For Hollywood stuntwoman Janene Carleton, a typical day at the office might involve jumping off a building, or from a moving vehicle, or perhaps both of these things at the same time, while her entire body is engulfed in flames. After nearly 15 years in the business, Carleton has doubled for actresses like Angelina Jolie (Salt), Jessica Biel (Total Recall), Kate Winslet (The Mountain Between Us), and Jennifer Lawrence (the forthcoming X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix), and is the woman behind the wheel for thrilling car chases in, among many others, Deadpool and Fifty Shades Freed.
There is no part of this job that suits the faint of heart—or those who lack discipline, whether on the job or while making choices at the restaurant. We recently sat down with Carleton to learn more about how stunt actors safeguard their bodies, prepare for roles, learn to fall, and get used to being on fire. (As much as anyone can ever get used to that.)
GQ: How did all of this start for you? How do you get in to being a stuntwoman?
Janene Carleton: My initial introduction to the film world was through training horses for movies and giving actors riding lessons, but when I started to learn about what stuntwomen do, I was like, Wait a minute, I can do this. I was an extreme athlete—I did everything from snowboarding to martial arts, and a wide range of sports. If you want to get hired, you have to be hirable, so you train in everything.
Do a lot of stunt actors have specialities?
Definitely. You’ve got some people who are gymnasts. There are fighters, like martial artists. Most stuntpeople are quite well-rounded, though, so they do everything.
Do you ever have to change your body or routine depending on the actress for whom you’re doubling?
That’s definitely part of it. We are athletes, and we have to be able take hard hits and falls. But you can’t get too muscular. I build muscle pretty easily, so I have to make sure I don’t train to look too strong, because actresses often have soft, feminine figures. It’s fine in clothes, but if a girl is wearing a tank top, you need a body match. On some shows, you’re like, Oh she’s my size, that’s cool. For others, it’s like, I’ve got to cut down 10 pounds because she’s smaller than me.
Do you study the mannerisms or body language of the actress you’re working with?
Part of the art is fine-tuning. If they’re left-handed and you’re not, you have to do everything left-handed, which happens a lot with actors, who are right-side-of-the-brain people. I used to shoot my gun with my right hand, but now have to do it with my left hand.
Does your diet change depending on the role?
I know what woks for me: lean proteins, tons of vegetables. I use supplements because I just find there’s not as much nutrition in food these days, and we’re so hard on our bodies. I usually start my day with greens and a protein shake. Depending on how hard I’m training, glutamate helps with recovery. If I’m going to have carbs, I have complex carbs. If I’m going to have sugars, they’re natural sugars: fruits, honey, or maple syrup, paired with a protein—so, apple and cheese, or banana and peanut butter. I have a sweet tooth, and have to indulge it sometimes.
If I have to really lean down, I cut out the wine—any alcohol, actually—and sugar. I try not to ever eat processed foods. I limit anything deep-fried. I stick to that stuff as much as I can, so that I’m always sort of ready, because you don’t always get a lot of time to prepare for a job.