EXCLUSIVE: Interview KICK-ASS 2 Stunt Coordinator Angelica Lisk-Hann
If you thought that the world of Stunt-Actors was simple then you don't know the half of what they go through. Kick-Ass 2 Stunt Coordinator Angelica Lisk-Hann dishes on the business and the film.
Angelica Lisk-Hann is a hard hitting stunt actress who has years of experience when it comes to action and horror films. She has performed in such movies as AVP: Alien Vs. Predator, The Incredible Hulk, Land of the Dead, and Bullet Proof Monk. Her TV work includes shows such as XIII: The Series, Lost Girl, Alphas, and Cover Affairs.
Currently she is finishing up her work as one of the Stunt Coordinators for Kick-Ass 2. Mrs. Lisk-Hann took a moment out of her busy schedule (which included an unexpected production meeting) to talk with me and to give the readers of ComicBookMovie.com the low-down on the world of movie stunts and a little information about Kick-Ass 2.
How did you break into the stunt business?
You know it is kind of funny, I grew up with a mom who was a model and my dad was a professional football player, my uncle was a racecar driver, and my other uncle sang in the Canadian National Opera. I think I kind of group up with a lot of “artsy-fartsy” people around and my Dad went off to Atlanta to play for the Falcons, so I spent most of my formidable years as a youngster, just with my Mom’s side. My Mom’s side is Dutch and my Dad’s side is African-American.
Were I was raised was a very, very small town and I had a few issues with my skin color when I was young, but I realized that if I would stick to sports because I was so drawn to them and so good at just about everything I did that as I got better and better I seemed to make more friends and started winning things for the school. I was eight or nine years old riding a motorcycle. They had me out shooting guns and we had a lot of land.
I think it was a rough start, but everything I got into as a kid was kind of setting me up to do stunts. It was funny because whenever I would get a toy, I would either set it on fire or throw it out of a window [laughs]. I had one of those Evil Kenivels and I would glue matches to the side of him and set them on fire and make him jump over the cat.
I had no idea that it was an actual thing, that it was a job. When I got a little older I was drawn to the arts and got into acting. I started out modeling and then ended up in stunts through acting.
This guy named Branko Racki, a stunt coordinator, we were working on this movie called “Half-Baked” and I was playing one of the henchwomen for the main guy and the stunt coordinator came over and asked if any us could do anything other than act, he needed somebody to do some physical things. I thought to myself, who is this guy? I said of course I can, let’s do it!
He ended up letting me do stunts and I had this little thing with Dave Chapelle where I had to grab him and tackle him. It was kind of cool. Racki pulled me aside and said look, you’re a great athlete, have you ever thought of doing stunts and I told him not really. He said well look at it this way, you can audition for a part and if you don’t get it, you could end up stunt doubling the girl that gets it. There are no black female stunt performers out there.
I listened to what he said and starting figuring out how to apply my athleticism to actually relate to the stunts that had to be done. So with a little bit of help from him, he sent me out to the rest of the coordinators in town and that was probably 20 years ago. Everything he said was true. A lot of times if I audition for a part and I don’t get it, I end up doubling the girl that does. I have to say thanks to Branko Racki for giving me that little push.
It sounds like you have lots of on the job experience. Have you gotten any specialized training for your work?
Not really. When I was a kid, with my Uncle being into stockcar racing, I was in a car before I was allowed to have a license, sliding around corners. I was in the car with him when he was doing stuff, I was on the motorcycle jumping off stuff. I was training for the Olympics in track and field. In Trenton we used to jump off of bridges when the train was coming into the lake and stuff.
It’s weird, but it’s just the way that my body moved and the way that I could translate my athleticism to the actual craft of doing stunts. Matt Birman has been a huge mentor to me in the business. There have been a lot of people that have helped me out.
There is not really anything like a stunt school (I know there is one in the UK), but there is not really a school you can go to, to learn how to do stunts. You have to come from a background of some type of sport and have a certain mentality for it. Then of course, the stunt coordinators will show you how to do certain things, for example being attached to a harness and pulled 40 to 100 feet in the air. There isn’t really any training for that. He will explain to you what is going to happen and you practice for a little bit.
With martial arts, I am training a little bit with Muay Thai just to keep my body limber. I don’t really do gymnastics much anymore because I am getting kind of older, so I am leaning more towards stunt coordinating a little bit. A lot of it was on the job training and you just had to figure it out on your own.
Twenty years ago there wasn’t really a way to learn, but now there are more things out there in which you can train for and learn the feeling of the stunt. Still you can’t really go to a school and learn how to do it. You should do it with a stunt coordinator and be mentored. It is a lot safer and you are learning the proper way to do things.
I know you said Half-Baked was where you got your start, but what movie/TV series do you think really launched your career?
I would say that it was probably Alien Vs. Predator. I had always watched the Alien movies and I remember when the comics started coming out. When the Alien vs. Predator coming came out I saw “Lex” for the first time, and she had dreds and to me I kind of identified with that character because most of the comic book characters I loved were like Wonder Woman and the Hulk. I never really saw any African-American people in the comic book world.
When I got the call that I was actually double Lex on Alien Vs. Predator and I got to go to Prague and I got to live over there for almost six months it was incredible. That was the biggest show that I had done and it was the show that I had to really learn a lot of things.
I got hurt a little bit, which was good. That just showed me that this isn’t a joke [laughs]. You have to really pay attention to what you are doing. It just felt so amazing. I have always wanted to have a career in entertainment, but I wasn’t really quite sure and I thought it was just to be an actress. To be honest with you, I am an okay actress, but I am much better at stunts so to get that gig was incredible and I was always a fan of Paul Anderson and it was just a really great experience.
When you are doing stuff in your hometown your good, then when you go away somewhere to work in the states or work in Europe or somewhere else and you do a big show, when you come home, it’s a different vibe. People treat you a little different. After that show, the ball really started rolling for me. I started getting a lot more work.
Speaking of getting hurt on set, have you ever been seriously injured doing a stunt?
I have had a lot of little things like jumping off of something and falling wrong and hurting my ankle. I separated my shoulder on AVP, it was totally my fault, I slipped because I was little tired and landed wrong.
To be honest, the worst I have been hurt was on a total fluke. I was doing a show called ‘Howie Do It’, it’s a prank show that Howie Mandel was in charge of. We were going to prank someone on the show. There was a guy and girl waiting in line to get into a show. The girl is in on the prank, but the guy is not. The girl and I were arguing so we proceed to get into a fight. It was a choreographed fight that we rehearsed with the girl the day before. The girl has no stunt qualifications, she is not an actress, just a real person. In the process of doing this fight, her boyfriend starts freaking out, but we have to actors holding him back.
The scene is supposed to be this girl beats the crap out of us. We are playing the scene and everything is going great. We have a bottle (which is made of candy glass) that looks like a bottle and is supposed to break, but not supposed to hurt you. The bottom of these bottles has to be two layers of candy glass to help it stand up, which is a little bit thicker.
Picture picking up a bottle and hitting someone over the head, you would probably pick it up by the neck, then you would swing and come down and hit the person. Well because the girl isn’t an actress or stunt performer, we are going through the scene and she is obviously just trying to remember what she needs to do. She picks the bottle up by the neck, but she comes down with it and hammers it on top of my head. She hammerfists me with the bottle right on the soft spot on the top of my head.
I just remember it hurting, I didn’t pass out or anything, I just remember telling myself not to ruin the scene. I was supposed to get back up and beat her up some more [laughs], but I just kind of, crawled over behind this garbage can and laid there for a second. After the scene was through, I thought everything was okay.
When I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t see, everything was just black. My ears were ringing and I thought I was going to die. It was probably the worst feeling I have ever felt in my entire life. I was vomiting and it was horrible. I could barely get to the phone to call someone to take me to the doctor. It was the worst concussion I have ever had in my life and I have had a couple.
Just after that, I slowed down a bit with the bigger gags and I just wanted to make sure I took care of my head. I started gearing a little more to the stunt acting and not so much of just that stuff. You can get hit on your head five or six times in your career and it’s over.
Have you done much acting aside from the stunt parts?
I have been really lucky, I am one of those people that takes whatever job is offered to them. I have been very lucky that I have been very busy with stunts. I still take what comes first. I still do get the occasional acting job, but they are usually more like a stunt-acting job.
I just did a really cool episode last year, of ‘Lost Girl’ where I play an underground UFC fighter named Thrasher. I got to fight Anna Silk who is the lead character and we had a big brawl and I had a really great time.
I will get a part where I will play a nurse and maybe have a couple of lines and then attack somebody or grab someone. For the most part, over the past five or six years I have kind of been more of a stunt-actor, kind of blending both worlds and I am good with that.
I know that you are the Stunt Coordinator for Kick-Ass 2. Is this your first film with this role?
Actually I started coordinating a couple of years ago just doing smaller things. I started doing short films. The very first one that I did was called ‘Dave vs. Death’. It was a short film by director Patrick Hagarty and it won a bunch of awards and was really cool short. After that I got into a couple more shorts.
I was a regular stunt double for CCH Pounder in ‘Warehouse 13’. Matt Birman is the stunt coordinator for that show and he has kind of been mentoring me since Alien Vs. Predator days. Now when he has to work on second unit, he’s been allowing me to take over for him and coordinate some days on Warehouse 13’.
That is cool because ‘Warehouse 13’ is NBC/Universal and SyFy and to let a woman of color be a stunt coordinator is awesome and then to get Kick-Ass 2 was just fantastic! A buddy of mine Buster Reeves who was Batman’s stunt double in ‘The Dark Knight’, worked with me on ‘Jumper’ a few years back in Toronto and he was the assistant stunt coordinator for Kick-Ass and Jimmy O’Donnell was the main stunt coordinator in the UK. They came into town and he was actually just trying to find me a part in Kick-Ass 2, but there weren’t a lot of stunt parts and not very many for girls.
They had me down at the studio and I had a meeting with Jimmy and I didn’t really notice that I was interviewing to be the stunt coordinator. I thought we were just having a chat and when I went to leave he said I think your great and we are going to use you. I was basically the Canadian match and I got to work with them and it was such a great shoot.
Kick-Ass is one of my favorite shows EVER! I like the darkness of it and love the stunts. This Kick-Ass is going to probably be 1000 times crazier than the last one. There are around 100 fight scenes. It is nuts! I honestly think that people are going to see stuff that they have never seen before and Jimmy O’Donnell is just a genius and he sat down with director Jeff Wadlow to help him write a majority of the stunts. I can’t wait for it. I am going crazy waiting for it to be done!
Switching gears just a second, how has the transition been from you actually doing the stunts to developing and overseeing the stunt work?
Being a performer is fun and you do learn a lot, but there is a lot more to coordinating that just being a performer. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t realize. You have to go to meetings and surveys. You have to really understand what the director wants and although you may think something is better or more dynamic or exciting, it’s more the director’s vision and you are there to help them along.
That’s hard sometimes because you might want something that is huge and amazing and they only need it to be so big. That’s always been my problem, even in performing, they would ask if I could do a jump in a certain spot, and I would say “Oh I can jump way over there!”. They would say well we don’t need you to, we just want you to jump here. So for me the ego part of it, to listen and not say too much and just do my job, is what gets me.
No matter what you are going to do in this business, stunts have always been a male dominated job. It’s interesting to see how things have changed. In Toronto, there are really only two female stunt coordinators. It’s 90% all love from everybody and they are very proud and happy for me, but you are always going to have that 10% that will have a problem with it.
If Kick-Ass 2 follows the same path as the comic, then there is going to be a huge fight scene at the end of the film. How do you coordinate something like that with so many stunt actors in one location doing so many different things at once?
We did part of the show here in Toronto and the other part in the UK. That scene was coordinated by Jimmy O’Donnell, because he actually wrote all of those scenes out.
As a rule, with scenes like that, that are so big, it takes a lot of planning. We were lucky to have an assistant like Nora [Henderson] who helped coordinate everything. You have to cast all of the stunt performers and timing is key, because if you don't scoop them up early they will be gone working on other shows. Then you have to get your locations. With these movies we do something called a pre-vis, so weeks or even months before a scene is shot, we will shoot it and edit it ourselves with the stunt players in it and then present it to the director.
He will have some idea of what we are doing. Then it can be changed if needed. When you go to shoot, the preparation is all there, so it is not as hard.
I do remember Jimmy telling me that one of the scenes was going to take them about two to three weeks just to film. That right there is some exciting stuff.
Did you ever have to sit down with director Jeff Wadlow and tell him that a stunt just wasn't safe enough or just couldn't be done for the film?
No, luckily I didn't have to. Honestly this has probably been the best job I have ever had. It was kind of lazy for me, but everything was pretty much done when they came to Toronto. It was a dream job.
I got to hire people from here and I got to put them in their spot. I got to oversee the scenes and what they were doing, but everything on that movie was pretty much done for me. Basically I had to just show up and make it happen.
I am a yes person. I will find a way to make it happen. I don't like the old "no we shouldn't do this". I think that if a director has a vision, I will find a way to give that to him. I think the yes and then to figure it out, is much harder to do than to just say no. That's our job. Our job is to make it happen!
What other projects do you have coming up?
We are going to shoot some pre-vis this weekend for a short here in Toronto. In Toronto we have a thing called BravoFACT. Basically they give out grants to people who have good ideas and good scripts. They can actually get a short film made.
So I was approached to do a film called 'Black Sun'. It's a futuristic type show. Kind of think of The Matrix-ish. There are a lot of stunts and a lot of really cool fights. We are going to shoot the pre-vis on the weekends and turn it into the director to see if he likes it. Hopefully we can get the grant for it to proceed.
I also have unofficially signed to do a psychological thriller in May that features one of the Hemsworth brothers in it. We are shooting in Manitoba. That one should be interesting.
Finally, do you have any advice for those looking to get their big break in the world of stunt acting?
I meet people all the time, and they ask me for advice. Honestly, everyone is different, timing is different, and work is different. The best bit of advice I can give is JUST DON"T QUIT. Don't quit, don't stop, don't take no for an answer. If you go to 100 auditions and they all say no, keep going. The 101 might be the one where they hire you, but if you quit, then you will never know.
You have to keep going and you have to keep doing it. I wanted to be a stunt coordinator for a while, but I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing and I wanted to make sure I had everything figured out. Your not going to know everything though. Some of my best friends have been in this business for 40 years and have not quit.
You can check out all of the stunts she helped coordinate when Kick-Ass 2 hits theaters June 28, 2013!
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