A Professional Stunt Woman Shares Her Hustling Tips


While cradling your popcorn and sitting on the edge of an overpriced movie theater seat, you've probably gasped to yourself, wondering how in the world stunt-doubles (ahem, or devils, depending on how you look at it) are able to pull off such impressive fitness feats in seemingly-dangerous situations.

Through lots of training - and even more pure gusto and bravery - one celebrity trainer and professional stuntwoman has turned her sense of adventure into a promising career. Enter April Sutton from SuttonStrong.com, a Chicago-based badass lady who is ripped not only in terms of physical grit, but business wits, too.

To date, she's appeared on Fox's 'Empire', NBC's 'Chicago P.D.', 'Chicago Fire' and 'Chicago Med', along with the blockbuster 'Divergent' and countless others. Though you might not instantly recognize her face, you'll find yourself in awe of her swiftness, agility and endurance when you do catch a glimpse of her on the screen. And when you look at the gender disparity in the stunting-world, her success is even more impressive: only about 30 percent of those who perform stunts are ladies.

Taking a break from training and stunting, Sutton took time to chat with SWAAY about how she came from a family who struggled with weight management, to be a fit-inspiration for thousands.

SWAAY: Tell us about your background growing up. Were you always active?

AS: I played sports including basketball and tennis, however I did it for more social reasons and to just be out of the house. I wasn't exposed to healthy choices growing up. There were a lot of unhealthy foods including fried food, desserts, heavy sauces, bread and other processed foods that were always an option in my household. My parents worked a lot and we ate based on convenience and budget.

S: How did you get into stuntwoman work? Tell us about your first few auditions and experiences.

AS: I went to a casting call for 'Divergent.' I was an intern at the time and was experiencing extreme financial hardship. So I had a lot of motivation behind attending the casting call. I was casted and we did a bootcamp that involved a lot of basic fundamentals to stunt work and also physical fitness. I did my best on the physical fitness aspect, and I was eventually bumped up to the stunt team. It took a year to book a stunt gig after 'Divergent.' I had to stunt train for several months, attend acting classes and I do a few extra gigs to gain more experience.

S: What's being a stuntwoman like?

AS: Stunt work is very empowering as a female, especially as an African American female. There are not many of us, and because of that I train and learn as much as possible. I want to be a great representation of a stuntwoman and a strong female role model. I would have never thought as a little girl that I would be doing what I am doing now. I owe it to myself to empower young women or little girls that they can be whoever they want to be when they grow up.

S: How many female stuntwomen are there compared to men? Do you think you make the same amount of money?

AS: I have only been in the stunt industry for three years but based on what I have seen there is probably 30 percent percent of stuntwomen who are actively working. There are not many female stunt coordinators as well. However that does not bother me. I have always worked in a male driven environment, which has always seemed to step my game up. Which I am sure this is also the same reason why other stuntwomen stay in the industry. We embrace our male competition.

The amount of money made is not a factor since we all start on base rates. It is about the demand in projects. A superhero movie with 10 lead actors who need doubles in comparison to two lead actresses that need doubles is what will make the difference. With that being said, I feel that stuntmen book the bigger projects more so than stuntwomen. I want to change that.

S: What's been your most proud moment in your work? Why?

AS: My most proud moment in my work was my second stunt gig for 'Supernatural.' I was a very mentally challenging gig that involved being in a cocktail dress and high heels in single digit weather at night at the Chicago River. It was a overnight shoot as well and my scene was the very last scene. My job was to be thrown into a concrete wall, die on first impact and fall on concrete. I had to do an extremely great job despite the elements, in order to make a great impression on the Chicago stunt industry. Which I did! I was relieved that all of my stunt training helped me prepare for something like that. Stunt work based on reputation as well. Your work from word of mouth can take you a long ways.

S: What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?

AS: My advice meet a lot of other like minded individuals. You may find yourself outgrowing your former friends or inner circles. That is okay! It is part of the journey. Meet people who will motivate and help step your game up. Your inner circles will help determine who you are going to be.

S: What are your upcoming goals? What's next?

AS: I want to design a gym at Cinespace which is being in the works right now. I also want to produce and write my own work. I see myself down the road directing or writing TV shows and movies. I'm also working on my own fitness app. I eventually want to train more celebrities to help prep them for projects. I have a huge understanding of what that's like. One of my other goals is to travel for stunt work and work on more movies. I have only done gigs in Chicago and they have been mostly TV shows. I would love to expand my horizons and grow as a stuntwoman.

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.