Entertainment Weekly’s Comic Con preview issue has dumped a truckload of new information on us regarding The Avengers: Age of Ultron. For the most part, it’s all fun and games—the superhero clubhouse, more information about the new characters being introduced, et cetera. There is one detail, though, that people, and literally PEOPLE, are latching onto: Scarlett Johansson had three stunt doubles to help hide her pregnancy while filming. Obviously this is a terrible burden and how dare ScarJo for inconveniencing the production in this way. (Insert eye roll here.)
Here’s the thing—actors routinely have entire stunt TEAMS for movies like this. Chris Evans, for instance, has a posse of three stunt doubles: A fight double, a stunt rider for motorcycle stuff, and a parkour specialist. There’s usually one primary stunt double who does the bulk of the work, but if there are sequences involving cars/motorcycles, for instance, you can count on a specialist being brought in just for that bit, and ditto for fancy fighting styles that take years to master. So pregnant or not, it’s not unusual or IN ANY WAY “burdensome” for Johansson to have had a trio of stunt doubles.
The problem here goes beyond the latent sexism of calling out the pregnant lady for using stunt doubles. It’s more about the lack of transparency involving stunt work in general. Yes, some actors, like Tom Cruise, do their own stunts, but that’s really rare. It’s not just about physical capability—the insurance adjusters simply won’t let stars who carry millions in insurance riders engage in dangerous stunts. But it’s become trendy, for some reason, for actors to say they do their own stunts. (God bless Samuel L. Jackson for giving credit where credit is due). So there’s some obfuscation as to what’s really going on with stunt performers.
There’s been a push recently for stunt choreographers to be recognized by the Academy and awarded their own Oscar. I fully support this. Stunt choreography has as much to do with the final look of a film like The Avengers as the editing and cinematography. Stunt choreographers and the performers who make these thrilling sequences work deserve their fair share of film’s highest honor. But the pushback against adding this category comes in no small part from the acting branch. Why? Because acknowledging stunt performers means admitting they’re not doing 100% of what we see on screen, and actors sometimes use that for their own Oscar campaigns. Remember the kerfuffle surrounding how much Natalie Portman actually danced in Black Swan? That got so bad it has its own Wikipedia entry.
Johansson’s use of stunt doubles in Age of Ultron was necessary because she’s pregnant, that’s undeniable. But needing three might have just as much to do with the absence of her long-time stunt double, Heidi Moneymaker. For the first time in Johansson’s run as Black Widow, Moneymaker is not doubling for her. Moneymaker is one of the best stuntwomen working today, and Johansson has credited her with contributing to the overall look of the Black Widow. I read this not so much as “it took three people to hide ScarJo’s pregnancy” but “Heidi Moneymaker is so good at her job that it takes three people to replace her”.