Stunt Queen: Stephannie Hawkins on Moving in the Movies, Part II #VisualPeople

In Part II of this extended Q&A, Stephannie Hawkins talks stunt coordinating, behind-the-scenes artistes, and stunts-gone-slapstick. Scroll down to see her performing brave feats on set! Read Part I here

Hawkins: A silent superhero.

SM: In terms of skill and being able to transform visually, who was your favourite actor or actress to watch on set (or work with)?
SH: It’s so difficult to nail one down because I have admired actors and artists for many different reasons: Their emotions, their comedic timing, their physicality, the list really does go on, so I can’t pick just one that I’ve worked with doubling. But if you twisted my arm, I’d say from an observational standpoint I really enjoyed watching Hugh Jackman work on set (and obviously Bruce Willis!).

SM: Willis is obviously an actor hero of yours. Do you have any stunt-double heroes?
SH: There are so many stunt people that I admire, many of whom have moved into stunt coordinating which is an entirely different kind of pressure, what with dealing with producers, money and time while still managing the stunts themselves. I had the opportunity to work for Buddy Joe Hooker once; he is a legend. He an original, old-school stunt man, and a great guy with a great attitude and so many stories. He’s also unselfish when it comes to teaching others: He actually taught me some driving techniques, and a reverse 180, so it was great to get that knowledge from a stunt hero like him. I should note that being a stunt coordinator is a lot of work and, I’ll be frank, a bit of a boys’ club, but there are several female coordinators that I’m also very impressed by.

SM: Speaking of stunt coordinating: You’ve been at this for over a decade and have yourself started taking on the coordinator role. What kind of values do you instil in people you’re working with?
SH: You want people to want to work with you just as much as with your talent. It’s a tough business: Being supportive and helpful both physically (while a gag is happening) and emotionally (because there is a lot of pressure) are skills you need to acquire and will get you a long way. But I also let them know that, man, the applause you hear after you’ve done something crazy or something you were pretty nervous about is worth it all. Oh: And being able to take direction doesn’t hurt!

SM: You work with makeup, hair, and costume designers who are visual artists in their own right – like you, they are in the business of evoking and transforming. What’s been the most transformative costume (or makeup) you’ve had to wear and manoeuvre in?
SH: I have indeed worked with some incredible artists! On Resident Evil: Afterlife, I was playing various zombies with realistic wounds; that meant I was wearing some pretty incredible makeup: It took 3 hours to get on and an hour to take off. The downside for performers is that it can be hot and restricting, but makeup artists will typically work with stunt performers to make everything work as best they can. Sometimes period-piece costumes are just as hard to manoeuvre in as monster suits because you’re actually sewn into those things. They’re so painstakingly put together that, as a stunt performer, you feel guilty damaging them. And trust me: It’s common to wreck the wardrobe you’re in because, well, you’re doing stunts!

SM: I imagine that you don’t always get a stunt right the first time, and so you probably have ended up in some blooper reels. These are teachable moments, though! Can you remember a stunt-gone-wrong/educational moment?
SH: Yes! I once did a cliff jump at the Elora Gorge. Before the stunt, I was told some alarming things like if I landed on my face I could break it; or if water was to rush up my nose at that speed, and because of how high the jump was, it could tear my brain. So with all of that noise in my mind, I did the jump and overcompensated slightly backward at the end of the fall. I ended up bruising the whole backs of my legs and my butt.

Another teachable moment is when I did my first ever ‘deadman’ [an example of which can be found here]: A bungee is attached to a harness I’m wearing and pegged into something solid, which in this case happens to be the ground. I was then supposed to run full-speed to the end of the rope and then get yanked back. It’s highly slapstick! In the scene, I was running at an actor who punches me in the last second and I fly straight back into the ground. The effect is great, but it hurts; there’s no way around it.

I was working with the actor instead of his double; he kept flinching because he was afraid he was going to actually punch me in the face. But the punch is a miss; the camera angles show it as a hit, but in real life he was not actually punching me. I had keep doing this deadman over and over because the actor was flinching out of fear of hitting me directly. At a certain point I jokingly told him, “I would rather be punched in the face than have to keep doing this deadman, so don’t worry about it!” In the end, he decided he wouldn’t look at me; he put his fist up and turned his head away, and that’s how we finally got the shot.

SM: He was obviously very nervous! But it sounds like his kindness ended up doing a number on your body because of all of the takes. That’s not an easy stunt!
SH: He was scared! And kind. But that was very rough on my body. Sometimes you know a stunt is going to hurt, like a stair-fall, and you hope to not have to do too many takes.

SM: And that’s a wrap! Thank you so much for giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into stunt land. And I want to thank you for teaching me how to do a bad stunt fall. I pull it out at a lot of parties. *flails arms*
SH: [laughs] You’re welcome! And scene.

Do you know someone who leads a visual life, and should be featured in this series? Are you a visual creator and are dying to discuss your work? Cool. Do you have any errors to report? Fantastic. Just Tell us about it.

*This conversation has been adapted in order to get to the heart of the interviewee’s life, work, and creative process(es). A blockbuster Thank-You to Stephannie Hawkins for donating her expertise, time, and know-how, and giving her permission to use the above images and videos for the purposes of this article.


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