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Wonder Woman came out in Brazil last thursday, June 1º, and was very well received by both critics and public — something DC has not been able to do since Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The success brought US$223 million in ticket sales worldwide up to now and it has become the biggest opening for a female director in the United States. Unlike Batman’s origin story, which has been told in movies just about as many times as there’s been Batman movies, this is the first time we got to see a big screen version to Wonder Woman’s beginning. Gal Gadot, who had conquered us in her smaller part on the big mess that was Batman v Superman, restates her charismatic performance, and once again, is a shining light amidst DC’s recent filmic missteps.
Although Gal Gadot is an incredible actress and is in great shape, it wasn’t her alone who embodied Wonder Woman in this production. Some scenes are too dangerous or require specific skills to be executed so perfectly on screen that they demand a life dedicated to those activities. And that’s when the stunt team steps in.
Stunt work tends to be inglorious. They do the most dangerous scenes, making a huge impact on screen, but without getting their names or faces recognized by the audience. That’s part of the job, since movie magic is precisely to make it all look like it was done by the same person. Still, all of us who love action films long to know more about the stunt people and the tricks they do to make such thrilling scenes on the big screen. For that reason, Sétima Cabine is starting a series on the subject, and what a better starting point than the hotest superhero movie of the hour? We had a chat with Alicia Vela-Bailey, stuntwoman on the crew of Wonder Woman and one of the stunt doubles for Wonder Woman herself and she shared her experience and some of her pictures from the set with us. Welcome to the first of a series of articles on stunts for film.
Aside from working on Wonder Woman, Alicia was part of the stunt department for James Cameron’s Avatar, did stunt double for Kate Beckinsale on the Underworld franchise and was also a stunt double for Anne Hathaway on Interstellar.
“For this film I had to eat and workout differently than I normally do. I naturally have a ballerina/dancer body frame. We needed to transform our bodies to become strong amazon warriors” Alicia tell us about prepping for the job “All the women on this film had to do the same thing. It made us grow closer with each other. And we were there to support one another throughout it all which was very cool.”
Alicia grew up in Hawaii, on the Oahu Island. From an early age her parents encouraged her to do dance and gymnastics. “The thought of doing stunts never crossed my mind growing up. Didn’t really know what it was to tell you the truth. But because of my height, size, dance & gymnastics skills it really helped me stand out and get into the stunt business. My dance skills come in handy with any choreography I am given. Whether it’s fights, weapons or wire work. Being able to adapt to the movement I’m given and to learn choreography fast. The gymnastics background comes in very handy with any flips, wire work, body/air awareness and toughness of this job, giving me the ability to crash and get back up right away to do it over and over again.” Although we usually associate stunt work with martial arts, there is an array of skills involved that can come from many different activities.
It’s quite usual to see stunt people with dance background, like Alicia, and some gymnastics is nothing short of mandatory to be able to be a good stunt person for film. “You learn how to trust and believe in yourself while under pressure of competing and performing. It’s a skill I didn’t realize I was learning at the time, but I am very happy and proud that I did learn all these things from both dance and gymnastics.”
Besides changing food and workout habits to get the amazon body for the movie, being in the stunts department of Wonder Woman also had another unique detail. “Usually on most stunt shows I’ve worked on, it’s all guys and one woman, maybe two or three other girls if you’re lucky. But this film was different. The majority of the cast and stunt department were women. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of men as well. But this was the most women I have ever worked with at once, and it was so amazing!” The film is also the first superhero film with female protagonist in over ten years and the direction is headed by a woman. “Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins were so much fun to work with. They are both so inspiring in their own ways. I just felt very honored and lucky to have been able to have been a part of this project and work with all these amazing women!”
Aside from being filled with talented women, Wonder Woman production was also a superhero movie. It needed to simulate all sorts of different superpowers, and for that there can be used a few traditional and modern techniques to simulate them for the big screen. The CGI — Computer Generated Graphics — are one of those techniques. Alicia tells us a little on how that impacts the work of a stunt person. “It can be tricky fighting a cgi character at times. But if you have a good imagination it can be a lot of fun! For me it was like doing a dance. I don’t mind dancing by myself and pretending like I have a partner. So for that reason I was able to pretend I was fighting a character that may not have been there or may have been a different height or size that it will be in the film. It’s kind of a small challenge at times, but that’s what makes it fun!”
From what we are being told, being on the set for Wonder Woman sounds like an unique experience, and Alicia adds one unexpected outcome from it. “The costumes for all these women were amazing and you felt so strong and empowered just wearing these outfits.” After shooting for many hours under the italian sun, when they were done and left set and could get some rest, something new could be seen. “We had the most random and strangest tan lines ever! It was very funny to see everyone out of costume with all the crazy tan lines.”
After this brief spying behind the curtains on the life and works of a stunt person on such a big production like this one, we hope you are starting to have a notion of how much work and effort is put behind these awesome scenes. There are more interviews and articles on stunts for film coming, both following current productions and stories from old ones. Come back for more soon!