Hiro Koda has been working in stunts since the ’90s and has an exciting history with Power Rangers and more. Now, Koda serves as the Stunt Coordinator on popular shows such as Big Little Lies, Cobra Kai, and Ozark. However, it’s his role in Stranger Things that has us especially intrigued. Not only did Koda serve as the Stunt Coordinator for the show’s third season, but he also worked as the Second Unit Director. Recently, ComicBook.com had the opportunity to chat with Koda about the Stranger Things kids, season four’s production, and some of season three’s best stunts. We also asked some throwback questions to his Power Rangers days, asked his opinion on Zoë Kravitz becoming Catwoman, inquired about his brief time on the Agents of SHIELD set, and more.
Check out our full interview with Stunt Coordinator Hiro Koda below…
ComicBook.com: You started working on Stranger Things in season three. What was it like to step into such a cultural phenomenon?
Hiro Koda: It can be a difficult thing to step into a show so far in… A lot of shows, they build their families and that’s how they are. So, it’s like stepping into a new whole family, but everybody on that show is so amazing and they took me in like I was one of their own. I’m a huge fan of the show anyway, so I was stoked to get the show. It was an incredible transition with everybody. The cast, crew, everybody was just incredible. There were a few cast members that had to be like, ‘Hey, who’s this new stunt guy? Who’s the new stunt coordinator? I need to get to know him before I can trust him,’ because their safety is on my shoulders. That’s always a little bit of a transition with everybody, but everybody’s so wonderful on that show.
CB: Some of the kids wanted to do their own stunts, but obviously there are child labor laws involved. What were they allowed to do? Who was the most eager to try to do their own stuff?
HK: Everybody always wants to do their own stuff. For example, Millie [Bobby Brown], there were some times that we flew her on some wires. There’s high restrictions on how high we can take them into the air. They can’t be up too high, but they can get into the wires. There’s loads of things. For me, personally, the safety is my number one priority and even though these cast members are completely capable of doing certain things, if there’s something where there’s any chance of an injury or anything like that, they have to have a stunt double for them. All the kids had doubles anyway, just because they’re children. But it’s important that they don’t get hurt because if our cast member gets hurt, then we get shut down. If a stunt member gets hurt, then it’s not going to shut the show down.
CB: Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas, recently turned 18. Does that change anything, or do old rules apply?
HK: No. It benefits the production because he has no more schooling that he has to do. He’s 18, so that gives us more time with him. It does move him to being an adult. So, there’s more stuff and more leeway that we can do with him. It definitely opens up that door, but he still has his guardian there with him, I would imagine. So, she was there when we started this season. They still have a say so, but it’s a lot more lenient when they turn 18. So, we can treat them as an adult.
SEASON THREE STUNTS
CB: Do you have a favorite stunt from the season or anything that was the hardest to work on?
HK: Everything. It’s a very tough show to do. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time that we spend rehearsing and prepping. I mean, that’s the beauty of what we go through… The sauna room was a lot of fun and super challenging. Shawn Levy was directing that episode and he’s very on top of… You have to be really prepared when you’re shooting with him. And everything went as planned. It was challenging because Dacre [Montgomery], who plays Billy, was topless. So flying him around when Eleven’s throwing him around and stuff, we had to create these wild, interesting rigs for him to fly, and his stunt double had to slam into things and stuff like that without a shirt on. That was fun and challenging. Millie’s cabin when the Mindflayer takes her up into the ceiling, that whole sequence was so much fun. The Duffer Brothers play this music and they get everybody into it, and it’s a lot of fun.
The finale with Hopper and Grigori, I directed the majority of that sequence and that was just a massive fight that the Duffer brothers wanted. It was a beautiful, massive set that we had to start in this small control room and work our way all the way down to the end of the laser gun. The challenging parts were David Harbour was needed on my unit and on first unit at the same time, so we were splitting days with him. Very proud of David and Andre [Ivchenko] and the stunt doubles, they did an amazing job with that sequence.
CB: I was going to ask if there’s a particular moment that you were most proud of. It sounds like it might’ve been that one, but just in case there’s something else…
HK: No, you’re absolutely right. The finale was definitely one of my most proudest Second Unit days, or several days. It took us four and a half days to shoot that sequence. So, yeah, that was definitely one of my proudest moments during the season.
CB: Can you tell us anything about season four?
HK: All I can tell you is that season four is… It’s darker. It’s going to be epic. There’s lots of great surprises and all your favorite people are in it… It’s going to be so good. It’s so epic. I’ve gotten to read through almost eight scripts now, so it’s pretty awesome. I don’t know how many we’re going to get.
CB: And are you going to do more for season four?
HK: I will be doing Second Unit as well in season four.
CB: Production for season four began, but had to be shut down. Did you make it pretty far?
HK: We started shooting in January. We shot out of the country. You guys saw the new trailer that came out revealing Hopper and all that stuff for season four. We were into two episodes. We were pretty close to being done with a couple of the episodes, but we got shut down the second week of March, I believe, so that’s as far as we got.
CB: I’m guessing there’s no idea yet when it’s going to resume?
HK: It’s really just this pandemic and trying to figure out when productions will be going back. We’re kind of spread out this year. We usually shoot just in Atlanta, but we’ve been spread out in two different places this year. So trying to figure out the scheduling of it. And then not just dealing with when production is going to actually start in Atlanta, most of the cast is from California. So when California decides to open up that’s the other issue, when the actors will feel comfortable to come. And also just figuring out all the new protocols that we’re going to have to take on set with everybody.
CB: There’s a lot of physical contact in stunts, and we’re now living with social distancing. Do you have any idea about the permanent changes that are going to have to be made?
HK: There’s been lots of discussions and it’s going to be really interesting because the president has given us these guidelines for the states to open up in phases. Some of the phases allow companies to open up and be like 25% employees, and then it goes to 40% or whatever, and then it kind of increases from there. But with us, as a film production, we have to be 100%. And then, as far as social distancing, we can separate ourselves and work in and out of set in waves, instead of everybody on set at once. That’s easier to control. Everybody can wear masks and gloves and whatever, but the actors can’t, they have to take the masks off. They’ve got to be in close contact.
Stunts, all stunts that we do, we’re physically touching each other because we’re fighting, and we’re dealing with the cast and putting them in harnesses and wires and flying them. And stunt people are always together fighting and rolling around. So it’s going to be an interesting thing to try to figure out. As long as everybody keeps themselves tested. And if anybody’s sick, they don’t come to work, stuff like that.
Those are things that we started when [the coronavirus] started at the beginning of the year. We were waiting for the time that we were going to probably get shut down. And so we started practicing keeping social distancing, no hugging, shaking hands and trying to keep distance from each other. And people were wearing masks and gloves. And the food preparation for Craft Services and things like that. And nobody could just go and handle it themselves. Somebody was handling it with gloves and everything to kind of keep everything as safe as we could prior to getting shut down.
CB: Do you have a favorite type of show or movie, and what do you think is the most challenging?
HK: The most challenging? I’ve done a lot of horror films in that genre. And the sci-fi stuff is always a challenge. Sci-fi becomes challenging just because it’s different types of work that you’re trying to accomplish. Even stuff with Stranger Things, you’re working with creatures, and those creatures are huge. There’s nobody there, it’s a pretend creature that’s there and there’s green. There’s sometimes people in suits and stuff to kind of give eyelines and things like that, and pretending to be these things for that cast to interact with. We have to create the action with something that’s not there, so that’s always challenging and I love it. It’s what I love to do. Trying to figure out what’s the best, most violent way to make things look scary, and fun all at same time.
CB: You worked on Zeo, Lost Galaxy, and Lightspeed Rescue. Do you remember how those stunts were approached and how they changed based on the seasons?
HK: Yeah. I worked the first seven seasons of Power Rangers, and I saw a drastic change. When it first started to when I finished the show, when I left… Basically when Power Rangers was first starting, because they had an American cast, because Power Rangers is in Japan, obviously, and they had the Japanese cast playing the characters and then there was the suit work and all that stuff as Rangers.
A lot of the earlier season stuff was when the guys would get into the Ranger suits, they would use a lot of Japanese footage from the TV show in Japan, and then just redo all of this stuff for the American cast part. It was a lot of mix between the two. Then, as the years started going… I don’t know if they just caught up or if they got ahead of it or whatever, but we shot more and more and more of the stuff in the suits. We always did shoot things in the suits, but it got to be more and more where there was pretty much a second unit all the time shooting.
CB: Do you remember a specific favorite stunt from any of them?
HK: Oh gosh. Lightspeed Rescue was a fun season for me. Because I normally… Throughout the years I was a monster and different… God, I don’t know what. There are all these different things through the earlier seasons. Then I got to be Blue Ranger and I did Green Ranger. I rode and raced motorcycles as a kid, so when there was motorcycle stuff, I got to be the Red Ranger. And then I did a lot of driving as well so in Lightspeed Rescue, there were vehicles, and I drove that Hummer all the time. I was in that Hummer every day, and that was just a lot of fun because you’re throwing that thing all over the place; downtown LA, and in the desert, and all over places. That was a really fun season for me. One of the biggest stunts I did, I guess there was a… I don’t even remember what season it was. I crashed a motorcycle in downtown LA in the Red Ranger suit. I got to lay down a motorcycle, which was fun.
AGENTS OF SHIELD
CB: You worked on one episode of my personal favorite show, which is Agents of SHIELD. It was a while ago, but do you have any memories from the set?
HK: Oh man, let’s see Agents of SHIELD. I did a couple of episodes of that. The particular one, [“A Fractured House”], I think that you’re talking about, I was an agent inside the office and we all got shot up in there. I’m terrible because I didn’t work that show a whole lot. The lead actress did a lot of her stuff, and it was a pleasure to work on that show. I mean that show’s pretty busy in LA. And everybody that works it, I think enjoys it. I can’t even remember that one. I know I did get shot up.
BIG LITTLE LIES AND ZOE KRAVITZ
CB: You were Stunt Coordinator on the last season of Big Little Lies. Were you involved with the famous Nicole Kidman slapping Meryl Streep moment?
HK: Yes. They did it themselves. And they were both incredible. So yes, that shows is a lot of fun and it shoots in Monterey, California. You can’t beat that location at all. It’s beautiful there. But yeah, it was a lot of fun to be there. I mean, it wasn’t really a hugely stunt-heavy show. They did carry me on the show because there was enough work to do and prep. There was a lot of safety with the actors and stuff because we’re around the water quite a bit. There’s several of the actors that don’t drive, and so there had to be some stuff done with them for that. Great show.
CB: I assume by working on that show, you’ve worked with Zoë Kravitz. How do you feel about her doing the, presumably, stunt-heavy role of Catwoman?
HK: Is that what she’s getting ready to do?
CB: Yeah, that’s her next big thing.
HK: Oh, I didn’t know that. She didn’t do a whole lot of stuff on Big Little Lies stunt-wise. There were some things that we had started training with her on. Because she was going to be in her yoga class. She was going to be doing some type of, I think it was a cardio kickboxing type of class, that she was going to teach. I don’t think it ever even actually made it in the show, but we had done some training with her. She took it very seriously, worked very hard, and came to the studio and trained prior to make sure she looked good and believable. She didn’t want to come across fake, obviously. So I think that she’ll put the work in and, hopefully, she’ll be able to pull that off. She’s got to be tough to be a superhero.
EMMYS AND THE FUTURE
CB: Do you have any upcoming stuff or anything that you’re excited about that you’re going to be working on soon, once productions start again?
HK: Well… Things were rolling on Stranger Things. At the end of the year, I would have gotten into season four of Cobra Kai. I’ve done all seasons of that show. That show was supposed to start at the end of the year. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it now. This third season has been finished, but it hasn’t aired yet because of all of this, I think. And then Ozark is going to kick back off for season four, and I don’t know when that will be starting.
CB: You have an Emmy for Super Ninjas. Congrats! Where do you keep it?
HK: It sits in my living room, above my fireplace on a mantle. It sits up there with a light that shines on it and I’ve got this other movie memorabilia around it. That’s where it lives.
I’m looking forward to this Emmy season because Stranger Things season three is going to be a really good contender, so hoping to put another one up there.
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