Faking It: What It's Really Like To Be A Stuntwoman In Hollywood

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Welcome to Faking It, our monthly guide to the magic of filmmaking. What exactly are two actors doing when they're "having sex" on camera? How do they "do drugs"? What are those phony cigarettes really made of? Join us as we explore the not-so-glamorous underground of faking sex, drugs, violence, and more.
Johnny Depp is an extremely graceful diver. Or, at least, that’s what I thought when, at the very impressionable age of 13, I saw Pirates of The Caribbean for the first of five times in theaters.
Eventually though (okay, after re-watching it obsessively for years after), I realized that while Johnny may or may not be a fan of aquatic sports, he is almost certainly not diving in this scene. Enter the stunt doubles, whose job it is to make the hardest, most intensely physical scenes look great.
For as long as there have been movies, there have been stunt performers. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the first professional Hollywood stuntman on record was one Frank Hanaway, an ex-US cavalryman who got a job falling off horses in 1903’s The Great Train Robbery.
It didn’t take long for women to enter the thus-far male dominated space. The first stunt woman is believed to have been Helen Gibson, a rodeo star hired to take over from actress Helen Holmes, who starred in an adventure film serial (119 12-minute episodes — think of it as the first binge-worthy series) called The Hazards of Helen from 1914 to 1917. In one installment, Gibson had to jump from a rooftop onto a moving train, which required precise timing and a keen understanding of physics. (Here, you can watch snippets from her wild ride of a career.)
As movies have gotten more action packed and high-budget, the demand for dizzying stunts has only grown. Mid-air rescues? Ironman's done that, and more. Motorcycle chase on a roof? Thanks, Skyfall. Running down the side of a Dubai skyscraper? Somebody call Tom Cruise!
Andrea Kinsky has been working as a stunt double for over 10 years. She’s worked with the likes of Pamela Anderson, Tori Spelling, Jessica Biel and Emily Blunt. In the Carrie remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Kinsky did the wire work required to make the poor, bloody prom girl fly. And remember that scene in The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants where our girls cannonball into the ocean? If you look closely, you'll spot Kinsky in a yellow dress and dark wig, doubling for Alexis Bledel.
That movie, while a classic and a milestone for all of us, is particularly important to Kinsky: It was her first job as a stuntwoman. "I grew up doing ballet and gymnastics, so I always had that as a background, and then I met someone that was a stuntman and we used to just do crazy things together all the time: jumping off cliffs and riding motorcycles. And he was just like, ‘Why aren’t you doing stunts?’ I’d never thought of it as a career — I was doing personal training. He took me to set a few times, and I kind of got to know what it was like, and I just decided this is what I want to do. Why wouldn’t I want to all my athleticism, everything that I had, for a career?"
But what does that career actually look like? How does one become a stunt double? What goes into faking these incredibly demanding feats of strength and coordination? And is it any different for women than it is for men? I asked Kinsky to walk me through what it means to be actually work as a stuntwoman in Hollywood.
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