Issue: Spring 2013

Stunt Performers!

A man is engulfed in flames while trapped in a snow tractor…A woman is thrown from a train into water below…A man runs and leaps from a ninety foot high rooftop to a scaffolding twenty feet below…A woman jumps thirty-five feet down and twenty-five feet out to land on top of a large metal destroyer…Two men are yanked off galloping horses…

These amazing movie feats are all in a days work for Hollywood ’s real superheroes--stunt performers.  According to The Taurus World Stunt Awards Academy, they risk their lives to perform the most daring stunts that bring action and excitement to the movie-going public.  The Awards honor the movie industry’s unsung heroes, the world’s best stunt professionals.

The movies in which these stunts were performed were “The Thing”; “Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows”; “Killer Elite”; “Thor”; and “Cowboys & Aliens”.

The remarkable scope of stunts is evident in the categories for the Taurus Stunt Awards Show in Los Angeles in May, 2013.  They include Best Fight, Best Fire, Best High Work, Hardest Hit, Best Work with a Vehicle, Best Specialty Stunt, Best Overall Stunt By A Stunt Woman…

Oliver Keller decided he wanted to be a stunt performer when he was only seven years old and watched stunts being performed in the TV series “The Fall Guy”.  “I thought, Oh wow, that is something people do for a living.  That’s what I want to do.  And I never let it go,” he said.

Oliver, 37, is an award winning stunt performer who was born in Switzerland.  He went to stunt school in Germany and started working as a junior stuntman when he was sixteen.  He moved to Los Angeles to follow his dream when he was twenty-four.

One of the most difficult stunts Oliver performed was for the horror movie “The Trip”.  “I had to be completely engulfed in fire outside at night and then got hit by a car,” he said.  He worked with people he trusts who specialize in fire stunts.  “They prepare you with the proper safety equipment,” he said.  “What I enjoy most about stunt work is the constant challenge.  No day is the same as the other.”

Despite the danger in stunt work, Hollywood even has stunt dynasties where grandparents, parents, their children and extended family carry on the tradition of action-hero feats.

In the family of stuntwoman Ann Scott, 30, her father, mother, brother, and two uncles have performed stunt work.  “I’ve been a stuntwoman pretty much my whole life,” she said. 

In the movie “The Missing” she was a stunt double for actress Cate Blanchette.  At the end of the movie she was thrown off a cliff backwards.  “I rolled backwards approximately thirty feet down a pretty steep mountain.”

She’s a stunt double for Ann Heche in a new NBC television series called “Save Me”.

Ann’s brother Wesley Scott, 27, spent six months in Budapest where he was a stuntman for the movie “A Good Day to Die Hard” in which he was involved in car-chase and crash scenes. 

Wesley started as a stunt performer when he was nine.  “I always say I’m just lucky to have family that got me into stunt work.  That’s an awesome line of work.  That’s a guy’s dream job.”

According to Terri Becherer, National Director of Specialty Performers for the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), “We certainly have some amazing people doing stunts.  With all the action movies, over the years stunts have become more and more remarkable. 

“I think the whole stunt community is (like) an extended family,” she pointed out. There are 6,202 SAG-AFTRA stunt performers nationwide, according to Terri. 

D’Janine Lasky is the president of The Stunt Kids Association of Hollywood where she is the head stunt coordinator.  For more than twenty-seven years she has trained clients to do stunt work for movies, television, theater, theme parks and national competitive events.  

“I’ve trained some stars of the “Nickoelodean” television shows”, she said.  Her stunt kids have appear in “The Hunger Games”, television’s “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Gallactica” among many other films and television shows.  D’Janine’s great grandfather was Jesse L. Lasky, one of the first pioneers of the Hollywood film industry.

Stuntwoman Marguerite Happy, who is “over fifty”, also has stunt performers in her extended family.  “It seems like a family business,” she said.  “We enjoying working together and having each others backs.” 

Her stunt relatives include her husband Clifford Happy, their sons Sean, 29, and Ryan, 28; her sister-in-law Bonnie Happy, Bonnie’s son Jimmy Hock, 29; her late father-in-law Don Happy, and her late mother-in-law Edith Happy.

Marguerite recently was a stunt double for Jane Fonda in an American Girl movie.  The stunt she enjoyed most in her career was transferring from one horse to another while they were running

Most frightening for her was working with fire.  “Once I doubled Ally Sheedy, Marguerite recalled.  “I’m hugging her lover and we both catch fire and burn up.”

Bonnie Happy, 58, is a charter member and president of the United Stuntwomen’s Association.  When she was a stunt double for actress Linda Evans in the television series “Dynasty” she performed a fall and drag. a rear fall off the horse where your foot gets stuck in the stirrup, and the horse drags you.

For a television pilot called “Mimi and Me” she jumped in front of a train that was going fast.  She was hand in hand with stuntman Johnny Hock. 

Bonnie even was beat up by Oprah for a stunt on the Jimmy Kimmel show.  It was a staged fight called “Book Club Fight Club”. Oprah had been trained to do the stunt.  “I ran at her like I was going to choke her,” Bonnie said.  “She pushed me into a guy.  He hit me over the head with a vase.  As I’m trying to get up she starts kicking me in the stomach.”

When Bonnie was asked to describe her most dangerous stunt she replied, “I don’t think of stunts as dangerous.  I love the work, I love the people, I love figuring out how to do the stunt.  I don’t hit the ground any more.  There just comes a time that you realize the ground is really hard.  I hate it because the mind is willing but the body is not.

A quote from the famous tightrope walker Karl Wallenda perhaps best exemplifies the thrill of their work for stunt performers—“Being on the tight rope is living; everything else is waiting.”