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Topless Robot Interview: Zero Dark Thirty and Highlander Stuntwoman Gaelle Cohen

Posted by Levine Communications Office on March 15, 2013

By Luke Y. Thompson

I’ve interviewed many a director and actor in my day, but when it comes to so many of the movies we like, there’s a key reason they kick ass figuratively and literally that I’ve never really been able to explore: the stunt people.

It’s a fascinating world they inhabit, in which life and limb are put on the line every day, not for queen and country, but for the sake of entertaining us all. So when the chance came to speak to stuntwoman Gaelle Cohen – whose credits include Zero Dark ThirtyBrotherhood of the Wolf and Martyrs – came up, I took it. I think you’ll be glad I did. Read on to learn about the differences between realistic and stylized action, the superheroes she likes and would like to be, and how stuntwomen really feel about Quentin Tarantino turning Zoe Bell into a lead actress.

Luke Y. Thompson: You got your start on Highlander: The Raven, right?

Gaelle Cohen: Yes, I did, in Europe. It was shot in Europe. It was shot in France, mainly, and that’s how I started with swordfights.

LYT: Did you always know this was what you wanted to do?

GC: Not at all, total coincidence! I had finished law – to become a lawyer – and then I worked on a show where stunt people were working, and they were rehearsing a fight, a swordfight, and we became friends. I said, “If you want I can train you. I can put a fight together for you,” because they had an audition; they were preparing for an audition. So they said “Yes,” we put up a fight together, and train them, and off they went to their audition. And then one day I received a phone call, and it was the coordinator of their show who wanted to meet me, because he really liked what I did. So I said “OK, I’ll meet you, but I have no idea what your job is. I’m not at all in the movie industry.”

That was 16 years ago already. I met him, and he said “I’m doing a show called Highlander, and there’s a lot of swordfights. Would you like to work with me?” I said, “If you think I could do a good job, yes. Otherwise, no.” So I started doing fights, doing all the bad girls in there, all the females who were killed, and so I got addicted. I thought, “My god, this is what I want! This is really what I want to do.” So I trained for a year and a half. I learned everything and anything that could be useful for stunt work, like, I did the national circus school; I was already a very good horse rider; I was doing shooting and stuff like that. I trained martial arts, trampoline, all that, diving, then after a year and a half, I started working and I never stopped.

LYT: How did you know how to put together that first swordfight? Did you just make it up?

GC: Well, I was – that’s the thing I forgot to tell you, I should have started with that – I was on the national fencing team for many years; I’m a national champion. So fencing was natural for me, I was doing it every day, five hours a day, so that’s why it was natural for me.

LYT: Is there a gender bias? Do you mostly work with guys, or has that changed?

GC: In the past, many, many years ago, there were not so many stuntwomen; in the ’60s, not so many stunt women. So men were doubling for men and women. And then women became more interested and started training. So then it became, why wouldn’t women be able to do what men are doing? So they started training, and they started being respected by coordinators who thought that finally women could do the job, and it actually looks better than the men with the wig, because he’s not shaped as a woman! So it became natural for woman to double woman. It’s still a very manly world, but women have a big place, a big influence. In the stunt coordinating world, I read that there’s not, there are barely women, so I’m super happy to be one who is coordinating, which is really rare, because it’s still very manly.

 

Read the rest of the interview at Topless Robot

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