A Professional Stunt Woman Shares Her Hustling Tips

A Professional Stunt Woman

Shares Her Hustling Tips

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While cradling your popcorn and sitting on the edge of an overpriced movie theater seat, you’ve probably gasped to yourself, wondering how in the world stunt-doubles (ahem, or devils, depending on how you look at it) are able to pull off such impressive fitness feats in seemingly-dangerous situations. Through lots of training – and even more pure gusto and bravery – one celebrity trainer and professional stuntwoman has turned her sense of adventure into a promising career. Enter April Sutton from SuttonStrong.com, a Chicago-based badass lady who is ripped not only in terms of physical grit, but business wits, too.

To date, she’s appeared on Fox’s ‘Empire’, NBC’s ‘Chicago P.D.’, ‘Chicago Fire’ and ‘Chicago Med’, along with the blockbuster ‘Divergent’ and countless others. Though you might not instantly recognize her face, you’ll find yourself in awe of her swiftness, agility and endurance when you do catch a glimpse of her on the screen. And when you look at the gender disparity in the stunting-world, her success is even more impressive: only about 30 percent of those who perform stunts are ladies.

Taking a break from training and stunting, Sutton took time to chat with SWAAY about how she came from a family who struggled with weight management, to be a fit-inspiration for thousands.

SWAAY: Tell us about your background growing up. Were you always active?

AS: I played sports including basketball and tennis, however I did it for more social reasons and to just be out of the house. I wasn’t exposed to healthy choices growing up. There were a lot of unhealthy foods including fried food, desserts, heavy sauces, bread and other processed foods that were always an option in my household. My parents worked a lot and we ate based on convenience and budget.

S: How did you get into stuntwoman work? Tell us about your first few auditions and experiences.

AS: I went to a casting call for ‘Divergent.’ I was an intern at the time and was experiencing extreme financial hardship. So I had a lot of motivation behind attending the casting call. I was casted and we did a bootcamp that involved a lot of basic fundamentals to stunt work and also physical fitness. I did my best on the physical fitness aspect, and I was eventually bumped up to the stunt team. It took a year to book a stunt gig after ‘Divergent.’ I had to stunt train for several months, attend acting classes and I do a few extra gigs to gain more experience.

S: What’s being a stuntwoman like?

AS: Stunt work is very empowering as a female, especially as an African American female. There are not many of us, and because of that I train and learn as much as possible. I want to be a great representation of a stuntwoman and a strong female role model. I would have never thought as a little girl that I would be doing what I am doing now. I owe it to myself to empower young women or little girls that they can be whoever they want to be when they grow up.

S: How many female stuntwomen are there compared to men? Do you think you make the same amount of money?

AS: I have only been in the stunt industry for three years but based on what I have seen there is probably 30 percent percent of stuntwomen who are actively working. There are not many female stunt coordinators as well. However that does not bother me. I have always worked in a male driven environment, which has always seemed to step my game up. Which I am sure this is also the same reason why other stuntwomen stay in the industry. We embrace our male competition.

The amount of money made is not a factor since we all start on base rates. It is about the demand in projects. A superhero movie with 10 lead actors who need doubles in comparison to two lead actresses that need doubles is what will make the difference. With that being said, I feel that stuntmen book the bigger projects more so than stuntwomen. I want to change that.

S: What’s been your most proud moment in your work? Why?

AS: My most proud moment in my work was my second stunt gig for ‘Supernatural.’ I was a very mentally challenging gig that involved being in a cocktail dress and high heels in single digit weather at night at the Chicago River. It was a overnight shoot as well and my scene was the very last scene. My job was to be thrown into a concrete wall, die on first impact and fall on concrete. I had to do an extremely great job despite the elements, in order to make a great impression on the Chicago stunt industry. Which I did! I was relieved that all of my stunt training helped me prepare for something like that. Stunt work based on reputation as well. Your work from word of mouth can take you a long ways.

S: What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?

AS: My advice meet a lot of other like minded individuals. You may find yourself outgrowing your former friends or inner circles. That is okay! It is part of the journey. Meet people who will motivate and help step your game up. Your inner circles will help determine who you are going to be.

S: What are your upcoming goals? What’s next?

AS: I want to design a gym at Cinespace which is being in the works right now. I also want to produce and write my own work. I see myself down the road directing or writing TV shows and movies. I’m also working on my own fitness app. I eventually want to train more celebrities to help prep them for projects. I have a huge understanding of what that’s like. One of my other goals is to travel for stunt work and work on more movies. I have only done gigs in Chicago and they have been mostly TV shows. I would love to expand my horizons and grow as a stuntwoman.

Lindsay Tigar

Lindsay Tigar is a writer and editor in New York. Her work has appeared in Self, Refinery29, Bustle, Prevention and many more. When she's not traveling or spending time with friends, she's going to the latest boxing class, trying a new food trend or volunteering.

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