Actresses Scarlett Johansson, Evangeline Lilly, Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Candice Patton receive a lot of praise for their action-packed movie and TV roles. But in this Hollywood Reporter’s Women of Action video, the stars give a lot of credit to their powerful stunt doubles, as the athletes significantly contribute to the creation of the iconic characters. Lilly says, “The biggest misconception is that these characters you see on screen are all the actor.” In reality, two people often play one role.

The talented and gutsy stuntwomen include Heidi Moneymaker who doubles for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in Avengers: Infinity War; Moneymaker’s younger sister Renae Moneymaker who doubles for Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men: Days of Future Past; Venom stunt performer C.C. Ice; Ingrid Kleinig from Ant-Man and the Wasp; Rochelle Okoye from The Flash; and Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill, Zoe Bell.

All of these amazing women exhibit exceptional physical strength, coordination, and agility as well as a willingness to take risks. They’ve cultivated skills from various sports backgrounds such as gymnastics, boxing, dance, and martial arts. But their training doesn’t stop there. “It’s a lot of training in all kinds of things to be a stunt performer. You have your standard falls, you have your recs, and you also have your fight training you have to do. You also have wire training. There are so many avenues,” says C.C. Ice.

Before a shoot, workouts become intensive and specific to what’s required for the role. The stunt performers might need to conquer their fear of heights for a scene that places them high on a cliff or prepare for horseback riding over a wide ditch, handling weapons, running from explosives, flying off a bike, or driving like a maniac on crowded city streets.

Many people assume their work is strictly physical. However, stunt doubles are increasingly required to delve into the motivations of the character. There’s an art as to how a performer translates the emotional state of the character into physical movement. Because the emphasis is on creativity, stunt doubles are often called stunt artists. “These days, it’s more about being able to embody, physicalize a character. There’s more creativity to the process rather than just being able to do a backflip or be hit by a car,” Kleinig says.

The job has a sobering downside though. Brushes with death are a legitimate concern for Hollywood stunt doubles. Some argue that stuntwomen are in greater danger than men because they’re often required to perform feats while wearing high heels and skimpy clothes that expose much of their skin. This very well may be true, but both males and females have much to fear in the profession. For instance, Milla Jovovich’s stunt double Olivia Jackson collided with a crane during a motorcycle stunt while shooting Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Not only did she go into a coma, but her long list of severe multiple injuries included brain bleed, a severed main artery in the neck, and over time, one of her arms needed to be amputated. And David Holmes who doubled for Daniel Radcliffe broke his neck and was left paralyzed after a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I broom-flying stunt. A slight miss of the mark can have devastating consequences. So, this line of work is not for the faint of heart.

Choreographed stunts require meticulous planning taking distance, speed, and angles into account. It takes tons of training, guts, confidence, and great precision to become a stunt performer. And audiences who enjoy the excitement of their work should appreciate all the skill and risk that goes into it. Also, it’s clear to see from the performers just how much joy goes into their work.

The Academy Awards currently don’t have a Best Stunts category, but many people think it’s about time they do. A Stand Up for Stunts petition is currently circulating, pushing for an Oscar category for stunt performers. 

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