‘Ava’: Stuntwoman Amy Johnston Says Jessica Chastain Did More Than Just Her Own Stunts
Jessica Chastain dabbled in action in The Debt, as a warrior in The Huntsman: Winter’s War and the villain of Dark Phoenix. Ava is the movie where she really shoulders the action herself playing an assassin. When there’s anything Chastain can’t do, stuntwoman Amy Johnston steps in.
Johnston is one of the stuntwomen in the documentary Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story. She spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet by phone about her career and discussed her work doubling for Chastain. Both Stuntwomen and Ava are out now.
No matter how much Jessica Chastain does, ‘Ava’ still employs stunt doubles
Actors like to say they do their own stunts, and Chastain certainly did. It’s no slight to her that Johnston was on hand to double for her.
“Most of the actresses and actors can do a lot of these fight scenes,” Johnston said. “It’s important for safety, because if anything happens to them then the whole production goes down. That’s why we’re there, to make them look as good as we can and keep them safe.”
Johnston vouched for Chastain, confirming the actor did do as much as safety would allow.
“The process for that film is we would come up with the fight choreography,” Johnston said. “We would bring in the actors. We would teach them, see how well they did and then we would come in for the bigger stunts. So she would run through all the fight scenes and do that. I would come in, we would run through the fight scene again and then add all the big stunts. You can see lots of slams and some kicks and punches, but they definitely did try to get her to do as much as possible.”
Jessica Chastain isn’t taking Amy Johnston’s job
There’s been a move towards letting the actors do their own stunts in the last 20 years. Ever since Keanu Reeves learned Kung Fu for The Matrix, actors like Matt Damon and Tom Cruise ramped up their own participation. Johnston approves.
“I think it’s so important because visually you don’t have to edit as much,” Johnston said. “If you can put more time into the actor and help them really feel powerful in that character and physically embody that, it’s so much better for the entertainment. You don’t have to chop it up. You can get these wide shots.”
It doesn’t take away anything from Johnston. Movies will always need stuntmen and stuntwomen, whether they appear on camera or behind the scenes.
“Stunt people are definitely still there, regardless if the actors are doing everything,” Johnston said. “We’re still there. We’re on set. We’re teaching them. We’re helping them. We’re making sure it all looks good, but I love it because I also do a lot of acting. For me, that’s always been what I love to do is acting and stunts, so I’m getting to do more of that on camera which is the way that I think things should go as long as we stay safe.”
‘Ava’ action is special thanks to this actor
Working with Chastain elevated the character of Ava, Johnston said. Were Johnston to take over more of the physical aspects, she would not have been able to imbue Ava with what Chastain brought.
“I believe she was as dancer and she picked up choreography so quickly,” Johnston said. “She’s quite a perfectionist so she really made sure to get everything locked down and make sure it felt good and right. She really put the character into the movements. She was safe. I’m really excited for everyone to see her in this role. I think she did wonderfully.”