What a great honor it was to interview the amazingly talented Stunt Performer Jennifer Badger. She has worked on over 170 productions in the last 20 years as a Stunt Double (for Angelina Jolie, Courteney Cox, Kelly Greyson), Stunt Driver (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Talladega Nights), Stunt Performer (The Walking Dead, Ant-Man, Fast & Furious 7), and now Stunt Coordinator (The Originals, Complications). Enjoy!
Matthew Toffolo: How did you get into the stunt game? Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?
I was 13 years old and doing acting for Nickelodeon in Florida when learned about stunt work, took a weekend workshop, and started becoming interested in this more physical form of acting. I was a tom boy and had competed in gymnastics, swimming, and diving and the stunt industry really appealed to me. I auditioned for the Batman Stunt Show in Atlanta in 1993 when I was 16 years old and was hired on the spot. I nearly lost the job when they learned my age but my mother assured them that I had a work permit and that she and my father would support this endeavor. I thank God for my wonderful parents because this became the start of the career that I love. After training and working with the stunt performers in Atlanta, I was called for my first film when I was 17 years old as a show in New York needed a girl my size who could ride motorcycles and rollerblade well. The show was Hackers and the first actress I ever doubled was Angelina Jolie.
MT: You’ve worked on a ton of successful films (Captain American, Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, Ant-Man, to name a few). Do you generally work with the same crew? How do you usually get hired?
While there are several stunt teams that I am grateful to be a part of, I work with many different groups. When you first begin in the industry you have to really hustle and market constantly to keep your name and face in people’s minds. As you grow and develop in the market, people begin to know your work and word of mouth tends to generate a lot more work. For that reason too, I believe it is important to never get complacent and to have the mind set that you have to prove yourself each and every time you walk on a set. Having one bad day could potentially create negative associations so hard work and integrity have to be a constant.
MT: What job has been your most valuable experience so far?
That is an interesting question to answer because it truly shows what one values. I have had projects that brought forth great financial value but while I am appreciative, that isn’t the highest of my priorities. I’ve had shows where I was treated as a great asset and value to the production- treated like a star- and while that was nice, it isn’t necessary. I put the most value on the people that I work with and how they treat those around them. For that reason, I value most any project I work on for coordinator John Copeman, who treats everyone as equals, man or woman, and truly puts incredible care into each person’s safety. I also was so grateful to the core team members of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, because I had never before that worked a run of a film with a more thoughtful group of gentlemen who showed me respect both as a professional and a person. As I’ve grown in this business over the last 25 years and seen the harsh sides of it that tear people down, I’ve come to recognize and value the kindness and grace that I see in more and more of the other coordinators I work with and that is what I find means the most to me and what causes me to want to work with some teams over and over again.
MT: You have also done some stunt driving too. How does one train for that?
With a teachable spirit! Some people like to jump in and claim to be a stunt driver with very little on set driving experience. I was thrown into some hot spots when I barely had my actual driver’s license for more than a year or two (because I started so young) and so I always took driving very seriously. This is one of the few stunts that if something goes wrong, you could hurt a lot of others who did not sign up for the danger so I always approach it with that in mind and with a lot of though to prepping the car and knowing my ‘outs’. Having said that, there are a few driving schools that have a lot of wonderful training to offer and I encourage all stunt people to attend them. While I learned a lot in that way, I also had the opportunity to ride in with several of our top tier stunt drivers in the industry and I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut, learning as much as possible while in the car with them.
MT: Is there a type of stunt that you haven’t performed yet that you would love to do?
I’ve been up to roll cars (both by pipe ramp and cannon) on several shows but for budgetary reasons these are often the first stunts to get cut. While I’ve crashed cars many, many times, flipping one is definitely on the career bucket list. As I write this, I am scheduled to do so in about two weeks so fingers crossed that nothing changes.
MT: What makes a great stunt performer? What skills does he/she need?
Humility. The minute you think you know everything and stop learning from others, your growth stops and you have less to offer. The minute you think you are the best and quit training, you’ll be replaced by someone better. The moment you think that you are in control and nothing can happen to you, you’ll overlook a potential danger and get injured. We have such amazingly talented people in our industry and I’ve known from my first day that I am not, nor will I ever be, the best out there. Knowing and accepting that has caused me to work harder, train longer, and be very aware of my limitations which has always led me to be very honest with those hiring me about what I can and can’t do. Those traits have served me well over a very long and happy career. Being cocky leads to being complacent and that bodes ill for both business and safety.
MT: From your experience being in charge as the Stunt Coordinator, was has been the biggest thing you have learned to be very good in that leadership position?
That at the end of the day, I need to trust my own instinct about everything from how I want to cut previs to what safety procedures I want to put into place. I’ve had disagreements with others that I highly respect and value about how I want something done but my gut has never failed me. Over the decades I have always had a feeling when something was ‘off’ and the times I was injured it was because I failed to act on my instinct, trusting instead to what my elders told me was right. In hindsight, I see where I shouldn’t have acquiesced and now that I coordinate, I will always listen to the opinion of those that I trust however I will act on my intuition every time. Usually this has led to me being teased for being a ‘mother hen’ due to layering extra safety into a stunt however if everyone is going home healthy each night, I am happy to put up with the teasing.
MT: Is the stunt game still a boys club?
It unquestionably still exists… especially on the coordinating end. I have a small folder of letters threatening my personal safety. I was hazed by a group of stuntmen in LA when I was 18 years old and I have been assaulted twice- once left me with a broken bone- so as to ‘teach me a lesson about staying in my place.’ These things do nothing but serve to make me more stubborn to break barriers and thank God that my husband and son stand with me. Sadly, my son was witness to one of the assaults when he was 10 and, if nothing else, it gave him an awareness of the challenges women sometimes face.
And those situations are happening less- we have more and more female coordinators in the US and our Canadian peers are just rocking it! Having said that, the vast majority of our male counterparts are supportive and encouraging. It does make me appreciate more and more the women who went before us such as Julie Ann Johnson (see the book, The Stuntwoman) and others like her who must have faced so many more physical and verbal attacks.
MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you watched the most times in your life?
The Princess Bride. No question. I had a huge crush on Cary Elwes. But as I learned more about sword work over the years that movie was somewhat ruined for me. Wesley and Inigo are always meeting in the middle with no real intent to actually harm one another. On a fun note, I have now worked with Cary Elwes on two films. The last time he and his wife were about to have their first child and I spent a ton of time bragging on my amazing husband and advising Cary on how to earn a lifetime of brownie points by supporting his wife in the first few months. It is funny how life can work like that.
MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?
Riding passenger on a motorcycle doing very high speed, very close proximity gags with a ton of vehicles. Of course I was in a little shirt, short shorts, and sandals for the sequence so I had no protection if we crashed. I also did a transfer from the motorcycle to a car carrier at speed and then climbed to the top, loaded passenger in one of the cars, and we drove off of the top and down onto the road, spun out, and took off. I was surrounded by some of the best drivers that our business has to offer and at one point I was told, “you know if anything went wrong there I wouldn’t have been able to do anything to avoid running you over”. I agreed that the gentleman was correct and was grateful that I had such an amazing motorcycle driver. I’ve found that for me, the hardest gags are the ones where I have little to no control. I’ve been thrown into highfalls off of bridges and buildings which can be difficult if the person throwing you doesn’t send you off well. I’ve been burnt on a full body fire burn because my stage one safety person froze up when I went down and someone from much further away had to come in and put me out. And I’ve been passenger on a motorcycle for a head on crash when my driver was jacked up and completely out of control (I got injured on that one) so I’ve found that I’m appreciative when I can have some say in who is controlling my safety. Trust is huge in this business!
MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?
Obviously it has its place and that will continue growing. I have to say though that I’m still a sucker for practical stunts on practical locations that are either free from CGI or barely enhanced. A good example is the current Assassins Creed movie. The stunt double trained and worked up to this huge practical highfall which was fantastic. The final edit looks like a cartoon due to so much computer enhancement. I’m glad that they did indeed shoot a real person doing a real gag but it was ruined by what they did in editing.
Please visit www.JENNIFERBADGER.com for news, photos, and action reels
(Coordinating, Driving, Acting, Weapons, and Water Reels)
Four Time Nominee for the World Stunt Awards – 2001, 2003, 2007, 2012
Nominated for SAG award- 2009 “Public Enemies” & 2015 “The Walking Dead”
2012 Winner of the Action Icon Award
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in Toronto & Los Angeles at least 2 times every single month. Go to www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.