By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
If getting paid to jump from tall buildings and navigate your way through high-speed car chases sounds more appealing than working in an office, you'll understand why Leigh Bianco loves her job.
Cable jerks and high falls are all in a day's work for Bianco, a stunt performer for the last eight years.
Stunt performer Leigh Bianco hanging off the cliff in Road Rage.
But the York University grad had dreamed of catching thugs on the streets rather than portraying them in the movies. She was acting in commercials and had begun training to be a police officer when she discovered the world of stunt performing.
"I was on a set one day, saw some stunt performers and thought I'd like to do this," says the 34-year-old Unionville resident.
"If you're interested in becoming a stunt performer, you need to be able to bring something. For me, it was horse riding," Bianco says. She rounded out her resume with driving courses, martial arts classes and on-the-job training.
Stunt performers belong to ACTRA and are paid by the project. They're hired by stunt co-ordinators based on their ability to perform a stunt and double an actor. Bianco has doubled for Meryl Streep in First Do No Harm, a TV movie, and Madeleine Stowe in Avenging Angelo starring Sylvester Stallone.
She's worked on Mutant X, Dracula 2000 and doubled for Nia Vardalos on My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Bianco is the one being yanked off the chair while Vardalos chats on the phone.)
Bianco has doubled for Meryl Streep and Nia Vardelos.
Though stunt performers may appear fearless, they rely on their skills and physical prowess to make a stunt look spectacular and realistic.
"You minimize the risks as much as possible, rehearse as much as you can and try to take away all foreseeable problems," Bianco says.
"But it's still a job where you're hitting the pavement. When you're dressed in a miniskirt and short sleeves, you know you're going to hurt. You do what you can to protect yourself and spend the night in the hot tub."
Most amazing stunt? Doing an Aussie rappel (running down a building face first with a rope attached to the top of the building and dropped to the ground) off the Royal Bank Tower in Toronto. She's also been set on fire and regularly works as a stunt driver in car commercials.
Career highlight? Meeting her husband, Marco Bianco, a stunt performer and stunt co-ordinator.
Despite precautions, the job carries risks. "I've been pretty lucky," Bianco says. "I've had concussions, stitches and tore the cartilage in my chest. I've also had some bruising. After a while, those things can take their toll and make you ache. After you've done stair falls, the next day you feel it."
While many stunt performers go on to become stunt co-ordinators, Bianco hopes to become a TV broadcaster or host. But until then, she's only too eager to throw herself off a few more buildings.
"Some days, when I'm performing a stunt, I think, 'Wow. I couldn't do this in the real world.' I'm in a car chase, crashing through phone booths, and I'm having a lot of fun. There are those stunts you don't do on a regular basis and they make up for all the days you're just getting shoved to the ground."
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org
) is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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