Crash Tested

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Women Outside, Fall 1998

Crash Tested

Hollywood's most brazen stuntwomen demonstrate how to dress for the fall (and the car wreck ... and the explosion ... and the 20-story leap)
Fashion by Vicky McGarry, Photographs by Andrew Eccles, Text by Sarah Horowitz

"Fear is the thing that keeps you alive," says Tricia Peters, who has been a stuntwoman for 12 years and has yet to break a bone. Peters, who will be falling and fighting in Kevin Williamson's newest film, Killing Mrs. Tingle, doesn't consider herself brave — just extremely secure in her abilities. "I'm more comfortable hanging off a ledge by my hands than by a cable. If my hands are slipping, I'll know it," she explains. "If the cable is fraying, I won't." Still, you've got to have cast-iron ... uh ... nerves to fall four stories into the back of a moving truck full of fake cat litter, as Peters did for Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns. But like Catwoman, Peters has found that super abilities don't necessarily do wonders for one's social life. "It's hard for me to make plans ahead of time," she admits. "There's no such thing as knowing when you get off work." Peters gets a jump on L.A. in a sleeveless crop top, $28, and nylon/spandex tights, $42, both by Fila, and Habanero shoes, $75, by Fila Outdoor.

The fact that Maria Kelly spends her downtime doing the same stuff that brings home the bacon — swimming, skiing, four-wheeling, horseback riding — suggests a bit of a masochistic streak. "The hardest thing is doing a stunt that hurts so much," she says, "and then the director says you have to do it again." Thus far, she's been tagged by a car, hit by a truck while cycling, smashed into a windshield, thrown out of a limo onto cement, and nearly trampled by a horse. "You just have to keep enjoying your work, even when your body hurts," she says. "Which I've been doing for years." Not one to sit still for long, Kelly — who did stunts for this summer's vampire-pic Blade and doubled Teri Hatcher in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman — is having a blast training to do daredevil-cycling for USA Network's cops-on-bikes show Pacific Blue. Kelly gets smoked out in a long-sleeve mock turtleneck, $58, and black cotton/Lycra tights, $50, both by DKNY Jeans; Equipment Davos sneakers, $85, by Adidas; and a Humvee watch, $60, by Timex.

"You really have to understand physics and geometry; thank God I went to college," says Jane Austin, who owns a stunt equipment company, Hollywood Stuntworks, with her husband, Kurt Lott. "Our think tank is the Jacuzzi," she says, laughing. "There hasn't been anything that's stumped us." You can thank their "gray-matter work," as Austin calls it, for the Titanic scene in which half the ship gets vertical, sending passengers crashing over impediments to their doom. Fittingly, the couple met atop an L.A. skyscraper, where Lott had devised special equipment to allow a stunt double to fall 50 stories and still land softly. "He wanted me to go first," Austin recalls. "I said no way." This season Austin doubles one of the leads in V.I.P., Pamela Anderson's new series about a hot dog vendor who's mistaken for a celebrity bodyguard. (Yup, you read correctly.) "But I do the smart one," Austin confides with relief. "No skimpy outfits." Austin is explosive in a cotton and Lycra ribbed sweater, $115, black nylon ski pants, $165, and nylon quilted jacket, $185, all by DKNY Jeans; Aqua Sport sneakers, $65, by Rykä; and a G-Shock Riseman thermometer watch, $250, by Casio.

Picture two semi trucks barreling down a winding dirt road, a copter circling overhead. Now put a stuntman on top of one truck and Suzanne Rampë on top of the other, with no safety wires. A gnarly setup for a measly tennis-wear commercial, but there's more. "We had to be playing tennis!" says Rampë, who adds that she and her rooftop colleague ultimately got in 15 truck-to-truck volleys in one rally. She's often behind the wheel herself, most recently performing precision driving stunts in Lethal Weapon 4. The most outrageous stunt she was ever offered? To be launched by air ram — sort of a souped-up trampoline — completely naked. ("Of course I turned it down," she says demurely.) Here, Rampë braves the flames in an InSIGHT Cycle Jersey, $75, by InSport; parachute pants, $58, by CK Calvin Klein Jeans; and racerback bra-top, $19, by CK Underwear by Calvin Klein. Raid Runner shoes, $110, by Salomon. FreeStyle digital watch, $65. Ring by Pamela Lazzarotto, Vintage Revival Accessories.

Even though her father is a stunt coordinator, Michelle Sebek was steered clear of the business until her late teens. "My dad didn't want me to become a stuntwoman," she says. "He did teach me how to drive, how to do 180s ... but just for fun." Nevertheless, Sebek dived right in at 18 and has since doubled dozens of actresses, including Lisa Kudrow in Romy & Michele's High School Reunion — Sebek took the car hit — and Sandra Bullock in Speed 2. Sebek also has an ongoing gig on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, doubling Buffy's wallflowery best friend, Willow Rosenberg. "I want to play a vampire," Sebek says wistfully. "They get the active scenes — and the funky yellow glass eyes." Sebek plays hood ornament in a black Powerstretch zip-neck top, $125, and black Powerstretch tights, $125, both Ralph Lauren Polo Sport, and shoes by Nike.

For three years, Francine Morris devoted herself to competitive kickboxing. "I basically lived at the dojo," she says. Her black belt has come in handy: Not only does Morris use those skills during stunts; she also coordinates most of her own fights. "You're constantly having to prove yourself," she says. Morris needed all the confidence she could muster for her iffiest stunt ever, a backward crash though a window 30 feet above ground. "I went into the fall knowing that I might not go home," she remembers. "But I exploded through the window, and everything was beautiful." This November she appears in American History X, a film starring Edward Norton as a skinhead who tries to steer his brother down a better path, and also doubles Angela Bassett in the thriller Supernova. Here she shows off the fruits of her training in a reversible Polartec vest, $65, navy tights, $50, and Equipment Vapor sneakers, $90, all by Adidas; and a Tigershark watch, $65, by FreeStyle.

Photographs by Andrew Eccles

Where To Find It
Adidas America, 800-423-4327; Calvin Klein Underwear available at select Macy's, Bloomingdale's, and Dayton Hudson stores; Casio, 800-962-2746; CK Calvin Klein Jeans available at select Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores; DKNY Jeans, 800-231-0884; Fila, 800-776-3452; FreeStyle, 800-776-6449; InSport, 800-652-5200; Ralph Lauren Polo Sport available at Macy's; Bloomingdale's; and Polo Ralph Lauren, Beverly Hills; Rykä, 888-834-7952; Salomon, 800-225-6850; Timex, 800-367-8463; Vintage Revival Accessories, 310-820-1995.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Need a Gear Fix?

Open email. Get latest gear. Repeat.

Thank you!