contemporary stunt work. Kelly’s participation in the seminar included rebuilding a fight scene to investigate the caloric output and injury burden of Keanu Reeves’ titular character.

Now that Vikings has concluded after six seasons, you can catch Kelly’s work in the upcoming Netflix spinoff Vikings: Valhalla, and I Am Patrick—a docudrama about Saint Patrick starring John Rhys-Davies. His name will also appear in the credits of a feature film adaptation of So Cold the River, a crime thriller written by Michael Koryta, BA’06, with fight scenes filmed in West Baden, Ind.

 

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Written By
Brian Hartz
Brian Hartz, MA’01, is a journalist and tennis coach based in St. Petersburg, Fla. In addition to writing for the Indiana University Alumni Magazine, he covers business news for the St. Pete Catalyst.