To get himself into the right frame of mind to play legendary daredevil Evel Knievel, George Eads wore a rubber band around his wrist that he would snap several times.
"To get to the mental place I had to go in the scenes -- he had broken 35 bones and had steel plates in his body -- I had to imagine what it would be like to be in constant pain," Eads said.
To prepare for the role, Eads read hundreds of pages about Knievel and watched several films about the daredevil's life, especially "The Last of the Gladiators," a documentary that Eads said he used as a road map.
"Evel Knievel" debuts on Friday at 8 p.m. on cable's TNT. It follows the life of the motorcycle rider from Butte, Mont., who performed stunts across the United States from the mid-1960s through the 1970s.
A repeat showing on Saturday at 9 p.m. will follow a live jump by Evel's son Robbie over aircraft aboard the USS Intrepid (see box).
Eads also worked out regularly for about three months before he started making the movie, which was filmed in and around Toronto from mid-April through the end of May.
"I wanted to be really in shape, like an athlete," he said.
And although he has ridden motorcycles for most of his life, Eads went to motorcycle school where he learned to ride really well, said John Badham, who directed the TNT original film.
"Some amazing Canadian stuntmen did the jumps, although they wouldn't attempt to go as far as Evel," Badham said.
Some of the scenes required two stuntmen on motorcycles, he said. One would take off, followed immediately by another with a camera mounted on his helmet.
"It would scare me to death," Badham said. "I couldn't look at it" while it was happening. Computer technology was used to make the jumps seem longer.
The movie also includes some footage owned by the Knievels of the original jumps, Badham said. "There's one scene where people in the town of Butte are watching an event in a bar, so we put a spectacular [original] jump in there."
Among the events covered in the movie are Knievel's jump of more than 150 feet over the fountains by Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 1968, and his attempt to rocket over Snake River Canyon in Idaho in 1974.
The movie covers Robert Craig Knievel's brush with the law as a teenager and how he got the name "Evel," as well as meeting Linda Bork (played by Jaime Pressly), who would become his wife.
While there is a lot of action, "Evel Knievel" also is a period movie, Badham said, that required the re-creation of places such as Caesar's Palace, which no longer exists.
"We remodeled and refiddled with so much," Badham said. "So this is a tribute to the skill of computers and [computer generated imagery], and what they are able to create literally out of nothing."
It's based on the story of a real person, which also has its challenges, Eads said.
The real Evel Knievel, now 65, retired from jumping stunts about 25 years ago. He was not involved with the making of the movie.
"I had to decide whether I was going to study Knievel to the letter -- but that's a real acting trap . . . I decided to play a daredevil who happened to be Evel Knievel.
"For me, it was a role from the heart," Eads said. "I really love Evel Knievel, what he stood for. . . .When you break it all down, it's not always a pretty picture. But I'm still a fan of any man who's a man of his word. "
There were times, Badham said, when Knievel "knew for a fact that he wasn't going to make a jump -- but he would do it anyway because he had promised people he would."
Live From New York, Robbie Knievel!
There are all sorts of contingencies "because a lot of things can go wrong," said Sandy Grossman, producer-director of "Live From New York, Robbie Knievel Jumps the USS Intrepid," which airs on Saturday at 8 p.m. on TNT.
"Kaptain" Robbie Knievel, Evel's son, will jump over six planes, said Grossman, who has worked with Robbie on such events as his successful jump in 1999 over a 200-foot-wide, 2,500-foot-deep chasm in the Grand Canyon.
There is limited space on the deck of the Intrepid -- a World War II aircraft carrier decommissioned in 1974 that now is a floating museum docked in New York Harbor -- and there is the possibility that the younger Knievel "could go flying off the back end," Grossman said, so there will be frogmen in the water, just in case.
Knievel will begin the jump from a tower about 30 feet high at a 45-degree angle and build up speed to a takeoff ramp. He has to be going fast enough to clear the planes, Grossman said, but not so fast that he goes too far.
The hour-long production will include technical information on how the stunt will be performed, showing how the ramp is built. There also will be segments on the Intrepid and some of its 26 aircraft, and background on Robbie Knievel.
Knievel will have about five minutes for the jump, Grossman said. "He'll give you a thumbs up, and you know it's time to go."