MI6 got together with the underwater stunt coordinator of “Tomorrow Never Dies” Lee Sheward earlier this week for a chat...

Lee Sheward Interview - Part 1
6th October 2003

MI6 got together with the underwater stunt coordinator of “Tomorrow Never Dies” Lee Sheward earlier this week for a chat. He also performed as a stuntman in “The World Not Enough”. In this four-part interview we chat about his work on “Tomorrow Never Dies” and his experience as a stuntman and the future of the industry.

Starting Out

How long have you been in the stunt business?
Before commencing work as a stuntman, I performed as a Circus Aerialist touring the UK. I started work as a stuntman in late 1986, so we're going into 16/17 years now.

What was your first stunt job?
My first stunt job as a stuntman was on a feature film called “Willow”. It was over a period of about 10 years before I started to co-ordinate stunts. Other coordinators I was working for would ask me to cover the odd day or week of a show they were doing or cover second unit while they were working main unit. As for which show I first Coordinated I can’t remember whether it was a film or a commercial.

Learning to Swim

How did you start out working on under-water units?
Originally when they were in prep for the film “Tomorrow Never Dies” I was approached by Dickey Beer who was the Stunt Supervisor/Coordinator. He asked “was I available to come in and work along side him and that unit?” At the time I wasn’t available due to other work commitments but because I had done a lot of underwater shows before, I made my recommendations of the performers I recommended he should use.

Because of one thing or another, mainly work, it seemed to be a very busy year that year. Along with “Tomorrow Never Dies” there was also “Star Wars” being made and “Saving Private Ryan”. So there was a shortage of stunt people. He couldn't get quite the people he wanted on the first day and poor old Dickey ended up working day and night because the underwater unit were shooting at night below the stealth ship set.

So the main unit was shooting during the day and as soon as they finished and went home upstairs we went into the water and worked all night downstairs. Obviously Dickey couldn’t do both so he rang me back, I jumped ship from the other show I was working on and took over the coordinating side on the underwater unit. I spent the next 7 weeks of the summer working all night underwater.

The audio commentary on the DVD talks about all the troubles with paint flecks, dust, dirt and debris causing havoc with filming in the tanks. What other factors make the life of an underwater stunt unit more difficultly compared to usual stunts?
Yeah we put a filter through it, it was a pretty big filter system seeing as the tank in the 007 stage is a pit in the floor of the whole construction. For the set they built steel sides to it, its about 16 feet deep and 250-300 feet long.

The water was warmed because we were in there up to 7 hours a day underwater, what was happening was the tank was just reacting to warm water. We were in there for over 7 weeks so it took time to settle and it was just a matter of filtering it out.

Even something like filtering debris like balls of paper as soon as it becomes sodden give it about 5 minutes and you've got half a hundred weight of papier-mâché floating around. It’s not just the stunt people and camera crew underwater there’s lighting crew safety divers, props men... quite a menagerie of people down there. Some guys just down there with nets filtering out debris that shouldn’t have been down there.


One Of Our Missiles Is Missing: Lee Sheward and 007 realise something is not quite right onboard HMS Devonshire.

DVD Timecode

"Tomorrow Never Dies"
Underwater Rendezvous

But the main problem with working underwater is communication. We use a mixture of everything as well as a hydrophone, which is an underwater communications system where topside can talk to everyone in the water.

Sound travels very well through water so everyone hears very well what is being said, but trying to communicate back doesn’t work as well. So either hand signals or queuing, tapping on metal to try and get a sound vibrating through and just watching. When on land you can obviously shout, use radios or use light que's - underwater is slightly different so everyone has to pay more attention to what is going on.

Keep an eye out for the second part of the interview where we look at responsibilities of a stunt coordinator and Michelle Yeoh's work on TND.

Many thanks to Lee Sheward.

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