For as long as Sallie Mae has been loaning money to college students, entrepreneurial graduates have been concocting new and innovative ways to get their debt paid off. For USC Media Arts alum Jasi Lanier, the solution was simple: fire-eating for dollars.
The Pittsburgh native acted and modeled as well, and served as the inspiration for a number of romance novel covers and comics, even playing muse to artist Joe Jusko for his work on the Tomb Raider series. (Take that, Angelina Jolie!) But Lanier’s taste for danger eventually overpowered her desire to stand still in front of the camera. Inspired by Dusty Russell (a.k.a. Dusty from Dallas), her uncle and a well-known daredevil in the 1960s, and some articles she had read about professional stuntwomen in Femme Fatales magazine, Lanier decided that it was time to kick ass for a living. Literally.
Now more than a decade into her career, Lanier has amassed nearly 50 stunt credits in films such as Identify Thief, Sinister, and Alice in Wonderland, and become a regular player on the small screen, from iCarly to Criminal Minds. She has also appeared in several episodes of The Walking Dead, where she holds the fascinating title of “stunt zombie.”
Just ahead of The Walking Dead’s fourth-season debut, we spoke with Lanier about getting started in the stunt game, the great men-versus-women in Hollywood debate, and exactly what it takes to become a “walker” on AMC’s mega-hit series.
How does one go about becoming a stuntwoman?
It is different for everyone in how they come into the business; there is no one set way. I moved to California and did whatever I could to get on sets—background work, stand-in, PA. I would ask stunt people questions. I got my SAG card and was invited to [famed stuntman] Bob Yerkes’ backyard. [Stunt coordinator] John Moio saw me sword fighting and got me my first gig doubling Nathan Kress on iCarly for the “iFence” episode.
What sort of training is involved and where do you get it?
Training is endless in stunts: gymnastics, fights, weapons, bikes, cars, scuba, horses, wirework, and fire. There isn’t one place to get training for stunts. Much of the best training is invitation only. [It’s] tough to get into, but worth every minute of it.
What are your specialties?
I don't know if I have a specialty. I try to be an all-around stuntwoman and am always looking to broaden my skills.
What are the skills that are most in demand for film and television today?
It depends on the show. Hitting the ground, fights, and car work are always on the top of the list.
What role does fear play in your professional life on a daily basis?
You are overcoming your fears for sure, whether it be heights, fire, etc.
Like in so many sectors of the entertainment industry, women are the minority in the stunt world. What’s the biggest challenge of being a female stunt person?
The biggest challenge is that 95 percent of the jobs are still for men … and there are more stuntwomen than ever, so the competition is tough. Secondly, our wardrobe doesn’t often allow for pads like men, so we definitely take some pretty hard bumps.
How did you get involved with The Walking Dead?
I met the stunt coordinator, Russell Towery, and gratefully got called to work.
So far you’ve worked on three episodes of the show, where you’ve served as a “stunt zombie.” What exactly does that entail?
What it entails is three hours in the makeup chair and nailing your zombie walk/movement.
What’s your most memorable moment or scene from the series?
My most memorable was from this season. [But] I signed a non-disclosure, so I cannot discuss it until it airs.
What’s the one stunt you have yet to perform on-screen but are dying to do?
I really look forward to doing car crashes and flips.
What’s up next for you?
Up next is stunts on Fast & Furious 7, stunt acting on the horror flick Convergence, and more mayhem on the Nickelodeon show Sam & Cat.