How to Become a Stuntwoman

Cristen Conger

Early Hollywood stuntwoman, Evelynne D. Smith.
Early Hollywood stuntwoman, Evelynne D. Smith.
© Bettmann/CORBIS

Before studying up for our Stuff Mom Never Told You episode, "Hollywood Stuntwomen," I didn't know too much about what it takes to become a butt-kicking, fast-driving, fire-walking stunt double on the big screen aside from possessing inborn fearlessness and a passion for exercise. Nor did it occur to me how the being a woman stunt double comes with unique challenges that arguably makes their jobs more challenging than that of stunt performing men.

In addition to knowing how to safely execute gags (that's Hollywood speak for "stunts"), doubles must research lead actors' appearances and body language in order to effectively trick the viewer into thinking they aren't actually watching a stunt performer. For women, that mimicry often involves tricky wardrobe issues, which add a peculiar dynamic to their stunt work. As described over at PBS Independent Lens:

Stuntwomen are expected to do everything that stuntmen can-in less clothing and high heels. Not only must they be strong and in good enough shape to perform stunts, but they must also be thin enough to double for Hollywood actresses, who are notoriously slim. Decades ago, when Jeannie Epper tried out for Wonder Woman, she had to audition in a bathing suit. As Lynda Carter's stunt double, Epper had to not only struggle to maintain a slim figure, but also performed stunts such as leaping off of airplanes dressed in a corseted leotard and high-heeled boots. For stuntwomen, performing in revealing costumes is often a liability. Skimpy clothing leaves no room for the padding that many stuntmen wear while performing. Epper performed countless high falls, car crashes and fistfights while practically naked.

For young women interested in pursuing stunt work, the Stunt Women's Association offers some additional straightforward advice: "Training is very important. Most stunt people have backgrounds in sports, for example, gymnastics, martial arts, horse back riding, motorcycle racing, race car driving etc. They not only keep those skills in top shape but also train in the areas where they may have less experience, so that they can be more well-rounded stunt performers."

Learning how to sprint in stilettos might be another handy trick of the trade to learn as well, unfortunately.