Meet Heidi Moneymaker, Scarlett Johansson’s Stuntwoman
RealClearLife's adventure correspondent Kinga Philipps catches up with the Hollywood daredevil.
Watching the Marvel films you might catch yourself thinking that Scarlett Johansson is almost otherworldly in her athletic abilities as the Black Widow. Well, to be fair, the actress is no stranger to stunt work, but the heavy hitting part of the job belongs to her stunt double and one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stuntwomen, Heidi Moneymaker.
This dynamo in a small package is a 5’3” former gymnast whose resume includes some of the industries most intense stunts. An average day might consist of a 12-hour fight scene, falling from a burning building and the split second, precision-timed escape from a speeding vehicle. Not your standard cubicle fodder.
Dubbed one of the best stuntwomen in the world, Heidi has been kicking ass, literally, since 1999. She’s doubled for actresses like Drew Barrymore (Charlie’s Angels), Julianne Moore (The Hunger Games), Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious) Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Two), of course Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and an ongoing list that would fill this page.
She currently has 74 stunt credits under her (figuratively black) belt and more in the works. Here’s someone not in the market for an ergonomic office chair.
Cat-like would be a good description for this fierce femme fatale. Bad ass AF would also work if you’re inclined toward stronger expression of self.
What does one do to take such a regular lickin’ and keep on tickin’? Heidi is all about strength, agility and endurance. She trains in a variety of martial arts, gymnastics, running and yoga. If that’s not more than most of us will physically perfect in ten lifetimes, this real-life superhero has to be up on her motorcycle skills and driving abilities too.
With each new project Heidi trains to develop the body type of the actress she’s doubling and works with her on screen partner to create a specific style for the character. For Scarlet’s Black Widow they developed a Lucha Libre, brains over brawn fight technique to accentuate that she’s not a superhero but a real life spy who needs to outwit her opponents as much as pulverize them.
Is there no rest for the weary? Heidi gives herself a break on Saturdays and Sundays and spends time playing with Koa, the puppy she adopted from the set of Wolf Warrior II. It’s like she has her own dire wolf, which is somehow perfectly fitting.
I asked Heidi the most obvious question I could think of … what terrifies her… thinking I’d get back a diatribe on poorly organized falls from cliffs, blades coming at her features or speeds in excess of 200mph. What she said made me smile … “Someone telling me I had to sit behind a desk for a living.” Amen sister. Amen.
Oh yea…and that scar on her forehead. That’s from getting blasted through a window. Where the average mortal would call 911, Heidi calls it a Tuesday at the office.
How did you get started in stunt work? What kind of a background looks good on the resume of someone who is going to be a human walloping machine.
Heidi Moneymaker: I competed in gymnastics for UCLA and was introduced to the stunt world by a few ex-teammates who were making a career out of it. My first few jobs were basically just doing gymnastics, but over time I started training in different fighting styles, learning to fall correctly, learning to perform in a wire. I took driving courses and learned how to ride a motorcycle. So, I guess those are the things that look good on a stunt resume.
What was your very first stunt job?
HM: It was a TV show called The Amanda Show and I performed a bar routine.
Who have you doubled and what are some of the big stunt scenes people would recognize?
HM: I mainly double for Scarlett Johansson. We have been working together since 2009, so I have done a lot of Marvel, Black Widow stunts. I have also doubled for Michelle Rodriguez on Fast and Furious 4, 7, and part of 8. I have also played some of my own characters on CSI: New York, Captain America: Civil War, John Wick: Chapter 2, and a few others. IMDB.com has a complete list of credits.
What’s it like to be a woman in a very male-dominated space? Have you had to work harder to prove yourself?
HM: I did feel I had to work a little harder at first to prove that I could hang with the guys, but now I realize my biggest challenge is myself. I decided to train really hard and be really good, not good for a woman, but just really good.
Stunt work is also acting. You have to mimic the mannerisms of your characters and you have to look like them. How much work does that take?
HM: There is a lot of acting that goes into stunt work. Sometimes we play a character that has a few lines and a big stunt, but a lot of times we are acting as the actor we double in the film. The latter can be challenging. You have to learn to mimic walking, running, and moving like someone else.
We see these incredible stunts on film for a few seconds…maybe minutes…but in reality how many takes and how much time do these major stunts take to film?
HM: It really depends on the sequence and the film, but it can take weeks to film an entire scene. Fight scenes that appear on screen for less than a minute can take days. For example, one section of the opening fight scene in Captain America: Civil War where Black Widow slides a motorcycle and takes on a bunch of guys before getting blown out the back of a truck took over a week.
What is a good behind the scenes secret of on set stunt work? Charmin TP in the pants? flame retardant underwear?
HM: Well, if the costume allows, we try to wear some sort of padding when we are getting thrown down or blown out of trucks. The trick is finding something slim enough to fit, but dense and soft enough to cushion the blow a little. We often use ice skating gel pads under skinny jeans and tight shirts. If we are landing in the dirt, we take shovels and churn it up a bit, and often we use cardboard boxes to land in instead of airbags.
Who choreographs and oversees the stunts to make sure they are safe and organized?
HM: We have a stunt coordinator who oversees the stunts, hires everyone and keeps us safe. We also have a fight choreographer who creates all the fight scenes.
You’re beautiful and you’re also completely bad ass…do you find that that combo throws people for a loop? Like when you’re at dinner parties and people ask what you do for a living and you’re like, “I kick ass and get hit by cars, you?”
HM: Well, first off, thank you very much. I think people usually guess I am an athlete or in some line of fitness, but they are usually surprised when I tell them I am a stunt woman. They usually think it is a cool job and that I am crazy.
Any particular scenes that have really challenged you or stood out in your career?
HM: I was given the opportunity to perform a cannon roll in a car for the movie The Host. It is a maneuver in which an air pressured dowel sits above a hole in the back seat of your car with an operating button within reach of your hand. When you get to your mark, you hit the button and the dowel is forced into the ground, launching your car in the air and hopefully flipping it to your landing spot. My car flipped four times. It was one of my favorite experiences.
How do you prep for some of the more dangerous stunts … do you have a mental and physical prep regimen? Any good luck charms or music you listen to beforehand?
HM: It really depends on the stunt. For the car stunt, I prepared for months prior, rehearsing precision stunt driving moves and taking rally school courses. We also had about a week in New Mexico to rehearse in the actual car I was flipping before we filmed the stunt. With a wire move, you just keep working it until you feel it is safe and looks great. Fight scenes involve more physical training and “dancing” with the fight team. I don’t really have any good luck charms or fave music, but I feel a good nights sleep and healthy breakfast will get you a long way.
Where do you draw the line?
HM: I don’t do nudity and I don’t do dangerous animals or insects. I am also at a point in my career where I don’t really feel the need to get hit by a car anymore. That is not to say I would say no, it would just have to really be worth it. Like if I was doing it for free for my own personal project or something.
HM: Usually a nice glass of red wine and a hot shower.
What are your personal high-octane releases when you’re not working…or do you stay home and read a good book?
HM: I like to run and kickbox, but I also love a good book and some hot yoga. I am a big fan of balance.
What other hobbies do you have that people might not expect?
HM: I love reading and I am fascinated by health and nutrition books. My dad taught me the power of juicing when I was little and I love to get a bunch of fruits and veggies and spend an afternoon juicing. (Total Weirdo, lol.)
Everyone has a message they put out into the world through their words, actions and lifestyle. What is yours?
HM: Love what you do, be kind and humble, and always be true to the six-year-old inside you.
What future life goals do you have?
HM: I started a fitness company with fitness personality and great friend, Lisa Paul-Newman, called “Fierce Lotus Fitness.” I hope to be passing on my many years of fitness and nutrition knowledge to the world. I also really enjoy directing my own short films and fight scenes, so that is on the agenda as well.
Advice for anyone looking to get into stunt work?
HM: Learn the craft, train hard, and when you get an opportunity do everything you can to show you deserve it. You have to be tough and be able to take a bit of a beating as well as be able to perform at a really high level. Always work hard and be thankful.
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