Emmy-Nominated Stunt Coordinator Thom Khoury Williams Talks Doom Patrol

The third season of HBO Max‘s Doom Patrol is just around the corner with the newly released trailer for the critically-acclaimed, Emmy-nominated series teasing new characters, new adventures, and even more zany action for DC’s team of misfit heroes. And a huge part of bringing those adventures and that zany action to life are the stunts. Over the first two seasons of the series to date, Doom Patrol has become known for some of its wild stunts. In Season Two, some of those stunts included seeing Robotman/Cliff Steel face-off with Jesus, a showdown between the Candlemaker and the various personalities in the Underground.

Behind those epic moments in Doom Patrol is Thom Khoury Williams, a two-time Emmy nominated stunt coordinator, director, and performer with a long list of credits over his career. One of Williams’ Emmy nominations is for his work on Doom Patrol and ComicBook.com recently sat down with him to talk about how work on Doom Patrol compares to other projects he’s been a part of, what the process of creating those memorable stunts is like, as well as had him break down three of the most memorable moments from Season 2, including an impressive water stunt that Crazy Jane actor Diane Guerrero undertook herself.

ComicBook.com: How does work on something like Doom Patrol compared to other projects that you’ve been a part of?

Thom Khoury Williams: Well, it is wacky and crazy, and making it is just as nuts as it is watching it. I can say that with full confidence but in the best way. It’s so much fun to do. And I love the fact that it doesn’t take itself so seriously. The characters don’t. The storylines have serious elements, but it’s so ridiculous and fantastical that it’s fun coming up with these weird things. And it’s not the typical deal where they want a wire gag where someone smashes into a wall and the wall… I was about to say there’s not blood everywhere, but we have a lot of blood everywhere.

Well, yeah.

Yes. But it’s not super realistic, gritty, nasty stuff. They want to see something that when you see the reaction, you’re like, “Oh, my God. That’s amazing.” And like, “Oh, my God. That’s ridiculous.” So it’s fun just coming up with neat, creative ways to either send people flying through the air or have someone take a hit and just having fun with it.

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And then you’ve got things like, I know in Season One, there was stuff like donkeys and cockroaches and things like that. But then in Season Two… You’re like you get through Season One and you’re like, “They can’t possibly do anything crazier going into Season Two. They’ve already done it all.” And then you get to Season Two and then there’s stuff like Robotman just fought Jesus. He just fought Jesus in what looks like a ball pit of eyeballs. What? And so you’re looking at that and you’re like, how does this go from crazy story because there’s obviously that piece of it to visualizing what that functionally looks like and then putting it together. What is the process that you go through when you get to the showrunners is like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing this year. How do we make this come to life?” What is it like working with that process?

It’s so much fun because the TV schedule is so hectic and so crazy. So oftentimes on a normal show, you’re running a gun and doing all shooting here, doing pickups, they’re prepping for the next episode. And you’re really fighting to find time to read your upcoming scripts. With this show, the new script comes out, and immediately I’m like, “Leave me alone. I got it.” I want to read it right away because they’re that good. And you know you have something ridiculous coming up that you’re going to have to do. So, you want to try and start thinking about it right away.

So to take the Jesus one, for an example, we get that script and I started reading it and I get to that and you see where everything else is kind of going. And in my head, just knowing everyone the way I do, I’m like, “There’s something that’s going to happen with Cliff.” I know that’s going to be the one. And sure enough, I get to it. And I literally, I just kind of slid my iPad to the side and just kind of started laughing my ass off for a while. Read it again, looked over it a few times. And our writers, we have a lot of trust. We have a lot of creative collusion, so they don’t put too much in there for me anymore. It’s great. They’re like he fights Jesus and they got a couple of beats that they want me to hit and then they kind of let me come up with all the rest.

So what happened with the Jesus one is I kind of let it marinate overnight, came back the next day I got my team together in our rehearsal stage, and just started playing around and designing things and coming up with a few ideas that the writers were like, “All right. Now, let’s pull that back just a tab. Let’s not get too much trouble.” And then I put together previews and show it to Jeremy and the director and get the thumbs up and then we go film it.

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(Photo: Lumos PR)

And kind of speaking of the Jesus, you said that there’s some that does not go too far, but… I mean, Jesus actually takes Cliff’s arm and literally beats him with it. What’s the line of too far sometimes with stuff like that? Because again, it’s Jesus beating Robotman with his own arm. That’s hilarious, but I imagine for some viewers that might be a sensitive thing because Jesus is peace and love, and not in this scene.

No. And coming from a Christian man, I’m just going to say, I thought it was hilarious. But I’ll tell you, my one that went where they were like, “Let’s reign it in.” I had Robotman rush him and he punches Jesus. Jesus flies out of frame and hits a wall. And so when the camera whips around on Jesus, I had a light shining on him and chorus music going off and, of course, he’s in the position.

And then I had him float out of the wall towards Robotman and that’s when he rips the arm off. And they’re like, “We love it. It’s hilarious. Let’s back off on the iconography a little bit.”

That is so intense. But how long does something like that take to kind of create, start to finish, or at least finish in terms of what you do? Because I know there’s stuff after like the physical piece of it, but from your aspect of it, how long is it for you roughly spend it that start to finish?

Well, concepting is about a day. Shooting the previews took a full day, and then editing it another like half a day or so. And then we shot it. I got to shoot it, second unit. So the good thing about that is I’d already shot it once. So once we got in there and I was directing it, we knocked it out in probably half a day, I would say.

So, this stuff actually moves a lot. So there’s a lot of complicated stuff that happens in a very fast amount of time. That’s impressive.

Television has to. You have to keep going. Chris Manley was our director for that episode and he shot all the acting beats and the before and the after, all the discussions with Jesus and Robotman, and then as soon as he was done, he left and move on to a different set. And I stayed behind on that set to shoot the fight, so it worked pretty seamlessly that way.

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(Photo: Warner Bros., DC Entertainment)

You’ve been Emmy nominated for this work. Congratulations on that. I know this is not your first Emmy nomination but this is still a pretty big deal to be acknowledged for all this work because I don’t think people really realize that this is some really seriously technical, complicated work.  Season Two in specific had a lot of really incredible scenes that were meaningful. Like you said, there’s a lot of meaning to it, but they also had a lot of really cool stunts involved. And there were the three, there’s the Robotman’s scene, but there are two others that kind of jumped out at me as well. First of all, we’ll talk about is in episode five, I believe it was “Finger Patrol”. It’s when Baby Doll and Flaming Katy kill Manny. And then we ended up in the underground with Candlemaker, just messing everything up. To me, as a viewer, that seems like it would be a complicated situation because it looks like it has a lot of moving parts. You’ve got multiple players involved, a lot of pretty intense fighting, violent kind of things going on, and then you’ve also got this giant terrifying VFX creature that you’ve got to account for, kind of walk me through the stunts in that scene. How does that come together?

First of all, thank you. It is very exciting being nominated for an Emmy, especially with the shows I’m up against. There’s some gigantic shows in this category, so it’s cool just to be involved with that and with these other amazing shows because Doom is not known for being a huge action show. I like to think we got the nomination because what we have to work with has done really well. So I’m proud of it and it’s pretty cool. And yeah, episode five, when the Candlemaker finally gets loose and gets in the underground, that was awesome. I loved the beginning aspect of it when Baby Doll’s in there with Dorothy and we finally figure out what Baby Doll’s powers are, telekinesis, throws her in the furnace in there. And man, I wanted to see Baby Doll get her, come up at it anyway. That character, Diane does a good job of making her so annoying.

It’s brilliant. She brings such a different aspect to each character. There’s some love. There’s some you hate. There’s some you want to know more about. So it was a really cool surprise getting to that. And then, Manny was a beloved character. So seeing him go down, everyone’s like, “Oh, shit.” And then as soon as the Candle comes out, you know it’s about to be a lot of fun. So getting to go into… I love working in the underground. First of all, the stage is right next to my office, so I don’t have far to go.

Yes, yes. And it’s a fun set too. It’s just the underground stuff I always love doing. It’s a real cool atmosphere and to get all the personalities in there, whether some of them were played by principal actors, some are background, and there’s several personalities that are played by stuntwomen that I hire. So, it’s a really cool mix of everyone. And just being able to get in there and have Candlemaker fling Hammerhead to the side, which that was the first kind of “oh, shit” moment because she’s supposed to be one of the biggest badasses down there and he swats her aside like a fly so that was really fun. And then killing Baby Doll, it was… In theory, it’s not a difficult rig, but the timing of having to deal with the visual effects of it all and to lift her and keep her still enough to where it doesn’t look like she’s wobbling all over the place and have a fun, functional, and emotional death scene down there was challenging but really cool at the same time.

So when we do something like that, Candlemaker, there’s a couple of different reference passes we do. There’s a guy that I bring in, that’ll do kind of the acting, beyond set acting, and he’s like 6’7″ … does a really good job. But then to get the true height of it, we’ll have one of our special effects guys with a big fire pole. So the top of the fire pole, which is lit and going with the true height of the Candlemaker, so we’ll do a pass with him to get all the lighting and the kind of ambiance of it, and then throw some wire work and blood and death in there.

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The next one that I thought, and as much as I love the Robotman versus Jesus smackdown, which again, peak television for me, one of, I think, the most beautiful and also kind of intimate sequences in season two, one that will kind of stick with me for a long time even though story-wise, it’s not nearly as entertaining as Robotman versus Jesus comes in episode eight in “Dad Patrol” and it’s Jane underwater. And if I remember correctly, I read somewhere that Diane did that stunt herself.

She did almost every bit.

Walk me through that because that is visually just so beautiful, but that had to be such an endeavor.

Yeah. And it would not have worked if Diane did not do all of that. There was maybe two shots where we used a double where we’re on a wide and she’s swimming all the way to the bottom, but everything else was Diane. I talked to her well beforehand to kind of get her gauge of what she’s like underwater, put her together with a couple master divers that I use, a father-daughter duo named David and [Alexis Lord]. And they’re phenomenal. They are so good working with people and getting them comfortable underwater. So I just sent Diane off with them to basically do scuba diving lessons with them at first, just kind of regular training like she would do if she was going to go on a dive trip and then you start accelerating it to where she’s taken out a regulator taking off her mask and performing underwater.

And at first, she would just kind of do her lines under there and talk to people and do things. And we’d be right next to her, ready to put the regulator back in, if she needed it. And she got so comfortable. I remember the night we were filming, she gets in the tank and just hit after hit, just knocking them out of the park and was just so good. And she stayed in there for hours. I mean, obviously, we’d come out, take little breaks here and there, but she is a frigging trooper and was under there between the lighting and her acting, and Sarah Borne who played Baby Doll was in there too, and all the rest were stuntwomen. So it was just all these floating, dead stuntwomen and another dead actress, and then Diane in there just acting her tail off, and it was beautiful. It could not have been done if she didn’t train as hard as she did for that.

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(Photo: DC Entertainment)

With a show like Doom Patrol, which again not super action-heavy, the action that we do get is a little weird, a little fun, a little different. Do you have a favorite stunt from the seas or anything you’ve done with the show that you think just really exceeded your expectations once you saw it in its final form? Or is there anything that you just absolutely loved and are so proud of now that you’re like, “Yeah, I did that. That’s cool. I was part of that.”

I will give you two answers. So my first one would be the Fuchtopia fight in season one [“Puppet Patrol”]. That was the sequence that I got my DGA card on. And I want to eventually move into directing. And I was so proud of that and so happy with that. So, I got to direct all the Robotman half. Rachel Talalay was our director at the time, who’s amazing and very supportive of me getting my card. And she directed all the Jane, all the crazy Jane stuff. So I shot the previews for it. She was on one stage, I was on another and we shot him simultaneously. And so that fight will always, always have a special place in my heart just for getting me my card and being my first directing gig and I’m just so proud of how it turned out.

And then the underwater sequence would be my second one because it’s so different. It’s not explosions and fights and wires and things. It’s really beautiful. It’s a slow burn. It’s really well-paced. And just the whole setup, I’m just exceedingly impressed with how it all came together. And especially with Diane, like I said, I think the difference between a lot of other underwater sequences and this one is usually you’re seeing people in masks and gear and they’re underwater. Diane is having to pretend like she doesn’t have to breathe under there, but with that, you’re getting her face and you’re going to be emotions and all the little things that she does to make her character so good, so that’s my other one.

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Is there any stunts or anything that you wanted to incorporate at any point in Doom Patrol that you never didn’t actually get to do, but you just love so much that you wish you’ve been able to put in, either season, just anything that sticks out with you that you’re holding back that maybe someday you’ll get to incorporate a piece of somehow?

I wish we’d gotten to do some more NASCAR stuff. So after all the Cliff intro in the pilot, I’m pretty sure they kept all the cars. And I remember them saying we might go back and do some more stuff, which that was a lot of fun. And I was like, “Hmm, maybe. Maybe some more NASCAR.” But other than that, no, because I get to pretty much do whatever I want when they send the scripts out and I’m getting to come up with the stuff. So I’m exceptionally happy with the freedom I get and what I get to put together.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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