In science, a brewster is a unit used to measure something called "the susceptibility of a material to photoelasticity." In regard to cultural/philosophical charges, a brewster is a person who reflects the capacity of one's spirit to remain flexible under the spotlight, who can stretch under duress to overcome challenges to benefit those around him or her. In Britain, Brewer is a family name for the mellow Southern Englanders who made lagers, while Brewster is the rustic alias for the tough Northern English and badass clans of Scotland who distilled robust ales.
After interviewing Chris Brewster, I came to the conclusion he's the Brewster of the stunt world: a badass stuntman, intelligent fight choreographer and upright stunt coordinator.
Born in Nyack, New York, Chris Brewster embarked on the martial path when he was 4. Not unlike the monks of Shaolin Temple, he fell under the spell of fighting animals. The influential critters were not the five animals of Shaolin, however. They were the four Ninja Turtles and a metaphoric lion.
The favorite turtle was Raphael, Brewster blurted. "He was always the badass of the group. Whenever the team showed fear or hesitated to do something, he would go on his own. He was an anti-hero and had a 'cool but rude' way before that was popular."
The reptiles drew the youth into his first training hall. Appropriately enough, the program into which he enrolled was called Ninja Kids."From age 6 to 18, I learned tang soo do, then expanded into taekwondo, shorei-ryu and other arts," he recalled.
"Then I saw Jean-Claude Van Damme in Lionheart and spent a long part of my life idolizing him. He inspired my training. His kicks were clean, and I realized later [that] he had good technique, sharp lines in his movements and charisma."
Brewster figured, That's who I want to be when I grow up.
The youngster traveled the world as part of the Cheezic Tang Soo Do Federation demonstration team starting at age 12. That afforded him the opportunity to compete in more than 100 national and international tournaments, where he won an impressive 13 world titles.
"There's a benefit to having … book smarts from attending school, but I was able to see many different cultures and learn much during my travels," Brewster said. "As I was doing it, I didn't take it as a learning experience, yet you can't help but learn when you travel. It helped shape me as I grew. The fact that I traveled and spent a ton of time doing martial arts — [it takes] pure dedication to thrive in any sport — kept me out of trouble and on a straight path. It made me who I am today."
When the American open circuit began to favor wushu-influenced performances some 20 years ago, Brewster joined Mike Chat's XMA team and later Matt Mullins' Team Sideswipe to further hone his forms and fine-tune his tricking. Then he was bitten by the Hollywood bug, which prompted him to enter the world of stunts.
His credits include doubling Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and having been recognized for fight coordination by the Screen Actors Guild, from which he received the award for Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture because of his work in Black Panther and Ant-Man and the Wasp. He also was feted for his fight-choreography contributions to and doubling in Marvel's Daredevil series.
Spiritually, Brewster has come full circle on the cinematic circuit that started with his affection for the NYC-based, red-masked hero Raphael and looped back to doing fight choreography for the NYC-based, red-masked hero Daredevil.
The famed hallway fight in Season 1 of Daredevil was born on a Sunday, choreographed on Monday, rehearsed on Tuesday and shot in 12 five-and-a-half-minute takes on Wednesday. "On take five, a stuntman and I got knocked out," Brewster recalled. "We already had a decent take, so they said, 'That's it, we're moving on.' Some punches didn't have a perfect lineup, and I knew we could do better, so I said, 'Give me 10 minutes.'
"Because we rehearsed 12 hours a day for two days, I was tired, sore and worn down. Ironically, after returning from being knocked out, I had so much adrenaline that the next seven takes flew by. After take 12, we rushed to watch the monitor and knew it was perfect. We had a 100-person group hug. It was one of the best experiences I've been a part of."
When it was time to up the ante for the second season of Daredevil, the scope of the challenge dawned on the team. "How can we do something better when the original was already good?" Brewster recalled thinking. "Season 2's difficulty was location specificity and how we would do [the scene] — fighting along a hallway, continuing down a stairwell and fighting in several other spaces — and not be boring."
The result: They took advantage of extra prep time and additional set designs while focusing on the choreography. In the end, their effort gave birth to a longer, more engaging film fight.
The same sort of ante upping was required for Season 3, and it wound up yielding the much-talked-about prison fight. But first, the issue of not wearing masks had to be overcome. "I'm a very close double for Charlie [Cox], but doing fights like this, you can't get away with a double for too much of it," Brewster said. "Luckily, Charlie has trained like a mad man for five years. We did two Texas switches — most people see one, but even my buddies who know how to do switches couldn't see [the second one]."
Because the bar had been raised for each season, I asked Brewster what might have been in store if there was a Season 4. "I did three-fourths of the fights in Season 1, but by Season 3, Charlie could run the entire fights by himself," he said. "I was there because we can't slam the main actor into a wall. Safety first! If we did a Season 4, it would have to be me against Charlie — there would be no point in having a double."
Overall, the fights in Daredevil look raw, violent and imbued with a furor that's a mixture of Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais. And it all was done without sacrificing safety, which to Brewster is paramount.
In the world of stunts, the element that separates the amazing coordinators from the merely competent coordinators is the willingness to be the person who angers everybody by refusing to do something because it's unsafe, he said. "That costs production time and money and makes people upset.
"It's amazing how many [stunt coordinators] today don't have that ability. In fact, they work because they demonstrate that they don't, so certain producers keep them around because they can kind of push them into doing whatever they want. So when any director gets huffy and puffy and [says], 'I want this now,' a [stunt coordinator] must step in and say this isn't safe — and offer alternative and better options. Sam Hargraves taught me this art."
"The [martial arts] have given me all the life skills, the drive and the self-esteem to achieve my goals."
Speaking of art, Brewster noted that because of the genius of directors Chad Stahelski (John Wick trilogy) and David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) — who showed the world that if you want a good action movie, you should have an action guy direct it — the doors have opened for stuntmen. "People are realizing that John Wick outdoes $200 million blockbusters because blockbusters are run by people who film people talking but can't film people doing action," he said. "If it's an action movie, hire action guys."
This lesson is one of many Brewster has gleaned from his action education. "Martial arts has taught me the benefit of hard work," he said. "The same way I've fought for my next belt and prepared for my next tournament — I put that same effort into every fight scene. The [martial arts] have given me all the life skills, the drive and the self-esteem to achieve my goals. No matter how hard things get, I never doubt myself; I just keep pushing on. They have shaped me as a human being."
Dr. Craig D. Reid's book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors is available at shop.blackbeltmag.com.