Kiran Shah is an actor and the world’s shortest stuntman. He has stood in as a stunt double in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, and has played roles in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters from Star Wars to the Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He talks to Nomad about growing up in Kenya, the relative perils of stunt work, and a glorious view that isn’t quite real.
Early memories of growing up in Kenya?
My early memories of growing up in Kenya are with my family and my uncle’s family. Eight or nine of us, adults and children, would get into one car and go to Thika, Ruiru or Fourteen Falls. This would happen most Sundays. At the end of the trip, we would end up having icecream. This was something I looked forward to. I have also fond memories of Ngara in Nairobi where I was brought up, such as playing with other kids, games like cricket, football and marbles. Everybody looked out for each other.
How did you start getting into stunt work and acting?
After doing theatre work from 1973, I got involved in my first film called Candleshoe. It was a Disney movie. I was standing in for a nine-year-old girl. While on location, a stunt coordinator called Bob Anderson saw me dressed in a dress and a black wig. From the back, I could pass as this girl. He asked me if I would like to do stunts for the girl. I said ‘yes’ and did a fight scene where I was thrown about, landing on mats to break my fall. When I was at Pinewood studios working on the same film, a producer called John Dark approached me one lunchtime at the bar. He asked me to come to his office and meet his director, Kevin Connor. They were making a film called The People that Time Forgot. There was a small character part for a small person. I auditioned for the character, did some movements and got the part
How dangerous is it?
Stunts are ninety-nine percent safe. We are not daredevils. There is always this one percent of the time when things can go wrong. In most stunts, one will come out with bruises and bumps. [But] stunt people have a high tolerance to pain as you get used to getting knocked about. I have broken a few bones. The worst injury was coming off a galloping horse in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It was in rehearsals for the last big fight. I was doing a stunt for Hobbit Merry. I was double riding with a stuntwoman who was sitting behind me. We did a few runs and each
time the horse bolted. We managed to stop the horse every time. The last run we did, the horse bolted [again] and we managed to stop him. As we relaxed on the horse, he suddenly bucked and bolted and I came off. I landed badly and fractured a vertebra in my back. I was taken to hospital and stayed for three days and was in a brace and had to walk with crutches for three months. [But] it is not often that things go wrong.
Which was your most memorable role, and why?
The two most memorable roles were both in fantasy films. One role was Blunder, a fairy in a film called Legend. Blunder goes on a journey and falls into bad company and does a few nasty things, until his ego and greed challenges Darkness. He is imprisoned and rescued by his fairy family. The second role was Ginarrbrik in the film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Again, he is evil and stays evil throughout until he dies in battle. These two characters saw that ego and greed are not good. As an actor I have always played bad characters. They are so fun to play as one can explore the bad side of humanity.
Favourite hotel in the world, and why?
My favourite hotel is Museum Hotel in Wellington, New Zealand. It is an art décor hotel with paintings and period motorbikes and art décor objects displayed. The staff are friendly and helpful. It has got good views of the harbour and Te Papa museum.
Favourite view in the world, and why?
My favourite view in the world is in New Zealand. The whole of New Zealand has wonderful views but the one that sticks in my mind is near Christchurch. When working on The Lord of the Rings, I was travelling to location early one morning. We set out at three in the morning from the hotel in order to arrive on location around five to get into make up. As we approached the location, the sun was just coming up over the mountain. Some distance in front of the mountain was a much smaller tabletop mountain. On top of this smaller mountain, the production team had built a small fake village. From a distance, the mountains and the village were covered in this orange glow from the early morning sunlight. It was surreal. That image will always be in my mind.
What do you never travel without?
I always travel with my small figurine of Buddha. It has been with me everywhere. To see this laughing Buddha brings a smile to my face