They crash cars, catch fire, ride bikes, fall from buildings and double for some of the most beautiful women in the movies – welcome to the world of Hollywood stuntwomen.
“Doing stunts isn’t glamorous, and it isn’t easy. All I want is to always strive to be just a little better, just a little smarter and just a little more prepared. That’s where I really get the satisfaction. What we do is a calculated risk – we don’t just go hurl ourselves out into danger”.
Meet Jessica Biel and Drew Barrymore – or rather, the person who doubled for them and did their motorbike stunt work – Irish-American stuntwoman Gloria O’Brien Fontenot. As well as her work in Blade III and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, she has worked in Constantine, The Italian Job, Spiderman 2, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Scream 3, doubling for Jenny McCarthy, Maria Bello and even Gwen Stefani in the No Doubt video “Ex-Girlfriend” along the way.
One of the founding members of the V10 Women Stunt Professionals, Gloria recently spoke to The Irish Herald about the industry, her Irish ancestry – “My Dad is part Irish, also German and American Indian. As with most Americans, we’re pretty mixed a few generations down” – and her career, which has been largely based in Los Angeles.
“I live in Riverside, California – lots of sunshine – and I was born and raised in the suburbs of the LA area. It’s all I’ve ever known. I started show business when I was six and did my first commercial. I had all the training and lessons at music, dance, 7 years of ballet and competed gymnastics. Stunts is kinda the “hybrid” of being raised in the business but really having my passion in sports”.
Gloria’s uncle was Cubby O’Brien, who was an original “Mousekateer” and is now a drummer on Broadway. Both her grandfathers were also professional musicians, and Gloria has two children, Michael and Megan, who have already acted in movies:
“My family has been really supportive. I was actually surprised, in the beginning, that they were so supportive of me in this choice. I thought they’d be completely against it, but they know how much I love it and they know how happy it makes me to succeed at something I’m so passionate about. My mom worries about it most, I think”.
Being a mother and working in dangerous career can be doubly difficult for women because their colleagues are usually exclusively male, but Gloria, a member of Frogmen Unlimited, has found a way to combat any jealously or sexism:
“It’s there in every business in some way I suppose. One of the worst things to do, however, is complain about it. The best thing to do is to train and be the best you can be, be nice about it, and it generally melts away. If you can’t do it yourself, then you shouldn’t complain if they say that there isn’t a woman who can do it! On set though, people are usually curious about what we do, and what kind of people we are that would do this for a living”.
Gloria, who is currently single, does admit that it can make for an interesting conversation or two when it comes to dating:
“I do find that it can be hard to find men who aren’t threatened by what I do and my lifestyle, who won’t at some point in time either have a hard time with certain stunts, be possessive or jealous about the time I spend at work, or that some of the things that may seem glamorous or whatever”.
With over 100 films, television shows and commercials under her belt and a recently-released CD “Fantasy”, she is delighted to see that through her efforts with V10, more women are coming into the industry:
“It’s great that there is a huge influx of new stuntwomen every year. Only a few of them end up making a career out of it, but it makes for an extremely competitive business. I’m very serious about my career and what I want to accomplish professionally and personally, and you have to have consistent focus, mental preparedness and a commitment to reaching your goals”.
When she is off-screen, Gloria likes to visit her favorite racing tracks, Laguna Seca and California Speedway, or be at home “hanging out with the kids and my dog”, but you can next catch her in the big-budget remake of The Poseidon Adventure, where she does a blazing fire burn:
“I also got hit by a car for the television series Criminal Minds, and I flipped over the front of a bike for a movie called Her Best Moves. I love stuff like that. I’ve really had fun lately!”
Hopefully there will soon be a chance for Gloria to film in Ireland, because although she doesn’t know of any direct family still living there – O’Brien is a common name in South West Ireland, especially County Limerick and Clare – she is still keen to visit:
“It’s on the list of places I still want to go. I usually try to wait until a job takes me somewhere, or close to somewhere I want to go, so… How about a film in Ireland, guys?”