An Interview With Debbie Evans

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Debbie Evans, veteran of hundreds of motion-picture, television, and commercial stunts has been featured in numerous publications such as the LA Times, Reader’s Digest, Glamour Magazine, Cycle World, Dirtbike, and on television shows like Montel, ESPN, Winning Women, and Entertainment Tonight.

She was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in October of 2003. She has been awarded for her work on Taxi in 2005, The Matrix Reloaded in 2004 Taurus World Stunt Awards in the category “Best Overall Stunt by a Stuntwoman,” previously winning two Taurus awards in 2002 for driving a Honda Civic under a moving semi-truck in The Fast and the Furious (2001).

Debbie Evans is considered one of Hollywood’s top stuntwomen. She was the unnofficial 1976-80 women’s world motorcycle trials champion. Her stunt career began when she was just 18 years old and she was called to do a motorcycle jump over a 30-foot ravine for the movie Death Sport. Since then she has been in over 200 movies and TV shows. Her career really launched when she tied for second overall in the CBS Stunt Competition as the only female competitor. Since then she has pioneered stuntwork for women, doing stunts that at one time only men were allowed to do (everything from cannon rolls to car hits). She has done just about every type of stunt imaginable, including setting the world long and high jump records for an airramp.

In 1998 Debbie came out of an extended retirement from competitive motorcycling to become America’s Top Rider in the FIM Women’s World Championship, currently sponsored by Sherco and Ryan Young Products. In 2002 she raced road bikes at Daytona. Debbie is married to Lane Leavitt, her motorcycle trials sweetheart, and has 3 children, proving that a woman can balance career, sport, and family life all at the same time.

Where did you grow up?
Lakewood, CA. I played all kinds of sports. I could wheelie a bike farther than any guy. I surfed, skied, skateboarded, and rode unicycles. I was always outside playing with the boys. My dad taught me how to throw like a boy and I was an All CIF Softball player in high school. My mom wanted to dress me like a little princess. She came home once and found me hanging from the streetlight. She frantically called my dad. He asked me if I could get down by myself. I said, “Yes.” He told me to hang on for as long as wanted, and then he walked away. Mom had a fit.

What got you interested in stunts?
I started riding motorcycles when I was six and competing in Trials when I was nine. My Dad taught me how to ride. I was riding professionally for the Yamaha Factory when I saw a TV show that featured a girl riding a motorcycle. It was obviously a stuntman on the bike. That’s when I got the idea to do stunts. I checked around, but didn’t know anyone who could get me into the business. Then out of the blue Gene Hartline called me to work on “Deathsport” in 1977. I worked three months with some of the best in the business. It was a great training ground. Then they gave me a sword and said they needed me to run around and fight and fall down. I thought, “You’re going to pay me to play? Great!”

What did your family think about you doing stunts?
My Dad thought it was really great. My Mom was getting grayer by the moment. My sister Donna, an awesome stuntwoman herself, has stood by me the whole way. I knew that this is what I was supposed to do. I’d been training for this my whole life.

What were some of the obstacles that you’ve come across?
I was used to being in a man’s world. It was a challenge to me when guys looked at me as if I was a dumb girl. I loved to prove them wrong. I came in at a time when “Affirmative Action” was coming to light. I was one of the first women that coordinators put into situations where they’d normally put a man. Word got around that along with doing the big thumpers, I was capable of driving, doing turnovers and handling any motorcycle. Being a woman, I thought I always had to prove myself. If I made a mistake it was a big deal. Whereas, if a guy made a mistake it wasn’t so bad. I’m finally to the point that if I make a mistake I don’t beat myself up so badly.

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What have you seen change in our industry?
When I started women usually didn’t get the opportunity to do the big gags. It’s now commonplace for women to do bigger stunts. It’s great to see girls coming in now who are qualified and talented, instead of just being somebody’s girl friend. Most ND spots are male dominated. Many times it’s coordinators hiring coordinators and since a lot of women don’t coordinate, we’re left out of the loop. It’s harder for women to coordinate in general because men don’t trust them to know what they’re doing. I’ve done some, but it takes so much of your time. As a mom with three kids I want to be there for them. When they’re grown maybe I’ll consider coordinating.
Also, it’s seldom necessary for men to double a woman anymore. We have plenty of qualified stuntwomen who can do the work. The way we look and move is more believable and there’s rarely an ability factor.

What are some honors you’ve received?
I have three Taurus World Stunt Awards I’m very proud of. I thank my peers and the coordinators that gave me the opportunities. It’s about time that this happened for us. It’s important that we have awards. I think they give us recognition and credibility. I’d like to see producers admit that we’re an important part of production, but I think they’re afraid that they’ll have to pay us what we’re worth. In general, stunt adjustments haven’t been raised along with the cost of living since I started. Professionals should be paid accordingly for their talents. I’m also very proud to have been inducted into the American Motorcyclist Assoc. Hall of Fame, where I’ve joined the world’s top riders and contributors to motorcycling.

Who are some of the people that you admire?
Jeannie Epper was always my mentor, I just love her. Gary Epper taught me how to drive. Gene Hartline gave me my start, I’ll never forget that. My husband Lane Leavitt. Three kids and 26 years later, some said it would never last.

Tell us a stunt story.
I was hired to do a pipe ramp on “What Dreams May Come.” I was in a 911 and had to come into a tunnel and do a head on miss on my way to the ramp. There were gobs of rain coming down, I could barely see. Charlie Croughwell told me, “It’d be nice if you could hit the top of the tunnel off the ramp.” Russell Solberg and I figured out what I needed to do. I hit the top of the tunnel and went 94 feet before I hit the ground and then another 90 feet sliding on my top. I have the 911 keys and part of the light framed in our house. It’s an awesome shot. It’s on my website at .

What do you have coming up?
I just finished “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and did the driving on “Herbie Fully Loaded.” It’s nice to do work that your kids can see. As far as work goes, I just take it as it comes.

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Carl Ciarfalio
Carl Ciarfalio
Carl Ciarfalio is a 35-year veteran of the film and television industry. He enjoys a prolific career as an actor, stuntman, stunt coordinator and voice-over artist. Carl has worked with film and television heavyweights including 'Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Steven Soderbergh, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Kiefer Sutherland and Chuck Norris.