My Life as a Hollywood Stunt Woman by Kylie Furneaux
Published: September 26, 2010 - 9:34pm
When I first thought about being a stunt performer, I can’t really remember what I thought the career entailed. One thing I am sure of though was that the reality really didn’t end up matching the dream. It was harder, more painful, more exciting and more rewarding than I ever dreamed.
I think the reality of the situation kicked in on the set of Supernatural after I had been a full-time stunt performer for two years. For this stunt I had to launch myself off a mini tramp, leaping eight feet to a concrete wall, hitting the wall as high as I could horizontal to the floor and then falling to the wooden floorboards below. A fairly simple stunt all things considered. For once I had long sleeves on so I could hide a pair of small elbow pads to prevent my elbows from getting bruised. And I also had long pants on, but because they were quite form fitting I could only get my super thin kneepads on – enough padding to prevent breakage, but not enough to prevent bruising. The director wanted the whole stunt filmed in one shot, from the edge of the mini tramp to the top of the hit on the wall to the floorboards, so there were no extra pads for me.
I don’t know what happens to other stunt performers prior to a stunt but I’ll describe what happens to me. I like to visualize how the stunt will look when it goes perfectly, where the director wants each limb to land and what acting he requires to match what the actress has already done or will do, so the transition from actor to stunt performer is undetectable. As the make-up people do their job assisting in my transformation from Kylie to actress and the hair people smooth down the fly-away hairs, the adrenalin begins to build in my system. My mind has communicated to my body that it’s about to do something that may injure it. The old “fight or flight” inbuilt response from when we used to hunt to survive, kicks in. It’s not nerves. I’m not nervous because I have prepared for this, trained the mini-tramp jump in the gym with big soft pads. I know how many steps I need to take, how hard I need to launch off the mini-tramp and how high I’m going to hit the wall. The only unknown is how much give the wall will have when I hit it. And then how the floor will feel as my body connects with it in a way that looks natural and not like a protected break fall move. I begin to shake slightly with the build-up of adrenalin. Again, not fear.
This was the moment of clarity for me. I was about to project myself head-first as hard as I could into a concrete wall. Who does that? For a living? Seems very stupid really so my first answer would be, someone who is not so smart. But I consider myself fairly well educated. Maybe someone who has no choice? I had choices - I was a really good outdoor guide. I worked all the time in that profession. So, someone who really likes pain, a masochist perhaps? Not me again. I don’t enjoy pain. I can ignore it really well, but I wouldn’t say I get a kick out of it. What was I thinking??!!
The Assistant Director started calling everyone into their positions to get ready for the countdown to my stunt. It was no time for me to dwell on the why of the situation. I was employed to do a job and being the perfectionist that I am, there was no way I was going to let myself be distracted by this self-talk going on in my head. I wanted to make sure that the Director would see his vision come to life.
The Stunt Coordinator was in place and the cameras were rolling. This is the moment of filming when everything slows down for me. It’s when I push the self-talk into a place where it won’t distract me anymore. It’s not helpful to anyone. I become so calm. The shaking stops. I tell myself I know the stunt. It will be perfect and my body will take care of itself.
There is a reason that drunk people escape relatively unscathed from injury when they fall down. When it looks like something is happening that may hurt them, they just don’t react quickly enough to tense up. Much like the bamboo verses the oak, the relaxed muscle tends to flex better than a tense one. The best thing to do before a stunt is to relax and let your body take care of itself. There is a certain amount of movement required to get into the position you need for the job, but on impact I like to be relaxed as possible.
I heard the Stunt Coordinator yell “3, 2, 1, ACTION”. There was no turning back now. That was my cue. I ran at the mini-tramp, hit my stride perfectly and launched into the air turning slightly to hit horizontally on the wall. I relaxed as I hit the wall and then relaxed again as I hit the floor, not controlling where my limbs went. The follow-up action was to groan and move slightly, keeping my face away from the 2 cameras in position to get my landing. The Director yelled “Cut” and straight away the First Aid attendant rushed in. I heard crew members swearing in concern. It looked like I really did some damage to myself. The Stunt Coordinator called my name and asked if I was ok. I could stop the acting then and I grinned and sat up. I was fine. This is when the endorphins kick in making me feel invincible, preventing me from feeling the slight pain of the bruises I will see later on that day. It worked perfectly. The crew applauded and I felt on top of the world. I have challenged myself physically and come out unscathed. I have challenged myself mentally, talked myself into doing something that most people wouldn’t really want to do. And, as the Director came out from behind the camera to shake my hand, I realized that I had matched his vision of the event better than he could have hoped for.
That is why I do this job.
Kylie Furneaux is currently based in Los Angeles, California. Her next, major motion picture projects are Marvel Studios’ THOR and the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. To contact Kylie or view her resume visit AussieInAction.net. Don't forget to read about Kylie's latest adventure across one of the most treacherous mountain ranges in the world at Hike for Survival.