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Waking hours with stunt woman... Eimear O'Grady


Eimear O'Grady. Photo: Tony Gavin

Eimear O'Grady. Photo: Tony Gavin

Eimear O'Grady. Photo: Tony Gavin

I live in Galway with my fiance, Declan O'Rourke. I stay there as often as I can, but my stunt work is usually based in Dublin, or in Ardmore Studios, in Bray. My parents live in Wicklow, so when I'm working, I stay with them. Usually I have very early calls, so I could be called in from 6am onwards. My Dad gets up very early and gives me porridge. But if I'm in a rush, I'll have breakfast at the studio.

At the moment I'm working on Penny Dreadful in Ardmore Studios. It's a psycho-sexual thriller made by the US production company Showtime. I'm part of the core stunt team for it. I double for the actress Eva Green. She has incredible mental and physical stamina, and she is very focussed. We get on quite well. She does most of her own stunt work, so I end up rehearsing fights with her. We want the actors to do the fights, and if it's something they can manage without any injury, they will do them.

On a day of shooting, I'll stand with Eva and shadow her. But sometimes they do a master take, where they use a stunt double for a fight. When that happens, I'm dressed exactly like her - my hair and make-up will be the same. They do an incredible job. We have the same build, too. Sometimes when people see me from behind, they shout, 'Eva, Eva', and when I turn around they say, 'You got me'. As a stunt woman, you have got to be the right kind of build. If you're fit, you'll probably be slim. The best stunt performers pay attention to detail. You have to study all of your actress's mannerisms.

I did bit of doubling for another actress and this was an identifiable stunt. It was a fire burn. It was a full-body burn and, to do this, we did 10 days prep work. I was set on fire from my toes all the way up to my face. I was wearing protective clothing - layers of leggings and vests, which are flame retardant. I had to make sure that there was no cream on my body, and that nothing was flammable - no hairspray or perfume. Then I had protective gel, which is very cold, all over my clothes. Over that, I wore a silicone mask and I had silicone gloves on too. Then I was set on fire.

I did it on breath, which means that I had no tubes for air. I was breathing and I watched the person who was lighting me coming towards me with a torch. As soon as it was dropped, I took a breath. I knew the amount of time they needed for the shot. I counted as I held my breath. If you start to breathe, you'll get the fumes, and then you create oxygen and the flames will come. I could see the flames, and they were all over. They go up very quickly. I didn't feel burnt at all. If anything, I felt cold, because we were on top of the Sugarloaf in Bray. It's all about preparation and keeping calm. At the end of the day, it's really about performing, so the flames should be the least of your worries. You have to remember that it's a performance for a camera, so it has to look good.

The first big stunt I ever did was a car knockdown for the BBC series The Silence. We did it in the Phoenix Park. I was running, and a car came from behind and knocked me down. I wasn't allowed to turn around to look at the car - this is called a blind knockdown. The first inkling I had that the car was going to knock me down was when I felt it on my calf. Then I had to go over the top of the car in a backwards somersault, and after that, I fell off the back of the car. I was wearing a harness, which helped with the somersault. I didn't feel any pain. I had to keep the adrenaline suppressed and not run too fast. I knew the mark where the impact was going to happen. I had worked out my steps, so I knew what foot I was going to land on. That's the sort of attention to detail involved. I was very nervous the night before, but on the day, calmness descends on you. It's going to happen, you're going to do it, and you just do it. I did the knockdown shot in one go, which worked out great, and the fire one only took three light-ups, so I was very happy with that.

I've done a cliff jump too, where I landed in the sea. Again, it's all about the preparation beforehand - once that's done, I have no fear of heights. By the time I did the jump, I was thinking about the character I was doubling. What way would she move? Would she be confident or scared? You're also busy thinking about things like hitting your mark in the sea.

The night before a stunt, I tell Declan that I will be working the next day, but I don't really go into detail. He hears about it afterwards. When I showed him the car knockdown scene a year later, he got such a fright. My mother is very encouraging; she says, 'You get in there, and go for it.' But my father will send me a text message saying, 'I see you got knocked down' with a sad face.

As a kid, I was a tomboy. I was big into swimming and springboard diving, but I ended up studying the cello. I have a BA in performance of classical cello and, for a long time, I worked as a freelance cellist. That's how I met Declan - I performed with him. Then I went back to study acting, and I loved the stage combat classes in our course. I got my first gig from that, and I haven't looked back. I make my living from stunts now. I've been doing this for eight years, and I absolutely love it.

When I'm working, the hours are so long that my work is really my workout. You could be lifting, pulling and fighting. I keep fit by swimming as much as I can. I would be very reluctant to go near weights, because I think they create short, stocky muscles, and a lot of the actresses that I see have long limbs.

I've collected a few bruises along the way, but nothing that would hinder my movement. Luckily, I've never been injured in any job. Stunts used to filter into my dreams, but I've learnt to switch that off. I've never lost a night's sleep over work.

Eimear is a member of stuntguildireland.com

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