Igniting the Flame: Unveiling the Extraordinary World of Stunt Performers with Michelle C. Smith
Michelle C. Smith is the go-to expert on sets for some of today's leading actors, holding the title of Queen of the Lightsabers, having been featured in Vogue for her work with Grimes on her music video player of games, as well as catching the eye and praise of Daisy Ridley.
Michelle is best known for her viral content on her social media platforms and YouTube channel. Michelle has amassed nearly 3 million followers across all social media and well over a hundred million views on her current content. As both an actress and a stunt performer, Michelle has the rare ability to cut out the middleman while on set saving production's valuable time and money.
She continues to be a strong advocate for highlighting the stunt community in recognition for their dangerous and breathtaking work.
Listen to the full interview here.
NOTE: .This interview was recorded prior to the Writer's Guild and Screen Actor's Guild strikes.
[01:53] Michelle C. Smith on what she’s most passionate about
[03:22] Michelle C. Smith on her childhood
[06:06] Michelle C. Smith on her love of Star Wars
[09:20] Michelle C. Smith on her career as a dancer and circus performer
[15:52] Michelle C. Smith on how she became a stunt performer
[18:12] Michelle C. Smith on her proficiency in combat and weapon skills
[22:57] Michelle C. Smith on catching the eye of Daisy Ridley from Star Wars
[28:01] Michelle C. Smith on some of the key moments in her stunt career
[36:16] Michelle C. Smith on her work as an actress
[39:50] Michelle C. Smith on her recent short film
[44:23] Michelle C. Smith on the dangers of stunt work
[51:17] Michelle C. Smith on increasing recognition for stunt performers
[58:15] Michelle C. Smith on her definition of success
FULL TRANSCRIPT: Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions to talk about how she defines success and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.
Today we're talking with Hollywood's leading stuntwoman and actress Michelle C. Smith, about the power of movement. Michelle is the go-to expert on sets for some of today's leading actors, holding the title of Queen of the Lightsabers, having been featured in Vogue for her work with Grimes on her music video player of games, as well as catching the eye and praise of Daisy Ridley.
Michelle is best known for her viral content on her social media platforms and YouTube channel. Michelle has amassed nearly 3 million followers across all social media and well over a hundred million views on her current content. As both an actress and a stunt performer, Michelle has the rare ability to cut out the middleman while on set saving production's valuable time and money.
She continues to be a strong advocate for highlighting the stunt community in recognition for their dangerous and breathtaking work. So please welcome Michelle C.
Michelle: Smith. Yay. Thank you for having me. That was so nice.
Passionistas: We're so excited to have you. Stunt women are definitely the overlooked community.
Michelle: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. There's so many stunt performers out there with incredible stories and I just, I'm just one person and, and I hope that I can break down some barriers so that one day more people can tell and share some of their experiences and stories because it's, it's pretty exciting what goes on behind the scenes.
Passionistas: Let's start by asking you what are you most passionate about?
Michelle: What am I most passionate about? Well, it depends on the day. Um, I am, I'm extremely passionate about, always about sharing my love for movement with other people. It's been something that's been with me my entire life. It has gifted me movement has gifted me the abilities and the opportunities and the doorways that I have followed now, like the reason I have the job that I have and have had the experiences that I have, have had and traveled all over the world for my entire life doing cool things is because of my training within movement and.
One of the gifts that it gave to me was confidence and awareness. And I think that'll, I like, I just think the fitness industry and movement industry in general has been a little bit skewed over the last couple decades, but I, I really am passionate about empowering people and sharing that passion for movement with other people, because if I can do it, anybody else can, can do it, and can move at a high level.
And I, I want people to have that. I want people to feel good and comfortable and aware of their bodies. And so it, like this is all, it's all connected what I'm doing, but my biggest thing is I love teaching and I love sharing that joy of movement with other people. And so that's really, really important to me.
So you Passionistas: said this has been a lifelong love and passion for you. Tell us about your childhood and what was movement like for you as a kid? Where'd you grow up? What was your childhood like?
Michelle: Oh my gosh. Well, I grew up in Red Deer, Alberta. Uh, if you're American, that's north of Montana, the province north of Montana.
So I grew up in the prairies, in the cold, cold winter weather. Uh, I started as a baton twirler when I was five years old. I don't remember how or why. I just remember showing up to the gym that first day. And for some reason I stuck with it. And by the time I was nine, I was competing at a national level.
And by the time I was 11, I was going to the World Championships. I went to the World Championships for eight years in the row until I retired at the age of 19. And I won like gold medal, three silver medals, a bronze medal. I won national championships. I won international competitions, uh, with my baton training, which was very intense.
I also had a full dance training schedule, so I was competing full-time in dance, doing like jazz and ballet and tap musical theater. Lyrical had all these solo small groups. And also gymnastics training as well. because with your baton, you have to be able to dance, you have to be able to do gymnastics seamlessly.
Been the, the essential foundation of my career today because as soon as I retired from Baton, I moved out to the West Coast and started doing professional dancing. I thought I was gonna dance for the Backstreet Boys. They weren't cool anymore by the time I got here, so I danced for a bit and then I got into circus and performed for the professional circus company.
And then from there I moved on to stunts and martial arts and acting and whatever I'm doing now. So it's been, it's been a lifelong journey of just following these breadcrumbs of like, Ooh, I'm interested in that. I'm gonna go that way. I'm gonna go that way, I'm gonna go that way. And here we are.
Passionistas: Wow, that's an amazing journey. Um, and did film play a part in there somewhere? Were you a movie fan? And we, and do you remember, I mean, obviously you're baton twirling and now has turned into Light Saber, so was there a Star Wars moment in there somewhere?
Michelle: Yes. So I remember watching Star Wars way back, it, it must have been in the eighties.
Uh, my dad was watching Empire Strikes Back and I was, I was young and I remember watching it and thinking, this is a cool movie. And, and at the time, cause I was so young, it was a little bit scary. Um, I remember it being Empire Strikes Back because it was that moment where Darth Vader says, Luke, I am your father.
And I thought Darth Vader was the coolest. I, I, I've always loved a villain. Um, I think villains are so much more interesting in the protagonist or the hero. Um, because I, there there's. So much more conflict and earner inner turmoil that, uh, I think is a lot more relatable than the hero in the story. But yeah, I remember my dad watching Empire Strikes Back.
I called Darth Vader Dark Vapor for a really long time. That made sense to me. And then years later, in like 1997 when the, uh, special edition BHS tapes came out, uh, my parents got me those and I watched them religiously. And we even watched it when I was in grade seven. We watched it in our Language Arts slash English class.
So I was watching all three movies at school and then I was also going home and watching them, and I was pretty obsessed. I knew every single word. I watched Return of the Jedi probably about 43 times. Um, and then ever since then it's, it's always been this thing of like, oh, I'd love to work in Star Wars.
I'd love to do that. And my, my film aspirations sort of came around the age of like 15, 16 when I was realizing that my competitive career was nearing its end. As I was getting ready to move on and become an adult and move away. And I was just like, what do I wanna do with this? And so my first thought was, oh, I'm gonna be a professional dancer.
Cause that was the, the first thing that came to me. I didn't really understand that you could be a stunt performer at the time. That never occurred to me. I knew that there were stunt performers that, but that never crossed my mind. I thought, if anything, I would be a dancer and then maybe move into acting after that.
And, and somehow through the course of my career, the, the stunt people found their way to me and. Once I realized, I'm like, oh, here's a space where I get to be active. I get to be super creative with my movement, and there's an intensity about it that really spoke to me. I've always been quite an intense person.
Um, and, and it sort of really fit for me. And so as soon as I got my ears tuned into, oh, there's a whole career of stunts, I just turned my focus to it and went headfirst into it. I just thought, I thought in the moment that would've been around like 2008 where I was just like, if, if I wanna do this, I've gotta dive in. And that's exactly what I did. And here we are.
Passionistas: Before we get into the stunt work, let's talk a little bit about that period where you were dancing and mm-hmm. Where you were doing the circus work. Like what was, that must have been really competitive and grueling and, you know, what was, what is that, what are those two worlds like?
Michelle: Well, uh, the dance part happened early, early in my career where I was very green. I didn't know much about how to create a professional performing career, and I just knew that I wanted, I had this extremely interesting and unique and in depth base of skill that I knew that I could do anything with, but I knew that I didn't necessarily wanna do it with batons cause I'd like been there, done that.
And, and anything that I do on, on a stage or in a show is a thousand times easier than what I was doing at my competitive peak because those things, like, you don't do your hardest tricks on stage or, or whatever. They, it doesn't translate very well. So, I knew that there was something there, but I, I, I almost say I wasn't quite ready to really use it yet.
My, my dance career was, It was interesting because I didn't know what I was doing, and when I moved out to the west coast to Vancouver, I didn't know one person. I didn't know a single person when I moved here. And so I started literally from scratch. I didn't have anybody helping me in the beginning. And the thing that you hear so much is it's all about who you know.
So I, I just went with that for. Almost like a decade and a half of my career. But when I was dancing, I was taking a lot of classes, I was auditioning, wasn't really feeling it. I felt like I had more to give, which is why I started searching and getting into circus. I did do a touring tap show for about three years, you know, and I am not a good tapper.
I am an excellent faker, but like I can make it look like I'm doing all this stuff, but they won't. They refuse to mic my feet. Cause when you do tap shows, they put mics in your shoes and, and they're like, we're just not gonna mic. Michelle's like, no, that's for the best. But I will be here and I will be present, very present on stage.
Um, from there, a couple of my dance friends introduced me to the owners of a professional circus company here in Vancouver called The Underground Circus. And as soon as I started training with them, I started performing and I. Was doing silks, I was doing hoop, I had a rope act. I had a little partner balancing act with my partner, Nino Perra.
Uh, I did handstands. I I did all these new skills and, and a lot of the circus shows we were doing, like I was a working artist, I was making a living doing circus and that was a lot more than a lot of people can say at the beginning of their career. Like I had found an opening and so I stuck with it.
But a lot of the shows we do for circus especially are corporate shows because unless you have the budget of circus Solei putting on a show, you're probably just gonna lose money and, and living out on the west coast, we're not really a theater going kind of culture. Uh, so it was all corporate shows like Coke and, and Telus.
And I guess you don't really have Telus in the States, but it's a phone company, um, Rogers and Samsung and, and like I performed all through the 2010 Winter Olympics at a Samsung thing and. So it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about performance. I learned a lot about myself in the fact that I was doing very high level skills that required so much strength and dexterity and awareness of my body at a professional level.
But I wasn't necessarily using the skills that I had grown up doing. So there was this like interesting connection point of like, oh, I can learn to do anything and I can rely on my body even if it's something that's new to me. Like silks. I learned a silk routine in a month and was performing it on stage, uh, at a gig a month later.
And, and it was like, I can do that because I have this base of training. And that was sort of the start of what my attitude in stunts was of like, I know that I can trust my body to know what to do, even if maybe my mind is a little like, ah, So that was what I learned a lot in circus. And I will say that circus was very painful.
So I just imagine laying your body like in a split on a metal hoop. So it's just, it's like all bone and and metal. But then also you do a silk drop where you climb up to the top of the silk, which takes so much tougher body strength. Oh my God. You get all the way up there and then you gotta wrap yourself up and then you tumble down.
That's like extreme rope burn if you don't do it right. And then all of your body weight's landing in that. And I almost wanna say there might be some stunt people that get mad at me for this. I think circus was more painful than stunts was for me. And so I had already, by the time I got to stunts, I sort of did circus and stunts at the same time for a couple years in the, in the overlap.
But by the time I got to stunts, I was just like, Ugh, I'm a seasoned professional. Even though I had a lot to learn with stunts. But it was, it was the perfect. First step into what stunts is, where you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And, and circus is where I really learned a lot about my own ability to perform, to play, to act, to be incredibly present on stage.
Or we'd go out and do animation in the crowd. And so you have to like go up to people and be in character. And I learned all of that at Circus. I didn't get to learn that when I was competing. When I was competing, I learned about performing and doing hard skills and dance. It was all about like feeling the music.
But circus was so much about being playful and being present while doing difficult things while engaging, while acting, while telling a story. And that is invaluable when I'm working on set because stunts is physical acting and that circus career w like it really built up a strong work, e work ethic and professionalism that I needed later on in my career.
Passionistas: So you said you were doing stunts and circus at the same time, so how did the stunt work come about?
Michelle: Well, it's so funny. The circus in the stunt community is actually pretty closely. Connected, I would say with entertainment in general. Like sometimes even dance overlaps with stunts or acting overlaps with dance.
And so, uh, a lot of people, including myself, come from other avenues like dance or gymnastics or martial arts. So we are a fairly close-knit community regardless of where you live. And I was actually rehearsing at a gym with like a 50 foot ceiling for a circus show doing silks. And while I was there, there was other stunt people training other things.
I think they were doing like a trampoline class or something. So I started engaging with them and making friends. And over time, over the course of like a year or so, uh, you get to know people. And then just one day there was some of my stunt friends who were just playing with the sword and I was like, I can do that.
And so I just, the sword was like, look at go. And they're like, yeah, you should do stunts. And it was just like, yeah, I should. And, and it wasn't even, there wasn't even like a hesitation. It was like, oh yeah, that's what's next for me. That's where I'm going. And I just turned my focus and went. And so my first gig with stunts was motion capture, where you go into the studio with all the cameras and they put you in the spandex suit with all the balls being Barbie.
From Barbie in the Three Musketeers I've been doing fencing. So that was my first intro to stunts. And then, uh, maybe about six or seven months after that, I got on a show called Percy Jackson, and they hired me to be a circus performer in this one scene we're in, it's called Camp Half Blood, where I, they wanted like people in the trees hanging from trees.
We got there, did the rehearsal. They didn't like it. So then they kept me because I had made friends and they knew that I could do stuff with like fighting and swords. And by that time I had already started taking martial arts, so I was just a little beginner martial artist. And. They kept me and I ended up working on the show for a month and a half being just one of the stunted warriors.
And, and then from there I was like, okay, got my first couple credits, let's go. And, and I just put my head down after that and, and got to work.
Passionistas: And now you're known for your proficiency in combat and weapon skills, right? So how did you go from that baby taking her first classes to being this expert now? Like what's your training regimen like?
Michelle: Well, I, back then I was still a bit younger than I am now. Um, so I had a little bit more capacity for a lot of training, but I had grown up training 40 hours a week, seven days a week, and my professional career, so much of it, when you're not on stage or you're not on set, you were training.
That is part of the job. I'm a professional athlete, I'm a professional performer, so I have to be training. And so I took the. Like when I transitioned from dance to circus, I just took all that dance training I was doing, put it into circus, and then when I started doing stunts, I scaled back some of my circus training and just jumped right into class.
So I started with Mutai, which is like kickboxing because the thing I heard was you have to be able to fight, you have to be able to fall down and falling down. Like I was decent at. I knew I needed to practice that and I did go and practice that at gymnastics gyms. But I, martial arts was the big thing where I'm like, I know nothing about this.
So I started with Mutai and I was taking classes a couple times a week going hard. And the great thing is, is martial arts and dance are very complimentary. I feel that people may disagree, but having lived in both worlds, they're the same thing, just with different intentions. So dance is the need to tell a story.
Humans have need to tell stories. That's how we communicate. Telling story through movement and art. That's dance. And then martial arts is telling a story through life and death through survival. But it all comes back down to the human body only moves in certain ways. So there's gonna be things that overlap.
And there's a reverence in dance and there's a reverence in martial arts. And so I already had a lot of the base. It was just a matter of putting myself in the shapes that I needed, whereas dance is very like pulled up and martial arts is very down and grounded and, and once I figured that out, which was very quickly, I excelled really fast.
So I went from a complete beginner to like pretty, pretty good within just a couple of months. And then, so I did moi Thai for a long time. And then where it really opened up for me is when I started learning Filipino martial arts, like co esma. Empty hand jkd, like all of those things where like you have little bamboo sticks and you have knives that just, my brain was just like, like I get this.
Oh my God, you put a stick in my hand. And I was like, oh, I know exactly what to do with this. There's technique obviously that I have to learn, but I didn't have to go through any of those sort of awkward first stages. I just sort of started at a higher level and then kept training from there. And that was 14 years ago.
And I've never stopped training aside from like the pandemic and stuff. Cause I didn't. Um, but yeah, I just, I just kept training. So if I was working on set, I was taking in knowledge that way. But then if I'm not working, I'm in a class or I'm, I'm getting better because I, again, it comes back to that quote of, be so good they can't ignore you.
I was still running on that and so I was like, okay, I'm just gonna keep going and keep going and keep going, keep learning because I feel having mastered something in my life. I have mastery over something. But I still feel like in terms of martial arts, there's so much more for me to learn that will take decades. Decades. And that's interesting to me. That feels good to me because there's still curiosity to me. And I see my friends who have been lifelong martial artists and they're just, they have like a whole different vocabulary and Rolodex where I'm like, oh, I can make myself do the shapes and I have quite a bit of a vocabulary already, but to get that level of mastery, that is a lifetime, but I already have it in something else, so I know I can do it in this.
And so it keeps it interesting and fresh for me because I still feel like there's more for me to learn and more for me to improve on and more for me to involve and interject into my own creativity. So that's a, that's a fun place to be in. But when I started, stunts I basically starting from scratch in that area, and I'm very proud of how far I've come on the other side.
And I sometimes have imposter syndrome about it where I'm like, oh, I'm noter. But like I am, but I'm not a lifelong martial artist, but I'm a lifelong learner and, and I do have mastery over something. And so it's about having that confidence to be like, you know what, I may not think exactly like a martial artist, but I know how my body moves and I know how to translate, how to move your body to other people. And, and that's something I'm really, really proud of you.
Passionistas: should be proud. It's quite an amazing accomplishment.
Michelle: Thank you.
Passionistas: Like we said before, you're known as the queen of the Light Saber, and we've heard that you caught the eye of Daisy Ridley, who of course plays
Passionistas: Ray in the more recent Star Wars movies. So, um, what's, what does that mean to you, um, being recognized by her being a lifelong Star Wars fan?
Michelle: That was so much fun. I may have cried. Um, yeah, that happened. It's a couple years ago and it just came out of the blue. I was actually on set, I was on, um, The Magicians. I was working on the magicians doing a sword thing actually.
And, and then my agent called and they're like, Hey, Daisy, Ridley wants to watch your video. Do we have your permission to use it? And I was like, yes, of course. And then it came out and the, the great thing about it's is, you know that you're aligned with the universe because she said, my name Michelle Pfeiffer, and it had on the screen Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman.
And then she watches my video and her mind is blown. And Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, like, is my superhero. She, I had this poster on my wall when I was in grade two for like, I didn't wanna take it off my wall. And, and it was so ratty. And so the fact that Catwoman and Michelle Pfeiffer and my name were all sort of in the same video, I was like, oh my God, the uni, it's happening.
What's going on? Oh, I was so, and I like, I could cry now. It was, it was just so nice to have the confirmation and the validation that like, what I'm doing is actually good because I'm in, I am the worst critic of myself, the hardest person on me is me. And I, there is that energy of not good enough, not good enough.
Not there yet. Not there yet. And that was one of those moments where I was like, oh, oh, I am doing something right. Okay. And, and learning to celebrate that. And I bring it up every now and then, and now and again. And I just posted on my Instagram recently and people still lose their minds about it. And so I'm like, okay, this is a cool thing.
Okay, this is legit a cool thing. And if she saw it, that means other people must have seen it in the Star Wars universe. So, hi, I am here. It is amazing.
Passionistas: And we will post it for everybody to see. We'll put a link in the show description. Um, again, as a lifelong Star Wars fan, it's like, I don't think I've ever seen anybody do what you do in this video and especially because you know that when you're watching the movies as amazing as they are, all of the editing that goes into that. Yeah. You are clearly doing what you're doing all of it.
Michelle: Yeah. Yeah. It's all me. It's all me. It's just, and that particular video that she was watching, I only did four takes of it and each one was good.
It, so it was, it's not like it like was an all day thing. It was just like, oh, I'm just gonna put together this lightsaber combo. Cause it was four May 4th, like 2019 or something. It was a couple years ago. And I just was like, I'm just gonna put a together a combo. Cause I had been filming tutorials that day and so I was doing other stuff and it just blew up and I had no idea because to me, I was just like, this is the lightsaber thing. But you gotta keep in mind that in the movies, so much of what gets put on screen is out of the actors and the performers control. And, and this has happened to me a bajillion times in stunts where you do this badass fight scene and then you watch it back a couple months later when it's in the episode and it looks nothing like what you did.
And it's because when they are running out of time on an episode, the first thing they will cut our stunts and they will the, and you don't necessarily know if the editor that's editing that episode knows how to edit fights and knows how to edit action sequences. So a lot of times it gets all jumbled and you don't know what they're looking for and what is approved because none of us are involved in that process. And so I think people have to give, especially Daisy Ridley some space because she was hired to do a job and she did her job well and. The whole, the fact that she's an actor, she's not a trained martial artist. The fights, you never know, they could have been wicked on the day, but for whatever reason, when it gets to the editing suite, it doesn't come out the same way that it was intended.
And so that so much of this is out of the actor's control, and I think people need to lay off her because she did nothing wrong. She was great. And it's not, it's not her that, that's the issue.
Passionistas: wanna know about the very first time you were on a set doing a stunt where you really felt like all eyes were on you and it was a like really intense, important moment, and you were really like on, on the spot for the first time. And then I wanna know about the first time you were in that same situation where you actually felt like, I got this, like I, I've done this now enough that I, I know I'm confident and I can do this.
Michelle: The first thing that comes to mind for like, the first time all eyes were on me was, it wasn't the first time I doubled the lead character, but I think it wa oh, it was the first time that I doubled number one character. So my, the first time I doubled was on Smallville. I doubled Black Canary and I did like a little fight scene and stuff like that, but I was just, I was so green that I was just like, this is cool.
Yeah, I don't remember having thoughts about that, but the first time I doubled number one, which is the first person on the call sheet, the star of the show, uh, I remember being like, oh wow. Like this is, this is a legit job. This is, this is a thing. And I was still quite green and. When the coordinator called me, he said, it's just a couple fight scenes and some motorcycle riding.
I was like, cool, I can do that. Just fyi, I am not a stunt rider. Like I'm a very good rider and I can be aggressive on a bike, but I don't do tricks on a bike. I do tricks with weapons, but just a couple fight scenes and, and I was like, oh, that's easy. No problem because choreography has never been a problem for me.
And, and he's like, yeah, cool, cool, cool. And so we get there and I remember this one night, it was December and we were doing night shoots. So it would've been like between 9:00 PM and 6:00 AM that I'm doing all this work. It was freezing outside cause it's December. And the first thing we had to do was this whole action sequence where this character jumps off of a building and it looks like she lands on the top of a car and then she rides the car, gets thrown off the car, runs to her bike, puts on her helmet.
Screeches out aggressively and then does like a sliding 90 and like does all this stuff. And then later on she jumps off this catwalk and does a back flip. And all of this was stuff I didn't realize that was part of the job of being number one. Cause I was just like, oh, I just gotta show up and do a couple fight scenes, no problem.
Like, don't even really have to think about it. And it, it just ended up being all this extra stuff. But what happened was is I was just in, in the spot, I was in the flow. And so the first thing I had to do was stand on this barrier. And as the car was driving around the corner, was this a big suv? I had to jump off and land in like a little like pit of pads.
So they, it's gonna look like I landed on the car and, but the timing was important and so I had to jump off and then like jump down and, and get on the car. And I did it on the first take. And they're like, oh great. That was great. I was like, oh. Cool. And I was like, great. Okay. And then the next scene I had to be on the car holding onto the hood.
So I'm looking at the windshield and they're the stunt driver's swerving. And so my body's going back and forth and then at some point I have to push myself off the car, land on the ground, roll out and run to my motorcycle. But the thing is, is, but I don't, don't push far away, I'm gonna get run over by the car.
So they're like, don't do that. Don't get run over because they're not stopping. I was like, cool, yeah, do it. Push off, roll, get to my motorbike, put the helmet on. And then they want me to aggressively ride out of the scene. Did on the first take like great, okay, I guess I'm a one take wonder. And like they were just like, that was great.
We're moving on. Okay. And then they're like, okay, here's what we want you to do. We want you to ride this motorcycle aggressively and then you're gonna stop and you're gonna do a sliding 90, which is where you stop and then your back end sort of slides out. I was like, yo, I don't do like, motorcycle tricks.
I've never tried that. And they're like, God, just here's how you do it. But they gave me 10 minutes to just try it. And then they're like, okay, action. Go. And I think I did like one or two good ones. Didn't do it on the first take, but like did one or two good ones of the sliding 90 and then drive off. And I was like, I, I guess that was okay.
And then little while later, we finish the fights. I think I'm done. It's like two in the morning and then we go back outside after we finish these fights. And the stunt coordinator's like, okay, so last thing we're gonna do is you're gonna climb up on that catwalk that's like 30 feet in the air. You're gonna do a back flip off and we'll put some boxes and pads down for you.
You land in the boxes and pads. I was like, haha. And he's like, no, seriously, go. Okay. So I have like three in the morning, two in the morning, I have to go up these stairs, go up on this catwalk, climb over the rail, and I got like maybe like two or three rehearsals. And I don't like heights. I did, I did silks at 60 feet and hated every minute of it.
And so I'm like not the person that's like, Ooh, I wanna jump off this building. Hang me, maybe. Uh, but I don't want to cause it's stressful. But here I am on this ledge, like shaking because it's cold. I just remember how like icy the railing was. I'm shaking because I have adrenaline and I'm a little bit afraid.
But also it's cold and there's this moment where I was like, oh, here is a moment where they are waiting for me and I'm scared. I'm legitimately scared and the only thing I can do right now is just go for it. And so I just was like, don't think just do, the sooner you jump over this ledge, the sooner this will all be over.
And so then I just did it. And then I ended up having to do like two or three of those. But like that was the first time where I was just like, whoa, this is what stunts is. This is what being the lead double on a show is. There's gonna be all these little surprises and you gotta be able to go and you gotta be able to do it when it counts.
And having had that experience of like, oh, I was surprised, but I did it. I was able to do it. And there was like no problem, aside from just like having this moment with myself hanging onto this railing and I was like, okay, whew, I can do this. Jumped off the ledge. Everything was great. Um, I think later I had to also hit a guy with my motorcycle.
I had to like try and run a guy over. I that would've been like 2011 maybe when that happened. And then the, when I really felt like, oh, I, I've made, it was when I was working on Deadpool and I was doubling angel dust, where it was like, this is a huge feature. It wasn't as big as the Deadpools are now. Cause the first one was a little bit lower budget, but it was still a big feature.
It was still a Marvel thing. And I was doubling a superhero and I was like, I have the confidence. I feel like I'm part of the team. I know I'm doing a good job, and here I am on set and I'm killing it. And, and I see, and I'm hearing feedback from people where they're noticing, they're like, you are doing a fantastic job.
We see how great you are with your actor. People are noticing. And I was like, okay, okay. I'm doing something right. Whew ha. Okay. Just go. And, and that I've carried that with me for a lot of my stunt career. Like there's been moments that scare me for sure. And I'm not afraid to admit that sometimes I'm scared shitless.
But I also know, going back to that, that trust that I learned when I was doing circus is like I can trust my body to know what it needs to do in the moment. And I know that even if my head sometimes is like, ah, I'll take all that anxiety, I know that I can persevere through that and push through it and, and still do my job and do it well and do it at a high level.
And so like having that confidence stays with me now even when I'm like moving into acting. And acting is scary in its own way. So you have to be so present and vulnerable and there where like that sometimes is scarier than, than doing a super scary stunt because now I have to just be here with people and not move and movement is my comfort zone.
And, and so having had all that experience where I have proven to myself over and over and over and over again that I can do it under pressure and that I have what it takes and that I'm good at what I do, it, it stays with me now and, and I'm very, very grateful for it.
Passionistas: Talk about that transition from being a stunt woman mm-hmm to now adding acting to what you're doing and, and how you are able to sort of cut out the middle man by doing both.
Michelle: Yeah. So I've been acting as long as I've been doing stunt. I've been training, I've been going to like classes, I've been auditioning. I am always the second person. I'm always the second choice.
So I think that's why I don't have as many acting credits. But also when you're super focused on stunts, it sort of takes over everything. I don't have time to be an actor, and so now that I'm getting a little bit older and I'm, I'm asking myself like, what actually feels good for me physically? Now I'm like, okay, well act or stunts is physical acting.
I'm saying words with my body. I may not say words out loud, but I say words with my body. Then there's this sort of in between called stunt actor, which is what I'm mostly known for these days, where they hire a stunt performer to do the acting. So your job is to act and do the stunts. It's a very challenging job because it's two different brains.
And it, it really hit me during the pandemic that I'm like, okay, now I'm ready to step up into that role. I'm ready to, uh, embody that space and be like, I am here. I can act. I'm a great actor. I, I'm always the second choice, but I, I can promise you I am a great actor. Um, and I can move and I can do the stunts, and then I can also contribute in so many other ways to a production, whether that be in fight coordination, choreography, helping, working with actors.
I can do all that. So you're getting a lot of bang for your buck when you hire me like I have with so much value to, to bring to a show. And it's not necessarily about telling people that, like it kind of is in the industry. You kind of have to show off and, and shamelessly self-promote. But it's also just embodying that and being in that space and really stepping into that energy.
And then that work starts to come to you and it, like, it's a little bit slow out there right now, but it's the perfect time to go to class and to put out your own work like I'm doing on May 4th. I don't know when this comes out, but on May 4th, I have a show coming out and. I, I think that that transition was more about me having the confidence and the right timing to really be like, okay, now I'm ready to put a little bit more effort into the acting side of things because I'm so well established and stunts, even though I have been doing it the entire time.
So now I'm like, okay, got all the stunt credits, let's just get some smacking credits under my belt. I would love to just show up on set for a couple weeks and just have to talk. Like that's my whole job is just talking. I mean, it would be so nice and I've never done that before. It's always been like, okay, so these days you talk and then these days you have all your action.
But just to like, come in and be some badass FBI agent and, and just lay down that way who that would, that would be a challenge. But I'm into it. I would do it.
Passionistas: I could totally see you as a badass FBI agent.
Michelle: I know I, I got, it's like cop FBI agent, superhero, um, maybe a doctor.
Passionistas: So this unfortunately will come out after May 4th, but tell us about the show that you're doing. What, what is the May 4th show?
Michelle: So my team and I, uh, it's the first time that I've co-produced a project this big with other people. I usually do everything myself because, uh, trauma has made me depend on myself and only myself. Uh, but this project, uh, it came from my director friend, Stanton Chong. Uh, we've worked together a few times and I've been wanting to do a Star Wars fan film where I embody a character and do a fight scene within that character and do all the acting.
And he wanted to produce a short, and so it was like, this is the perfect time. So, um, I didn't know much about the extended universe until my fans over the last five or six years have been suggesting You should be marj, you should, you should be a such adventurous, you should be this person and. And I started looking at all those characters.
And Assad Ventress is the one that really, really stood out to me because she's dark and twisted. But I relate to her in this very interesting way. Whereas she is someone that has just been searching for her place in the universe and has had so much trauma and pain and her path, her choice was to go down this dark route where she became all hateful and twisted and like she's got so much stuff going on, but at the same time, she's just looking for the place where she belongs, where she feels validated, where she feels loved.
And she's been training since she was a baby, basically. And, and I'm just like, that is my story put into a. A cartoon form because the only place she shows up is in the Clone Wars cartoons. And she hasn't, there's no talk of her being in live action. Uh, there's no talk of, of where she might show up in like the Mandalorian series or the Ahsoka series.
And she's such a badass character and she has two sabers and they're red, and I love Red Sabers and I love working with Two Saber. And so I was like, this is my character. Like this is the, I relate to this person and I know who she is. I can play this character. And so I just did my research and, uh, in March of this year, we put together a, a little short fan film about it.
And, and it's all because the fans, my fans were like, you need to be in Star Wars. You should play this person that I got this idea. And so I'm like pretty much dedicating it to my fans, but also I've had in my head for a decade or more like, oh, you know, the way I'm gonna get on Star Wars is to pick a character and make something.
And, and to show them, because you know, sometimes in the entertainment industry, like it's a creative industry, but people aren't as creative as you think they are. And you have to literally hand them an idea on a plate. And that's a lot of what this is. And I'm really proud of it. I'm really happy with the way it came out.
I'm reserving my own critical review of it, because again, I'm the most critical of myself until a couple weeks from now. Uh, it doesn't matter. I just wanna enjoy the release. I wanna enjoy the reaction to it. I hope people will really like it. And I hope that the Star Wars people will see it and be like, that's a great idea.
She's a great interest, let's get her in here. Um, but yeah, I'm really, really proud of it. It's super short. It's like three minutes long. It's a fan film. We put it together so quickly and it came together so smoothly and so seamlessly. It felt like a dream. It's so rare that when you put a project together that there's not very many like bumps or hiccups in it.
And there wasn't like, it was so smooth from start to finish. We ended up getting our location donated to us. Our camera kit donated to us set dec, lighting kits all donated. We got food donated for catering on the day. Like the whole thing came out. Like we invested so much time, but like the monetary investment was so small and, and it's just all these things lined up and aligned for this project to come out.
And I'm so proud of it and I'm so proud of everybody that worked on it. And like there was 30 people working on this thing for our like tiny little short film. It was actually really incredible. And I just, I'm so excited for people to see it and, and obviously it'll be out by now. So it's on my YouTube, my director's YouTube, it'll be all over my social media. You can't miss it. You can't miss it. It'll be out there.
Passionistas: Have you ever been injured doing a stunt? And what needs to happen to make sets safer for stunt people?
Michelle: Well, um, I will say that sets are a lot safer than they used to be. There are a lot of guidelines, a lot of rules, a lot of, uh, a thing we have out here in, in Canada within our union, UBCP, we have a doubling guideline and policy that coordinators have to use in order to get the right stunt double for somebody.
That has a lot to do with finding the right person for the job because you've heard these horror stories and there was one in Vancouver just a couple years ago where they hire a double and something goes wrong and, and somebody gets seriously hurt or unfortunately passes away. And sometimes accidents are unavoidable, but sometimes accidents remind us that we cannot be complacent, even though.
We feel like we've covered all our areas and ticked all the boxes. It's always a, it's always a good reminder to make sure that you're double checking everything. And for me, I've always felt that if I feel nervous to follow that intuition and ask questions, ask myself, what am I feeling nervous about? Is it my harness? Is it this, is it that the pad doesn't feel like it's in the right spot?
Is it like a, a number of these factors is you have to listen to that voice because your intuition knows. And, and there's been so many stories that I've heard from my peers, were like, oh, I knew I shouldn't have done that, but I did it anyway and then I got hurt.
Uh, fortunately for me, I haven't gotten any, gotten any, like, bad serious injuries that land me in the hospital, but I obviously have had. Quite a few injuries. I, I landed, uh, just before the pandemic, I did uh, what's called a ratchet, where you're in a harness and you're attached to a wire. And then that wire is attached to like a single piston machine and it can pull you with a lot of force, uh, like on a pulley.
And I did a ratchet where I, it was picked right down by my hip. And so as soon as they press the button, cause it's air pressurized, it goes. And what it did is it pulled me straight to the ground and then dragged me for 20 feet. And I landed wrong on my tailbone and like my head snapped back. I didn't hit my head.
But still, like whiplash is serious. I've had whiplash on top of whiplash, on top of whiplash before. So I've had like compounding whiplash where I like can't move my head for a couple months. Um, but there's one where I landed on my hip. My, I don't know what happened. I landed on my right hip and my whole left inner thigh adductor seized.
And so the, for the rest of the day, I couldn't, I couldn't lift my leg and, and I was debating whether I should say something, but I was like, oh, it's just one day. Just like, shut your mouth and go. And so that's another thing is, is when you do get hurt, you're supposed to speak up. And I've been on set where, where I've gotten hurt and I'm like, I don't wanna stop.
I don't wanna like lose my gig. I don't wanna, and it's a really challenging situation to be in, but fortunately I, I've escaped major injuries, but there's been like things where like, you're hurting for a while and it always hurts when you hit the ground. I've had a rib injury before. Those ones where you like pull muscles in your ribs or, or break ribs.
Those ones are bad broken fingers. Obviously I landed on a stair fall. I landed because you, the stairs are like this. So I landed with my elbow and the soft tissue right on the edge of the stair. And then it was like this, I was like, I broke my arm. That's what happened today. And then unfortunately it wasn't broken.
It's not a big deal. It's not a big stunt, it's just something easy. Tho those are the times that you get hurt if you don't double check everything. And so it's always a good reminder and that's why we are stunt performers, is because we are putting ourself at risk in that specific way. We're going to eliminate as much of the risk as possible, but you are still putting your health and safety on the line every single time, even if it feels like it's something easy.
Like there's something as simple as like, you know, if somebody were be like hanging from their neck, Even if you do that too long, you could die. Because if you're in a harness and you're sitting in the harness and it cuts off blood flow and then like all sorts of bad things start to happen when you cut blood flow off of a certain area.
So even things like that where they seem relatively simple, it, it could be quite dangerous if not done correctly, or if you're not working with people that are educated or experienced in certain things like that. So, uh, it's, it's, in some ways it's unavoidable, but then in other ways, you, you have to do your due diligence every single time.
And a great coordinator will do that, and a great team will that do that. And it's not something that should be rushed at all. But injuries are part of the job. Like I, I get a lot of people who ask me like, I wanna be a stunt performer. I could do, I was like, okay, but how are you with pain? Because sometimes your job is to be the most uncomfortable you have ever been in your entire life, whether that be pain, temperature, costume, uh, experience within like a mask or prosthetics where you can't breathe.
Like all of that is part of being a stunt performer. And that's, that's the hard part when you're the coldest you've ever been in your entire life and you're tired, but you still know you have to hit the ground and the ground is ice and, and you don't have enough room, especially as women to put on a lot of pads.
So all I have is an elbow pad, a hit pad, and an e pad, and it's like, well, this is gonna hurt and, but I can't hold back. Because if I hold back I'm gonna get hurt. But if I hold back, then they'll make me do it again and again and again. Sometimes as we'll just do it right on the first try. Like there's all these things that go into being a stunt performer that I think people don't really think about it get a lot of people, like I can do a back flip stunt performer out there, so what's gonna keep you going in the industry?
Um, but yeah, injuries are just part of it. It's unfortunate, but they're there. You can't, you can't avoid the injury. You are gonna get hurt at some point.
Passionistas: So given that, and given that you, putting yourself at risk gives the actors the opportunity to not put themselves at risk.
Michelle: Um, yes.
Passionistas: And given how much, especially in big effects films, how much, um, big, you know, action films, how much of a contribution stunt people make mm-hmm. How can stunt people get more recognition for the incredibly important work they're doing? Because we all know that they're not recognized as much as they should be.
Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. It's, it's really disheartening to know that at the end of the day, you might not even get your name in the credits. My face is on camera. I am hitting the cement on camera over and over and over again. You asked me to do it 30 times that day, and I did it. And you still might not put my name in the credits at the end. That hurts. It hurts me more than most people. Some people are really okay with it because the thing about stunts is it's the invisible performer.
The invisible profession you were meant to be there. Show up like a pure out of the shadows, like a vampire, dressed like that person, do your job and then just fade into the background. Yet you're there the entire time you're on set the entire time. Stunt people do not hang out in their trailers. I will say that actors finish their scene, go back to their trailer stunt people are on set the entire time.
So we see everything and we can play very different roles and a lot of different roles because we're so well versed in everything that's going on, on set. So I, I think it's inherently because the job is, I'm not there to be myself when I, when I'm doubling somebody, I'm not there to, to draw attention to myself.
I'm there to do a very specific job and then fade away. And so I think that's what helps contribute to stunt performers not being recognized. But then every single movie that's come out in the last 15 years has been an action show directed by stunt people, second unit directed by stunt people. Like everyone you're seeing in a scene is actually a stunt performer and not an actor or a, a background extra.
And, and still there's this lack of recognition, like John Wick. That whole series was literally directed by stunt people, like though that is stunted. We call it stunt porn, but it's like, it's basically what it's yet, like those directors might get nominated for an award as a director, but the entire action design is just overlooked and skipped.
And it feels a little un insulting. But, but I, I don't know if it's meant to be like that. I just, I honestly don't understand the inner workings of the politics of the industry of why there wouldn't be a push to at least put, I think, uh, an Oscar for action design because then that way the team gets nominated.
Because it would be really hard to be like, best stunt double. It's hard to tell because sometimes an actor has multiple doubles and sometimes it is CGI and, and face replacement, and then like, best stunt coordination. Like there's often two or three coordinators on a big show and they're, everybody's doing a specific job.
So to give it to one person doesn't necessarily work. But best action design is, that's exactly what it is. It's, it's everything. How all the action comes together. And there's this really lame excuse of like, well, if you make a best stunt category, then everybody's gonna be doing dangerous stuff. It's like, no, because it's not, stunts is not the best.
Stunts aren't necessarily about danger. It's about how do you choreograph and tell a a story through action. That is what action design is, and that's what stunts is at its heart. And there are stunt awards. There's a Taurus World Stunt Awards, but you can only be nominated for a Taurus Award for feature films.
And all the shows that we do up here in Vancouver in the last 10 years have been TV shows. And we've been putting together up here like some really incredible fight scenes and stunts and action sequences that don't even get recognized within the stunt community. And so it's like this. All these politics and I don't understand.
And I hope that one day it'll shift. I hope that one day I'll get to go to the Oscars because action design is in there. And I hope that one day my friends and my peers will be able to stand on that stage and with that little statue thing and, and be like, thank you. Because? Because I think that it's definitely deserved, especially for people that have been in it longer than I have, who have dedicated decades to this, and people who are on camera putting their health and safety on the line, and are professional performers, lifelong athletes, if you really added all that up, there's a lot of stunt performers that have been doing their jobs longer than most actors, producers, directors, writers.
Just because most of us started as children learning our skills, and now we do it in a professional way. So I think there's a bit of a disconnect there. I don't know how it, it changes, but I do think, and I encourage my friends to do this, is to share on social media. Social media has the power that TV and, and films don't have and never could have.
And so I encourage stunt performers to share their stories, put little behind the scenes clips of shows that you can show and talk about it. And, and because there's, like I said at the beginning, there's so many stunt performers with like incredible stories because again, we're on set, we see everything.
We have a lot of cool stories to tell and cool stories about doubling that actor and like what happened behind the scenes on that show. And so I think it's, it's about people just stepping up into that space and, and saying like, Hey, I'm gonna share a story with you and, and start building an audience that way.
And there are a couple people that do a really good job of that. Like, uh, Christopher Troy, Lauren Mary Kim, uh, Bobby Holland Hanton, um, Amy Jo Johnson. Like there's a lot of, some performers, Zoe Bell, like those people who have a social media presence are doing a really great job and they're, they're paving the way.
But I think more some performers could do that. I don't know if they should do that cause that's all their own decision because there are a lot of people that are really happy to just sort of be in the background, which is totally cool. But I do think that the world is ready for stunt performers to become.
Superstars really like, cause like how many times do, do I end up talking about something that happened on set and people are just like, what? Whoa, why? Cause it's so interesting to people and they don't, they have no idea what happens to go into a stunt. And, and so like the, the hunger for that knowledge is there.
And it's just a matter of people sharing their stories and feeling the confidence to share their stories.
Passionistas: Absolutely. It is such a fascinating thing. And I think you say stunt person to anybody and they're like, oh, mm-hmm tell me more. I wanna hear.
Michelle: Yeah. And, and so if we're not necessarily gonna get the opportunities on like big press junkets or, uh, like on in other like capacities, then social media on your own platform is the place to put it.
And you can build your own fan base from there, which is exactly what I've done. And look at where it's gotten me, like things are happening.
Passionistas: We've come to the end of our hour. We just wanna ask you one last question. Mm-hmm. Um, what's your definition of success?
Michelle: What is my definition of success? I think my definition of success has definitely changed.
Uh, I used to think that it was all about money and fame and the credits on your resume. And now in my older age, older than I have been in my entire life, I have come to realize that. Success is a feeling. Success is feeling satisfied and fulfilled with the path that your life has taken. Because so many things change.
Your, uh, financial status often changes what you're working on changes, or you have these moments, especially working in film or you're really busy or you're not working at all. And so there's this like push and pull. And so if I'm basing it on that, then in these moments where I'm not doing as much, which is completely outta my control, that doesn't mean that I'm any less successful.
It just means that I'm not working on a show right now. And, and so for me, I've been asking myself like, what do I need to feel successful? And for me, it's about feeling satisfied with the work that I've done and the legacy that I've left. If I feel satisfied, if I feel happy, if I feel fulfilled in that, then that is.
Success for me. Also, I have a home. I have beautiful pets. There's George. Ozzy is, he's in there. You can see a little bit of water. Um, I have a, I have a nice car. I have food in my fridge. Like I can take care of myself and do my job, and still have space for my friends and for my family and, and for the things that I love to do.
That's what success is, is having that balance of everything and having the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment in my life like that. That to me is success. And that could mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people, but if you felt satisfied and fulfilled in your life, whatever that is, that that is success.
That's you doing something right, and, and that's, that's all you can ask for these days.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project in our interview with Michelle C. Smith. To check out all the amazing videos from the Queen of the Lightsabers, follow her on TikTok and Instagram @Michelle.C.Smith, and on YouTube @Michelle-C-smith.
And be sure to visit ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list. Find all the ways you can follow us on social media, and join our sisterhood of women coming together to explore their Passionistas and find their purpose.
We'll be back next week with another Passionista who is defining success on her own terms and breaking down the Berriez for herself and women everywhere.
Until then, stay well and stay passionate.