Say what you will about stunt doubles. It’s hard to make a movie when your lead actor is nursing a few broken bones. And while The Great Escape star Steve McQueen would have loved to pull off the iconic motorcycle jump himself, the task fell to his double Bud Ekins.
McQueen, who did much of the riding in the movie and some of the stunt work himself, regretted not being the one to jump the barbed wire fence on camera.
“A lot of people thought it was me making that jump, but I’ve never tried to hide the truth about it. I could handle the jump now, I’m sure. Back in ’62, I just didn’t have the savvy,” said McQueen, Hagerty reports.
He may not have had the had bike savvy to pull off the jump, which is included in the video below, but by all accounts, Steve McQueen wasn’t just saying that to sound cool or save face. He had some daredevil in him and was not afraid to give the jump a shot.
In fact, The Great Escape’s second unit director Robert E. Relyea claimed that not only did Steve McQueen pull the jump off himself at one point, but it was also captured on camera. In his biographical book, Not So Quiet on the Set, he admitted that the movie’s final cut almost certainly features the Bud Ekins jump but that he couldn’t be sure.
There are also plenty of accounts claiming Steve McQueen would get into Nazi costume during these chase sequences. Why? Because he wanted to ride. And yes, that means during The Great Escape, McQueen is essentially chasing himself at specific points. Well, he was chasing Hilts. But still, a fun fact nonetheless.
Steve McQueen Was Torn Between Racing and a Hollywood Career
When we said Steve McQueen had some daredevil in him, we meant it. The screen icon was passionate about off-road motorcycle racing and took an avid interest in race cars. Let’s just say that didn’t sit well with the studio.
At one point, The Great Escape star was offered a contractual ultimatum. It was either racing or acting, but it couldn’t be both.
“They gave me twenty-four hours to make up my mind. I took most of those twenty-four hours thinking about whether I wanted to go on racing, earning my money on the track, or whether I wanted to continue being an actor on the studio’s terms. It was a very tough decision for me to reach. Still, I had Neile and our two young children to consider, and that made the difference. I signed their paper,” said McQueen, per Hagerty.
It seems like McQueen got the last laugh. He found opportunities to get his motorcycle fix on set.