The Paramount+ series Tulsa King stars Sylvester Stallone as a mobster who is newly released from prison and summarily exiled from New York to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where violence quickly finds him. The crime drama required extensive stunt work for its many action sequences, and, fortunately, they had just the right man for the job, as Freddie Poole has been working as Stallone’s stunt double for the past decade and change on films ranging from Bullet to the Head and Escape Plan to MGM’s Creed II and Samaritan.
Stallone is one of the greatest action heroes of all time, and he’s still out there throwing punches in Tulsa King, which has kept Poole extremely busy, as he’s not just Stallone’s stunt double, he’s also the show’s Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director. The series hails from creator Taylor Sheridan and showrunner Terence Winter, and it co-stars Jay Will, Andrea Savage, Garrett Hedlund, Martin Starr, Max Casella, Domenick Lomardozzi, Vincent Piazza, and Dana Delany.
Below the Line recently spoke to Freddie Poole about how he tackled the stunt-heavy series, which is now streaming on Paramount+, and his creative and operational process with Stallone a decade into their professional relationship. In addition to praising the cooperative cast and many other departments in pulling Tulsa King together, Poole also looked back on his most formative job — working with Chuck Norris and his family on Walker, Texas Ranger.
Below the Line: I’m a big fan of this show, and I have to say, I was surprised when Season 1 ended because I thought there’d be one more episode to make it an even 10, but Episode 9 turned out to be the season finale.
Freddie Poole: Yeah, I think we all were. We shot 10 episodes, so I don’t know where in the process it changed it to nine. I think perhaps they combined a couple of episodes. But nonetheless, I thought it was a great series. A great show. A great experience.
BTL: You’ve been working with Sylvester Stallone for a while now. Do you have formative memories of him? Obviously, you’re not the same age as he is, so I assume you grew up watching him?
Poole: Oh, yeah. He was one of my idols growing up. You’re exactly right. I watched all of his movies as a kid. They’ll still air all the Rocky movies back-to-back on AMC, so I’ll find myself just still watching all these movies that I grew up watching with Sly. It’s been great.
BTL: Did you pay particular attention to the stunts when you were watching those or did you develop that interest later in life?
Poole: That came along later. As a kid, you’re just enamored with or in awe of the presence onscreen and the story and all of that. But later on, obviously, as I got into working in the industry, it’s definitely something that I would pay more attention to.
BTL: How has your relationship working with Sly evolved over the past decade or so?
Poole: It certainly has evolved, going from just a stunt double to stunt coordinator and second unit director, but we have a great relationship. I love sitting with him and picking his brain. That’s part of my process, for Tulsa King especially, whenever we break down the action, because I have that relationship with him. I can just go right to him and we start discussing it before we even get into any of the shooting. So that’s just part of the planning process.
BTL: Is there a certain barometer for things that he’ll do that might otherwise fall under your purview?
Poole: It really depends on how he feels, because he is 76. He’s been doing this [for] a long time. He’s a legend. So we just kind of go with the flow. If he’s feeling good and wants to get in there and get after it, he’ll do it. Obviously, again, we have to watch the number of takes, because he’ll get into it. He’s hardcore. We do want to keep him fresh, because he has an entire season to shoot, and other scenes as well. But we do watch over that, and then I’ll jump in there as needed.
BTL: In the conversation about projects like The Irishman, where you have these almost 80-year-old actors being de-aged and playing much younger versions of their characters, they don’t necessarily move like they would if they were in their 30s or 40s. Do you work to mimic Sly’s movements in these stunt scenes because of the age difference between the two of you?
Poole: Absolutely. What I find myself doing is almost getting into Sylvester Stallone/Dwight Manfredi character when I’m on set. So, not only am I overseeing all the action, but even just my movements, [and] the way I carry myself in between takes. I do have people come up to me and say, ‘wow, you walk like Stallone. Your mannerisms are like Stallone’s.’ When you’ve been with someone for that long, that happens. And you do have to keep in mind the age. A 76-year-old wouldn’t move like a 25-year-old.
BTL: It’s also a comedic plot point in Only Murders in the Building that the stunt double gets confused for the person they’re doubling. Does that happen to you often?
Poole: It does. One thing a lot of people don’t know about this show is that they had to fly me from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, and I went through a face cast. It was a two-hour process, just a quick roundtrip. I flew to L.A., did the face cast, [flew] back to Oklahoma, and then prior to shooting, I’m in that makeup chair for about two-and-a-half hours. So I have a full-face Dwight Manfredi/Sylvester Stallone prosthetic piece that I’m wearing. It takes about two-and-a-half hours to apply, and then when we’d wrap, about 45 minutes to de-rig. So I’ll be on set sometimes all day with this prosthetic on. What that enables us to do is that, when we’re shooting, you can shoot me from all different angles. Primarily, you shoot a stunt double from behind. Or maybe a three-quarter, but you’re able to get away with a little bit more with that prosthetic.
BTL: Does that make it more challenging for you to be able to move, and has the prosthetic ever come off or come apart during a scene?
Poole: We haven’t run into that issue. It actually helps because I have full movement, or at least I feel like I have movement — of my mouth and face and expressions. Of course, some people are still a little weirded out by it, when they look at it. It does help. I did a movie called Samaritan back in 2020, and that mask wasn’t a prosthetic. That was like a full-on, put it over your head, you look through the eyepiece. That one was tough. It restricted your peripheral vision and things of that nature, and there was no expression. There was just one look. That really would weird people out.
BTL: There are a lot of intense action scenes in this show, so do any of them really stand out to you as either very daring or challenging? Perhaps you’re just proud to have pulled off a certain stunt or something like that?
Poole: Well, what really stands out is Episode 3 with the car chase. In that particular scene, again, I wear many hats. Stunt Coordinator, Stunt Double, Second Unit Director. That was such a big scene, [with a lot of] design and planning ahead of time leading up to that. I have to approach every scene that I’m going to be a double in as well and say, “Okay, how am I going to manage this?” And for that particular one, I said, ‘you know what, I’m going to take myself out of the driver’s seat, so to speak, and bring someone else in, because I really needed to just focus on directing and coordinating versus performing in that one.’ But that was a big, big sequence.
The challenges we had, with episodic, [related to] time. We’re up against the clock, because we only have so much time and so many days to prep, and then once we get into shooting, obviously, you have only so many hours in the day, and it was a day sequence. And then, on that particular second unit day, it rained for three hours, and we had a lightning delay. So that pushed us three hours. So we were really running and gunning, and I’m really happy with the footage that we were able to get it. To see it [in its] final stage… I was really happy with that particular episode.
BTL: There was also the scene at the festival in Episode 4 with the biker gang that feels like it was very involved, not just for you, but an entire cast of stunt doubles.
Poole: With that one, I literally brought in doubles for just about every character. We did the pre-visualization, or the pre-vis, and then I sat down with the Director, [and] even prior to that, with Stallone, just to get an idea of what we were looking at. And then we have to lay that out, shoot the pre-vis, so we have that in our back pocket when we go in to shoot. It was a night shoot, so there was another challenge. We all love working nights, and just getting the cast dialed into their action [beats]. But they were all great. I love this cast. They were all really gung-ho and just really excited to get in there and mix it up. We brought in a great group of doubles and we had a great couple of nights of shooting that sequence.
BTL: What’s most involved with your work on the show as its Second Unit Director?
Poole: Basically, I oversee any action that’s without any cast, so all doubles. What was fun and, again, challenging, was in the last episode where we had the shootout in the bar — that was multiple days of planning [and] multiple days of rehearsals because we were limited with time. We were trying to figure out how we could shoot as much action and get as much in on tape as possible in the allotted time that we were allowed. So we had to split it up over several main unit days and second unit days. [It required] wearing many hats — triple duty, so to speak. I was able to bring in a great team. We did some wire work, so I had to bring a rigging team in, and we had to dial that in and tweak it, just to make it work for the scene. All the gunplay, all the special effects that were involved… [and] the set design. Just a lot of planning. But again, [I’m] really happy with the end result.
BTL: As you should be. As viewers, I know we don’t see the seams, we just see a cool action scene, but clearly, there’s a lot more that goes into it.
Poole: Well, that’s my approach. Once I read a scene and then we go through the initial meetings with the director, showrunner, and, in this case, cast, part of my process is, I’ll look at it and say, “Okay, what do I need from other departments? How does what we’re doing as a stunt team, as a stunt department, affect other departments?” I’ll go through and schedule meetings with those department heads and assistants, and we just talk things through. That way, on the day, there are no questions [and] we’re completely prepared. Otherwise, we’re left scratching our heads going, “why didn’t we think of this or that?” With that approach, I really think it works. I’ve been doing that for a while. It’s a little time-consuming, but that’s part of the job. Go to those other departments and figure out what their needs are and then come to a solution.
BTL: I know Season 1 just ended, but do you know if you’ll be involved with Season 2?
Poole: I will. I was contacted about Season 2. Don’t know when or where, but I will be involved. [I’m] looking forward to that.
BTL: You also worked as a Second Unit Director on the Starz series BMF.
Poole: Yeah, that was a great experience. That crew, that cast — they’re just lovely to work with. When you have these young, eager guys, they work hard, and they’ll do just about anything you ask them to do. They’re gung-ho, and they aim to please. In fact, one of the guys just reached out. He crossed paths with a friend of mine in a hotel, and they got to talking, and then he reached out and just said, ‘hey man, I miss you.’ Yeah, [I] miss you too!
BTL: Looking back through your credits, what stood out most was Walker, Texas Ranger, which has some similarities with this show. Though it’s considerably less violent because you couldn’t show the same kind of stuff on TV back then, it’s just as daring from a visual standpoint.
Poole: Yeah, that’s actually where I got my start. I’m going to age myself here. I think 1995 was my first episode, and I got to do quite a few seasons with Chuck and his sons. Those guys have really just been huge supporters of me and my career. I give them a lot of credit [for] where I am today. Going back to Episode 3 of Tulsa King, I was actually able to hire Eric and Mike Norris. I brought them in as Stunt Drivers. Sort of a full circle thing — a way to pay them back for all the support that they’ve given me over the years.
BTL: Presumably, technology has evolved since then in your work, no?
Poole: Big time, just like anything else. As time goes on, there are more technical and safer ways to do things. That car chase, we prepped the vehicles, meeting with special effects, because we had that big T-bone towards the end of that chase scene. So just making sure we do everything possible to keep our talent, our drivers, as safe as possible.
BTL: There’s a film you’re working on that has a fitting title for all this talk of driving — Jeff Nichols’ star-studded The Bikeriders. What can you share about that project?
Poole: We finished The Bikeriders just before the holidays. We shot that entirely up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the surrounding areas. Wonderful cast. Great script. The story is based on what was known as the first biker club back then, the timeline being the late ’50s. The first biker club up in the Midwest. I won’t say it’s completely based on the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, but that’s what I’ve been hearing. It was a great show. Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Jodie Comer, Mike Shannon — just a great cast. I’m really excited about that, and hopefully, we’ll get that done and edited. We finished shooting, but I think that should probably come out later in the fall.
BTL: I’m curious… in your own life, are you a slow and very careful driver? And are you still excited to be in the car when you’re not on set?
Poole: It depends. I try to be cautious. I’m a rule follower for the most part. I like to save all that stuff. If you want to drive fast, let’s do it on the track, or let’s do it in a safe environment where we know we can keep ourselves safe.
Season 1 of Tulsa King is now streaming on Paramount+.