Actress Gemita Samarra On What It's Like to Be a Modern-Day Bond Girl Stunt Double in Spectre
As an actress, stunt double and model, 22-year-old Gemita Samarra already has a pretty impressive career. Starting out young as part of an award-winning synchronized swimming team in the UK and competing in equestrian show jumping, Samarra’s move into modeling and film was a pretty organic one. Having already appeared in the epic Game of Thrones episode, “The Dance of Dragons” and done stunt work on last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, she has some pretty neat projects coming up, including Infiltrator where she will be doubling for Diane Kruger. But her newest project, and undoubtedly the coolest, was as Léa Seydoux’s stunt double in Spectre.
Basically, the Bond Girl behind the Bond Girl, but you won’t notice Samarra in Spectre and that’s the point. You aren’t supposed to. Having just returned from the film’s opening in Mexico, she took some time yesterday to sit with me for a bit at Cinépolis Del Mar before Spectre premiered in San Diego. With the specially-designed Aston Martin DB10 just 10 feet away, as well as the Aston Vantage and DB9, the view for our interview wasn’t too shabby. (Especially since we got to hang out inside the DB10 afterwards, of which only two remain out of the original 10.)
A photo posted by Gemita Samarra (@gemitasamarra) on Oct 27, 2015 at 4:35am PDT
I’ve interviewed quite a few people at this point and to be honest, I had more fun getting to know Samarra than I’ve had in a while. We chatted about the toughest stunt on Spectre, what it takes to be a stunt professional in the UK, her dream “Action Girl” role, animal rights and who she’d like to see step into James Bond’s shoes next.
Mila Pantovich: You have such a diverse career, from acting to modeling to stunt work, do you see yourself being drawn to one more than the others?
Gemita Samarra: I started, originally, [sports] modeling when I was about 16. I started with horses and swimming, got into modeling, got my first TV job—which was an acting/stunt-type role underwater—[on] Bedlam. From that job I had four or five other underwater jobs and then I eventually performed on land and it all kind of went from there. It kind of went modeling, acting, stunts and then I just carried on with the stunts. I still model to fund the stunt training. Stunts was my all-time favorite thing until now I realize I can do the acting and the stunts together. I think that’s the ultimate goal, to do both.
MP: When stunt doubles start acting, do you then need your own stunt double for insurance purposes?
GS: Yeah, some things you do, for insurance and it would be the most frustrating thing. But I understand it, completely.
A photo posted by Gemita Samarra (@gemitasamarra) on Nov 2, 2015 at 9:32pm PST
MP: What does it take to be a stunt professional? I imagine that you would have to be certified in various things.
GS: In the UK it’s a lot harder than it is in the US. We have a UK Stunt Register [and] you have to do six different categories. One, you have to do martial arts to a black belt [level]. In the five other categories, there’s two choices per category, so you have to either do climbing or gymnastics, scuba diving or swimming, horse riding or driving. You have to do six in total to a very high level. In the US, you have to be a member of [the Screen Actors Guild] and then pretty much be good at something. That’s why there’s a lot more stunt performances in the US, because there isn’t a specific amount of things you have to do here.
MP: You’ve already worked on so many amazing projects and with so many fantastic people; how did you get involved in Spectre?
GS: Really quite randomly. I was on another job last year and I was brought in to meet another Stunt Coordinator who was actually working on Star Wars, just to say hi. Whilst I was at Pinewood Studios in the UK, I bumped into the Assistant Coordinator for Bond and he was like, “You look [a lot] like the actress we’ve got on for this. Come and let me take a picture of you and we’ll talk about it.” Within five days I had met Sam Mendes, the Stunt Coordinator and literally everything just happened all at once. I was in work the next week. I had to literally drop everything I was doing; I had a choice to carry on with that or take on Spectre, and obviously I was gonna do that.
MP: I was sad to see the Aston Martin DB10 killed so early in the film! Did you get to have any fun with one of the models?
GS: I actually didn’t, no. Not the Aston. But everyone that did said it is the most phenomenal car. It’s such a machine.
A photo posted by Gemita Samarra (@gemitasamarra) on Sep 22, 2015 at 7:02pm PDT
MP: The industry is evolving, but it’s still not that common in Hollywood to see a woman do stunt work and acting work, and be recognized for it, with Zoë Bell perhaps being the biggest, but it seems to be happening pretty organically for you.
GS: You’ve got to show variety, [and] that you’re not just the girl who can fall over and not just the girl who can get punched in the face. You have to have that actual actress side as well, which is kind of hard, because I don’t want to branch out of my niche as it were, but I also want to show a bit more variety as well so I’m trying to take on roles that aren’t just stunt oriented. Everyone knows I’ll always be able to do the stunt and action side of things, but I want to show that I’ve got a little bit more as well.
MP: You’ve said that you want to hone in on the ultimate “Action Girl” role; what does that role mean to you?
GS: I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Hanna, but something like that. I don’t really want to do a big cheesy action girl movie, I would like to do something a little bit more like a thriller, something to think about, something quite clever as well as pretty heavy action stuff. Not just something that’s a big cheesy show reel type stunt movie. I want to do a good movie.
A photo posted by Gemita Samarra (@gemitasamarra) on Oct 19, 2014 at 11:19am PDT
MP: What has been the coolest stunt you have performed so far? On Spectre and off.
GS: On Spectre, I would say probably getting a table kicked in my face by David Bautista on the train. They’ve actually cut it to look pretty quick, but it is very real. They actually changed it, because it didn’t look like she was going to stand up from the way it looked on the profile shots so that was fun. There was no way to stop that table from coming to your face. You’re sat there and [the table] is here and by the time [you react], you’ve either anticipated it coming or you’re going to stop it coming all together. So, you just have to take it to the face.
MP: How long did it take to film that entire fight scene?
GS: We were rehearsing that for a good few months, because we kept changing it. It was the first thing we were rehearsing when I came in November of last year. We rehearsed that for like three months and then it got delayed as well because Danny [Craig] got injured and then we delayed it until May or June. So it got delayed quite a lot in the movie, and we kept adding bits and taking bits out.
MP: How do you do take, after take, after take, when you’re getting beat up like that?
GS: Something like that, yeah, there’s no real way of trying to cheat it. Especially when it’s like that. I had that table hit and then immediately after, when I stand up and go to hit him, I get slapped again and then I’m down. She gets hit and she gets up, she gets hit again and she gets up! He just keeps coming back.
A photo posted by Gemita Samarra (@gemitasamarra) on Aug 26, 2015 at 5:34am PDT
MP: Has there been a moment on a project that gave you a “what did I get myself into?” feeling?
GS: There was a really low budget movie, which I don’t mind at all, but there’s never really that high of health and safety standards. Especially when they’re taking you to a country to specifically get you away from the standards. I’m like, “Okay…this is fine…” It was actually the job I was doing just before I took Bond and I was doing a test for this elevator shaft fall. Pitch black and there was lots of obstacles on the way down, and they didn’t want to pay to have anything rubberized. I didn’t know where I was landing, I didn’t know how far it was, and it was literally like, “Just jump down this hole and see where you land.” I didn’t have time or space to turn around to land anywhere nice. It was just the case of falling.
I had a similar case on Bond rehearsing for this high fall…when he finds Madeline. The same thing. He jumps onto the safety net and we actually jumped onto that safety net. That was all real. She’s being carried, so I can’t see the floor. I cannot see where we’re landing and I’m landing on him so I don’t even have that give of a net. And I’ve got a bit of a gap between me and the net because of the body underneath me, so [there was] a bit of whiplash on that too. When they [told me about it], I was like, “This never happens.” We never genuinely have two people jumping together like that, landing like that. [Mendes] also wanted Bond to jump feet first as well, which you normally try to fly as much as you can in the landing position, but he wanted it to look like we’re going feet first. So for him, he can’t see the floor either, he doesn’t know when to lift his legs up so he could have broken his legs.
A photo posted by Gemita Samarra (@gemitasamarra) on Nov 6, 2014 at 9:44am PST
MP: You have a pretty dangerous job!
GS: It’s a lot better than it used to be, like 20 years ago.
MP: That story about Back to the Future 2 recently came out where the stunt woman in the hoverboard chase scene was nearly killed due to lack of rehearsal and planning.
GS: That’s the worst thing. You need time and you need to have rehearsed it on the actual set as well. And in costume! I find that’s the hardest thing. You do all of these things and then all of a sudden you have to do them in heels and a dress and you can’t wear any padding. Everything is completely different. You can’t run in heels on the sand! Morocco in heels. I actually had prosthetic feet made for me for that scene, because the sand was going to be too hot to run on, but they kept her heels on instead.
A photo posted by Gemita Samarra (@gemitasamarra) on Sep 9, 2015 at 10:55am PDT
MP: I read that you’re also writing and producing some upcoming projects, can you tell me anything about those?
GS: Yeah, I’m big into animal rights, so I’m doing a documentary. I wrote one last year about shark finning. I have my own charity called Finished Finning. Now I’m branching out into everything, going country by country, but it’s kind of all going towards China. We’re doing animal testing, [dog meat] festival in China, whaling, shark finning, poaching…just, everything. They’re a lot of things that people don’t really know about it, but instead of making it a death reel, I’m going to go around and see all the positive things that we’ve done and try and keep going that. Everyone knows what’s going on, but they don’t know what positive things have happened.
MP: Finally, since this may be the last of Daniel Craig as James Bond, who would you like to see fill the shoes next?
GS: I think a female should! I know they’re running through a whole list of different people, but I’m not sure they even have a clue yet. Maybe after the success of Spectre, maybe Daniel would do another one. I hope he will. I feel like if he’s happy to, he should do another one.