Klein, and the setup for a Late Night skit. (Photo illustration: Donna Alberico; Gary Wayne Gilbert)
The “skills” section of Peter Klein’s resume includes sword, bo staff, battle axe, and katana stage combat; scuba and rope rescue (rappelling, climbing, belaying); “slides, 90’s, forward and reverse 180’s” with cars and motorcycles; and falls from up to 60 feet. Since 2004, he’s performed, coordinated, or rigged stunts for 120 films and TV shows—sliding a speeding 18-wheeler in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, tumbling down stairs dressed as Abraham Lincoln on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (“your elbows guide your fall”).
On a muggy mid-June morning, Klein is coordinating stunts for Late Night with Seth Meyers. On set in a Long Island funeral home, he plots how a drunken eulogy might end with a face-plant. The six-foot-three Klein towers over the rest of the crew, his chest and biceps swelling a T-shirt that shows the face of a snarling wolf. “I don’t over-coach,” he says. “I adapt to how actors naturally move.” Take one: The eulogist flails her arms as she falls; too cartoonish. Take two: Too cautious. Klein, who practiced the fall himself half a dozen times, tells the actress to lead with her feet. Take three: She wobbles a knee, trips forward, knocking over the portrait of grandma in front of the casket, and falls safely onto Klein’s foam “crash mats” out of frame. “Opa!” yells the director.
Klein grew up in Canfield, Ohio, captivated as a tweenager by ABC’s The Fall Guy (1981–85), about a stuntman (Lee Majors) turned bounty hunter. He studied sociology and played tight end at Boston College, and subsequently worked in New York as a bond broker, then a studio page, then a production assistant for 60 Minutes, while taking stunt courses at night. At age 31, he got his first stunt assignment: playing a bike messenger who flips over a taxi’s open door. In 2015 Klein won Best Fight at the Taurus World Stunt Awards, the Oscars of the stunt industry: Appearing as several ski-masked assassins in the thriller John Wick, he was seen raiding the home of Keanu Reeves, who shot, stabbed, and threw Klein through a glass wall.
A year later, Klein was jumping between rooftops for NBC’s The Blacklist, when he stuck his leg out two inches too far and shattered his ankle. In recovery, he works mainly as a stunt coordinator, hiring crews, choreographing fights, and “finding the safest ways to make the director’s dream a reality.”
At the funeral home, Klein changes into a black suit for the day’s second stunt—in which pallbearers will drop a casket. “Now that I’m not getting shot in the head all the time,” he says, “I get to watch a little bit more of my work with my kids.”