You may not recognize Angela Meryl’s name, but if you’re a fan of action flicks like Skyfall, Kill Bill, and Pirates of the Caribbean you’ve probably seen her work and just didn’t know it. She’s the one lunging through the air to fight an opponent martial-arts style, slamming into cliffside guard railings at 60 miles per hour, dangling from helicopters in mid-air and even plunging into the depths of New York’s Hudson river…all as one of Hollywood’s go-to stunt women.
After 16 years in the business doubling for a long list of movie and TV actresses including Vivica A. Fox, Naomie Harris, Vanessa Williams, Gabrielle Union, Halle Berry as well as Rihanna and Beyonce, Meryl’s sharing her expertise in a new book Stunts: The How to Handbook Secrets from an Award Winning Hollywood Stunt Woman (Volume 1).
“Over the years I’ve always gotten approached by people on the streets that are just curious: ‘How did you get into stunts?'” Meryl told EW. “My friends, my family always ask, ‘Why did you end up doing this? How did you end up doing this?’ A lot of people don’t even know that this is a career, that this is a business.”
Although she describes herself as a “very active child” who grew up in New Jersey taking martial arts classes, running track (while keeping up with World and Olympic champ Carl Lewis who was her neighbor, no less) and playing Powder Puff football, Meryl crash landed into her profession almost by a fluke when a friend asked her to do a fall stunt for the 1996 film First Kid. At the time she was a model and an aspiring actress who had appeared in a few commercials, “then they told me how much I was going to get paid and I thought ‘oh heck yes, I can do it.'”
She’s come a long way from those beginnings — and so has her field. “Editors these days are so good and so on it to make it seamless. It’s part of your job to try and hide your face, depending on what you’re doing, but they make us look like them so much that you could basically go onto the camera full on and people wouldn’t know because it’s so quick.”
Click on to see how Angela Meryl has taken on the likeness of some of Hollywood’s leading ladies for her action-packed scenes and get tips for jumping into the death defying day job yourself.
NEXT: Beyonce, Obsessed
Angela Meryl had already doubled for Beyonce when the singer appeared in the 2002 film Austin Powers in Goldmember, so when it came time for the pop star’s knock-down drag-out stair fight scene opposite Ali Larter the stuntwoman was an obvious choice. After meeting with director Steve Shill and landing the job, it was off to hair, makeup, and wardrobe, where the stunt expert learned it’s not exactly easy to walk (or, brawl) in Beyonce’s shoes.
“Everything’s the same: the jeans, the vest, I wore a wig modeled after her hair, even our necklaces and blood splatters. The only thing that was different were the boots, because Beyonce wears heels all day every day, and I don’t,” Meryl explained. “She’s used to doing full fledged concerts in stilettos and as a stunt person I’m used to running around and fighting in heels but not the way she is. So they actually made a pair of boots with wedges specifically for me because I was having a hard time fighting in these boots [Beyonce wore] because they were 5 inch heels and I was punching, dragging, and falling downstairs with [Ali Larter’s] double Heather Vendrell.”
“I’ve been in situations where I’ve had on a mini skirt or pants but the [clothes] were too tight to wear pads so I’m just falling down a flight of stairs and I couldn’t wear pads because you could see them,” Meryl said. Although, to stand in for the Bootylicious singer the stunt woman got a little help to break the fall: “I wore pads on my hips and pads on my rear end…and Spanx helped me make the pads more fitted and more tailored to the shape, to make my shape look [more curvy] like hers.”
Doubling for Vivica A. Fox in the ultra violent Kill Bill: Vol. 1 landed the Meryl in the hospital after she shot the infamous fight scene where Fox’s character Vernita Green takes on Uma Thurman’s “Bride” character in her home.
“It was the stunt going through that [real] glass table: I landed on my back and I flipped over and I guess a piece of glass went across my finger. I didn’t even know I was cut. I’m laying on the carpet waiting for them to say cut before I move — you can’t move because they’ll put [the actress] in that same position and she’ll get in there and do the rest — and the medic comes in and picks me up from the floor and runs me into the kitchen. We couldn’t stop the bleeding so we had to go to the hospital.”
The cut left her with stitches but Meryl shrugs it off, “It was nothing, thank God that’s the only major injury I’ve ever had in my career” (there’s always bruises, she notes, but using a topical form of Arnica helps to manage those). The real pain for doubling for Vivica came from having to recreate the actress’ hairstyle. “I actually had to go and sit for eight hours while this woman sewed in hair pieces –oh my god I didn’t like that part,” Meryl said. “I had to wear it for about a month, then I had to go back so she could take it out.”
Luckily, most jobs just call for wigs.
NEXT: Rihanna, Battleship
“The first moment that I actually got to speak to [Rihanna] was after reversal of the fight scene,” Meryl said. “She and the acting coach, Susan Batson, who is actually my acting coach as well both came running on set and she was like ‘Oh my gosh you’re a bad ass like me!’ To take on Ri Ri’s bad girl appearance, Meryl got “inked” with temporary tattoos that mirrored the singer’s own and studied her “tough girl” walk to get it just right. “She’s taller than I am, so I had to wear lifts in my boots to make myself the same height as her,” Meryl reveals.
“You know there’s all these little tricks that people don’t know. Sometimes you’re not the same color as the actress so they may darken you, or even lighten you up a little. I’ve doubled Gabrielle Union and I’m fairly lighter than her so they just put on some darker makeup.”
“This was an ice skating scene I did for [Vanessa Williams] in Ugly Betty,” Meryl says of the picture above. “It was very light-hearted and whimsical and fun the way that she skated. You know, I knew how to ice skate, but to be honest I think Vanessa skates better than I do. I just had to watch the way she was skating. It was a casual night she was out with a friend of hers skating.” The stunt involved her getting pushed over a railing.
It wouldn’t be the first time she’s suited up to stunt for Williams. Though she’s stood in for the actress on Desperate Housewives and recently 666 Park Avenue, Meryl calls the stunt work she did for the actress in the 2000 version of Shaft her “big break.”
Ready to try and jump into the stunt business yourself? Grab a copy of Meryl’s book and take note.
“The first portion of the book I tell some stories about where I came from and how I got started and where I want to go with my career at the end of the book. In the middle of the book I tell people, you know, this is what you need to do to get into the business,” she said.
Meryl says it’s a tough business, one that’s marked by notable families that have been doing this for generations, but she shares the tips that have helped her blaze her own path.
“I would definitely suggest training in as many sports as possible. Whether it’s football, driving a car, riding a motorcycle, fighting –there are many different ways of fighting, movie fighting is definitely different than street fighting,” she said. “There’s a resource section in the back of the book that gives you locations to train for martial arts, sword fighting, driving and different things.”
If you’re already in fighting shape and curious on how to hit the pavement for jobs, Meryl walks through the process. “In Chapter 9 I talk about ‘Get the Job: This One and the Next One Too’ because the minute you’re done with one job you’re unemployed if you don’t have something else set up.”
For more information on Stunts: The How to Handbook Secrets from an Award Winning Hollywood Stunt Woman visit angela-meryl.com.
Follow Nakisha on Twitter: @Nakisha.