What It Means to Be a Stuntwoman in Hollywood's Male-Dominated Industry

Thekla Hutyrova, Amy Johnston and Michelle Jubilee tell all about the challenging world of stunts.

Entertainment 
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If you’ve ever dreamed of being on the big screen, fighting super-villains and driving supercars at high speeds – you’re not alone. For most of us, working as the kick-ass stunt doubles behind our favorite films has remained a dream, but these badass women are the ones we see throwing punches in some of the most successful Hollywood films in the world.

Starring in blockbusters like Suicide Squad, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Deadpool and more, stuntwomen Thekla Hutyrova, Amy Johnston and Michelle Jubilee are making a name for themselves in the ever-growing industry. Along with three other stuntwomen, they also work together on “Rough Around the Edges” on OpenFit, a new and unique approach to training which combines everything from superhero cardio to boxing – all inspired by their own workouts. Not only are they inspiring athletes and women around the world through their work and fitness, but they’re also opening up the hidden world behind Hollywood films by giving us an inside look at the process it takes to train for a film, and working as a stuntwoman.

We had the chance to catch up with Thekla, Amy and Michelle, to discuss everything from what it actually means to be a stuntwoman, their favorite projects, craziest tricks and more.

Thekla Hutyrova

Working As A Stuntwoman in Hollywood Interview Movies Stunt Double Training Martial Arts Gymnastics Blockbuster Actors Secrets How To Become A Stunt Man

Ira Chernova/@irachernova

How did you first get into stunts? What sparked your interest?

I moved to Los Angeles initially to act, knowing that I could also do stunts. There were a lot of martial artists from the tournament circuit that I competed in who moved to LA, so I followed in that same direction. My interest sparked after my first few stunt jobs when I realized that this allows me to tell stories through my 18 years of martial arts and acrobatic experience.

What is the worst injury you’ve gotten from the job? What’s the craziest stunt you’ve had to do?

I’ve been very lucky not to have anything serious. This is a tough question though because stunt men and women don’t break and tell! It’s an unspoken rule in the community.

What is something most people don’t know about working in the stunt world?

Going off of the last question, I think that’s actually one of the biggest misconceptions. Yes – stunts are very dangerous and can be life-threatening if done wrong or by people with insufficient training. And yes, accidents can and do happen, but for the most part everything we do has safeguards and is well-planned. There’s a reason it’s such a small and tight-knit community – we are responsible for each other’s safety and lives. We need to know we can trust people. At the end of the day it’s not cool or badass to get injured. It may be a liability of the job, but many measures are taken to mitigate any risk.

What goes into choreographing a fight scene? How much practice do you need before perfecting a stunt?

It really depends on the fight and the project. Big action features have a long rehearsal and pre-production period during which fights and stunts are tested, rehearsed and preset. For smaller projects or TV you get a day or two, maybe a week for longer fights. Rehearsing stunts takes a varied amount of time as well and depends on how many factors are involved, and how specific or complex the stunts are.

Working As A Stuntwoman in Hollywood Interview Movies Stunt Double Training Martial Arts Gymnastics Blockbuster Actors Secrets How To Become A Stunt Man

Ira Chernova/@irachernova

Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on?

Alita: Battle Angel! I got to be one of the doubles and it’s just such a great story and message (she’s a little badass!) and I relate to the main character a lot. I have a big poster of the movie in my apartment and I am very proud to have been a part of the movie.

What is it like seeing yourself on the big screen and working with the biggest stars in the industry?

We get glimpses of moments intercut with actors and other things, but it feels good! I get a little flicker of excitement and pride. It’s a culmination of work it is always interesting to see what makes it into the final product. Working with stars, the people I have met have been amazing. They’re people after all and we’re all there to make the best movie we can. It’s nice to have that commonality and understanding with someone who’s hyper successful!

What have your experiences working in a male dominated industry? What are people’s perceptions surrounding the job?

There are so many different viewpoints on this topic! I’m grateful for those who came before me and the work they did so that I could grow up unaware of the struggles for the most part. I’m learning more about that history and that it’s all still very prevalent in the world. At the end of the day, if you work hard and can do what you say you can successfully, most people are stoked about it. Also, you can’t feel like you’re less. I think that goes a long way.

If you could give advice to young girls looking to get into the stunt world, what would it be?

Just freaking go for it! Train your butt off, plan, network, and ask for what you want. Most people have no idea what you want if you don’t tell them. So be bold and go for it!

Amy Johnston

Working As A Stuntwoman in Hollywood Interview Movies Stunt Double Training Martial Arts Gymnastics Blockbuster Actors Secrets How To Become A Stunt Man

Ira Chernova/@irachernova

How did you get into stunts in the first place? What sparked your interest?

I grew up doing martial arts because my father owned a martial arts school and was a five-time world kickboxing champion. Action films were a huge part of my upbringing and I always wanted to be a part of them. I was so inspired by Michelle Yeoh, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen and more, and I still am! I also used to jump off of random things, swing on everything, and find the most challenging things that I could get my hands on.

What is the worst injury you’ve gotten from the job? What’s the craziest stunt you’ve had to do?

I have had many small injuries but thankfully nothing major from work. I did however tear my ACL during training about four years ago right before a major job which was incredibly frustrating. It can be emotionally draining to go through a major injury and surgery like that. I look at that as a turning point in my career because in that vulnerability I gained so much knowledge, patience and strength. I don’t look at any stunts I’ve done as “crazy,” but more so exhilarating or challenging. Some of my favorites are fight scenes and jumping out of windows. A cool stunt I did was when I doubled for Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where I slid down a highway on a car door with two other “stunties.”

How did you train to get to the level you’re at now?

I trained in martial arts my whole life, as well as many other sports throughout my years. I put a lot of time into understanding filmmaking; from cameras to editing and of course, performing. The more well rounded I am, the better. I always make sure to create an inspiring environment around me, further gaining advice from my elders without letting their road determine mine – it’s important for me to create my own way. And most importantly, I never stop learning!

Working As A Stuntwoman in Hollywood Interview Movies Stunt Double Training Martial Arts Gymnastics Blockbuster Actors Secrets How To Become A Stunt Man

Ira Chernova/@irachernova

What goes into choreographing a fight scene? How much practice do you need before perfecting a stunt?

It depends on the scene, the project budget and the people you are working with – it’s important to have a good “dance” partner. When choreographing a fight scene, a typical scenario could play out like this: The stunt team gets the script and information to break down the story beats and elements surrounding the action. After understanding the situation and characters, the choreographer and team will start creating action elements to fit within the scenario. Once there is a good foundation of action beats, the stunt team will create a “previs” – meaning a pre-visual of the action edited together with all of the story beats to show the director, producers and team what has been created. If approved, the team will start perfecting the scene. Sometimes we get three months of preparation for a big film, other times we might only have half a day. I’ve had to learn long beats of choreography five minutes before performing, and I’ve also created choreography on the spot. Things can change quickly, so it’s important to always be ready!

Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on?

Some of my favorite stunt projects are Deadpool, Captain America: The Winter Solider, as well as video games Spider-Man and Shadow of the Tomb Raider – and so many more! I really enjoy working with different artists and types of people because I am always learning a new technique or a different way to approach something. The most successful “stars” are always the nicest people!

What have your experiences working in a male dominated industry? What are people’s perceptions surrounding the job?

It can definitely be frustrating sometimes because it seems that we as women constantly have to prove ourselves in almost every situation. I expect that, and have learned to enjoy that process and use it to my advantage. It’s a great feeling to have the confidence, especially knowing that you can get the job done way better than they can ever imagine.

Michelle Jubilee

Working As A Stuntwoman in Hollywood Interview Movies Stunt Double Training Martial Arts Gymnastics Blockbuster Actors Secrets How To Become A Stunt Man

Ira Chernova/@irachernova

What sparked your interest in the world of stunts?

I’ve always wanted to work in TV and film. I was deeply inspired by the iconic Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Chuck Norris, as well as the unworldly talents of the USA Olympic Gymnastics Team known as the “Magnificent Seven.” These super-humans excited my heart so much, and I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be amongst the best.

What is something most people don’t know about working in the stunt world?

Most people think that you can just have one specialty and make it in the business. However, it’s rare that one skill set will open up the doors for true longevity. Instead, most of us train in as many skill sets as we can (i.e. martial arts, tactical weapons, wirework, car work, horses, water/scuba, fire, rappelling, etc.) so that we’re always ready for whatever the job may require.

Did you always know you wanted to be a stuntwoman? Did you ever consider another career path?

As a kid I didn’t know it was called “stunts.” It wasn’t until later that I figured out being an action star like Jackie Chan was so much more involved than just flipping – it included acting, storytelling, knowing how to be a good filmmaker, camera angles, creating a character, moving and fighting. I never really considered other career paths. All the things I do have always lent themselves well to one another. Perhaps it was designed like that on purpose, because I always wanted to be a part of something that could touch people’s lives and inspire them the way the movies I watched as a kid inspired me.

Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on?

I think I’ve been really lucky so far because I’ve enjoyed almost every project I’ve gotten to be a part of. However, one that does stand apart from the rest was working in Cuba on the eight instalment of the Fast & Furious Franchise, Fate of the Furious. It was a unique experience to work in tandem with the local stunt team there, and drive these authentic heirloom classic cars for some of the race scenes. Experiencing the spirit of the Cuban people first hand was very special for me, and having a big American film shot in their country for the first time after the embargo was finally lifted during Obama’s presidency in 2016, was a big deal for them. This was literally a piece of movie history that we got to be a part of and it was truly an incredible experience.

Working As A Stuntwoman in Hollywood Interview Movies Stunt Double Training Martial Arts Gymnastics Blockbuster Actors Secrets How To Become A Stunt Man

Ira Chernova/@irachernova

What have your experiences working in a male dominated industry? What are people’s perceptions surrounding the job?

This is a bit of a tough question. When I started there just weren’t as many opportunities for women, much less women of color. But recently, we’ve seen a shift not only in the stories being written (thus requiring a more diverse pool of performers), but also a shift in the awareness that coordinators now have – making sure that they divvy up the nondescript stunt spots for women, and include female stunt performers as police officers, SWAT, military and so on. I think people used to see the world of TV and film as the “old boys clubs” and although it’s still male-dominated, we’re really starting to see some bigger changes for women and writers, producers, directors and performers of color.

If you could give advice to young girls looking to get into the stunt world, what would it be?

Know what you’re really good at so you can understand how to safely navigate within your limits. Too many times the eager new performers say that they can do a certain skill set just to get the job, and then show up and can’t do it. This is not only dangerous, but also makes the coordinator look bad for hiring the wrong person. Don’t be that person. If you fall short of a skill that people need you for, start training at it (that is, if it’s even something you really want to do). A stunt performer that only has one trick in their bag only works as many times as that trick is needed. Something I practice all the time is the mentality and approach of staying ready to learn (and master) new things. The learning never stops.

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