There’s a certain method to being set on fire from head to toe. Or falling down a flight of stairs. In a tube top. And high heels.
Joni Avery could tell you all about it. As a Hollywood stuntwoman for about 30 years, she leapt, flipped, tightrope-walked and elbowed her way into a male-dominated industry. Then she became the boss, working as a stunt coordinator.
“Typically, men get paid more,” she said. “I’m like: ‘You’ve got pants and a jacket and pads while she has a miniskirt and high heels. I’m going to pay her more.’”
It wasn’t easy for her to rise up. Women struggled for decades to get noticed as stunt doubles, even when they had the right athletic and aerobic skills. If an actress needed a double, a man would just throw on a wig and a skirt, according to “Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story,” a 2015 book by Mollie Gregory, a novelist and screenwriter.
“Are stunts important? They are more than that,” Ms. Gregory wrote. “They are fundamental to the mystery, excitement and thrills provided by action movies, and stuntwomen help create that experience.”
After the death this month of Paula Dell, one of the pioneering stuntwomen in Hollywood, we asked eight stuntwomen to reflect on their careers.
These interviews with Lori Seaman, Jadie David, Joni Avery, Lisa Hoyle, Elle Alexander, Shawnna Thibodeau, Sonia Jo McDancer, and Nancy Thurston have been edited and condensed.
By Amisha Padnani and Daniel E. Slotnik