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Jasi Lanier

Jasi Lanier, The Walking Dead's "Stunt Zombie"

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Jasi Lanier

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.

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before he was called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior, in 1980, to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their original poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and said that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox
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entertainment
20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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