Interview with Helen Bailey
Before lockdown we had the opportunity to sit down with the amazing Helen Bailey, who is a Badass Stunt Women to the stars. Helen has dominated the stunt industry being one of the most sought-after stunt doubles in the world.
Helen loves to train and learn new skills, striving always to be better and tackling life head on. These qualities and this determination have helped her achieve such great success and this is all squeezed in alongside being a young mum. Helen’s outlook on life is truly inspiring and humbling.
Helen tell us about yourself, where you grew up and what sports you were interested in as a young Helen Bailey?
I grew up in Cobham. I started gymnastics when I was eight. I started because everyone used to do cartwheels in the school playground and I could never do them, neither could my friend. So my friend said, shall we go to gymnastics and learn how to do cartwheels and not have everybody laugh at us. So we went, I loved it so much. I then started progressing up through the classes to the point where I was in the top Elite Squad. As well as gymnastics I rode horses. I was really lucky when I was young as our house was near the stables, so for as long as I can remember my parents were always taking my sisters and I riding together. Later on we all got our own horses, and always went riding around the woods and going to little events and things.
So In the Film Industry not only are you known for being an all-round Badass, but you have a pretty good reputation for your Martial Arts. When did Martial Arts come into your life?
I started Martial Arts when I was seventeen, I had just moved up to London and I wanted to join the circus, so I was doing some acting and going to Circus Space in Hoxton. I was there doing tumbling classes when someone asked if I would like to be involved in a pilot television series, it was literally just two days filming, they said they needed some ninjas, so I said ‘yeah that’s cool. I had never done Martial Arts before’. I went and there was a Karate teacher there who showed us how to hold some karate shapes, we did a bit of tumbling and holding some shapes like Ninjas, and I was like ‘Wow this is amazing’. I loved it so much, he said ‘you should come down to my class’, so I then started doing Karate there. I did one class and then that weekend there was a teacher from Japan that had come over to do a Seminar. I thought ‘Oh my gosh this is amazing’ I really want to come to Japan and train. He said “ok if you really want to come, give me six months to organise everything and then you can come out”, so I did.
Barely 18 years old, you did one Karate lesson, a seminar and now you are possibly going to Japan?
Yes, then I went over to Japan to train, I was supposed to go for one year and I just really loved it. so I asked my parents if I could stay for another year. I ended up staying there for two years. Japan was amazing, literally all I did there was Karate and Kobudo, (which is a very traditional form of weapons), and a bit of calligraphy (Japanese witting). I didn’t go out at all in Japan, I wasn’t into food or anything like that so I didn’t really experience much else, except for the training. But that suited me perfectly as that’s all I wanted to do.
Now you know what I’m going to ask you, can you speak any Japanese?
And what, does that mean?
Just a little.
The Huntsmen – stunt double for Jessica Chastain
Did you take anything from the Japanese culture that you still do today?
It really shaped my whole view on life. My teacher spent so much time teaching me the philosophy of Karate. He taught me that Karate is all about the journey and not the end result, and that through the practice of karate you can emulate what you learn in your everyday life. So basically life is all about the journey too.
And that every time you try and do something or meet someone, you have to feel it is as special as the first time and put that amount of heart into it. He said every punch you do, feel like it is your first and your last. And I love that you have to be grateful for everything and always show your gratitude. This helps not to become complacent, and to always remember how lucky you are.
Photo Credit: Theo Chalmers
Do you or have you done any other Martial arts?
Yes, while I was in Japan I also studied Judo, one evening a week on our night off. Our teacher was also really into the reality of fighting as a whole, and not just sticking to one style. So we practiced BJJ and grappling in our classes and Kobudo, as I mentioned earlier (traditional weapons). When I came back to the UK and started training for stunts I studied Wushu. I found a Chinese teacher who taught a small class. We trained every morning in the park at 6 a.m. and then again in the evenings. I spent a lot of time in China. Since he left England I have studied Thai Kwon Do, Boxing, Kick Boxing and Wrestling.
So, when you came back from Japan, when was the moment you actually thought, right I’m going to be a stunt woman?
When I came back from Japan that maybe I would like to teach Karate, but obviously you never feel good enough. I thought I would train for a few more years, and then maybe I would be able to teach it. In that time, I was training and going to the local gym near where my parents live and Steen Young was there. Everyone was like ‘oh wow that man’s a stunt man’. I thought that’s cool and asked him ‘how do you do it’?, and he told me about the British Stunt Register. I then started training, I felt this is what I have been aiming for my whole life. I really felt like it was my destiny.
Rogue 1 stunt double for Felicity Jones
I guess with the skill sets that you had before, from just your childhood and everything else, lends itself very well to the Stunt Industry?
Yes and also, I was really into Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I always thought I would love to be Buffy, and then I was, like ‘Oh my gosh I can be a real life Buffy.
Rogue 1 stunt double for Felicity Jones
How long have you been a stunt woman and have you enjoyed your career?
12 years, and I loved it so much, I would prefer to be working than doing anything. But then I lost my way a bit. I was asked to lose weight so often, so I stopped training and focused just on dieting. I lost my passion and the reason I loved stunts in the first place, so I took some time off, and just spent time doing things I loved. I got my confidence back, and remembered why I wanted to be a stunt woman. Looking back on the things I have done and the experiences I have had, I have to pinch myself. I couldn’t even have dreamed of doing them, I am so lucky. It has been an amazing and eventful ride that’s for sure.
What is your most favourite film that you’ve worked on?
There are so many favourite ones for different reasons, like Prometheus was definitely a ‘stand-out’ one. I think because it was the first time that I had doubled the lead. It was Noomi Rapace, she was such a strong character and I got to do some really cool stuff. We were doing night shoots in Pinewood, there was no one else there, and we were getting to drive the special space quad bikes around everywhere. I thought ‘Oh my gosh this is the best thing ever’. I feel like I’ve done so much cool stuff. One thing that I’m really proud of is ‘The Huntsman’, I did a fight scene, and because the character had a mask on, I actually got to do the whole fight scene in the movie from beginning to end, uncut and I thought well that’s so cool.
Wrath Of God
What is your Favourite Stunt to date, tell us about the stunt and how it made you feel?
It’s so hard to say, I love doing stunts where you can get into character, and feel like the situation you are in is real. On ‘Snow White’ I got to film a horse chase. I was on a beautiful white horse with no saddle or bridle, being chased through the woods by an army of men on horses. We were galloping so fast through the woods, down sandy hills, through fields, it was so epic. Some shots we were being followed by a helicopter filming us. It’s such a dream to have done stunts like that.
The Avengers, Age of Ultron – stunt double Scarlett Johansson
Helen from all your credits on IMDB, we know you have had a pretty amazing Stunt Career and have been very busy, when did you find out you were going to be a mum?
I was on Tomb Raider and it was in South Africa. I had been there for 6 weeks and I was on a diet, because you know you always have to try and look like the actress, and this actress was so like, not skinny because it was her natural weight, but just tiny, tall but tiny… The actress was Alicia Vikander, so I was on a really strict diet of just salmon, avocados and eggs, and it was working so well but I was so tired. I kept thinking why am I so tired and feeling sick as well, so I thought I had best check just to see if I was pregnant so I could rule it out, and then I found out that I was pregnant.
In the day I had being doing this fight scene where I get kicked in the stomach so many times, and I thought ‘oh no’. I went to work the next day and we were doing this fight scene again, and it came up to the point where I get thrown around inside this helicopter loads, when he’s about to kick me in the stomach and I was like, “why don’t we change the choreography so you kick me in the head instead”, and he was like, “yeah we can try that”. They filmed it for the pre-vizz, and I look back on it and I thought, it just looks wrong, why would you kick a girl in the head twice, so then I thought I’m just going to have to say something. So then I told Lee Morrison, and he was so nice about it, he said that’s amazing news, he was so excited he was practically crying, he asked if I wanted to go home. I did, I thought it best. I carried on doing stunts for a couple of weeks after I got back to the UK but nothing strenuous, just some running about, the other girls on the show really looked after me. But after that I thought enough is enough and I need to concentrate on my baby.
The Aeronauts – stunt double for Felicity Jones
While you were pregnant, what training did you do and do you think that helped you with your recovery from giving birth?
I still kept doing Brazilian Jujitsu wrestling and pad work until I was really quite big, but obviously the coaches knew about it too. There was still so much that I could do but they wouldn’t throw me around or anything like that and then for the last two months I started doing bar ballet, which was just amazing, its all about core strength and its really good. All the training definitely helped with my recovery from giving birth. I got back to light training after about a couple of weeks.
So how has your training changed now that you’ve become a new mum, and how do you manage the busy schedule of being a Mum and working?
It definitely has changed just because there’s just not enough time. Literally you just have to snatch time when you can, when I’m working, when I’m not working. Obviously I want to spend time with Olympia, I don’t want to be like ‘Oh ok I want to go to the gym now’, so if she’s sleeping then I will train or when I’m at work if we get some spare time. When I started back to gymnastics after having Olympia, I would go with her dad, and we would take it in turns looking after her while each of us trained. At that time he wanted to learn a back somersault, so the coach was teaching him to do that, it was really cool because we did it all together and it helped me to get my skills back.
As a stunt performer and especially being a stunt double, do you have to watch what you eat and has that changed since becoming a Mum.
I think things are starting to change now with the ‘strong is the new skinny’ campaign, and now often the actresses want to have some muscle, but before when the desired look was frail and tiny I was always having to diet. It was really hard trying to balance looking skinny enough to double people, but also having enough strength to do the job. The dieting along with the long hours are really hard on your body.
I feel like having Olympia has given me a new confidence in myself, and now I have got to the stage where if I am too big for a job I can think, so be it, it wasn’t meant for me, instead of trying to starve myself, because I need to stay positive and healthy in body and mind for her as well as being able to do my best performance.
Photo Credit: Theo Chalmers
Do you think your mindset has changed towards doing Stunts, do you feel different when you hear the 3,2,1’s?
Yeah, like I actually feel so much more confident as a human and so much more brave since having Olympia, some people say they feel more scared after having a baby but I actually feel the opposite, I feel like I could do anything and I also feel I have a reason for doing stuff, I want her to be proud of me and I don’t want her to think something scares me. I feel I’m not so worried about little things, I just go out there and do my best.
So being a female and coming up through the amazing career that you’ve had as a stunt woman, have you got any advice for any females out there that are chasing their dreams?
I think that you have to stay true to yourself. Remember why you wanted to do stunts in the first place and always keep that at the forefront of your mind, then it will always stay fresh and you will stay passionate and in love with it. For me, it was physicality and expressing myself through movement. We get to be the real-life action heroes. And it is amazing.
The Aeronauts – stunt double for Felicity Jones
So Helen, a little birdie tells us your amazing Stunt has been nominated for a world Taurus Stunt Award. Explain what it is as this is your chance to get everyone to vote for you, we certainly will!
Yes!! The stunt was from the movie ‘The Aeronauts’. I climbed from the basket to the top of the balloon, (80 foot) while it was 2000 foot in the air. the first part of the climb was on a wobbly rope ladder. If your balance wasn’t right the ladder would spin around and get you all tangled up, (not ideal at that height). I then had to get to the outer side of the balloon and climb up pretty much most of the way on an incline. At one point I stopped and took a breath. My arms were so pumped I really thought I was going to be sick (haha). At the top I had to unclip the safety line so I could stand up and then faint.
I loved this stunt because it is something I could never do again. It took so much planning, training and preparation, the weather had to be perfect, the balloon, the rigging, so much work went into making it happen. Before we started prep, a few of us went to Germany to go up in a real gas balloon. The pilot looked at me clinging on in the basket and said ‘you will never do this stunt’ ….. I hope he’s seen the movie now! As a stunt performer I get asked all the time, ‘what is the most scary stunt you have done’, I finally feel now I have something I can impress people with!
For more about Helen, follow her in Instagram.