British stuntman Joe Watts, 31, is fighting for his life after suffering a serious head injury during the filming of Fast & Furious 9 on July 22. Witnesses said a safety wire attached to Watts snapped as he leaped off of a platform, causing him to plummet head-first more than 30 feet to the ground.
“He was meant to be left dangling below the balcony via wire and then slowly lowered to the ground, but he plunged to the ground and landed on his head,” an unidentified source involved with the film’s production revealed.
Watts, who was working at Warner Brothers Leavesden Studio near London, had to be airlifted to the Royal London Hospital and has been placed in a drug-induced coma. Filming, which started in January 2019, was temporarily halted after the accident. First unit filming resumed on July 23.
“We had an injury on the set of Fast 9 today in Leavesden with one of our stuntmen,” a representative told Just Jared in a statement. “We have halted production for the day to focus on this situation,” a Warner Brothers spokesperson said.
Watts was initially identified as actor Vin Diesel’s stunt double, however, a source involved with the film said both Diesel and his stunt double were on set when the accident occurred.
Here’s what you need to know about Joe Watts and the accident on the Fast & Furious set.
1. Watts Has a Long List of Film Credits & is a Highly-Trained Professional Stuntman
Watts has worked on a number of high-profile television shows and films including Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Mission Impossible, Jurassic World, Mama Mia, and The Spanish Princess.
Watts is listed as a probationary member of the British Stunt Register (BSR). The organization requires all members to be qualified in a minimum of six disciplines such as martial arts, horseback riding, or stunt driving. BSR Chair Jim Dowdall told The Guardian.
“The kind of injury that Joe has sustained this week is incredibly rare given the number of stunt days per year, which must run into the thousands. But it’s the one that goes wrong that everybody remembers.”
2. Watts Is Engaged to Professional Stunt Performer Tilly Powell
Watts is engaged to Tilly Powell, who is also a professional stunt performer. The two have been dating for four years. Powell announced their engagement on Facebook on January 1, 2018. The couple plan to marry in 2020.
She was working in London on the Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard when she learned of Watts’ accident. “Tilly is absolutely devastated but she has known the risks that were always involved.
“I love him so much and my heart is shattered. He has all of his family and friends by his side to get him through this!” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Powell comes from a family of stunt professionals. Her father is stuntman Greg Powell, her uncle is Gary Powell and her grandfather was British boxer, actor and stuntman Nosher Powell.
Tilly Powell’s credits include Avengers: Age of Ultron, Spiderman: Far From Home, Wonder Woman, Skyfall, and Safe House. She’s won awards three awards from the Screen Actors Guild for her stunt work.
3. British Authorities Have Opened an Investigation into the Accident
Hertfordshire Police were called to the set after the Watts’ accident but immediately turned the investigation over to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE is a British governmental agency which oversees safety issues in the workplace.
“HSE is investigating the incident following attendance at the scene [July 22]” an HSE spokesperson confirmed to Variety.
The Leavesden studio where Watts was injured has recently been plagued by a series of unusual incidents. Police were called on July 17 after foreign objects were found in food sold at one of the studio’s public cafés where tourists often dine. “The food was discovered before Studio Tour opened and did not leave the kitchen,” a Warner Brothers spokesperson said.
Police would not reveal what was in the food due to the incident being under investigation, however, The Sun is reporting that café workers discovered a shard of glass inside one muffin and silver metal pins inside 13 other muffins for sale. A shard of glass had been placed in a hamburger several weeks earlier.
“It’s chilling and dark to think someone could be so cold and calculating,” a source interviewed by The Sun said. “We get thousands of kids here every day. Someone could have choked and died.”
On July 10, a fire broke out in an empty soundstage. Fifteen fire engines plus support vehicles were initally sent to battle the blaze but three more trucks had to be called in.
4. Watts Is a Gymnastics Instructor & Massage Therapist
In addition to working as a stuntman, Watts is a tumbling coach at Creative Academy. Creative Academy is a nonprofit organization that offers professional vocational dance degrees. He’s worked at the school for five years and has 10 years of coaching experience. As a qualified massage therapist, Watts also serves on the school’s Wellbeing Team.
Creative Academy describes Watts as being “passionate about the impact gymnastics can have on the performance ability of our students.” To show off his talent, the school recently posted an old video of Watts plunging from a tower during a performance at Legoland Windsor in August 2015.
The school issued a statement after learning of Watts’ accident. “We hope he makes a speedy recovery and send our best wishes to Joe and his family.”
5. Actor Jason Statham Calls Watts & Other Stunt Performers “Unsung Heroes”
After learning of Watts’ accident, Fast & Furious actor Jason Statham paid tribute to the seriously injured performer at the premiere of his new film Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw.
I don’t know the details but it’s a very, very concerning thing when someone gets hurt. The families have to endure that difficulty,” he said.
“They are really the unsung heroes. They are the ones that put themselves in harm’s way to make other people look good.”