When Hollywood needs a sexy woman to do an amazing stunt, there is only one beautiful daredevil to call: Gaelle Cohen. The native of France has become a superstar as a stuntwoman. Her latest work is “Zero Dark Thirty,” the award-winning historical drama that has been a box office hit.
After obtaining her law degree, Gaelle Cohen decided stunts were her true calling and began her career on the “Highlander” TV show back in 1995. Since then, she’s done everything from “Babylon A.D.” to “Rush Hour 3″ to “Brotherhood of The Wolf.”
EveryJoe.com recently had a chance to conduct an exclusive interview with Gaelle Cohen to talk about everything from her beauty to her career goals.
EveryJoe: When did you know you wanted to become a stuntwoman extraordinaire?
Gaelle Cohen: Very late, actually! My first contact with stunts was 16 years ago, and I had at that time just finished law school. My future was obviously to become a lawyer, and it was not a dream future.
Then I met stunt people on a show I was working on for a friend. They were practicing fencing and obviously rehearsing for an audition. I was on the national fencing team for many years before that, and I offered to help them put a fight together for their audition.
Next thing I know, the stunt coordinator calls me and offers me to work for him on the sword fights for a TV show called “Highlander!” I had not even the beginning of an idea of what stunt work was. But then I started working on “Highlander” and I knew right away that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
So I started training full time to acquire all the skills stunt people need to perform on movies: National Circus School to learn trapeze and acrobatics, martial arts, horse riding, trampoline, motocross, etc. I trained for a year and a half, then started working 15 years ago, and never stopped since then.
EJ: In your entire career, what’s your favorite stunt-related moment?
GC: There are so many, this is why my work is my dream job and passion.
I could give you a few examples, such as riding camels in the Moroccan desert chasing a train, sitting on the top of a castle in France, watching the amazing landscape while getting ready to slide down a rope and escape, or simply having the chance to meet, talk, and work with Kathryn Bigelow.
I often take the time to realize how lucky I am to be doing what most kids are dreaming to do.
EJ: You have a background in sports. Does that help you in the world of stunts?
GC: It does way more than help. You can’t be a stunt performer without being extremely skilled in various sports. Stunts are based on sports. Fencing, martial arts, trampoline, gymnastics, diving, etc. — every action requires the use and mastering of your body.
It’s also often the entrance door to your first contracts. You are skilled in this or that, and a coordinator calls you to perform it in a movie. Most stunt people were previously circus performers or an athlete that decided to train and learn all the various skills you need to be as a successful stunt person.
EJ: Are you ever fearful for your safety? What are the worst injuries you have suffered?
GC: Well, injuries are an inevitable component of stunt work. What we do is dangerous.
You train to make sure you have the skills to perform a stunt, you have the gut and the honesty to refuse a job if you know are not qualified to do it (it’s your safety you put in line, after all), you work with stunt coordinators that you trust and who really care about your safety, you watch out for yourself on set, and make sure you are comfortable with the setup of the stunt.
Unfortunately, accidents happen, and it’s part of the job. I had a couple of really bad injuries. I’m not talking about cuts and burns, torn ligaments, small fractures.
I broke my tibia in three pieces, I have no fibula anymore and my meniscus came out of its socket while attempting a jump from a roof onto a car. I was in bed for six months, no walking whatsoever for ten months. A full year passed before I could perform stunts again.
EJ: What is your dream stunt? Is there a stunt or an accomplishment on the top of your bucket list?
GC: Chasing a train on camels in the middle of the Moroccan desert was already close to a dream! I love working with horses, so I would say doing a Western would be a dream. It’s hard to say this or that is my dream stunt, because all of them are incredible (most of the time). My bucket list is more made up of people I would love to work with (such as Jodie Foster, Clint Eastwood…Kathryn Bigelow was one of them!) or movies and shows I would love to be part of.
EJ: Does your beauty help or hurt your career, in your estimation? Have you ever felt people don’t take you seriously as a stuntwoman due to your looks?
It helps, because very often we get to play parts as stunt actors. Casting directors and directors tend to choose pretty stunt girls, even if they get to die quickly falling off of a roof, without saying a word of dialogue.
I know a lot of beautiful stunt women, and people know the difference between the pretty ones that can actually get the job done and the ones that are just trying to get work based on their looks.
I don’t think people suppose “Oh, she is pretty, therefore she can’t be good.” But you do get a lot of “Are you kidding me? You are a stunt woman?” I suppose in people’s minds, you have to be a bulky tomboy to be doing stunts.
EJ: Who is your favorite person to work with in the industry?
GC: I had the chance to meet a lot of wonderful people in my career…
Penelope Cruz is one of them. She is adorable, down to earth, funny, and she really puts her trust in you regarding her stunts. I doubled her a couple of times, and we became friends. I can’t wait to work with her again.
Jessica Biel is another one. She is such a cool, fun woman! We shot a movie called “The Tall Man” for 6 months in Canada and we had a great time. Talk about a beautiful woman who can kick ass! She is so athletic, you have to hold her back or she would do all her stunts herself — and she did 90% of them in “The Tall Man.”
Jackie Chan is awesome as well. It was a lot of fun to work with him on “Rush Hour 3.”
EJ: Does your fearlessness extend into all parts of your life?
GC: Put me in a room with a spider, and you’ll hear the loudest scream ever!
No, I have fears, of course. Stunt performers being fearless and invincible is a funny misconception that the majority of people have.
I remember one day been locked outside our apartment building with my boyfriend, staring at the second floor opened window, and telling him I would just climb up there and open the door. I will always remember his face when I opened the building door to let him go in. He looked at me like I was from another planet.
And performing stunts on a “closed set” is different than real life. On set, you can have an incredible chase between cars, motorcycles and trucks in a “safe” environment. But there is a reason why I am not driving a motorcycle on the roads in LA: fear. Way too dangerous and unpredictable for me.