Behind the Scenes in Hollywood: Jessica Harbeck

AE: Do you work mostly on movies?

JH: No. After Shark Night, I had a couple of days on TV shows, and a game show. That was weird.

AE: A game show?

JH: Yeah, that was the first time I worked for a game show. We tested [the set] to make sure it was safe for contestants.

AE: I never thought much about that. Although, I thought that’s what interns were for. But I guess a trained professional is better.
JH: We get the funniest jobs! We’re the blue-collar side of the industry.

AE: Have you ever been punched in the face?

JH: In almost every fight scene I’ve been a part of, someone gets punched in the face. In most fights for film TV, multiple punches to the face are common. Getting punched in the face, or taking any kind of punch or kick, otherwise known as a “reaction,”[is] something people actually practice when they all get together.

AE: … and drink. What’s the life expectancy of a stuntwoman? Career-wise, I mean.

JH: Well, I’m in a group called the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures, and we have members who have been around 30, 40 years. There are women in their 60′s still in the business.

There’s a very famous stuntwoman named Jeannie Epper [Lynda Carter's stunt double on Wonder Woman] and they did a documentary about her [and Zoe Bell, Lucy Lawless' stuntdouble on Xena] called Double Dare. Jeannie is still working. My goal would be to work as long as I physically can, and segue into a career as a stunt coordinator. Very few women out there do that. It would be an honor to be one of them.

Jeannie Epper with Lynda Carter, circa 1976

AE: Although stuntwomen get work doubling for actresses, I’m guessing by in large, it’s a male-dominated field. Do you find the stunt business sexist?

JH: It’s definitely an industry that’s male-dominated and everybody knows that. But, let me give you some perspective. Let’s say there’s a male stunt coordinator. And he has a certain number of spots that he has to fill, for what are called “non-descript” stunts.

Let’s say a bank robber comes into a bank and starts shooting people and blowing them up. You don’t see the faces of the people getting killed. Those are “ND” stunt people. And so, a lot those of times, coordinators will hire their five buddies. But no complaints there, because when you are one of the buddies, you’re stoked!

Women are getting those spots. In my generation, I’ve seen coordinators hiring women and putting them in those spots with a purpose. I’ve heard it used to be different, but I have not seen that. I’ve been lucky to work with very progressive, awesome, cool people.

AE: Nice. And when it’s time for you to move from stuntwoman to stunt coordinator, female coordinators won’t even be a rare thing.
JH: The ones that are out there are really passionate about helping other women. It’s only changing for the better.

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