When Michael Potaskis’ relationship with his girlfriend went sour, he couldn’t face dealing with the whole messy breakup scene. Rather than man up and tell the truth, he called in Don Harris to do the deed for him. For twenty years, Don Harris has been standing in the firing line for people who can’t – or won’t – face an emotionally charged situation. He’s one of an increasing number of Emotional Stunt Doubles – brave men and women who insert themselves into the picture, take the brunt of a volatile situation and then exit stage right.
Once the details had been worked out, the scene was set. At dinner, Michael went into the kitchen “to open another bottle of wine”, but in reality he was making a seamless switch with Harris. Wearing Potatkis’ clothes and made up to resemble him, Harris entered the dining room, poured a glass of wine and told Jennifer that it was over. After a long conversation involving tears, shouting and repeated use of the phrase “it’s not you, it’s me”, Jennifer left and Michael emerged from the kitchen a free man.
“Clients often call on me for breakups,” Harris says. “I’d estimate that ending relationships makes up about 60 to 70 percent of my business. Breakups are my bread and butter.”
That may be, but some of the other dishes on Harris’s menu leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth. “There was a young man who’s parents both died on the same day,” he tells me. “For one reason or another, he wasn’t up to attending the funeral, so I went in his stead. There was a bit of an age difference, but I made it work.” And what was the young man doing while Harris attended his parents’ funeral? “Smoking weed and playing videogames, as far as I know. What the client does off-stage is their business.”
I ask Harris if he ever worries that his work has a negative effect for those he doubles as and whether the stunting process might be two-fold. “I have thought about it,” he admits, “and I know there are people who don’t agree with the use of stunt doubles. But the way I see it, there are some people who just aren’t ready to face that sort of emotional peril. In a high-risk situation, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.”
With his bland everyman features and tough heart, Don Harris continues to take the hard knocks the rest of us can’t face. As I leave, he’s getting fitted for a wedding dress. “Gal’s going to jilt him at the altar,” he tells me. “It ain’t going to be pretty.” I still don’t know exactly how I feel about the idea of emotional ringers, but in the time I spent with him, I started to feel a real connection to Don as a person. Previously, I had imagined him to be made of teflon – a hard, non-stick surface to which allows no attachment. Having seen him work, however, I now know that he feels every word, every glance and every iota of pain that comes with his job. He is not an actor, pretending to be someone else, but instead he is a man who knows how to fall and get back up again. I asked him if it wouldn’t be better to teach people how to take the pain themselves, to learn his ways of taking the hit and bouncing back up. “I suppose I could do that,” he said, before winking at me and adding: “but then I’d be out of a job.”