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 each week 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 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."

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