Dave Lea Feature 2013 Part 1

Feature by De-ann Black. 2013


Dave Lea – Batman Returns from Hollywood 


Tough guys don’t go quietly into the night. A prime example of this steely determination is London–born, Hollywood stuntman — Dave Lea.

Known to many in the world of movies and martial arts as a stunt coordinator/action choreographer, fight coordinator and trainer to the stars, Dave is, and always was, the real deal.

BatmanDave in costume as Batman

Dave is particularly known as Batman — Michael Keaton’s stunt fight double in the first two Batman movies. He’s trained Sylvester Stallone, Ben Affleck, Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson and Sandra Bullock, and worked with Will Smith, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer and many others.

image002Dave with Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller

image003Dave as Mr Knife Guy with Will Smith

image004Dave Lea and Ewan McGregor

image005Dave and Colin Farrell on the set of Daredevil

Unfortunately, last year (2012) Dave suffered a knee injury that required surgery. (Torn meniscus left knee). It seemed like he was never going to be the same again. However, Dave’s fitness knowledge and training ability have enabled him to emerge fitter than ever. He’s now in better shape than he was ten years ago due to the intense and expert level of training he’s done.

Due to Dave’s years of martial arts training, he was able to use that hard core ability to recover from the injury better than ever.


Hard Core Training

It would be fair to say that Dave didn’t sustain many bad injuries during his mean years as a stunt actor and fight choreographer. Bruises, a few sore bones, but nothing that took him out of the game.

image007Nothing a plaster and a good night’s sleep won’t sort.

Camden Town to Tinseltown

It would also be fair to say that luck didn’t play a part in it. Oh no. Dave is the consummate professional. He calculated the risks, cut the ego (there’s no place for that in his profession) and trained for whatever was required of him. It paid off. He’s had a long and interesting career. Twenty plus years in Hollywood. Not bad for a London lad who’d worked hard to build his martial arts schools in the early days when the world had just discovered the talents of Bruce Lee.

Dave was one of the first to learn the skill level required to teach his London students kung fu, kickboxing and weaponry. And how did Dave hone his early ability? In the gym? Sometimes, but more from a home gym he’d rigged up himself with a rope pulley for stretching rarely seen outwith a medieval torture chamber, and various other appliances. But it worked. This man can s-t-r-e-t-c-h.


Pounding the streets like Rocky? Yes, he did that too. And met Stallone when the actor was over on a Rocky promo to London Radio. Stallone was Dave’s hero. He’d sat in the cinema watching Stallone/Rocky/Rambo, thinking that it would be great to train Sly and to work with him, hoping one day his dream would come true. Years later Dave became Sly’s trainer/fight choreographer and appeared in many films alongside the man he grew to know as a friend.


But, let’s go back to Dave’s training. Where would a tough guy, a real, raw–boned fighter go to hone his fighting arts? After training in Shotokan Karate in London, then in Wing Chun in London’s Chinatown, Dave chose the hard route — he packed his bags, left London and headed for the jungles of Malaysia. As you do.

Take a look at these pictures. This is Dave in Malaysia with Master Leong Swee Lun.

image010 image011 image012

Click any photos to enlarge.

Dave was the only gweilo (white guy) they’d ever allowed into their world. He stayed with them, learning Five Animals style, weaponry, improving his Wing Chun power, increasing his stamina by running and his breathing by swimming underwater. He learned how to improve his stance and balance by standing barefoot on the edge of a medicine pot wielding an eight foot pole while having five iron rings around each wrist until his muscles burned like fire. Hard conditioning. Training to the core. He coped with the humidity, the fierce terrain, and equipped himself with skills that London had never seen.

He trained seven days a week, morning until night for months. He was tested and passed on everything. Then his teacher in Malaysia asked him if he wanted to go back to London and represent his Hapkune–Do school. Dave did. The first gweilo to do so.


From teaching in his schools, giving exhibitions involving spears and darts, Dave became an actor on EastEnders (playing Gaz) and then his agent got him a part as one of the biker extras on the set of Batman which was filmed in the UK.


While he worked as an extra on the vast Batman set during night shoots, Dave trained late at night, alone on the shadowed set between filming, while others sheltered in the tent facility provided for the extras.

Already standing out from the crowd, Dave practised his kicks for which he’s well known, and punches. Fighting shadows late into the night to keep his skills sharp for when he trained his students at his London schools.

But he was being watched. He didn’t know until he was approached by the hierarchy of the Batman movie. He was asked by one of the assistant directors to come with them to wardrobe.

‘Why?’ he asked.


That’s when they told him they wanted to put him in Michael’s suit. They wanted to see what he could do. Could he kick and punch with the suit on? It weighed a ton, it was cumbersome, but they wanted to see what he would look like as Batman. Delighted with his ability, they signed him up as Michael Keaton’s stunt fight double. Watch Dave in the famous alley scene, and in the second Batman movie fighting Michelle Pfeiffer, Catwoman.

As the first Batman movie finished, Dave was asked by Jon Peters the producer to pack his bags, get his papers from the American Embassy in London, and fly out to Hollywood to start working with his hero Sly on the film Tango & Cash (for which Dave won an award for his fight choreography) and ended up training Sly and securing a part in an on screen fight with the man himself. Dave and Sly go toe to toe, having agreed that Sly could let rip on him. Dave had a one shot go at landing when Sly kicked him backwards on to the only glass table they had in props. Sly had to kick him hard enough to send him flying backwards.

Dave hit it in one. Dead centre. And secured his place in the Hollywood industry. He’s been there ever since.

Hollywood & the UK

Every so often he returns to the UK. He’s been over this year, summer 2013. His UK stunt seminars were a great success. And he’s coming over again during the autumn/winter 2013 to film in London.

So after being badly injured — Dave’s back. He never really went away.

Dave’s back to kick some butt. Perhaps including yours. All in the name of learning the tricks of the stunt industry trade of course. The art of movie fighting.

 Read about Dave Lea – Part 2.