Why did you decide to become a stunt woman? Did you have any influences growing up that inspired you to go on this path? As a baby my older brother would take me over the jumps on his motocross track in my pram. The bigger the jumps, the harder the landings, the faster the laps and the more G-force generated on hard drifting turns in that tractable pram with independent rear suspension, the more I would laugh and giggle.
When I went quiet it was time to up the ante. I spent my formative years training extreme sports of one sort or another, but fell into professional stunt work when performing with physical theatre company Legs on the Wall for the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games. My years working with this company gave me a wealth of physical vocabulary across multiple fields that lent itself precisely to the stunt world.
I also hail from a long line of professional drivers so vehicles became an early niche. In stunts I have found an ever-changing landscape of physical, mental & political challenges to keep me laughing… daily. Is there any one scene or stunt throughout your career that you are the most-proud of? I’m proud of every stunt in which the team walks away healthy & intact with the shot in the can & smiles on our faces – to isolate just one seems reductive.
For me it’s more about being a part of the greater whole, elements of my work contributing to a character & to a film that may be enduring. The Hobbit Trilogy was a turning point for me in terms of longevity & scale. Filming spanned 3 years & the experience I gained working as stunt double to Evangeline Lilly, working day in day out with a world-class crew has been a key factor in where I am placed in the industry today. My Hobbit experience led me to the maelstrom of Mad Max: Fury Road in Namibia.
My involvement with rehearsals spanned 4 years but the 5 months of shooting in the Namibian desert dealing with the logistics of such remote locations, the cultural impasse of local crew, daily sandstorms, extremes of temperatures, scorpions & sidewinders tested even the most battle-hardened & made it simultaneously my most challenging & most rewarding shoot until now. An early screening of stunt rushes showing the blood, sweat & grit of our world viscerally translated to the screen and made it very clear that Mad Max would be a force to be reckoned with.
You recently have worked with Margot Robbie on two projects. What was it like working with her? Margot is a classically trained dancer so she has a level of physicality you really only see in people that have done serious physical training in their formative years. This gave us pretty much free reign to create fight choreography, tailored to her strengths, that didn’t need to be simplified or compromised when going for the actor’s coverage. She’s also stubborn & fiercely competitive – a state I can readily relate to!
For one scene in Suicide Squad we were being trained by a world-class free-diving instructor, Kirk Krack. Each session we would push our respective boundaries in an attempt to surpass each other’s underwater breath hold, which meant we went far above & beyond what anyone thought possible at the outset. Kirk was soon in high demand with other cast and crew determined to pit their lungs against our standing record of 5 minutes. When Margot heard one of the crew had passed us by a mere 6 seconds, she said “I don’t care which of us wins, as long as the guys don’t beat us” (in the end they didn’t).
This working dynamic translated throughout most of the action sequences… a constructively competitive drive that brings out the best in each other, alongside the camaraderie of being in it together and striving for whatever most serves the character. Both of Margot’s characters in this summer’s movies are very different. Was there any way you had to prepare differently in order to maintain the uniqueness of each character (Through movement etc. )? The diversity between the roles themselves very much dictated the nature of their individual movement & the relative preparation that was undertaken.
For The Legend of Tarzan I swanned in at the eleventh hour & dove headfirst into the fun but straightforward action – everything had been rehearsed before I arrived. On Suicide Squad I was there from day 1 of pre-production, breaking down all of Harley’s action in the script & tackling every scene from the ground up. The opportunity to create physicality for the no-holds-barred Harley Quinn is definitely the most fun I’ve had with a character. Her batshit crazy, unpredictable nature meant there were really no limits to how far out of left field we could venture.
That’s rare, it was very liberating. Is there any one stunt or scene that you are the most-proud or challenging you and the stunt team the most of in Suicide Squad? I have to say learning to hold my breath underwater for five and a half minutes & equalizing hands-free while sinking to the bottom of a tank stuck headfirst through a Lamborghini windshield was definitely a personally satisfying scene, however there was quite a unique challenge presented to the stunt team when we were asked to shoot a 60+ person fight in 360 degree virtual reality from the lead character’s POV.
This entailed fighting while wearing a custom 3D printed head & neck brace with 17 cameras mounted to it along with the accompanying power sources. Operating the cameras meant essentially floating through the scene without moving my head & torso or changing the horizon line, but as the cameras can see everything from my chest down, the rest of my body was simultaneously fighting a dozen of the guys. It was kind of like patting your head & rubbing your stomach while walking a tightrope in high heels.
In the VR realm the cameras are seeing the ‘whole world’ at all times which meant major timing issues for the other performers who could never be off camera. The action had to sell for all of the cameras all of the time & all in the one take as there are no additional shots to cut away to if one small element of an otherwise perfect take didn’t work. Added to this, we could only do one take a day as the scene was full of people crashing through ceilings, breakaway glass walls & cubicles, squibs & explosions.
We’d get one in the can & then it took art department an entire day to reset. Many ask how stunt professionals stay in shape and train. What is one thing you do often (if not daily) to stay in top form? As a stunt performer I train for functionality, not just form. I choose exercise based on what it enables me to do not how it makes me look. Within this, there are two distinct types of training. The first is everyday maintenance, I have a sustainable routine that is achievable even when battered, bruised & fatigued.
It involves low-impact full body workouts like pilates, yoga & swimming, with a run for cardio thrown in every few days. The second is skill-specific training, every new job requires a varying set of abilities so my ongoing training is tailored to whatever film is coming up next, be it motocross for Mad Max: Fury Rd, weapons for the Hobbit trilogy or free-diving for Suicide Squad. You are doubling for Brie Larson Kong: Skull Island. Without giving too much away, is there anything you can tell us about that experience? Haha I’m afraid not, ask me once the movie is out!
Adding a category for Stunt Coordinators at the Academy is still being debated and fought for. Why do you think it should be a category? Within the film industry at large it seems the arguments for and against this award are wide ranging. For me personally, striving for this category to be included is not about commending the fastest, biggest, highest or most dangerous, which could engender a subculture of action pushing the boundaries at an unsustainable rate merely for the sake of awards. This is the concern for certain critics making the ‘cowboy’ argument.
This perception of recklessness really doesn’t apply to those working at the forefront of the stunt industry today where collaborating with aeronautical engineers & physicists to devise cutting-edge systems to safely achieve the seemingly impossible is becoming common practice. At this level, 2nd Unit Direction / Stunt Coordination is both an art form and a science which makes it difficult to define as an award category. For me that is the essence of the craft we’re wanting recognized by awarding creativity and technical innovation within the field, and action that serves to enhance the story.