Ky Furneaux, 40, doesn’t work your typical 9 to 5 job. In fact, her job isn’t typical at all! It was while she was working as an outdoor guide in Australia, when someone suggested that she be a Hollywood stuntwoman. Ky loved being active so the gutsy career change seemed like the perfect challenge. She was on the next flight to Vancouver (Hollywood North, as it was known) and after a year of hard training, she landed her first stunt job.
Though the ending is happy, there is much more to Ky’s story of success than meets the eye. At the young age of 19, she was in a car accident that fractured her spine. Yet, the injury that could have ended her career before it began actually did the opposite. Spending so much time indoors, struggling to recover, Ky realized that she could never work a typical office job.
Being a stuntwoman means putting your safety on the line on a daily basis, but Ky wouldn’t have it any other way. The variety and flexibility of the job make it all worth it. Though her job description may be daunting, she offers practical advice to young women starting their careers in any field: set smaller goals to help achieve the big picture. “Everest is climbed one step at a time,” she says, “try to do something every day that moves you closer to your goal.”
HER STARTING POINT
Tell us about your journey to becoming a Hollywood stuntwoman. What about being a stunt person sparked your interest?
I was an outdoor guide in Australia and loved being active and challenging myself in physical situations. When I was about 26, someone suggested that I should be a stuntwoman and it sounded interesting. It sounded challenging, fun, different every day, physical and like a huge adventure. I packed my bags and headed to Vancouver, which was known as Hollywood North at the time.
I hadn’t realized exactly how difficult the process would be. I didn’t have any hard skills that would make me an asset on a set, so I started training martial arts every day and picking up whatever skills I could from the local stunt community. I worked on sets as an extra to gain set experience and to meet the stunt coordinators and kept a positive attitude. After a year of giving it everything I had, I was fortunate enough to pick up my first stunt job.
At 19, you were in a car accident that left you with a fractured spine. How did the accident impact your career goals? What did you consider doing before the accident and how did that change after you sustained your injuries?
Before the accident, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be. I had a talented sister who was doing really well in business and a mum who had dreams of me following in her footsteps. I finished my last year of high school and mum basically enrolled me in the business course. I went along with it for lack of a better idea. I thought perhaps I would be happy as a creative on a marketing team or something along that line.
After spending so much time indoors and inactive after the accident, I realized that I could never do an office job and by the time I had recovered, I had set my aspirations on being an outdoor guide.
You worked as an outdoor team leader for Venture Corporate Recharge, an adventure-based learning program in Australia, for over seven years before becoming a stuntwoman. How do you use the skills you learned there in your work as a stuntwoman?
The biggest skill sets that I transferred from being an outdoor guide to stunts would probably be the mental ones. As an outdoor guide you need to be concerned about the safety and comfort of the group over your own wants and needs. I learned to block out my pain and discomfort until everyone else was taken care of. I also learned just how far you can push your body in physical situations. So often we think we have reached our limits when we actually have so much more we can give.
As a stunt performer you are employed to do a job that can result in physical harm. At the very least, most days I have bruises. I believe that you stay until the job is done if at all possible, so I ignore my pain and discomfort and do the stunt until the director is happy with the footage. I also know if I am tired from 20 takes of a fight scene or a 16-hour day, I still have it in me to finish the day. Once, I broke my shoulder on the second take of a shot. I did that shot six more times, landing on that shoulder because the director felt like the camera angles weren’t capturing the shot perfectly. I’m sure he would have stopped asking for takes if I told him I had a broken shoulder—I just didn’t tell him.
Another transferrable skill is the problem solving aspect of being an outdoor guide. No two days are the same, even if you are doing the exact same trip. There are so many variables in the outdoors that you are constantly faced with new situations that require a bit of problem solving to get the best possible outcome. Stunt life is like that, too. The director has a vision and, between you and the stunt coordinator, you have to come up with the best possible way to match that vision.
Although you did not physically attend college, you completed a business degree from your hospital bed. How has that helped you as a stuntwoman and in your other career endeavors?
I completed my business degree in the college, but with a special desk that allowed me to lie down and still take notes (this was before laptops). I was only allowed to sit for a limited amount of time a day and that was taken up by the car ride to college (chauffeured by my dad who took time off from work to look after me).
I have used my degree with everything I do. I treat myself as the business and try to make good decisions about my career in that way. I am always marketing myself and managing my image as I would a business with a storefront. I take time to invest in myself and my skills to make sure that I am saleable, and I don’t take unnecessary risks that could put me out of business.