How to Become a Stuntwoman With Amy Johnston, Caitlin Dechelle, and More!Aug 14, 2019
They’re the ones riding atop speeding cars, hurling themselves across buildings, and dodging jabs and uppercuts. We’re talking about Hollywood’s leading stuntwomen, the ones who handle the heavy lifting of action-driven scenes in all of our favorite action films, doing so fearlessly and behind the scenes. Well, except for now.
That’s because several of the film industry’s top stuntwomen are the forces behind Rough Around The Edges, Openfit’s brand-new results-oriented workout program. It’s built upon the intense fitness regimens these warriors have come to so heavily depend on for their own work, whether it’s Dance Fight MMA, Action Star Cardio, or Booty Building Boxing — in many cases, the practices that sparked the journey to becoming a stuntwoman to begin with.
Here, these trauma queens weigh in on their transitions into stuntwork, what it takes to tackle the villain, and why around-the-clock wellness is crucial.
Stuntwoman Caitlin Dechelle can remember an early appreciation for action heroes — even if she didn’t realize at the time that they were getting a little help on the side. “As a kid, I never really knew that this job existed. I remember watching films and being like, ‘Wow, look at that character zoom through the air like that,’ but it didn’t dawn on me that someone could actually make a career out of this,” she says.
It wasn’t until she retired after 15 years of martial arts competitions — which she began at the age of 8 — that the Miami native realized she could parlay the practice into stuntwork. After several gigs in shows like How I Met Your Mother and Castle, Dechelle landed the mother of all action-hero proxy jobs, doubling as Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman.
The role was the only confirmation she needed that she was on the right track. “I had been doing martial arts my whole life, and I knew it was something I was good at and something that I loved,” she says. “Now I would get to keep doing it, just in a different setting.”
Martial arts can be a common starting point for many stunt professionals. When Amy Johnston‘s (Deadpool, Suicide Squad) dad suggested she get into the fighting arts as a means of self-defense, it made perfect sense. “As a kid, I always seemed to be jumping off of things — I remember my brother and I would jump off of our trailer with sheets and umbrellas because we thought we could fly,” she recalls. “I was always looking for something fun and adventurous to do, and that has helped lead me to what I’m doing now.”
For Michelle Jubilee (Beyond the Lights, Luke Cage), it was about creating a role for herself that didn’t seem to exist at the time. “As a kid, I loved watching Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and all of these badass guys, and I was like, ‘When I grow up, that’s what I want to be — but in a female role,'” she says. “The journey of discovering my inner badass started very young for me.”
Never the Same Workday Twice
It seems that the only constant is change in the stunt world, a freelance game that is often fueled by last-minute callbacks and day-of gigs.
“Part of why I love this job so much is that it’s different every day,” says Johnston, who notes that in addition to the physical work, there’s plenty of mental energy she has to put into her job on a daily basis. “If it’s a stunt I’ve never done before, it’s important for me to spend time researching it and rehearsing it mentally and physically to get it to where it needs to be,” she says.
Once one job ends, it’s all about the hustle in finding the next one — and the work of actively promoting oneself on top of it all. “We’re always trying to shoot a fight scene with somebody to work on our stunt reel or to put something up on Instagram,” says Dechelle.
View this post on Instagram
And then, of course, there’s the excitement these women find in knowing that when the call does come, the moment they arrive to set they may be tasked with doing whatever a shot requires.
Corinne deGroot, a former police officer and double for roles in Velvet Buzzsaw and Life As We Know It, loves the call of duty found in her second career. “You’re falling off of buildings, getting set on fire, getting hit by cars — you name it, we do it,” she says. “There’s no limit to what we’re asked to do, and with our training, there’s no limit to what we can do.”
The Muscle Behind the Hustle
Daily physical demands of that caliber mean that maintaining peak fitness levels isn’t just an option — it’s a necessity. For that reason, stunt professionals take their workout regimens seriously. And just as superheroes have to be ready for anything, so do our real-life wonder women. Especially when the very best gigs pop up overnight, leaving them little to no time for preparation.
Thekla Hutyrova (Deadpool 2, Pacific Rim) has had to be ready to go for gigs a number of times. “It’s important that we’re in top physical condition year-round because we never know when the next job is coming up,” she says. And even once she’s landed a gig, she notes, surprises can keep coming.
Take, for example, the one time she was told she would be pole vaulting that same day. “I remember being like, ‘What? I’ve never pole vaulted a day in my life,'” she says. Still, she knew she had been training hard on her off days and welcomed the challenge. “You learn as you go, and stay fit always — just in case.”
DeGroot agrees: “As professional stuntwomen, we always have to be at the top of our game. We are on the top Hollywood sets and performing at the highest level — there’s no room for error.”
It’s for that reason Dechelle makes it a top priority to incorporate fitness into her daily life — no matter how busy her work schedule gets.
“While every day’s workout looks different depending on the amount of time I have, it’s critical to get some kind of exercise in — even if it’s just 30 minutes,” says Dechelle, who knows from experience that it’s her training she can thank when things at work get tough. “Keeping up with our cardio and strength training helps keep our bodies protected when we’re doing crazy things with them on set, like throwing them into walls or jumping into wild positions midair,” she says. “The stronger we are, the more protected we are.”
At the end of the day, the sweat, hard work, and dedication are all worth it. “It’s amazing to be able to translate what I’ve been doing my entire life into something that others can watch and enjoy,” notes Dechelle.
And even more rewarding than the entertainment benefits of the career? The ability to inspire. “It’s exciting to have gotten to where I am in my work. And the chance to help someone else to do something that empowers them is an incredible honor — and icing on the cake.”