Women at Work: What It's Like to Be a Professional Stuntwoman

Women At Work is a career profile series that reveals how successful, talented, and creative Strong Female Leads got to where they are; and to share just what it's like behind the scenes of Hollywood. Check back for the latest installment!

   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 cast as a full-featured extra and did a boot camp 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 7 am 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 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."

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

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 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 Issa works with through her non-profit job clowned the hell out of her about her career choice, hairstyle and "white-sounding" voice. But 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 undoubtably lead to more success than failure. 

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! 

How to Make the Most of Self-Care Sundays

Hands down my favorite day of the week has always has been Sunday. In my humble opinion, Sunday's are just the best days to get things done, or to do absolutely nothing at all. I mean c'mon who doesn't love a lazy Sunday?

This is the reason I stress the importance of taking a chill day before the week starts. After grinding five days a week (or more!) at work and then trying to squeeze in a social life on Friday and Saturday nights, I don't see any reason not to have a self-care Sunday! They're fun, productive, and literally the nicest thing you can do for yourself. And trust me, your mind, body, and soul will thank you.

DISCLAIMER: Self-care Sundays DO NOT need to be expensive. For so long, I kept myself from celebrating them because not having an extra $300 to drop to do self-care the "right way" was stressful. Luckily, I found a few simple and expensive ways to make the practice work for me. And here's how you can make the most of your "me-day."

Find Your Mood Music

While I can't sing to save my life, my Sunday ritual always begins with dancing and singing in my bathroom mirror. Whether I'm lip-syncing or not depends on if my roommates are home, but regardless the right song has a way of boosting my mood and helping me relax. Grab your phone, pull up Spotify and blast a song that transforms you to a happy, motivated, or calming space. 

My go-to: I like upbeat songs for my mirror dances so I turn to Whitney Houston, but for calm moments or meditation it's all about Solange. 

Eat Something You Love

Oh, a cookie? Don't mind if I do. Sundays aren't the day to stick to a strict diet or deprive yourself of that cake you've been craving. Self-care is all about living your best life and making yourself feel good and if that means eating the forbidden non-fruit, then so be it. 

My go-to: Tacos! Tacos! And oh yeah, tacos! Any Sunday I have a  chance I get to have them, I do and I've never felt better.

REcharge your soul

Yoga may not be my thing, but meditating I can get behind. A 2005 study at Harvard Medical School found that meditation increases the thickness of your prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain associated with attention and self-awareness. Plus, relaxing your body and mind with meditation helps you to stay centered when you inevitably encounter those everyday stressors—NYC train traffic, anyone? I sip a smoothie filled with Spirit Dust and think about my intentions with crystals in hand for just a few minutes every Sunday and instantly feel more centered. 

My go tos: Moon Juice's Spirit Dust, $30 and my healing crystals from Karma Bliss.

Treat Your Skin

Skin care during your self-care is a must. I was never really a fan of face masks until a few friends suggested I give them a try and now I love them! The best part is that most are super cheap (and still of quality) so you can have an at-home spa excursion without the itchy bath robes. 

My go to: Lush Oatfix Fresh Face Mask, $9

Journal like no one's reading

For Christmas every year growing up I always asked for the same exact thing: the latest Password Journal. Something about writing down my thoughts, feelings, and crushes names 100x in a locked diary was calming. But, I stopped journaling the older I got and just recently started again. Now, in addition to thoughts, feelings and even some poems, my journal includes colorful doodles and inspirational stickers. It's a great way to unwind and get everything I'm thinking (and with my anxiety that's a lot) off my chest and out of my head. Clarity is key when it comes to self-care and journaling is the easiest way to achieve that. 

 My go-to: Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes journal, $13

Crack Open a Good Book

Have I mentioned how much I love reading? Books, magazines, literally anything with words! Getting lost in a good story gives me the warm and fuzzies and I'm sure the same will happen to you. Seriously, just unplug for a few hours and turn the page, and then the next one. And if you're looking for book inspiration check out this summer reading guide

My go-to: Magazines! My favorite weekend reading material is and will forever be glossies. Good Housekeeping, Glamour, ESSENCE, Cosmopolitan, ELLE: all my faves.

Netflix and Actually Chill

No, don't do the millennial chill. Actually sit back and stream your favorite shows with no shame. Getting lost in the complicated lives of other people, especially one's that are fictional, can help you forget about your own work woes and relationship problems. Plus it's just effing entertaining and fun to watch TV--and a good laugh is always good for your health

My go-to: Right now, I'm catching up on these shows (and always looking for more suggestions!).  

Do you treat yourself on self-care Sundays? If so, how? Let me hear in the comments!