Roadshow Asks: Andrew Comrie-Picard, how did you get to be a world-class stunt driver?

Comrie-Picard went from being the lead-foot kid on the family farm to doing stunts for "Top Gear," with a quick stop as a lawyer in New York City.

BF Goodrich

Andrew Comrie-Picard started stunt driving when he was 7 years old on the family farm in Canada when he rolled his first pick up truck. His childhood was spent messing around on country dirt roads and fields, driving, breaking and fixing anything with wheels. By the time he was 12 he knew he wanted to be an actor and a race car driver.

Fast forward a few decades and he's now a professional stunt driver, television host and brand ambassador for BFGoodrich tires. But despite his early shenanigans, his career path has been anything but typical.

andrew-comrie-picard

Classic or modern, Comrie-Picard can make it fly. 

BF Goodrich

Thinking that a kid from rural Alberta, Canada had little chance of making it in show business, Comrie-Picard threw himself into education. He has five college degrees, including degrees in law and physics. He went on to get a master's degree in political economics from Oxford (yes, the one in England) and ended up as an entertainment lawyer in New York, all the while racing for fun whenever he could.

That fun racing soon turned professional when Comrie-Picard started winning championships and sponsors came calling. As it became more and more difficult to juggle his budding law career and racing career, he decided to leave the firm and try this whole racing thing full time. He now lives in Los Angeles with his family, living the life his 12-year-old self dreamed of.

I caught up with Comrie-Picard over the phone and talked to him about his stunt driving career, just one of the ways he earns a living in the automotive world.

Emme Hall: What was your first car?

Andrew Comrie-Picard: The first car I owned was a 1987 Mazda RX7. I learned to drift in that, I learned to romance girls in that. I learned everything in that. My parents were both car people. My dad had an Audi Quattro my mother had a Porsche 928 and she taught me apexing and racing lines and stuff. And on the farm we had lots of tractors and pickup trucks and stuff to mess around with.

EH: You're a host and a race car driver, but let's chat about your stunt driving career. What was your first stunt driving job and how did you get it?

ACP: The easiest way to get into the stunt community is to be born into it. Second and third generation stunt men and women are a huge part of the industry. At least half the people I work with are family.

I broke into the stunt community from knowing people. I knew one of the producers on "Top Gear USA" and they needed someone to drive all the supercars and make them look awesome. So any time you see one of the supercars sliding through a hanger or on the opening credits, that's me driving.

My first stunt driving assignment was to drive a Mercedes SLS. The English director said, "Right, there's the car. We've got the camera set up. Just take a big smoky drift."

So here's a car I've never driven before worth $250K with no clutch, no handbrake, all the standard ways to slide a car. I had to call on my knowledge of tires and how they behave at the friction limit. So I pumped up the rear tires to 60 psi to get the contact patch in the rear to a more narrow, bicycle-like patch. Then I just had to do the standard stunt-guy stuff, say a Hail Mary and go for it.

I didn't crash the car or hurt the cameraman, so I got to come back the next day, and the next day.

Having "Top Gear" on my reel and meeting other folks in the business and stunt coordinators and everything just snowballed. It's all about relationships and your reputation. You have to deliver on your promises and not be an asshole. It helps that I have a niche. I can barely not crash the car. I can take it right to the edge of control without hitting the camera or hurting the star.

EH: Take us through an average day at work.

ACP: The first thing is to look at the call sheet the night before to get your start time. When you arrive on set, the first thing you do is go to hair, makeup and wardrobe. I've been tattooed up for the day or gotten a military haircut or made to look like the star.

Then we have to go through the stunt. Most stunt drivers have a little pouch of matchbox cars with them at all times. We lay them out on the sidewalk and plan it out. We choreograph who is going to go where and when someone will flip their car. I always assess my equipment and pretty much they are the crappiest cars you've ever seen, but they are prepped for safety and the stunt. So if a car has to roll or crash, the car has a roll cage and a cutting brake to lock up the rear wheels.

Then you just hurry up and wait until they are ready to shoot your scene. Sometimes you work with a camera car and you both are going 80 or 90 mph, sometimes they have fixed cameras. If you're lucky you might get one rehearsal at half speed, but usually they shoot the rehearsal in case something goes really wrong, then at least they have something in the can.

When I line up to do the stunt, I get the same nervous feeling as when I was behind the wheel of that SLS on "Top Gear" or looking down the field as a 7-year-old. But as soon as they say action it's all you. I like that. That's why I was no good as a lawyer. I'm a performer. I'm an actor with cars.

EH: What is the most tedious thing about your current job?

GTY X GAMES 14 DAY 4 S XTR USA CA

Spoiler Alert: He didn't save it.

Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

ACP: It's not really tedium but more of a challenge. Few of us are employed at one thing 100 percent of the time. I have a portfolio of stuff. Some racing, some industrial spokesman stuff, some TV driving, some movie driving, some TV hosting. I'm busy now because I have four or five different things that I do, but one of my biggest concerns is to make enough money through the actor's union in TV and film to get health care for my family. No matter what else I do, the family health care is a big deal. The tedious part is chasing the right kind of work. 

EH: How does tech affect the future of your job?

ACP: I'm excited to integrate more technology in terms of how we can model stunts and understand the physics of them so we can achieve something we haven't done before. Jumps always get bigger and bigger, stunts get gnarlier and gnarlier. We are able to unlock a bit more right at the edge with technology from tires to computers to planning to modeling.

EH: What automotive trend makes your blood boil?

ACP: While I'm excited about autonomy in vehicles, I think there are weakness to how the tech industry has approached driving. The people behind the movement think that humans are the problem and so they are trying to make roads run more like circuit boards. Pretty much every tech head I know is a terrible driver, so they can't program a car to behave the way a good driver would.

Driving is one of the most complicated things that human beings do, and we don't even realize it. The number of inputs that you take in every second and the number of outputs that are available to you are almost infinite. I worked with Google Chauffeur (Google Chauffeur was an early self-driving car project) in 2010 and I told them that they have to not just make these cars drive, they have to combine Mario Andrette and Sterling Moss and every great driver in history. It's possible, but you can't do it deductively from your presumptions of the logic and movement of vehicles on the road. You have to do it inductively from how good drivers behave.

I'm very worried that the leaders in autonomy are thinking of driving as a scientific pursuit rather than an artistic pursuit.

scott-rains-acp

This is what winning looks like. 

Scott Rains

EH: What is the one project you've always wanted to tackle professionally but have never been able to?

ACP: I've been pretty lucky, but right now I'm hoping to get a new series greenlit for the Discovery channel. It's called Car Saviors and we take unloved or quirky vehicles and turn them into monsters. Then we do stunts with them. We took a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and put a Hemi crate engine in it and a six-speed gearbox and a hand brake and turned it into a luxury four-seat drift car.

I also am starting a little business to help people to understand cars better, especially as they become more technically complicated. Cars are incredible pinnacles of human achievement and they are culturally woven into our identity. And as autonomy comes along, I want to help people understand what they are dealing with.

EH: If you weren't in the automotive industry, what would you be doing? Would you go back to being a lawyer?

ACP: Oh, god no. I'd commit myself to acting full time. I'd do the things I wanted to do when I was 12. I think everyone should think about what they wanted to do when they were 12. Look back to what magazines they were reading, what they were imagining, and pretty much go and do that.

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