Becoming a Stunt Double: Do You Have What It Takes?

Celebrity signing autographs

Action movies have these fantastic scenes that make viewers’ jaws drop. Whether it’s an incredible fight sequence or a heart-stopping car chase, it can be difficult to imagine how a human being performs these actions.

It’s not always the actor taking part in those action scenes—often, it’s their stunt double. With their skills and the magic of cinematography and special effects, the result is outstanding action scenes that look as if the actors themselves actually did them.

If you are an athletic person, have strong physical skills, and are considering working in the entertainment industry, a career as a stunt double may be for you.

What Does a Stunt Double Do?

A stunt double performs a specific set of physical skills for film, TV, or theater. Stunt skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Falls
  • Gymnastics
  • Stage combat
  • Sword work
  • Vehicle maneuvering

Stunt doubles are different from stuntpersons. The latter professionals act as their own characters, while the former perform stunts on behalf of an actor. A stunt double should physically look as alike to the actor as possible, to make it look like the same person is executing the action scene.

A stunt double should also not be confused with a stand-in, which is a different profession entirely. Stand-ins look like an actor in stature and coloring; their task is to stand on a mark during the setup of a shoot so the actor can prepare for the scene elsewhere. Unlike stunt doubles, they don’t perform stunts.

What Skills Do Stunt Doubles Need?

A stunt double needs physical and mental skills to do stunt work on a set.

  • Physical Skills

Experienced stunt doubles recommend that aspiring stunt doubles should possess well-rounded physical skills. You have to look natural in fighting, falling, being able to shoot a gun, and making it look like you got shot by a gun.

Experts recommend that you consistently train at the gym and attend stunt classes and training schools to hone your skills.

  • Mental Skills

You need to be able to get up one more than you’ve been hit down, literally and figuratively. You don’t always get stunts right on the first try, and sometimes the director would want you to do it again.

Working as a stunt double also involves working with a lot of people—from the director and the actor to the costume designer and stunt coordinator—so, it helps to know how to conduct yourself in a social setting.

How is My Safety Ensured on the Set?

Director's chair

While stunt doubles take safety seriously, accidents do happen on the set. Sometimes, it’s a bad bruise or a broken bone, and other times it could be a critical injury.

Or worse, the stunt could be fatal. In 2017, a stunt double from the TV series The Walking Dead fell to his death during filming. While AMC Network argued that the accident was unforeseen, the family’s lawyers claimed lack of safety measures. AMC was charged with wrongful death in 2019.

The Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles provides safety protocols for stuntpeople that studios must adhere to on a set. A stunt coordinator works with other departments to ensure the safety of each stunt.

Stunt doubles are also urged to be responsible for their own safety. If the setup of a stunt doesn’t sit well with you, discuss it with the coordinator, director, and everyone else involved.

Stunt doubles are, in a way, special kinds of actors. They need to be physically prepared to perform different types of stunts and have to be emotionally ready to act on behalf of the actor. If you want to pursue this type of career, make sure to be prepared for what’s in store and always prioritize your safety.

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