James Bartlett channels his inner daredevil meeting Irish-American stuntwoman Kelly Róisin, who features in Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story.
In 2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we followed the story of fading actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend/stunt Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) during a notorious year in Tinsel Town.
It was perhaps the biggest on-screen role a stuntman (albeit a fictional one) has had in recent years, but if you think about your favorite movies, there’s probably a great scene or two that always featured a stuntman or a stuntwoman.
We often hear when Tom Cruise, Gal Gadot or Daniel Craig bravely take on a stunt challenge, but most of the time it’s a stuntperson (or even a specific stunt double) who takes the risk – and stays rather a hidden part of moviemaking.
Used since the beginning of the movies, stuntpeople rarely get their face on screen, but it doesn’t mean they’re any less dedicated to acting, and in the last decade or so of high-concept action/superhero movies, there’s been an ever-louder voice asking why the Academy Awards still haven’t introduced a category to honor the people who fly, fall, kick, punch, ride and crash.
The documentary Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story, which came out on 22nd September, should change that. Narrated by Michelle Rodriguez (Fast & Furious series), and directed by April Wright, it looks at the evolution of stunt women from the early days of The Perils of Pauline (1914) up to today, and how they have fought not just in front of the camera, but also behind it, to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts.
One of the stuntwomen featured in the documentary is Irish-American Kelly Róisin, and we talked to her about her unusual job and her life in the movies.
Firstly, we asked about her last name, which was so clearly of Celtic origin. She explained that her middle name is Rose, but she uses Róisin because there was an actress with that name already in SAG-AFTRA, so she had to pick something different.
She describes herself as a “Southern Belle with a military upbringing,” and said that she has lived all over the southern United States, with a cultural background she describes as “blended” with elements of Europe, the Caribbean and the USA.
“My maternal Grandmother’s maiden name is Kelley, descended from the Kelleys in Kilkenny.”
She actually had her DNA tested a few years ago, and it revealed that she was 39% Irish, though she has yet to visit Ireland herself. “But it’s on my bucket list. Hopefully I will be able to go after Covid-19 calms down.”
She first came to L.A. some five years ago, and now divides her time between there and her home in Atlanta, Georgia, though she jokes that she “fell into the career” of being a stuntwoman, initially becoming involved through friends that already worked in the industry.
“I was lucky to have great mentors to guide me in my first years of the business,” she said, “and I have always been a tomboy. I grew up playing with the boys in the neighborhood, playing soccer and swimming, and often came home covered in dirt, bruises and scrapes. I’m sure sometimes I gave my mother mini-heart attacks!”
Like many in her industry, Kelly also works as a stunt arranger and assistant, but as for her on-screen work, she has a special niche doubling plus-sized actresses. She’s also known for her sarcastic sense of humor, and her ability to take a beating and pop back up. She recently told Stunthustle.com that her favorite scenes involve something we all try to avoid: flames and heat.
“I find fire work very calming and relaxing, but my most used specialty is slapstick comedy stunts. Pratfalls, slipping, running into things, falling over objects, all the physical humor that you see in comedy shows.”
She’s worked constantly in the last few years, with credits across all genres including television shows like “Charming the Hearts of Men”, “Unbelievable”, “American Horror Story”, “S.W.A.T.”, “Preacher”, “The Walking Dead”, and movies including Reacher, Venom and Ant-Man.
Coming from a musical family, Kelly is no stranger to the stage or to performing, having performed for classmates and audiences since she was “knee high to a grasshopper.” She sang in musicals, school performances and later, while working at Disney World in Florida.
Things have changed for her – and the entire movie industry – in these pandemic times of course, but usually she has to be up at 3 or 4am to drive to the studio or location they’re filming at.
“I can be on set anywhere from five to 16 hours a day,” she says, adding that she’s hoping things can return to some normalcy soon. “We are still fine-tuning things that will work on set and location.”
Outside of work, Kelly describes herself as a “homebody”, and is always busy with her family. “I am a single mother and with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are doing virtual schooling. It’s requiring me to have to sit with my son through most of the day to go over his assignments – something that can be a real challenge!”
Also, she says she loves nothing more than getting her hands dirty – but in a different way than on-set.
“On a perfect day, I would most likely be working in the vegetable patches. I love to garden and grow my own produce. Then later, perhaps my son and I would watch a documentary as part of his school work.”
As for the future, she says she cannot wait to “get back to work, and continue keeping my actresses safe. I’m also dying to get some Korean Barbecue with my friends!” Kelly is known for her own cooking too, especially her baking; among the stunt community she is known as “Cookie Girl” for the delicious treats she often brings to share.
She also has a passion for sports, though her favorite team isn’t from the world of baseball or basketball, but UK soccer: “Yes! Go Man Utd!”
Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland.
James is available for private consultation at email@example.com