At a young age my parents put me into swimming classes, tennis, jazz, ballet, piano, horseback riding, ice skating, basketball, then gymnastics. I was a natural gymnast because I loved the constant challenge of defying gravity and easily got addicted to the adrenaline rush. After winning two National Championships and becoming All-American at Texas Women’s University, I knew my days of athleticism were only just beginning. Natascha Hopkins
It was when I started modelling that realised I liked being in front of the camera. I moved to Los Angeles and became interested in acting. My very first time on set, which was the show ‘One on One’, a stunt was performed and I saw the connection between the stunt team, stunt coordinator, director and special effects. In that instant I was inspired and knew that this would be my next journey in life.
Being a stuntwoman is extremely demanding. If you want to work you are basically on call all year round, this means during holidays and weekends. This also means ‘camera ready’ 12 months out of the year. You can lose a job if you cut your hair, colour your hair, gain weight, lose weight or return a call too late – regardless of whether you were on a flight or in the gym, they will call the next stunt person in line.
I have to keep my body as strong but petite as possible. Our bodies need to be strong because we are literally hitting pavements! We need to be able to get up quickly for round 2, 3 and even 13 if that’s what it takes.
Doing a stunt for an actress is only part of the job, the other is to move and ‘look’ like her. There have been times when I have been close to losing a job because my arms were too defined. So, if my actress drops 10 pounds for a role, I have to drop weight as well – the tricky part is to lose weight but still stay strong enough to perform. It’s more than just dieting, it’s knowing how to switch your workouts to be able to make your body look as close to your actor as possible.
(Photo: Natascha with Halle Berry)
Obviously, being well trained and passionate about stunts is extremely important.
There are times where there is no room for error, so you have to trust your gut and let your body do the work. I have had to believe in my natural talent and body 100%. I allow myself about one minute to think of what I need to do in an emergency situation: locate my stunt coordinator, then visualise and ‘feel’ my body going through the stunt and hitting the mark. This is my routine and it’s all mental. Having a diverse skillset from fighting for camera, being a stunt certified driver to air rams and high falls is essential. Some stunt people have very lucrative careers specialising in one area. Stunt drivers do very well because they become known for that expertise.
The stunt world is male dominated, which means there are fewer opportunities for women. Male actors have stunts written for them and when there is a need for SWAT, police or FBI agents there will be more males called in to portray these types of roles. As a woman, there is no doubt that you need to keep your skills up.
Preparing for a role:
I prepare for roles differently, depending on the role. I love knowledge, so I do extensive research to really get into the mind of the character. I have a degree in Psychology which really helps. I ‘live’ the character in the days before shooting and create an entire life from childhood to current day through visualisation. It’s fun and can be an escape from your life and often therapeutic. My toughest role to date was a film called the Resurrection: J.R. Richard Story. There were two roles in the script I could choose from, a professional baseball player’s wife or a drug addict. I chose the drug addict, Janet. I decided to not shave, no manicures or pedicures, no hair treatments or trimming, I even started sleeping on the floor to prepare for the role! – Sometimes this can be a real challenge.
One of the other things that I find difficult is the travel. Most films are now shot out of town or overseas, so your life is halted, to a certain degree, while you are working. I had the privilege to work in Namibia, West Africa for 5 months on the film Max Mad: Road Fury, stunt doubling Zoe Kravitz. It was a life changing and rewarding experience, but more difficult than I imagined it to be. I was born overseas and didn’t move to the States until I was 9, but it was still an adjustment.
My scariest on set moment was witnessing a car stunt gone bad on a film. The guy was supposed to jump a cliff, but didn’t have enough momentum. The car went nose first to the ground, then flipped on top of him. He was the ‘fall guy’ this means it was his vehicle and he didn’t want an actual stunt person doing the stunt. I will never forget the screams coming from his wife. The on set paramedics were driving to him, but getting stuck on the sand because they were trying to accelerate too quickly. the ‘fall guy’ made it with no scratches on him, but he was very shook up, as we all were.
I have been fortunate enough to have worked with Michael Bay (Transformers) Sam Rami (Spiderman 3), JJ Abrams (Star Trek) and Quentin Tarantino (Django). Halle Berry is also a complete thrill to work with. She is truly an incredible person. She is committed to her character and gets down to the nitty gritty. She is very low maintenance, patient, and I have always seen her with a positive attitude even while in a harness during our 14 hour work days. I would love to work with Tom Cruise in the future. He is very respected in the stunt community since he performs many of his own stunts and is known for appreciating his stunt team.
The industry can be both tough and rewarding so it’s important to always stay ahead of the game – the more you work, the more you work.”