JEAN MALAHNI: BLOOD AND GLORY

Evolution of a Stuntwoman

Raised in San Pedro, California, Malahni grew up watching slapstick Disney comedies starring people like Haley Mills and Kurt Russell, stunt-filled entertainment that only fueled Malahni’s disturbing predilection for tossing herself down flights of stairs and jumping from rooftops or leaping from a moving tram at Disneyland.

“I got in tons of trouble for doing that,” she boasts. Obviously inclined toward the world of show business, Malahni’s parents encouraged her to pursue acting, and at the age 11 she began landing small parts on television – “The Waltons”, “Bonanza”, “The Brady Bunch” – while simultaneously training as an Olympic hopeful gymnast. After several years, Malahni found herself spending less time with the other actors on the sets, and more time with the behind-the-scenes crew. She became especially fond of the stunt workers, whom, she soon learned, were making a lot of money doing the same kinds of things that once landed her in so trouble. By time she began seeking work as a stuntwoman, she’d already made a name for herself as a skilled body double, doing the nude shots for famous actress whose contracts exempted them from getting naked.

“I’ve never had a problem being naked,” she says, nodding to the framed photo on a nearby bookshelf: a tastefully-staged nude shot Malahni did for Playboy in 1995, part of an eye-opening feature on Hollywood stuntwomen. “When my 13-year-old daughter’s boyfriends come over to visit,” Malahni laughs, “she always runs over, real quick, and hides all my nude pictures.” As further evidence of Malahni’s willingness to bare all, she shows me the Stuntplayers Directory – kind of like a Yellow Pages for daredevils, which describes her as an “All-around Stuntwoman, with and without clothes.” Adds Malahni, shaking her head, “I used to say to the stunt men I’d meet on the sets, ‘I can do anything you can do, but I can do it naked‘.”

While shedding her clothes might have been easy for Malahni, building up her resume of stunt work was quite a different matter. She was in her early twenties, by then with a young daughter at home, and few stunt-coordinators were willing to give her the necessary breaks.

“There weren’t too many single moms doing stunts back then,” she admits. “It was hard to break into the business because of that, cause everyone would say, ‘You’re a single mom. You don’t know anybody. Forget it’.”

While waiting for her big shot, she took a job with Chippendales on the female wrestling circuit, appearing in muddy gladiatorial battle all over the United States and Japan. Fortunately, Chippendales brought Malahni and some of her sister performers to L.A., to wrestle Regis Philbin, back when he was doing a show called “A.M. Los Angeles” with Cindy Garvey. She ended up going one-on-one with a bathing-suited Regis and winning. Suddenly armed with real “television experience” as a stuntwoman, Malahni found that stunt coordinators began to take her a bit more seriously. Her first official paid stunt in the movies was a fight scene in the film “Private School”, a stunt that required Malahni to fall off a horse. She did the stunt, in spite of the fact that she doesn’t like horses.

“I like horsepower,” she jokes, “not horses.”

Then came the call that would make all the difference.

“They called me in to take a gun shot to the chest in a little movie called “The Terminator”,” she says. She was one stunt-person in a dozen or more. “And then James Cameron noticed I looked liked Linda Hamilton,” she says, “and they asked if I’d be willing to be Linda’s stunt double for the entire shoot. So I ended up wearing that little pink shirt and tight jeans, just like Linda Hamilton, for weeks on end, running and jumping and hanging out of cars at three in the morning in downtown L.A. whenever I wasn’t sitting around playing Trivial Pursuit with Arnold.”

“I was always on the team with Arnold and the other body builders,” she says, “so our team always lost.” After Terminator wrapped and with no other stunt jobs on the horizon, Malahni went back on the wrestling circuit. “None of us on the “Terminator” set had any idea that movie would turn out to be anything special,” she admits. “I saw the trailer in a movie theater in Arkansas,” she recalls, “but I didn’t realize the movie had become a big hit until my roommate in L.A. called me to say, ‘You have to come home. Your phone is ringing off the hook. All these stunt-people are calling offering you jobs on movies’.”

So she left the wrestling biz for good, returned to L.A., and found that Hollywood was waiting with Band-Aids, burn gel, exploding cars and open arms.

More to see in part four of JEAN MALAHNI: BLOOD AND GLORY>>>




Posted on December 3, 2003 in Interviews by
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