Heroine for Hire: Meet Black Widow's alter ego Heidi Moneymaker

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Aug 11, 2016, 12:52 PM EDT (Updated)

Captain America: Civil War has grossed worldwide total of $1.152 billion, making it the top-grossing film of 2016 and the fourth biggest superhero film of all time. In addition to its phenomenal box office, Civil War was universally praised by both critics and audiences, holding a 90% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where it currently sits as the seventh best movie of the year.

The action starts almost immediately in Captain America: Civil War. Within minutes, Cap and crew have split up and are each actively in pursuit of Crossbones and his minions. The stunts are impressive, but perhaps none so much as Black Widow’s. She moves with almost lightning speed, sprinting, hurdling and pulling off a number of martial arts and gymnastics-inspired maneuvers that elicit audible gasps and “whoas” from the audience. “Whoever her stunt double is, she’s amazing,” my friend leaned over and whispered. Amazing is definitely one word for it.

The woman behind the super heroine is Heidi Moneymaker. She’s been Scarlett’s stunt double since her first appearance as Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2, and had an impressive resume long before it. But the Marvel juggernaut being what it is, Black Widow is her longest role to date, and one that has undoubtedly showed off the most of Moneymaker’s athletic abilities.

A former gymnast, Moneymaker competed on both the national stage, where she was the first woman’s uneven bar NCAA champion in UCLA’s history, and internationally in the 1999 World University Games, as well as being nominated twice for the prestigious Honda Award honoring the top female collegiate athlete. Talent aside, Moneymaker says it was luck that helped her parlay her college athletic career into a successful stunt career. Almost immediately after she stopped competing, she started doing commercial work as well as a couple of film and TV roles where she needed to do actual gymnastics routines.

Adding that varied training to her arsenal has paid off. She’s been steadily busy every year since, having done stunts for such films as Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle, Mr. & Mrs. Smith,  Serenity, Hancock, Fast & Furious, and Star Trek, as well as all her multi-film run in the MCU. Heidi’s schedule is as fast-paced as one of her impressive fight sequences, but we managed to speak to her multiple times via email while on location filming Civil War and after its release.

You went from a gymnast at UCLA to doing stunt work. How challenging was it to make this into a career?

I was very lucky to get into the industry the way I did.  As soon as I was done competing for UCLA, I started doing commercial work through a sports agent.  I was also handed a few jobs in the film and television world, doubling actresses doing actual gymnastic routines.  Many of my former gymnast friends hadn't trained seriously in gymnastics for years, so they passed the jobs to me.  I realized I enjoyed working in the film world and started training in fighting, high falls, air rams, and pretty much any other skill I thought I might need.

Your gymnastics background was clearly on display during a scene set in the bazaar; you had Black Widow vaulting over obstacles like they were a pommel horse. How much of Black Widow's fight style is influenced by your own athleticism? Can you talk a bit about what goes into creating such physically demanding sequences like that? Do you make any suggestions choreography-wise?

Black Widow's style has a lot to do with my athleticism and fighting background. There is a lot of trial and error when we are choreographing these fight scenes and we definitely like to incorporate moves that play to Scarlett's athletic strengths. I like to push the envelope a little. If it seems like an impossible move, I usually try to figure how we can do it. This often ends with me on my head, but sometime we create something even cooler than the original idea. Then, there is always the fitness aspect of these fights. You must be able to perform them all day long if need be, so we do a lot of strength and cardio workouts to prepare for long shoot days.



What is your favorite move of Black Widow's?

I like doing the big swinging Lucha Libre/judo inspired moves.  It is always fun using someone as a jungle gym.

You've mentioned in other interviews that Scarlett is very serious about training for her fight scenes and performs many of them. How do you prep a Hollywood actress - someone who very likely didn't compete as a collegiate athlete -for those scenes in such a short amount of time?

It is hard to say how you would prepare a hollywood actress for a film, because each film and each actress is different.  In a perfect world, your actress has some athletic ability and you have 6-8 weeks to train them and work fight choreography.  This doesn't always happen.  In the case of Scarlett, she is very dedicated to her job, and is always training with a trainer to stay fit.  That helps incredibly when we end up in a time crunch.  She has also been trained very well on each of her last movies, so she clicks in to choreography really fast.  I use the time I do get with her and break down her fight beats into small drills.  Usually, she picks them up immediately so we have plenty of time to work on her performance with and without the person she is fighting.  

You've been Black Widow since Iron Man 2 right alongside Scarlett. I'm pretty sure that's the longest run any stunt woman has performed in one specific franchise role. How attached are you to this character? Is there a difference in how you prep for her vs other roles?

I am not sure if Scarlett and I are the longest running duo, but we have been together a long time.  I prep for all the characters I work with by training the skills I will need to perform.  For example, in the film, The Host, I had to do a canon roll in a car, so my prep involved lots of precision driving and rally courses.  For Black Widow, I usually find a different martial art that fits the style of the character in the movie, and spend a lot of time practicing.  I do a lot of gymnastics work and strength training as well.

The number of roles aside, do you think it's easier or harder now for women to get into stunt work?

It can be easier for a woman to get involved in the stunt industry, as there are definitely more men out there wanting to get hit by cars and get in fights for film, but it can be difficult once you make it in. The costume is often tight, form fitting, or very short, and there is not much room for padding. (Luckily, most stunt coordinators out there take this into consideration and protect you as best as possible).  It is a bit more male dominated, so you do really need to prove your worth, so to speak.  There is a bit of a stereotype of stunt women not being as tough when doing stunts, or being there just because the role called for a female.  

What does an average training day look like for you when you're prepping for a movie? Can you also give us an idea of what an average day on set looks like?

An average prep day usually starts with us stunties coming in before work to get our workout in.  Then we rehearse.  It really depends what the scenes are, but usually it involves some fight choreography, training the actors, and wire work rehearsal.  An average shoot day... well, there isn't really an average shoot day.  We come in, get our hair, make up and wardrobe on/done and get to shooting.  I would say we work at least 10 hours.  Sometimes there is a lot of dialogue and we are there to support our actor in case they need a stunt pad or some direction in the action arena.  On fight shoot days, we are much busier and much sweatier.



For anyone who is interested in getting into stunt work, what fight training, etc would you recommend?

Basics in Kickboxing, judo, and wushu would be my recommendations for learning to film fight.  Then, you need someone who understands film fighting to train you.

Possibly the biggest risk to your career is injury. How do you keep yourself from minimizing that?

It is very important to stay strong and fit in my line of work. I train year round and do my best to keep my body in top shape.   A small, nagging injury can turn into a big problem if you don't take care of yourself.  It is also important to know and trust who you are working for.  You are putting your life in their hands daily.  

What is the most challenging stunt you've performed?

I think the most challenging stunt I performed was a cannon roll in a car on The Host. (Seen in Heidi's action reel below)


Have you ever had a stunt you couldn't perform? 

There are certain stunts I have turned down.  I don't do a lot of horse back riding, so I would pass the job on to one of my colleagues.

Did you have any fears you had to overcome when getting into stunt work?

The biggest fear I have at work is not performing well and not getting the shot.  So I just train really hard to make sure I do.

How much time do you take off between projects?

Time off really depends on the industry.  I like to take a month or two in between, but it is not really time off.  I usually train really hard and prep other projects.  I would say a good week of down time in between is necessary.

Ronda Rousey had mentioned her interest in playing Captain Marvel. Is acting something you have ever considered? How do you feel about superhero flicks casting women who actually look more like superheroes in these roles versus Hollywood actresses?

I think it is great to see female athletes enter the film world.  I have done a bit of acting and have always enjoyed it. I have been working on making a few short films of my own in the last couple of years in between getting to fight, fall, and fly as a super hero. I am getting ready to shoot one at the end of this month with Legendary, Zoe Bell, called No Touching.

I have always wanted to play a character like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. She became that character.  Totally believable.  I definitely like the idea of big films casting more athletic looking females for some of the more physical roles, but I am biased. 



Do you think Hollywood still has a stigma against athletic women's bodies?

I think they are casting who they feel is the right actress for the role.  When the right role comes along, and the right super athletic, talented actress, I think we will see more of a trend.

If you were to stop doing stunts tomorrow, what career would you do?

If I were not a stunt woman I would be doing exactly what I am doing in the fitness world.  I am starting an online fitness company called Fierce Lotus, with my long time friend and fitness model, Lisa Newman.  We are trying to create a tribe of empowered women who wish to be in shape and healthy. You can check out our Facebook page for fitness and nutrition tips.

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