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May 1, 2013

Risky Business


Photo Credit: TrujilloPaumier

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SAMANTHA MACIVOR, 37: The Stuntwoman
New York City

Time on the job: Nine years

Why she loves it: "The set feels like home"

Philosophy: "If you don't feel fear, you're not alive"

"I usually work as a body double for actresses who have physical roles or who require dangerous action on-screen. My skills include stunt and precision driving; stair falls; squibs—mini explosives to make it look like you're getting shot; fighting; and ground pounding, meaning I'm willing to hit the ground hard!

According to my parents, I always had natural athleticism. And I was the kid who fell down and got right back up. I took dance lessons my whole life, and in 2003 I was cast as an extra in a rave scene on Third Watch. I was mesmerized by the stunt people. I started trying out their equipment, like an air ratchet, a contraption that lifts you off the ground. But I soon learned that many stunts don't use equipment. Jumping off cliffs is just that—jumping off cliffs!

It took a few months to get my first stunt job—a riot scene for HBO's The Wire where cops were dragging, punching, and kicking people. Now I work regularly. I've doubled for Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: SVU, Edie Falco on both The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie, and for movie stars like Emma Watson and Scarlett Johansson. In the movie Zombieland, I was yanked out of a car and dragged on my stomach with a high-powered winch system. When I'm not on a job, I train, which means yoga, combat and dance classes, plus gymnastics. I work enough to have a solid salary, but each job has a different budget. Usually I'll get extra if I have to do the stunt more than a few times.

I've never been seriously injured—just some cuts and scrapes and whiplash. But I've been on set where people have been severely burned in fire stunts, and one woman nearly died after a car-crash stunt. In this line of work, there's always a risk.

My scariest stunt was probably one I did for a TV pilot that never aired. The shot was a woman grabbing a child from an apartment that was on fire and then falling from a 10th-floor window. I was in a harness, dangling from a crane with a 4-foot-tall dummy in my lap, and had to plunge 75 feet while attached to a rope. I was free-falling for about 40 feet before the rope began to slow my descent. It was intense.

There have been times when I've thought, Is this safe? But the only time I say no is when I'm already booked. I trust the teams I work with, so I just do it." —As told to M.W.

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