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.
Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!
I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.
The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.
Reflecting On Myself
Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.
This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.
Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!
1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.
This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!
2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.
Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.
3.) Appreciate how far you have come!
I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.
4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be
If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!
This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.