The first season of Netflix series “The Night Agent” is one of the season’s most immersive and kinetic action shows, largely thanks to stunt coordinator Mike Mitchell. As the artist in charge of the series’ fights and car chases, he’s created a string of visceral set pieces in which the audience feels every punch, kick, and gunshot that FBI agent Peter Sutherland (Gabriel Basso) endures and inflicts. The starting point, according to Mitchell, was reality. “I wanted feet on the ground, organic action based on real FBI technique,” Mitchell told IndieWire. “As long as we’re within safety parameters, I don’t like over-rehearsing fights; I like to keep a fight natural. When somebody slips in a fight or gets out of reach and needs to grab someone’s shirt, maybe spin around — those beats are money. If you’re super-rehearsed it becomes wooden, and you’re not exploring emotion and living in the natural environment where our show is grounded.”
One of the keys to Mitchell’s reality-driven approach was a close collaboration with the actors, particularly Basso. “The very first time we met, he asked me what I wanted the action to say,” Basso told IndieWire. “I remember saying I wanted it to be as grounded as we could get it. Nothing bothers me more than watching a character in a movie get hit and there’s no impact or consequence for him being in a fight.” Basso was thrilled that Mitchell not only listened to his ideas but was on the same page. “He said, ‘Oh man, I was hoping you’d say that.'”
Basso noted that his collaboration with Mitchell was essential to his performance; participating in the action choreography and performing a lot of it himself informed the way he played the scenes between the fights. “Doing jumping jacks and pushups in the corner can only get you so far,” he said. “If my character’s been through something physically demanding and I don’t do that thing, it’s tough for me to portray that I’ve been through it.”
While the hand-to-hand combat is undeniably one of the greatest strengths of “The Night Agent,” Mitchell took the action to an even more intense level for an early car chase sequence. Once again, the key was to put the audience in the characters’ shoes. “Not everyone has ridden a horse,” Mitchell said. “Not everyone has flown an airplane, but we’ve all driven cars. I think you need to put [the audience] in a position where they’re vulnerable and it could go sideways at any moment. Creating vulnerability and tension and energy with cameras constantly moving, just keeping it awake and alive with a lot of countermoves where the energy is coming at you and going away from you.” Shooting on a tight schedule meant planning was essential, so Mitchell spent his weekends designing a previsualization of the chase with Hot Wheels cars intercut with director Seth Gordon’s storyboards. “A good car chase for me is high energy. Lots of prep and getting the best drivers available and a good playing field to be creative in.”
In the video below, Mitchell and Basso discuss their approach to the series’ stunt driving and fight choreography.
Ultimately, Mitchell’s rigorous commitment to reality gives “The Night Agent” its power, largely because what he does has become invisible by the time it streams on Netflix. According to Basso, that’s how it should be. “The job is to not remove the audience from the story,” he said. “Whenever there’s an edit, I feel like the audience subliminally knows you’re hiding something from them — that you switched angles to hide that the actor is back in their trailer.”
Mitchell felt that actors performing as many of the stunts as possible was important, provided it was safe, and he gave Basso high marks for his fighting on screen. “I’ve worked with maybe three or four actors that could be stunt performers tomorrow, and he’s one of them,” Mitchell said. “A big part of the evolution of the stunts on our show was based around Gabriel’s instincts and his skills. I just knew he was capable and I knew I could trust him.” For Basso, working with Mitchell meant not only collaborating with a filmmaker at the top of his craft but letting his inner fanboy out. “He was Robin Williams’ stunt guy for a long time,” Basso said. “He was the stunt guy in ‘Jumanji.’ And I was like, ‘That was one of my favorite movies as a kid!’ It was so cool getting to just talk with someone who was in that movie.”