By Olu Alemoru, Staff Writer
A veteran stunt performer, who has doubled the likes of Halle Berry, Beyoncé Knowles, Vivica A. Fox, Vanessa Williams and Gabrielle Union, recently added author to her resume with the release of a hands-on book about the industry.
The official release for Angela Meryl’s “Stunts: The How to Handbook…Secrets from An Award Winning Hollywood Stuntwoman,” took place Oct. 3 at the Samuel French Hollywood Bookshop, 7623 Sunset Blvd.
According to Meryl, a native of Willingboro, New Jersey, she was a real tomboy growing up, playing football with her brother’s friends, jumping out of cars and trees and later as an aspiring actor, fluked her first stunt gig.
“I had no idea this was a career, until one day I was working [as an extra] on ‘Dead Presidents’ and they needed somebody to drive in the snow in New York,” she recalled. “New Yorkers don’t drive in the snow. I raised my hand, they checked my license and said get in this car – it was a 1965 something – and drive down the street, make a left and stop 25 feet from the corner.
“I get in the car, they say ‘action’ and that’s what I do. Meanwhile, I’m looking at all these extras that are walking down the street with Larenz Tate and I’m like, shoot, I’m missing out on camera time. But then I thought it’s freezing cold out there, I’m gonna stay in the car. So, we did it a couple more times and they said ‘okay, that’s a wrap’ and I went back home to Jersey on the bus.”
Meryl revealed that she hustled herself another job the next day and then started getting calls out of the blue, the stunt coordinator on “New York Undercover” called her twice in quick succession asking if she had her SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card, which she didn’t. After a third call, Meryl joined the union and in her first professional stunt doubled a 65 year-old woman, who got shot on the show.
“I basically watched her all day; how she walked, how she held body and hands,” Meryl explained. “When older people fall, they fall differently. They don’t put their hands out to try and break their fall. When they said ‘action’, this guy comes out and shoots me and I just went for it. Basically, that was my first union stunt.”
Along with honing her skills with martial arts and driving training, Meryl began to get calls for jobs and booked her first major film, doubling Vanessa Williams in “Shaft (2000),” which was a pivotal career move as she also got to meet fellow stunt performer Kiante Elam, “who’d been doubling Samuel L. Jackson forever.”
“I listened and asked questions and just tried to soak up as much information as I could,” she added.
With that she pretty much upped sticks to Hollywood and has worked steadily in films, television and commercials, as well as being a two-time nominee for a Taurus World Stunt Award for her work in “Kill Bill: Vol 1” for best fight and best overall stunt by a stunt woman.
In recalling that particular film, where she spectacularly gets slammed onto a glass coffee table, Meryl noted that she hasn’t had a major injury, although that stunt did leave her with a blooded finger when shards of fake glass cut into her hand.
But, ironically, it was a meeting with the former queen of daytime that brought emotional tears when the stunt veteran read a chapter in the book that detailed a live high-fall performance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It was her subsequent chat with Oprah that gave her the idea for the book.
Meanwhile, Meryl has ticked off a dream job, working on the James Bond blockbuster “Skyfall” and continues to work the game. “For me working on ‘Skyfall’ was the crème de la crème,” she said. “But I tell aspiring stunt performers that you have to keep training and working. When I first started out it was all about hitting the pavement, showing people your headshots and leaving your resumes. Now, it’s more challenging because the sets are closed and the stunt coordinators aren’t there. Social media is really big now; you need to have your website, Facebook and Twitter. You have your iPad and thumbnail drive where you can highlight your best work in 20 seconds.”
Stunt performer Angela Meryl at her book release event. Olu Alemoru/The Independent