These days, Michelle Jubilee can be found leaping through fiery explosions or engaging in hand-to-hand combat as a professional stunt performer. She’s also whipping people into shape as a trainer for Rough Around The Edges. But before that, she cut her teeth in the hyper-competitive world of gymnastics.
Her lifelong pursuit of fitness has given her a unique perspective on life, a closet full of martial arts uniforms, and a serious love of sweatpants. Here’s a deeper look at how Michelle has used her gymnastic training to transition into the world of stunts, and how she stays in top shape to keep performing at her best.
Openfit: What prompted you to get into gymnastics as a kid?
Michelle Jubilee: For many kids, it’s normal to be active. But I didn’t want to be normal. I wanted to be extreme. I was inspired by Dominique Dawes and the rest of the Fab Five crew that went to the Olympics. They were such a great tribe of females with different skills and body types. They showed so much energy when supporting each other. They were so incredibly strong and powerful and graceful and amazing.
How did that lead you into stunt performing?
At some point, gymnastics just required so many hours and was so high impact that I had to find different ways to train to have healthier joints and a healthier body, so I got really into martial arts. I wanted to be the female Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee.
Do people underestimate the amount of skill and fitness required for stunt work?
It looks so easy to fall off of a building, right? In reality, stunt performers have this physical vocabulary and body awareness that allows us to do these things without getting injured. Plus, there are just a lot of people counting on you to get it right.
Is that part of what keeps you motivated to train?
That’s definitely part of it, but the biggest motivation for me is that I want to feel good. We all have so much stress and crap on our plates that when we spend 20 minutes to an hour honoring and taking care of our bodies, it really helps.
Are you the type to drag your friends to the gym when they’re being lazy?
My mom used to say that 90 percent of the challenge is showing up, and I love that wisdom. Even if you haven’t worked out in five months, show up anyway. When my friends are tired, I’m the person saying, “Come on! Let’s at least do a modified workout! Or we’ll just hang out and maybe we’ll break a sweat!”
Do you have a favorite way to work out?
I find a lot of joy in a lot of the things I do, but my favorite is dancing. You don’t realize you’re exercising because you’re goofy and laughing, but you sweat like a happy little pig in the mud.
I love doing martial arts to music, too. It makes my brain participate. I need to know the moves and do them in time with the rhythm and do them with a sense of attitude and expression. I start firing all these different synapses in my brain. My brain is a muscle, too, and I like exercises that give it a workout.
A positive attitude is clearly crucial to your well-being. What else do you do to help get ready for a big stunt?
I try to keep myself loose and relaxed and joyful. When I’m relaxed, I function better. If I’m stressed to the point that I’m tense physically, I start to wonder if I’m the right person for this stunt. You have to be relaxed and loose enough to act quick enough. You slow yourself down. Adrenaline can be your friend or your enemy because it makes you too hyper and you can’t get yourself grounded.
When do you want that adrenaline rush?
Sometimes we have a 13 or 14-hour shooting day and then they want to do the stunt. I get myself hyped and I use that adrenaline to perform with high energy after the longest day. People ask how I keep my energy up and I tell them I just need to. It’s my job!
What do you do when you’re not doing stunts or working out?
I love spending time with my dogs and watching them be wild and free. I love to get outdoors and catch sun rays—just chilling. I study Arabic a few times a week because I love learning languages. There’s nothing wrong with catching up on some Netflix. I also pursue a lot of my own little personal passion projects. I write music, I write scripts, and I produce stuff with my friends. I don’t have a lot of downtime because I like to stay active.
Is there a cheat meal you particularly look forward to when you get the opportunity?
I have both a cheat snack and a cheat meal. My favorite cheat snack is yogurt with granola. It’s got a ton of sugar and carbs, even if it sounds healthy. It’s very satisfying, though.
My cheat meal is a double cheeseburger with smothered fries—the works. It’s not like you do it every week, but when I cheat, I go crazy. It’s so messy and fatty and wonderful and delicious. You can’t do it all the time, but when you can, you can really appreciate it.
How important is style when you’re working out? Are you a coordinated outfit type or a sweatpants devotee?
Comfort is everything. I want to feel like I can move and my butt isn’t going to peek out because my pants are too low. I’ve ripped so many pants at the crotch during karate. Karate gis aren’t stretchy and my kicks were so high, that they would rip. It was horrible!
I need stretchy comfortable clothes. I don’t care if it matches or what brand it is. As long as it’s high quality and comfortable, it works for me. Working out isn’t a fashion show. You can totally rock any outfit if you have the right attitude.
From the perspective of a stunt woman, what’s the best action movie around?
I think it’s a tie between Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde. Those two have the dopest fight scenes ever. I want to see Atomic Blonde meet Wonder Woman and go out and kick butt!