Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Angela Meryl Pens 'How To' Handbook On Stunts

By Darlene Donloe

Angela Meryl has literally kicked, fought and scratched her way to a successful career in Hollywood.

She’s appeared in numerous films and television shows, but the audience doesn’t have a clue about her identity. She’s worked with the likes of Beyonce (Obsessed), Halle Berry (Extant), Rihanna (Battleship), Sanaa Lathan (The Perfect Guy), Kimberly Elise (Dope) and Vivica Fox (Kill Bill) – but film and television fans have never seen her face – and for good reason.

That’s because for the last 14 years, Meryl has been a Hollywood stuntwoman.

She has bungee jumped, jumped off rooftops, fallen great heights from tall buildings, had numerous fist fights and ended up with her share of scrapes, bumps and bruises. And, this self-proclaimed tomboy loves every minute of it.

In what she calls a way of ‘giving back,’ the 5’7” veteran stuntwoman penned, Stunts: The How To Handbook, Secrets From An Award Winning Hollywood Stunt Woman, a tome on not only her career, but also a ‘how to’ for ‘would-be’ stunt enthusiasts interested in getting into the business.

I recently spoke to the New Jersey native and mother of one about her career, the book and what’s next.

DD: Lets start from the beginning. How did you get started doing stunts and when?

AM: I was a child playing around with my brother and his friend. I was doing things your parents don’t want you to do. You know, going for a ride on the hood of cars. I was on my brother’s hood, he stopped, I fell off. I hit my head. I was unconscious.  I was a tomboy.

DD: Is this in your blood? Do your sibling also like doing stunts.

AM: I have a brother and two sisters. None of them do stunts. My brother was a sniper. He’s a martial artist. He trains police. He’s in Maryland. He taught me a lot. It’s cool to have a brother who can do this stuff. We swap stories.

DD: What was your first stunt for pay?

AM: I did a film called, First Kid. The stunt was somebody bumping into me. It was about me giving a reaction.  Then, I was going down an escalator.  I had to get over my fear of escalators. I had a real fear of escalators. When I was a kid my shoelace got caught. I had to jump over the escalator while it was moving.

DD: How many takes to do the stunt?

AM: I think only three.

DD: How’d you get that gig?

AM: A friend was doubling Sinbad. It helps to know somebody in the business. It’s challenging if you don’t know anyone. I mean how do you start?  They don’t know anything. I wrote the book to help others get into business.

DD: How hard was it to really get into the business?

AM: I knew someone who was doing stunts. I still wanted to act. I wanted to do commercials. I did Dead Presidents with Larenz Tate. I had to drive down the street, make a left and stop.  That was my second job. Then I was recommended to do New York Undercover. From there I got another call to do something else. I didn’t know how lucrative it was. Didn’t know I could travel. My mind was expanding.

Angela Meryl and Beyonce in 'Obsessed'

DD: But you really wanted to act, right?

AM: Yes, I really wanted to act, but I knew I wanted to be physical. I wanted to model. I was doing catalog work and runway shows at the mall. I did makeup at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.

DD: How does one prepare to become a stuntwoman?

AM: In the book I list places to train.  Gymnastics makes you aware of your body. Your core is stronger. One day you’re hanging from wires or racheted back. Some people, like Debbie Evans come from Motocross. They needed a woman who could ride a dirt bike. Some stuntwomen come from gymnastics, some come from Nascar. Some come from martial arts.

DD: Who were your mentors when you entered the industry?

AM: I had a mentor named Jay Lynch.  I was doing indie driving. You’re the background, the traffic. They needed cars to fill in for the main car.  He had been in the business. He had done New Jack City.  He was the bicyclist on New Jack City. He was a Motocross person.  There was also Kym Washington and her dad, Richard Washington.  Kym doubled Whoopi (Goldberg) We sat down and she started telling me things. She led me along. I became her little sister.

(l-r) Angela Meryl and Rihanna in 'Battleship'

DD: What do you consider your big break?

AM: Shaft. That was my first big movie and I doubled Vanessa Williams. I got to meet more people from LA. It made a bridge for me to come out to LA.  Then I doubled all the girls on New York Undercover and Law and Order.   I finally moved to LA. I was here for eight months. I got V.I.P. with Pamela Anderson. I had to do a caddy girl fight. I’m used to fighting closed fist. She was a girly girl. Then Time Machine was a big break. There were so many stunts I had to do doubling Samantha Mumba.  Eventually I started talking to people and they started telling me about work.

DD: What should everyone know who is interested in doing stunts?

AM: They should buy my book.

DD: Give us an idea of what’s in the book.

AM: There is a dictionary of terms in the back of the book. I also talk about set etiquette, hustling and social media.

DD:  You’re a black woman in Hollywood doing stunts – is there racism in that part of the industry?

AM: Of course there is. I just don’t decide to feed it. It’s your choice. Are you going to sit at home and complain about it?

DD:  So, in your business, it’s who you know?

AM: A lot of this is word of mouth. When you get the first job, you need to be thinking about the next one.  It’s who you know for sure.  It’s been 14 years in LA. I get calls now from people I don’t know.

DD: So, give us a hint about what people should do.

AM: Go to 'Stunt Phone'. That's a website people search looking for stunt performers. They need to hustle and look for productions. You’ve got to get out and physically meet these people.

DD: Did you write the book to tell your story or to help others get into the business?

AM:  It’s both. I’m telling my story and giving info to people coming into the business. I talk about what I’ve done and what works for me. I talk about the good and bad about the business. You’re employed and then you’re unemployed. I had great mentors. Coordinators would tell me stuff along the way. It’s only fair to give back.

DD: How many Black female stuntwomen are there?

AM: The number is growing. There are about 12-15. More than that want to get in and don’t know how. There are about 10 of us actually working.

DD: So on average how much do you work?

AM: About 10 days a month. I did Fast & Furious 7, Extant – one day here and there.   Longest time I went without work was two months.  I also worked on Ride Along 2, The Perfect Guy, Dope and Aquarius. I’ve been working consistently since the beginning of the year.

DD: What has been the most dangerous stunt you’ve ever done? 

AM: I jumped out a building backwards. I was on the 33rd floor. It was fun.

DD: What won’t you do?

AM: I won’t do bungee jumping. Well, I should say, I won’t do it again. It was not fun. I was freefalling for 110 ft., that’s 11 stories.   I did it 4 times.

DD: How does a person prepare for danger?

AM:  It is dangerous. There are accidents and mistakes. I visualize first. Sometimes you don’t know until you get to work – what you’re doing. I visualize a lot. I visualize it step by step. I visualize the whole day. I always see myself going home to my daughter.

(l-r) Vivica Fox and Angela Meryl in 'Kill Bill'

DD: Stunt you’re most proud of?

AM:  Kill Bill is at the top of my list. I’m also proud of  Obsessed, The Perfect Guy and Fast 7. It’s my whole career. I’ve done a lot where I said, OMG, I want to do that again!

DD: I would think it’s just so long you can keep this up.

AM: I’m starting to get into cars. I’m doing 180 around corners and focusing on cars because I am getting older. Hitting the ground is not fun anymore.  I’m starting to get more car work.

DD: With everything you’ve done, what’s the worst injury?

AM:  It was on the movie, Kill Bill. I had to get stitches after going through a table.  I’ve been badly bruised – looking like I’ve gotten beat up. You need to have pads, like ice-skating pads.

DD: How long is the working life of a stuntwoman?

AM: it all depends on the person. How you’ve been taking care of yourself. After you’ve been slammed through glass, fall down the stairs – it can get tough. But you have to think about it. Do you take care of your body? Do you stretch? Do you exercise? For driving, you can drive into your 60s and 70s.

DD: What are the plus and minuses of being a stuntwoman?

AM: You get to travel. I’ve been to Hawaii, Turkey, Miami, Atlanta, Texas, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Connecticut. You could see the world. The minus is months without work. I have some friends that have worked one or two days a year.

DD: Do you care about awards?

AM:  I care.  It comes from your peers, your coworkers. It’s about people thinking you’re good at what you do. We want to compliment you. I feel honored.

DD: What’s next for you?

AM:  I’m doing Blue Bloods (CBS). I’m driving.

Twitter - @angelameryl
FB – Angela Meryl
Website: www.angela-meryl.com

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