Interview with Eunice Huthart
Eunice has excelled through the Stunt Industry, from being a sought after lead double as a stunt performer, to one of the top Stunt Coordinators in the UK, but probably the most successful female Stunt Coordinator in the world.
Eunice was born in the UK and held several British and European (WAKO) Martial Art titles training under Alfie Lewis.
Pre -Stunts, Eunice made fame through the TV show Gladiators, where she won the show and multiple titles before being the only UK contestant invited back to be a Gladiator. Fit for Films are extremely honoured that Eunice has taken the time to do this interview with us and shedding some insight into what it takes to be at the top of your game.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I really think where I grew up as a kid is what defined me as the person I am today. At a very young age we moved to a newly built council estate in Liverpool, I didn’t know this at the time but it was the most densely populated area for kids per square metre in Europe. I don’t think they could have fitted more houses, flats and maisonettes on there if they’d tried. It was a gigantic estate with so many kids which was insane, it was absolutely fantastic and the best environment any kid would want to be in. We all moved into this new estate at the same time so nobody knew each other and there were no relationships already established, we were all in the same boat.
The amount of games we played; football, climbing trees, getting chased by the police, because we’d get up to anything and everything as you would as kids! The amount of fights that I got into protecting my elder brother who had learning difficulties, if anyone looked twice or gave my brother stick I used to just run after them and fight them.
The old maisonettes where we use to live were really bad and literally became an old slum area. Once they were empty we use to dare each other to play a game called ‘dropping’ where you would go to the highest point and drop to the ground, I naturally always won. I mean, I was like a lad anyway, I hung around with a gang of lads and held my own with any of them; football, running, jumping, dropping, fighting, literally anything. I think me growing up as a female was never a barrier to me because I spent my younger years from 5 to 14 with lads and I was on par with them all until hormones kicked in in later teenage years.
I’ve never thought of being a female as any different. I’ve never seen it as a weak link or I’ve got to fight harder, as like I said I’ve always been on par with lads. I just do what I do and mentally there’s no barrier, which I think is the best thing because you’re not preoccupied with overcoming an obstacle before you enter a room or before you go for a meeting.
And that was me basically growing up! I was laughing, running, climbing, jumping, fighting, crying, nursing wounds, but it was brilliant, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
What age were you when you started Martial Arts, what Martial Art did you compete in and how was it training under Alfie Lewis?
I didn’t get into a structured Martial Art until early 20s, so quite late. I actually wanted to go do Martial Arts, I mean I was always fighting. I would always come in with black eyes and scraped knees but my mum wouldn’t let me join a fighting thing because I was the girl, even though like I said in the previous question, I never saw it as a barrier. My mum didn’t want me to fight, she wanted me to go to ballet of all things. I did manage to go to Judo but it didn’t last too long because my mum found out and so the compromise was athletics. What that did give me was a great foundation, and on the side of that I was always doing Boxing and pad work with my mates who went to proper classes. They would teach me in a very unstructured way; we would all do our pad work and Martial Art kicks and then of course I was always watching the Bruce Lee movies and doing things like trying to kick the light switch off in the house, I mean I think that was normal for a kid that age when those type of movies came onto the scene.
So, until I got a structured form of Martial Arts in my early 20s it was all my own devices. I started Martial Arts with Alfie Lewis who was a perfectionist, so it was literally like the best environment you could ever be in, and it was tough. If you got knocked out in the class there was no sorting yourself out, you got dragged out the emergency doors. You know the emergency fire exits that have a bar release, Alfie just used to kick that bar and drag whoever was knocked out outside and then shut the doors. 5 or 10 minutes later when you woke up you’d have to walk around the building and in through the class. What was worse is that you’d have to stand by the door of the class and wait for Alfie to acknowledge you in, and then you’d have to bow to the rest of the class to be able to come in.
It was great training under Alfie, it was so focused and the environment was perfect, an absolutely ideal foundation for me. When I started training under Alfie I think he saw that I had some kind of base and knew the perfect way to exploit it. Within 18 months I was a European Champion and it wasn’t because it was weak competition, it was tough competition, I just used my strengths very well to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses. The structure we had with Alfie is the only structure I can ever work with now because you’re either all in or your all out. If you’re dabbling and it’s amateurish and attack it like a hobby then it was no good to me.
Who inspired you growing up?
It’s not on a fighting level or even an acting level. I was always inspired by football. Obviously coming from Liverpool, that’s the go to of any kind of passion, entertainment and involvement. I mean when you’re on a council estate, the cheapest way to get 30 kids to play together was football which probably cost like £1.50. I loved football as a kid and up to the age of 16 I did think I was going to play for Liverpool. In fact, even at 16 I was convinced I was going to play for Liverpool. For me the inspiring players were Kenny Dalglish, Gordon Banks, Jeff Hurst, Johan Cruyff and when he did the Cruyff kick. I love football and I really understand it, I love the chess match and you can really see the players that play it that way. Even now if I was a kid there are players like Trent Arnold and Bobby Firmino and you can see that these players are two steps ahead of everybody else and that stuff really turns me on.
I think that is why I loved Martial Arts as well, it’s a chess match. You could never really specify me as a certain type of fighter because my game would change depending on the type of fighter I was fighting. I really loved it, I would know before they threw a punch where their weight was and what was going to come. I think if I had to choose an outstanding person that inspired me growing up it would be Kenny Dalglish.
Do you think the dedication it takes to be a successful competitive Martial Artist/athlete has given you a strong foundation and focused mindset to help you achieve everything you have?
Yes. Not on every level though. I am dedicated and focused, but it does translate into a physical sense. I really don’t understand how anybody could be an accountant for example or office bound filing, organising and putting everything in chronological or alphabetical order. My focus and dedication do not work like that. It has taken me all this time in lockdown to sort my filing cabinet out! Once I did it, it only took 2 and a half hours, but it took 12 weeks for me to get focused enough to do it. I really think that all successful people are dedicated and focused, and I am a believer that hard work pays off. I just feel you have to find where that lies for you, ‘your gift’, you have to find that passion so you can give it your all.
As a Martial Artist I learnt to train myself until I had nothing left, literally! I would crawl onto the bus, starving, cold and ready to get home. Sometimes I wasn’t on the bus until 9pm, almost crying with how tired I was and yet I knew that I still had a 15-minute journey home and then when I got home, I would have my homework to do and need to cook myself tea. In our house if you were not home for tea you would have to make your own. The growth that happens when you are in that world of training pays off but pays off in all different avenues. It’s not just a physical return. It teaches you where your limits are, how hard you can push yourself and what you can recover from no matter what. One of my mindset sayings I learnt at 15, through reading a lot of ‘Sun Tzu Art of War’ is “it’s nice to have an end to a journey but it’s the journey that matters in the end”. It’s true! It has always been my philosophy in life and has always paid off for me even when I felt low. I would tell myself, “this is your journey, and this is what is important to you”. I will be 80 and sitting down with a bottle of wine at 2 o’clock in the afternoon still telling myself this!
How did you get into the Film Industry, has Stunts always been on your radar of something you wanted to do?
No, stunts was never on my radar. I always say ‘hard work pays off’ but there is sometimes an element of good fortune and my good fortune was being seen on Gladiators.
Ever since I can remember as kids we were always doing stunts and being very physical. I kept the physicality side of me maintained through the years, until a show on TV came along called Gladiators. It was a game show where contestants had to run obstacle courses against the gladiators. It wasn’t because I won the show, I was just seen on the show by the producers of Golden Eye, who were looking for a stunt double with a Martial Art background for Famke Janssen.
At the time I was still competitively fighting, and the World Championship title eluded me. I was gutted about it. I had achieved silver in the World Championships but not the gold, so I was still striving for that World Title. The movie opportunity just came along so I thought I would give it a go, even though it wasn’t in my plan.
I went to Leavesden studios, which was just an aerospace place at the time. I was covered in oil, which was not the most glamorous of scenes, and I was surprised to find out that the Movie Industry was not that glamourous at all. It was just one of those things that I did and then it happened…
All of a sudden when I was working on Golden Eye I had this epiphany doing this pretty cool stunt. My eyes were wide, my teeth were clenched and grinding, my fists were clenched, and I was like “oh mate this is what I want to do”. I think if this had not happened, I would never have got into the movies, it’s not something I would ever have thought of. Don’t get me wrong I loved movies. Star Wars, oh God, one of my favourite games as a kid was playing Star Wars in the street after we had all gone and seen it. I was a lover of films from day one. I loved the escape of it all, I loved how they made me feel. We would literally play Star Wars and I would always be Darth Vader. Movies was just not something I had thought of for a career path.
I guess everything just came together and it was like a moment in time. I thought from there I better get serious, this is it, I need to become part of the register to be an official Stunt Performer and that is how my career started. That was my element of good fortune of how it happened and something I am always eternally, eternally grateful for.
Is there a particular Stunt you performed that stands out above all the rest from your career as a Stunt Performer?
Very easy question for me and it is when I did the jump on the movie ‘The Beach’. When it was first recc’d, it was that time of the year where the rain fall was massive and the water was really high. When we went back to shoot it in pre-production, the water had dropped so much that we worked out I had to clear 33 feet to make the jump, otherwise I was going to hit solid rock. We were at a height of about 78 feet and that’s not with VAT, all stunt performers put VAT on, it’s hysterical!
So basically we were at a height of 78 feet, had to clear 33 feet when jumping, otherwise we were going to hit solid rock, and then we were in an 18 foot deep plunge pool, fortunately for us the plunge pool had sand at the bottom, so even if you went in straight as an arrow and really bottomed out it was very, very soft sand. The adrenaline rush of doing that as a stunt was so high, because even if you stubbed your toe or slipped you knew you were screwed, so the whole energy of that was high.
You know Gladiatorial Movies when they go in and fight 1 on 1 to the death, I always used to watch them as a kid and wondered what that must have felt like, to know that only 1 of them is coming out of it. This jump gave that feeling as dramatic as it sounds, it gave me that feeling as if I was going in somewhere, and if I didn’t complete what I was set to do it was not going to end well, and I loved it for that, every fibre of my body was alive!
And the way Danny Boyle shot it!
I’ve done stunts and then gone to the cinema dead excited and been shocked because it was shot so bad. None of the way they shot it showed how I felt taking that hit or doing that stunt; that’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to Stunt Coordinate, to try and deliver the stunt as we feel it, even if it’s not me performing it.
Danny Boyle shot the jump exactly how I felt doing it, when I do a stunt, I’m in character, I take the hit and I like it if it hurts because I feel like I should feel it. When I watched it and he’d tracked along with me and then it went off I loved it, I’d go as far as to say that’s possibly the only stunt to date that I felt like that, as sad as that is, it was perfect. For me as a performer, to this date, that is the one I’m most proud of and the one that is the most memorable and it’s probably because of the way it was shot.
Did you have to have a different training regime to double Angelina and do you have a favourite moment while doubling her?
I wouldn’t say I had a favourite moment, but I would say I had a favourite film which is the first Tomb Raider. That was my first chance of doubling, and this isn’t a feminist comment in any way, shape or form, but the action movies that we do are usually driven by male leads. You know you’ve got the ‘Bonds’, the ‘Bourne’s’. It’s better now but for every one lead female action actress I could give you a hundred male ones. So, to be given an opportunity to be doubling the lead on a film that was driven by so much action, I mean you’re talking about 1999, it was fantastic for me. The good thing was we got Angie really early, her diary was not like it is now. She was all for it, she packed in drinking, smoking, she packed in everything. She went on a healthy diet and did everything because she really wanted to honour Lara Croft which was fantastic, because she was only 24 at the time. She was still a youth, she had energy beyond belief, and she was so coordinated, it was great.
I think the movie got pushed 6 or 8 weeks, if I remember rightly, so the good fortune of that was we ended up having about 16 weeks of being together and training together. It gave me time so I could really study the way she stood, the way she moved, the way she’d look, where her weight would be, and she is a left hander and everything about Angelina is left-handed. It’s weird, a true left-handed person sees everything a completely different way than what we do, so I just mimicked that on every level and changed everything, my powerful leg, my powerful side, literally everything, it was great fun. I even used to practice catching the ball with my left hand and do keepie-uppies with my left foot instead of my strong side, which was my right. I redesigned everything about my body and how it moved to match Angie, it was brilliant fun. I loved that we had a totally different training regime for me and we focused a lot on balance, she had a very specific way she wanted to deliver Lara Croft, holding up some level of femininity without being a woman trying to fight like a man, a woman fighting as she would, I loved it.
It was action, action, action all of the time, it was great. I always thought, “oh this is what it’s like when you’re always a lead double, you have this time with your artist” whereas nowadays its different. You just don’t get the actors like you could then, or you can if the actor really, really wants it like the Tom Cruises of the world that drive for it.
On some movies it doesn’t matter what I say to the artist, if I want them for 16 weeks I’ll get some producer telling me “are you out of your mind, that won’t happen, you’ll get them 2 weeks before the movie starts” so unfortunately its different now. I would love it, to go back to them days when the actors were less busy, less committed to different things and you got them for the time you wanted, as that was brilliant.
In the Film industry you are known for your passion and your attention to detail, where do you think this has come from?
No idea. There is a bit of a history in my family from a physical sense. My Grandfather on my Mum’s side was an absolute superb gymnast, and he used to teach Douglas Fairbanks Snr for some movie roles. I think there is something from that. I wouldn’t say I am a perfectionist, although it might be deemed a perfectionist, but if I am going to do something then I am going to do it properly.
I just remember as a kid, part of my chores were to hoover the stairs, halls and landing. My brother would have his chores and he would always finish in half an hour and it would take me like 3 hours. So much so that my Mum would say “Jesus kid can you do it a bit quicker”. I just remember thinking that it wouldn’t be done properly if I rushed it. Even now we will be planting hanging baskets and all the flowers and colours will be all thought about in how we lay them out, I have no idea where it comes from really.
I love that I have it because it is in everything I do, it’s not just in my career and performance, it’s even when I cook a meal, hoovering the floor or cleaning windows, it is in every single thing I do.
What is your favourite part of film making?
It used to be shooting when I was a performer. I do think there is an element to Stunt Performers being ‘show offs’ and extroverts. Nick Mckinless said to me once, “stunt performers are failed athletes”, he’s not wrong! If you look at most top performers their background is a high level sport. If I look at my team, Tahlila Craig: National Gymnast, Marvin Campbell: Olympic Gymnast, Mike Lambert: British European Fighting Champion, Dave Fisher: superb Gymnast, Mark Mailey: superb Gymnast, Tolga Keenan: superb Gymnast.
Good Stunt Performers definitely have a distinct level of dedication and enthusiasm, as well as being glory hunters. As a performer my favourite part of film making was being in costume doing the stunt, ‘Little Eunice the Glory Hunter’ and I loved it. I loved every single piece of it, and I loved sitting in the cinema watching it and seeing people’s reactions.
My favourite part as a Coordinator is prep or sometimes pre-prep, what I call soft prep because that’s when the creativity comes in. I have now discovered that whatever I did as a performer, probably a year before I was even in costume, the Coordinator would have been fighting for that stunt and fighting for that gag. What I love at the moment is sitting in a room with the Directors, Producers’ and Creative Writers, discussing and creating the action because it is the most creative time. Unfortunately, there are so many compromises when we come to shoot stuff; if they are behind schedule some of the action will get toned down or compromised, where visual effects will take over because its quicker than doing it for real on the day. So unfortunately for me shooting can sometimes be more disheartening than it can be enjoyable.
Star Wars on the other hand was probably my favourite film to date as a Coordinator, because JJ wanted to do it all for real and so we did everything for real, and so Star Wars for me broke the mould. Unfortunately, this is one of the few films I can say that about at the moment, I loved it.
Is there a Director and or Actor that you would like to work with that you haven’t already? And why?
It’s funny, I think it’s because the people I’m most admiring of are in the football world, I would love to work with Kenny Dagleish, Bobby Fermino, Jurgen Klopp. There are films I’ve watched where I was like, “god I’d have loved to have been involved in that film”, because the end product was so good and enjoyable, but I’ve ticked a lot of boxes that I’m happy about. I always wanted to work with JJ Abrams just because everything he did, I just loved, especially his shots.
I think it would be a great box to tick to work with Steven Spielberg, because I’ve loved so much that he’s done like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Jaws’ and those sort of movies. I would probably be in awe of him too much if that makes sense, so I think I’m happy just bobbling along doing projects. What I hate doing is the same thing again and again and again, like I’ll do movies and I’ll be like “well we did that on so and so, so let’s make it different”.
I like to see new, fresh stuff all the time, so if someone was to say to me “you’ve got to work with this director who’s fresh and new and wants to do everything different”, that would make me dead excited.
Working with Joe Wright was great because he’s such a good storyteller, and working with Ron Howard again was great. A lot of the experiences that I’ve had were not because I was striving to tick a box, it’s often just been something that comes along.
Eunice you have employed a lot of Stunt Performers on some of Hollywood’s biggest films, what attributes do you look for in your performers, what makes a good Stunt Performer and is there any advice you could give to future performers?
There’s definitely a type of performer getting into our industry just for the money, and I can spot them, and then there’s definitely a genre of performers who get into the industry because they want to perform. The performers want to live the part; they want to be a part of the making of a film and they want to go and sit proudly watching it in the cinema and that’s what I look for. I look for, ‘that person’, not their ability at this stage. If I meet ‘that person’, they’ve got what I love and I’m given enough time to make sure that they’re up to speed I’d love them to work with me, sometimes I’m just not given that time though.
There are performers in my team that are fantastic, I could give them any task to do, any stunt, any piece of action, even just walking upstairs looking casual next to an actor, because there’s going to be something that goes off and you’ve got to look natural in front of a camera, even on establishing shots never mind doing the actual stunt.
I’ve got performers that I know I can throw in, they want to do it, they do it in character and they’ll do that all of the time which is great, because it just makes your team versatile and it adds good depth to your team. Basically, for me a good stunt performer is the person that is in the movie, that is in character and does what you’re naturally doing in situations and wants to do it, and not just doing it for the money.
My advice to any performer is live the part, be the part, no matter how small! If I was in a crowd of 50 Stunt Performers walking down the street, because a car was going to come spinning around the corner and we’ve to be there because extras can’t be put there. In my head I would be like “right, I’ve been shopping, I’ve got to go home. I’ve got my husband’s tea and because he’s been working dead hard I’m going to cook him a nice tea” or I would be like “I’ve just been to the gym, I’m knackered, I’m going to take this walk home just being in the air and coming down off my training session”. In my head I’d be hustling along the street because that’s what part I’m in and I would always have a purpose. My advice to anyone is to do this too, whether you’re the lead double or in a crowd of 50, understand what is being asked of you and live the part, be the part!
We earn great money, were very privileged to earn great money, but you’re there to do a job and you’re there to create an illusion, and that’s what’s most important to me.
Working in the Film Industry can be long hours with high levels of responsibility and stress, where do you find your stillness in all the chaos. Do you manage to still find time to train and how important is good nutrition to you?
It was very easy for me, as a performer to find time to look after myself and create stillness because you have time, you’re in your dressing room, you’re on your phone, you’re watching something, you’re waiting until you get your call and then you go. At the end of the day as a performer, you drive out the gates of whichever studio you’re working at and you go and do whatever you’ve planned to do that night with your family, friends, associates or kids.
As a Stunt Coordinator you don’t have that switch off at all and I miss that. I miss it dearly if I’m honest but that’s my own choice. I’ll be either in the studio having meetings with other Departments to make sure the set pieces are right, meeting with SFX, meeting with Directors, meeting with the Producers about budget. I might leave at 8 o’clock and I might be going home to read the script pages that have just come out, or work out what went wrong in the day so as I can fix it, or work out what went right in the day and enjoy that moment.
Because I had no time I stopped taking care of myself; I stopped training, I stopped watching my nutrition and I started to dislike myself physically which wasn’t great. I then went to see Steve Grant, which is the best thing I have done, he’s a Nutritionist and he put me on this great path and made it easy for me. I feel so much better in myself because my energy levels are higher and I sleep so much better.
When we’re shooting I cannot find time to train unfortunately and it guts me, I wish I could. I can find time to train when we’re in prep. If I train while we’re shooting I end up getting really sick, as I’m always going below maintenance energy levels and I’m training on my reserves, which is leaving me empty the next day.
I’m still not finding the time I should for myself, for example, I have never had the right time between Movies, because a project comes up and I want to keep my team together and not lose any key guys, or any one of my team, so I just keep working. And working in the Stunt Industry can be 100% high levels of responsibility and stress.
This lockdown environment we’re in now, has been the best thing for me, as it has helped me find me again. I would say I was lost for a bit. I was always Eunice the Stunt Coordinator, but I lost Eunice. It took me 8 weeks to unwind and find myself again, which has been a very good thing to come out of lockdown. I hope it’s not the only good thing, I hope there’s been a lot of other good things to come out of lockdown.
Looking back on your life to date, did you ever imagine you would be in the position you are right now and is there any advice you could give to future Dream Chasers?
What I do know though is I never stood still, there’s just been so much I’ve done, and I’m not talking about achievements, I’m talking about paths of life. For example, I had my Athletic career, my Fighting career, my McDonalds career and then I lived in the North East for a year where I worked in a factory just to earn money. I’ll see people and recognise their face, but it takes me ages to know where I know them from. “Do I know them from school or was that Athletics or was it Kick Boxing, McDonalds or is it the Film Industry” and it goes on like that. I’d say probably the most constant thing in my life has been the Film Industry, which I didn’t enter until I was 28 years old so I never imagined any of it, to where I am now.
When I was working in McDonald’s, it sounds hokey, but I was the quickest person in getting 5 stars to become Floor Manager, and I did it within a year of being there, I would have had my own store. Not that was not an ambition, but I was in that environment and I was striving to get better and push myself to climb the ladder.
I mean I had a stop gap of working in a factory of all things because I met my husband, and it was easier for me to go and get a job there than it was for him to come down here in that moment in time. I didn’t go up there to work in a factory, I went up there transferring through McDonald’s, but it didn’t really work out and I ended up just working in a factory packing boxes, so I can pack good boxes and it sort of stayed with me from there, but I knew the factory was a temporary stepping stone. Whereas when I was in McDonalds I was like, “I like it here, I’m going to climb the ladder” and I did that for most things, “oh I like this I’m going to… climb the ladder, climb the ladder, climb the ladder”. Even in Martial Arts I wanted to be an Instructor and always wanted to achieve my belts and stuff like that.
I do know though, that I never imagined if I look at where I am now with what I’ve got, you know the sort of materialistic things in life which aren’t that important to me, and I don’t want to be materialistic, but I like them. I love my car and I love my house, I like my garden, I like the holidays, well I haven’t had a holiday for 7 years but I like the holidays I can afford to take. If you were going to take those away from me I would be absolutely gutted, but I didn’t want to climb the ladder because I wanted the materialistic things.
If you’re striving because you want the money in the bank, are you striving for the right stuff and are you doing it for the right reasons. For example, let’s say I’m in the film industry because I want to buy a Jumbo Jet, so I’ll choose to do ‘this’ movie, not because that movies great, or it’s got a great team and I’d learn loads. I’m choosing that movie to work on because they’re offering a better deal and the hours are dead long, so I’ll get more money in my bank account.
What I’m trying to say is, if your ambition is driven by a different formula to mine, then the choices you make in life may not improve you as an individual or help you become a good Stunt Performer.
I climbed the ladder because I wanted to climb the ladder, I want to be the best, I want to achieve, get better and improve for myself. The choices I always made were because I wanted to learn and I wanted to experience, so I think that is my advice to future Dream Chasers, make the right choice that improves you as a person in your ability, your integrity and your understanding as a Stunt Performer… or even as a footballer or whatever you really want to be.
I do relate a lot to football! Sean Wright Philips who is a footballer, he went to Manchester City for the money, right, he never got a place in the Squad. He played a couple of games but he sat on the bench and earnt a fortune, but who’s heard of him. He might have been happy with that but then his true passion as it emerges is money, and what he hasn’t done is, he hasn’t become a legend in the Football World. He’s remembered as the one that took the money and that’s what I’m likening it to. If you want to grow as a performer in your ability, you have to make the choices that will improve you as a person and improve your foundation as a performer, and do something that you are passionate about.
We are very fortunate in the UK at the moment, you are in the position where there’s a lot of work going around, I know we’re in a different World at this moment in time but that will change. The Industry is massive and if you make the right choices with the teams you work with, you will improve as a performer and just get better and better.
Thank you very much, I really enjoyed that and being interviewed without being interrupted!