Women at Work: How Pro Stuntwoman April Sutton Hustled Her Way to Hollywood

April Sutton smiles alongside actress Grace Gealey on the set of Fox's Empire. (Photo Courtesy of April)

April Sutton smiles alongside actress Grace Gealey on the set of Fox's Empire. (Photo Courtesy of April)

Ever wondered what it's really like to film fighting, fire, and extreme driving scenes in movies or TV shows? Professional trainer and stuntwoman April Sutton is spilling the deets. This Chicago native was once struggling and living out of her car, unsure if the path she'd chosen was right for her, but with passion, determination, and a little faith she hustled her way into the entertainment industry and gained work on Empire, Chicago P.D., The Exorcist TV series, and more. Now she's sharing her story and secrets to success. 

Name: April Sutton
Age: 29
Location: Chicago
Her Hustle: Professional Trainer, Owner of Sutton Strong and a Professional Stuntwoman
Education: Robert Morris University, Applied Science with a concentration in Fitness and Exercise
Social: Instagram | Twitter 

the journey

"I was an athlete, but I wasn’t interested in going to college behind it. I could do it, but it was never really a passion. But, after watching family members battle health issues the summer before college, I decided to start working out and it became my passion. I ended up going to Robert Morris University in Chicago for fitness and exercise, developed a career out of it, and have been training for about 10 years now."

How she got into the industry

"Being a stunt person was never my first choice in the entertainment industry. I actually wanted to be a writer/director. (And still am working towards that!) Then one day I got laid off from one of my personal training jobs and was really distraught. It led to a huge financial downward spiral and I lost basically everything I’d ever worked for. I got evicted and had to live in my car and kind of figure things out. I ended up going back to school to study film production after thinking that maybe fitness training was no longer for me. I thought that this was my opportunity to do something I'd always dreamed about. Eventually I got an internship at CineSpace and was told about a casting call for Divergent. I was casted as a full-featured extra and did a bootcamp that led to an opportunity to be on the stunt training team at the end of production. It was so fun and I enjoyed it so much that I realized I wanted to pursue stunt performing as a second career."

Her Big Break

"I had no idea that Empire was going to be so big at the beginning. I just looked at it like a gig, until after I did my first stunt (a simple drive-by scene). From that moment I knew it would be big and really got into it. I didn't do more stunt work until the season-one finale. And that catfight scene turned into one of the biggest moments in my career. After the episode aired, I shared some behind-the-scenes photos of Grace [Gealey] and I. They went viral and I started getting phone calls and text messages. My social media following spiked and I started booking more jobs. I couldn't be more humble or grateful for all the doors Empire opened up."

Her Day-to-Day Routine

"I have a lot of clientele early in the morning. So I sometimes start my days at 4:30 am or 5 am. I get to my clients at around 6 am and then I have a 7am client, and then mid-day clients around 2 and 3 pm and so forth. In between that I'm working on emails and drafting social media posts and marketing materials, Then I do my own athletic-performance training to stay in shape."

the craziest stunt she’s ever done

"Stunt driving scenes are intense! On TV shows or movies the cars look like they’re going fast but in reality we’re going 30-40 miles an hour. Yet still, we’re going faster than all of the other cars so it’s a weird feeling. This particular time I was in the passenger seat. The stunt driver was going like 40 and we had to sharply cut down a tight alley. He was very skilled and seasoned, but I was so scared and almost crapped in my pants. But, overall it was a good kind of scary. Like "on a rollercoaster" scary.

How she strives to support women

"I see a lot of female trainers, but not a lot of super successful female trainers, who are completely living the dream. And I know only a handful of stuntwomen. I wish there were more and that we had more opportunities, but think that sometimes we just need to create our own. I don't perceive myself solely doing stunts forever, so I’m working on my own stuff and am determined to provide more diverse projects to women in this industry."

how to carve out Your Own Path

"People are always waiting for that big break or opportunity from someone else, but you can really create your own if you’re smart and network with the right people. I always say that it’s all about timing and being with the right people at the right time. That's what happened to me."

industry must-haves

"Of course the education, whether that be through stunt training or just having general fitness knowledge. It doesn’t have to be a degree or school, it can be a training certification. But, more importantly it's crucial to know who you are and to focus on your brand. If you’re going to work in a client based industry like fitness training or something that relies on booking,  like a performer, keep your social media, marketing and branding in check. How you carry yourself professionally is how you’re going to attract business."

Her hidden talent

"I'm actually really good at mixing music. I don’t exactly moonlight as a DJ, but it’s something I wouldn’t mind doing in the future." 

Her theme song

"I love anything Beyoncé, but my favorite is '711.' When that song comes on I'm just so hype and always feel ready to perform above and beyond." 

Her Motto to live by

"Just keep rolling with the punches. We all face some kind of adversaries when pursing our dreams, but it’s all part of the process."

Women At Work is a weekly career profile series that reveals how successful, talented, and creative Strong Female Leads got to where they are. Check back each week for the latest installment. 

 

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

14 Fun and Motivating Songs to Keep You Productive At Work

Everyday after lunch, I want to immediately take a nap. Seriously! I've wondered more than once if anyone would notice if I took a quick power nap in the bathroom.

Photo by Natasha Tendai

Sometimes a cup of iced coffee does the trick, but other times, a different type of wake-up call is needed. Cue the music! If you're in need of tunes to keep you productive, check out my ultimate work playlist featuring a little bit of old and a little bit of new, but mostly just a whole lot of fun! 

Don't judge: I know my taste in music is super um, diverse. But if it sounds good, and can pass the Alexis-can-dance-in-the-mirror-to-this-test than it's a keeper. And yes, I did just refer to myself in third person. 

Be sure to check back as I'll continue adding my favorites to the list time after time. (BRB, going to add that song next!) 

Click here to listen on Spotify!

6 Work-Life Lessons From HBO's 'Insecure'

In case you missed the news, Insecure is returning for season 2 this July (July 23, to be exact!) and the awkward black girl that is me couldn't be more excited! Before this hit series, the brainchild of writer/actress Issa Rae, I never really saw myself reflected on TV. Sure, I saw black women here and there, but never ones that were as awkward and quirky as me (with the exception of maybe Joan Clayton on Girlfriends) Needless to say: this show has truly become one of my favorites. 

But in addition to the personality similarities, Insecure also does a great job of mirroring real-life situations; particularly the ones having to do with work. In between my giggles and "yes girl" commentary while watching the show, I found myself taking notes on how the characters handled various situations at work. Here's everything I learned:

1. always keep your cool

The first lesson came at the top of the first episode. The kids at the school where Issa will be working with through her non-profit job clowned the hell out of her about her job choice, hairstyle and her "white-sounding" voice. And while she was clearly taken aback and uncomfortable, she managed to keep her cool, crack a few jokes, and narrowly hide her awkwardness. Staying cool, calm, and collected isn't always the easiest thing (and Lord knows I know this to be true), but taking the professional road will no doubt lead to more success than failures. 

2. Save the private convos for after-work...

...or at least until you're in a room alone. Molly's co-worker Diane eavesdropped on her conversation per usual, but one time she accidentally revealed Molly was dating someone new while she was on the phone with a guy she'd recently friend-zoned. Wouldn't have been a big deal, except Molly was trying to keep her options open, girl and Diane playing the guessing game only threw salt in the plan. Note to self: If I'm juggling multiple bachelors and sharing an office with a nosey co-worker, take all calls outside. 

3. Step out of your comfort Zone

Absolutely nothing , nothing, nothing grows in your comfort zone. Issa knows this all to well, particularly in the first episode when she's interested in impressing her ex. So despite her insecurities she gets on stage at an open mic night and raps an original piece about her BFF Molly's um, lady bits. While this move caused more harm than good down the line for Issa, in the real-world taking risks after making a solid plan (i.e. career changes, big moves) can pay off big time. 

4. Don't engage in ignorant ass co-worker convos

As someone else who's also a "token" in my office, I refuse to answer ignorant ass questions like the ones Issa's We Got Y'all co-workers asked. Luckily, I haven't really got any. At least not yet. Still, I have to say that nothing good can ever come from feeding into BS like this. The same thing goes for listening to office gossip around the non-existent water cooler [do they even have these anywhere, anymore) or liking/responding to shady group chat messages. 

5. Don't be anyone's scape goat

Molly's bosses thought they had found a fool when they asked her to check her less-than-professional-at-times new colleague. But, Molly wasn't interested in scolding one of the only other black women at her law firm; espeically when doing so was completely out of her responsibility and pay-grade. And I don't blame her. Sure, it's great to help out in different areas here and there at work, but not at the expense of putting others down or making yourself look crazy. 

6. Bathroom mirrors are for more than selfies

Issa has taught us that if ever you need to vent or to pep yourself up before an important talk/presentation, the bathroom mirror is the perfect item to turn to. For far too long we’ve been under-utilizing and minimizing their power by taking useless selfies, when they were clearly meant for more. Not only can the mirror provide a judgment-free zone , but a few seconds of smiling at ourselves and repeating motivating mantras might be just what we need to slay the day. 

Are you excited for season two of Insecure? What lessons did you learn from season one?
Let me know in the comments!