From Jennifer Aniston to Kit Harrington, highly regarded Irish stunt artists are doubling for the biggest names in film and TV
Aside from Tom Cruise, most Hollywood actors don’t leap with joy when they turn the page of a script and read about their character jumping from a burning building or getting clocked square in the face.
Most of them prefer to bypass the rough and tumble and call in the experts — the stunt doubles.
In Ireland, the demand for stunt doubles and artists has dramatically increased in the past five years. That’s not altogether surprising considering Screen Ireland reported a record level of film production in the country with a spend of €500m across film, television drama, documentary and animation production.
International production activity is growing by 45pc, which is why Adam Driver, Amy Adams, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (and his SuperValu bag) have all been spotted on location around the country.
According to stunt woman Orlaith Doherty, a member of Stunt Guild Ireland, international producers now know that members of the organisation “are well trained, established and experienced… we have got a name for ourselves”.
There is a real art to getting ejected from an exploding car, setting yourself on fire, or flying through the air in a marshmallow pink ball gown. Many leading actors, such as Jason Statham, have described stuntmen and women as ‘the unsung heroes’ of the film industry.
“[We are] not there to upstage anyone [we are] there to make them look good,” stunt artist Jordan Coombes says.
Growing up, Jordan, originally from Cork, was “a bit of a drama queen” with “Xena warrior princess” aspirations. She became interested in stunts while studying stage combat at the Gaiety School of Acting.
Last year, she acted as stunt double for Hollywood star Amy Adams in Disney’s Disenchanted which saw the village of Enniskerry transformed into a magical kingdom. Being surrounded by the fairytale realm was a welcome break from some of the “muddy period dramas” typically shot here, she says. “They had a lovely coffee truck every day because you cannot shoot a movie without caffeine — you’d be a fool to try.”
Jordan has previously worked on productions such as Reign, Penny Dreadful and Vikings. She says the latter was a particularly tough shoot. “That was a hard job… lugging all your gear to these remote areas in the mud and the rain. Then in Disenchanted you are in this big ball gown, and, no joke, there are fairytale animals — the most beautiful deer wandering around, and rabbits.”
When Jordan started out there was just one female stunt artist working in Ireland, Eimear O’Grady — who is considered a trailblazer in the field — but now there are around 20-30 female stunt artists in Ireland.
This reflects a global trend in the increase in stuntwomen as there has been a pushback against the practice of ‘wigging’ — getting stunt men to throw on a wig and do the stunts of female leads.
“It was a thing but it is not allowed anymore,” Jordan says. “If you are a female actress it has to be a female doubling unless it is something very, very specific and dangerous.”
Female stunt doubles often face complications that their male counterparts don’t have to — namely cumbersome costumes. Most costume designers will accommodate stunt artists by placing hidden elasticated panels in corsets to add greater mobility.
“But there are times you will have to wear a full corset dress with no give in it and high heels and go flying through a window and it is so hard,” Jordan says.
Many years ago she worked on a period production where she had to perform stunts while wearing black contact lenses, jagged false nails, high heels, a corseted dress and “wigs down to our ankles”.
Thankfully, things were not as demanding on Disenchanted.
“I had to wear a corseted gown. Even when they gave me panels of elastic it was still restrictive… you have acres of fabric around you that you have to manoeuver around and it throws your balance off if you are in the air.”
According to Jordan, Amy Adams, who reprises the role of Giselle, was a delight to work with, and appreciative of the complexities of Jordan’s job. Adams herself had done some wirework while playing the part of Lois Lane in Zack Snyder’s Justice League Trilogy. “So she knew her way around a harness,” Jordan says.
Being a stunt artist requires staying in good shape. “Most actresses are tiny,” she says. “Even smaller in real life than on film so if you want to work as a double you need to keep the weight down, which is really hard. Especially if you are working all over the country.”
Orlaith Doherty is one of Ireland’s most regarded stunt artists. She was Jennifer Aniston’s stunt double when she shot Murder Mystery with Adam Sandler, she doubled for Sophie Turner, and more recently acted as Jane Seymour’s stunt double when she shot Harry Wild in Dublin last year.
Orlaith got into stunts by chance. She grew up in a sporty household and was a natural athlete.
“My mam was the manager of The Great Outdoors and they started going up to Kilternan [so my mum] brought me up and I started skiing at three and then was representing Ireland in the Youth Olympics — we were outdoorsy people in general.”
She had initially wanted to pursue a career in the army and was in the reserves but when she left school, she decided to try auditioning for the Gaiety School of Acting.
During her time there she took an interest in stage combat. She has acted in a range of projects from Nightriders, and The Young Pope to 6 Underground with Ryan Reynolds.
Jennifer Aniston is the biggest name she has doubled for. “I am a Friends fan. I was a bit daunted but all of a sudden you go into professional mode… You’re just like ‘okay, I’m here to do my job’… you don’t think about it until afterwards when you pinch yourself. I did get to meet her a couple of times, she is really down to earth and a lovely lady.”
She also acted as a double for Jane Seymour last year when the actress fell on set and suffered a hairline fracture. “She handled that like an absolute trooper.”
Orlaith says it is vital to work with a team you trust implicitly. “There is a reason that they are considered stunts… [it’s important] that you trust the team and you know the preparation is there and you feel safe.”
Orlaith’s partner Marc Redmond is also a stunt artist and the two met while filming. Marc has worked in stunts for over 22 years. He grew up watching films with Jackie Chan and trained in martial arts before moving to China in his late teens.
Marc, who is also a member of Stunt Guild Ireland, has worked as a stunt artist in feature films and big budget TV series including Fate: The Winx Saga, Foundation, and Into the Badlands.
The most commercially successful series he worked on was Game of Thrones where he acted as Kit Harrington’s stunt double. “It was a big job and I suppose it was stressful at times. But Kit himself was great and I got on very well with him and it was an amazing experience,” he says.
“I was doubling Kit but I was also running around as one of the zombie characters and a Wildling — which is normal for stunts.”
The big battle scenes would sometimes be rehearsed 50 times before they were shot.
“For the big battles I was doubling a lot. In the first season I worked on ‘Hardhome’ when he was fighting the white walkers, that was probably my most enjoyable time. There were falls and getting thrown around the place. And ‘Battle of the Bastards’ was another big one.”
Kit did a lot of his own stunts. “It was only when he was getting knocked around that they would use me,” he laughs.