In Conversation with Rachelle Beinart

by: , June 18, 2020

© Rachelle Beinart at work

Harriet Worsey meets Rachelle Beinart to discuss a range of behind-the-camera topics such as workplace sexism, training and unconscious gender bias, alongside the importance of inspiring the younger generations to pursue a career in stunt performance.

Rachelle Beinart is a professional British Stunt Performer and actress. She has worked on various blockbusters, including Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), Star Wars, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), and most recently, Wonder Woman 1984 (2020). Beinart’s acting credits include playing the role of Po in the reboot of Teletubbies (2015-2017), as well as a Child of the Forest in Season 6 of Game of Thrones (2011-2019). Stunt performance has always been an underrepresented or silent field within the film industry. This interview is an attempt to give female stunt performers a voice and to offer these incredible women the recognition they deserve for their work.

 

MAI: As a Stunt Performer, what does your job involve?

Rachelle Beinart: A little bit of everything. Usually doubling an actor or actress or playing myself on a film or television show. I’m used for the action sequences, which involves everything from falling down the stairs, to being hit by a car, to being set on fire, to getting into a fight. At times we will rehearse and teach a stunt safely to the actress. If they’re on wires for a flying or falling scene, we would always help them with their harness and ensure their comfort and safety.

MAI: What inspired you to become a stunt performer? And then how did you end up as a stunt woman?

RB: I was one of those people who had no idea what they wanted to do! I went to University to study History and then did a MA in English. It was during this time that I started attending an adults training session at a Gymnastics Club. I had trained as a gymnast when I was younger and wanted to see if I could still flip around. I met quite a few stuntmen at this Gymnastics Club, and it opened up my world to many new possibilities. I had already trained in Kung Fu at University and could also ride a horse, so I had a few ‘sporty’ disciplines under my belt. So, I decided to move home, to save some money and start my training for the British Stunt Register. I qualified in 2011 and have been working as a stunt performer ever since.

MAI: How fit and healthy do you have to be to pursue a career in the field? Do you have to go through any specific training regimes?

RB: I think it’s in your interest to be as fit and healthy as you can be for this profession. To be capable of some of the stunts and to repeat them six or seven times and to recover quickly from any injury you might get, being healthy is part of the job, or at least it should be. Health has always been a big part of my life; I’ve been vegan for many years and many of the other stunt performers are as well.

To qualify for the British Stunt Register you have to be tested in six disciplines up to a very high level and have experience of live show performance or film work. It can take between three to five years depending on how many skills you already have and how much time you can dedicate to the training. Once you’re on the BSR you can get hired by a Stunt Coordinator who will have access to your skills, photos and measurements to see if you’d be a suitable double or performer.

MAI: What’s the worst injury that you’ve had?

RB: I’ve been lucky compared to some people in the industry. The worst I got was a partially dislocated hip and whiplash. The hip was due to a shot, where I was supposed to be picked up by a guy on a cantering horse, but the horse bombed off too fast and he dropped me and rode over me. I’ve sprained my ankle a few times and put my back out once or twice. It’s important to know a good chiropractor to help you as soon as you get injured so you can recover quickly and get back to work. Also, so you don’t end up living with a long-term injury.

© Rachelle Beinart at work

MAI: What is it like to be a woman in the industry?

RB: Fun, exciting and maybe even a little competitive? There are quite a few of us now who are fighting for the same roles. Yes, it had always been known as a very male dominated industry, but times have changed and we have some amazing, respected female stunt performers and stunt coordinators now. I would go as far to suggest that being a woman in this industry is probably very similar to being a man. I do experience the odd thing where, if they need a couple of us to get smashed against a wall, the coordinator might ask a couple of the guys first, as they feel they’re being nice by trying to ‘save us from being hurt’—but then the next day we could be doing a stunt where we get hit by a car. The Stunt Coordinators differ slightly, perhaps depending on how long they’ve been in the industry. However, I find overall, the expectations of skill level and performance between the men and woman is generally the same.

MAI: How does your experience as a stunt woman change with each job?

RB: My experience as a Stunt Performer changes with every job. My experience as a woman is generally the same but can differ depending if I’m working with forty or fifty guys for two months or with a mix of five guys and five girls. With a large group of guys, they’re on the whole really lovely and treat you like one of the guys; you have to put up with a lot of male humour, but you come to expect that when you put a group of guys together, especially ones who love to be set on fire and fall off buildings for a living. The intelligence of their conversations tends to drop a few levels after that!

MAI: What do you love most about your job?

RB: I love the constant changes. I worked in an office everyday whilst training for the British Stunt Register and the monotony of the 9 to 5, sitting at a desk, wasn’t for me. Being in different locations, having different call times and different outfits, chatting to new crews and catching up with crew members you worked with on a job two years ago is all great fun. I love that when I have time off, the best thing I can do for myself and my job is train. Train gymnastics, martial arts, horses, go down the gym – anything sporty counts.

MAI: What do you fear most about your job—stunt related or not?

RB: I haven’t said no to a stunt yet, but I have had quite a few that have made me nervous. I guess the main fear for most of us is getting an injury. To be too injured to be able to continue our careers, I think a lot of us would be a bit lost. Like a footballer, there is only so long you can be performing the bigger, higher impact stunts before your body tells you to stop. In our industry you can work up and progress to become a Stunt Coordinator but that can be a scary transition for many people. To stop performing and suddenly oversee many other performer’s safety is a huge ask.

MAI: Do you have to go through extensive hair, makeup and costuming as a stunt double? If so, does this affect your stunts?

RB: Yes, and yes! It can differ but when you’re doubling a character, more often than not you’re in a wig—this in itself is time consuming to put on. I am small in stature, so I tend to double a lot of kids, boys or girls. So, I might be in a short wig (and I have long hair to fit underneath it) which isn’t always comfortable, and I might be covered in mud and blood for the stunt. Doubling boys, I get to wear jeans, hoodies etc, which is great. Doubling girls, I might be in a nightie whilst falling out a two-story window or crashing downhill flying over the handlebars of a bicycle—landing on concrete without being able to fit many of my pads underneath. Generally, we try to chat to costume etc and if a bigger stunt is involved they will do their best to endeavour the actress is wearing long trousers and long sleeves for that scene, so we can fit pads underneath that can be hidden. I’ve even rehearsed a gymnastic style stunt but then struggled to perform it whilst in costume as the shoes were too slippery and the outfit was skin-tight and I couldn’t bend. Adjustments must be made sometimes.

© Rachelle Beinart at work

MAI: What’s your best stunt story?

RB: I’ll give you a couple, as one is more ‘stunty’ than the other. In Season 6 of Game of Thrones I played a Child of the Forest. There were six of us, five stunts and one actress all in prosthetics for the role. We had seven hours in prosthetics and hair, from 1 am to 8 am, then a ten-hour day, followed by an hour de-rig and travel back to the hotel in Belfast and getting three hours sleep before doing it all over again. We had full eye lenses and there was a lot of smoke on set so we could barely see anything and had to fight the white walkers. Needless to say, it was one of those jobs that you had to push through as a team and support each other. I’ve never seen stunt performers passed out on the floor in a walkway, trying to get a 10-minute kip between shots before. Then ramp up the energy when you were on set and they yelled action. This was filmed on and off over 6 weeks—it made about fifteen seconds in the show!

Another story that comes to mind is when I did an advert for the NSPCC. I had to do a 40ft high fall in the middle of an airfield into an airbag. It was February and snowing sideways. I was in a short wig and a boys school uniform (the boy was falling through the sky in the shot). It was so cold and windy that I was cuddled between two guys on top of the scissor lift and as soon as the wind died down enough that they could ensure I would safely make the airbag I quickly threw myself off the top. Only to repeat it twice more, spending more time being cuddled to stay warm, 40ft in the air than doing the fall. The things we put ourselves though.

MAI: Do you think it is just as difficult to get into the stunt industry as a female?

RB: There’s no difference if you’re female or male. The qualifications (bar slight differences in the male and female apparatus in gymnastics) are the same for either sex. If you can complete the qualifications successfully and to a high level, you’ll be accepted onto the BSR. If the film or TV show requires many performers for a battle scene, unless it’s period and requires only men then the Coordinator tends to hire a mix of performers. There are a lot of roles for females with all the female led shows at the moment, so the opportunities are there for us.

MAI: What do you wish more people knew about being a stunt performer?

RB: The amount of work that goes into a three-second shot. From a two-hour stint in hair and makeup at 5 am, to dealing with, at times, uncomfortable costumes to performing a stunt in possibly freezing, boiling or almost blind conditions—multiple times. You might go home feeling bashed up, in need of a good stretch and a hot bath feeling pretty proud of the stunt you did that day, only to go to the cinema to find it’s been cut or edited so much that you can’t even see the severity or danger of the stunt. To rehearse a stunt for so long only not to see the end result make it into the film is pretty gutting, as we’re all movie lovers and this is our contribution to them. Yet, at the end of the day, it’s also our daily job and we can still go home feeling good that we did a good job that day, whether or not it makes it into the movie.

© Rachelle Beinart at work

MAI: What advice would you give aspiring stunt performers?

RB: Don’t go looking for shortcuts. It’s not all glitz and glamour in the film industry, so if you’re passionate about being a part of it then put in the work and do every skill to the best of your ability. If you rush through to try to make it as a stunt performer then it’ll show when the auditions come around. Those who work hard and stay genuine, no matter how successful they get, are the most popular to hire and the ones you love to work with.

MAI: Have you personally experienced sexism within the workplace?

RB: You know, you hear about it a lot and I know in recent past some stories have come out in all parts of the workplace. My personal experience has been really great. I get on well with many of my co-workers and when the odd comment gets thrown about, I’ve only ever known it to be in jest. You have to have a good sense of humour and backbone in this industry, but not because you’re dealing with a lot of sexism but because you’re dealing with a huge amount of people on each job and everyone has something to contribute whether it’s advice or a cheeky sense of humour to keep you going through your twelve hour work day! However, my experience might be different to someone else’s.

MAI: Do you get equal workers’ rights? Are you paid the same amount as your male counterparts?

RB: Yes, both male and female get paid exactly the same. The pay only changes as you become a Stunt Coordinator and can differ between productions but that comes down to budget and affects all performers.

MAI: How would you/what are you doing to inspire the next generation of stunt women?

RB: I would love to think that any videos or pictures any of us put up on social media are enjoyed by aspiring stunt performers. I’m attending a school in December for Careers day; I was asked by a friend of mine who is a teacher there to give a talk on what I do and how I got into it. As a female stunt performer. I think it’s important for kids to know there are other opportunities for them out there to earn a living other than just following an academic route, which is what they tend to push in school. I know I would have loved to have discovered it sooner in my life, so I believe it’s important to attract anyone out there with the right talent or potential to come and make our industry even more exciting by showing what they can do on film. The threat of CGI taking over stunts is always hanging over our heads so the more we can push ourselves to be better and more creative with our talent, male or female, the right people would always be welcome to become the next generation of stunt performers.


REFERENCES

Films

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), dir. J.A. Bayona.

Rouge One: A Star Wars Story (2016), dir. Gareth Edwards.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), dir. Patty Jenkins.

TV series

Game of Thrones (2011-2019), created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (8 seasons).

Teletubbies (2015-2017), created by Richard Bradley (2 seasons).

 

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