"There Wasn't A Place For Me:" Rebel Wilson's Stunt Double Talks Thriving In An Industry After Everyone Told Her No
You may not recognize her name, but you’ve seen Joette Orman before. When Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) steps on the scale in her debut moment on This Is Us, those are Orman’s feet wobbling. When Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) slides down the stairs on a garbage can lid in Pitch Perfect 2, that’s really Orman’s body flipping over.
Since her big break as Wilson’s first-ever stunt double in Pitch Perfect 2 in 2015, Orman has cornered an in-demand niche within the world of stunt performing. Orman, who describes herself as being “top heavy,” doubles for actresses whose figures are more representative of American women (68% of whom wear a size 14 or above) than they are Hollywood. In the past five years, Orman has done stunts for Margo Martindale, Casey Wilson, Christina Hendricks, and many more actresses.
But Orman’s work wasn’t always so consistent — or guaranteed at all. Back in 2015, Orman was on the verge of giving up her dreams of being a stunt performer, and Rebel Wilson was on the verge of not having a stunt double. “They didn’t have someone who was large enough to fill the role,” Orman said in an interview with Refinery29.
Back in 2015, Wilson was one of the few plus-size actresses to cross into A-list territory. At the start of her career, though, Wilson’s weight was often used as a punchline. The Pitch Perfect character that launched Wilson to fame was defined by her size: Her credited name on IMDb is “Fat Amy.” (Wilson could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.)
Historically, Hollywood tends to prioritize thinness, especially in women. In a study done exclusively for Refinery29 that analyzed 100 top films of 2016, Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg found that female characters were three times as likely to be thin as their male counterparts.
So if there were few plus-sized actresses, it followed that there would be scant stunt performers with similar body types that could double for them. And for Pitch Perfect 2, that was going to be a problem. Though Wilson had no stunts in Pitch Perfect, the sequel was full of them. Without a double, Wilson would have to perform stunts with aerial silks, spinning car tires, and bear traps herself.
Here’s a job that I wanted. And here I am again hearing, 'No, you’re too big, you can’t do it.'s
By the time Orman came onto set, Wilson had already begun training for the role’s many compromising positions, including hanging in silks several feet off the ground. “This was one of the reasons I respect her so much. Aerial work hurts, especially when you have a little more padding,” Orman said. “But not only did she perform it with a smile on her face like it was no big deal, she also conquered her fear of heights. She was such a badass professional.”
Then, a friend of Orman’s recommended her to the Pitch Perfect 2 crew. Conveniently, Orman was living in New Orleans, where the movie was being filmed. Orman wasn’t expecting a call like this. “Pitch Perfect 2 shocked me and came out of the blue. I wasn’t in a good place. I was depressed and sad about my career — I didn’t think it was going to happen for me,” Orman said.
Until that point, the dimensions of Orman’s body were the reason stunt coordinators turned her down, not sought her out. When Orman was traveling with the Moscow State Circus after graduating from high school in 2001, her athletic body was praised. But when she was trying to match actresses with stick-thin arms, stunt coordinators would critique her. Orman recalls a stunt coordinator on the set of Charmed saying, “'Your arms are too big. But if your arms weren’t too big, you would be perfect. You really got to work on that.’” Orman left the set devastated. “Here’s a job that I wanted. And here I am again hearing, ‘No, you’re too big, you can’t do it.’’
Unfortunately, Orman had heard that spiel from a young age. As a teenager, she got her start with a circus company near her house in Redlands, CA. While her classmates were playing soccer, she was spinning in the air. “I was absolutely in love with it. I spent most of my days in school choreographing routines.”
But her coach was critical of her 16-year-old body. “She told me I would never succeed in the industry; that I’d be too fat to work,” Orman said. The coach handed her weight loss supplements to “help.” So began a cycle of diet pills and crash diets, and the internal debate which would persist throughout her 20s: Should she forgo her muscular physicality for something slimmer?
The problem became more extreme after she started doing stunts in her early 20s. After her first gig doubling Andrea Avery in A Cinderella Story, Orman struggled to find doubling work. Shuttling from stunt audition to stunt audition, the overwhelming message was that Orman was incredibly skilled — but she had to lose weight. And for a while, she really tried. She counted calories; she took diet pills.
“It was a struggle for me. This is what I love to do. But how was I going to lose 10 pounds, when there was no more weight to lose?” Orman said.
Orman’s breaking point came after an audition for Cirque du Soleil in Vegas (her dream gig, after stunts). Though her audition was perfect, she was once again told she was too large. Desperately, Orman promised to lose 15 pounds in two weeks. Through an intense workout and calorie-counting regimen (she was burning a pound a day), she did lose the weight. But when Orman called back with the news, the coordinator had news of her own. They didn’t think she could pull off the weight loss, so they hired someone else. Still, the Cirque representative complimented her new photos in an email from 2008 Orman shared with Refinery29: “What determination and tenacity!” (Cirque du Soleil could not be reached for comment.)
It was when I let go of everything I thought I had to be and embraced who I was that all of a sudden this world opened up.
With that, Orman decided she was through with trying to change her curvier physique. She gained weight. She went back into circus work, working as a gypsy in Pirate’s Dinner Adventure in Buena Vista, CA. Then, she left Los Angeles for New Orleans. “I was depressed. I was seeing there wasn’t a place for me in the stunt industry,” Orman said.
But in New Orleans, doors opened for her that had been shut in Los Angeles. With her L.A.-honed skill set, Orman quickly got work in the Big Easy, which had a more limited pool of talent. Stunt coordinators couldn’t be as picky about things like arm dimensions. Fourteen years after her first movie role in Cinderella Story, she got her second and third movie parts performing nondescript stunts on 22 Jump Street and Left Behind. Then, she got the Pitch Perfect 2 call — and that’s when what was once a liability became her greatest asset.
“If I had continued trying to be a size zero to match the industry, I never would have succeeded in my dreams. It was when I let go of everything I thought I had to be and embraced who I was that all of a sudden this world opened up,” Orman said.
To match Wilson’s body in Pitch Perfect 2, Orman shimmied into a heavy, restrictive bodysuit that stretched from under her bust to her knees. To make sure doubles look like their actors, wardrobe departments get creative: In the past, Orman has worn Spanx stuffed with pillow filling, or athletic pants and a motorcycle suit to change her physicality.
Even if she requires some padding, Orman has a shorter distance to travel than more diminutive stunt performers, were they to try doubling for an actress like Wilson. When Orman doubles, the effect is more natural. “You move differently when you have weight in different places. I can certainly tell you that until I had it, I didn't know that. They're subtle differences, but they do count,” Orman said.
Now, Orman is constantly booked. Her scheduled has changed drastically since Pitch Perfect 2, but so has the performance landscape. She’s not the only curvier woman doing stunts anymore. “I was like, ‘Hey, wait a minute — I used to be the biggest person in the room!” Orman joked about the suddenly crowded space. “But it’s better. It’s real competition instead of everyone looking at me and saying, ‘She just got the job because of this.’” Orman now works with up-and-comers and serves as the mentor she wished she had when she was younger. “There was no one back then that looked like me,” she said.
After years of being told to change, Orman has decided to stay right where she is. “Being heavy is not something I should be fighting. This is my natural body. This is where I’m comfortable. This is where I’m healthy. This is where I’m strong.”