What is a Stunt Performer?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A stunt performer is a specialized actor who is trained to perform a variety of dangerous stunts. He or she may take the place of regular actors in a film or television production for safety when such stunts are required, and stunt performers are typically the people used in fight scenes and other dangerous situations on set. In addition to stunt performers, it is also possible to find stunt coordinators, trained stunt performers who actually choreograph stunts, along with specialists who work on things like pyrotechnics, safety equipment, and so forth.

A stunt performer jumping out of a plane.
A stunt performer jumping out of a plane.

Working as a stuntman or stuntwoman is definitely demanding, and the best stunt performers have a range of skills, although some choose to specialize in something very specific, like stunt driving. Many draw upon their own life skills and experience, turning hobbies into a full time carrier. Stunt performers are typically brought onto a production early, chosen on the basis of their skills and experience, and they may meet with the production team to talk about which stunts are doable, and the best ways to do them.

When a stunt performer is asked to perform a stunt, he or she looks at the situation and works out the safest and most effective way to perform the stunt. Stunt performers often work in groups, drawing on each other's experience and skills to ensure that stunts go smoothly, and they work closely with the lighting, camera, and safety crews to keep their stunts looking real and to make sure that they will fit in with the finished film or television show.

Many stunt performers work as body doubles or stand-ins, chosen because they look similar to leading actors. These stunt doubles replace actors in scenes where they could be in danger, and they are often kept on-set at all times in case they are needed. A stunt performer may do a range of things, from skydiving to setting him or herself on fire, and all of these tasks require special skills and training which are beyond the abilities of most actors, although many actors are eager to do as many of their own stunts as possible to develop their skills.

While stunt performers place a heavy emphasis on safety, their work is still extremely dangerous, especially when they are performing stunts which have never been done before. As a result, stunt performers tend to be very well-compensated for their work, and they usually belong to professional organizations which assist injured or permanently disabled stunt performers, ensuring that they have a support network in the event of an accident.

Becoming a stunt performer is hard work. The market is often heavily saturated, so an aspiring stunt performer should plan on developing formidable athletic and technical skills. It can help to train under another stunt performer to get on-set experience and connections, but ultimately, a great deal of self-motivation and marketing skills are needed.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

momothree

@oceanswimmer: Harrison Ford also does most of his own stunts. In the “Indiana Jones” movies, he did his own stunts. He has crashed a car into a bus and even dangled from a helicopter. He was quoted as saying “I have picked up plenty of bumps, bruises, and cuts over the years”.

Another actor that does their own stunts is the infamous Jackie Chan. He is the most well-known and talented martial arts stuntmen known. He said he did a lot of stunt training for his films.

christym

@oceanswimmer: There are many actors/actresses that perform their own stunts. One of my favorites is Angelina Jolie. She loves to impress her impressive brood and her stunts makes that happen. She has jumped from moving cars and has been hanging off of a building. She loves doing her stunts for the challenge and also to keep her in fit shape.

OceanSwimmer

Do any actors do their own stunts?

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