EXCLUSIVE: Last November, as veteran stunt driver Olivia Summers was leaving a production meeting, a commercial producer took her aside and said: “I didn’t realize there were female drivers. We just put a guy in a wig for a job.” It’s a practice known as “wigging,” in which stuntmen don wigs and dresses to double for actresses.
SAG-AFTRA said two years ago that “wigging a male stunt performer to double for a female performer is not acceptable and this should not happen again.” And yet, the practice persists. So Summers, who doubled for Kristen Wiig in a memorable stunt driving scene in Bridesmaids (see the scene below), decided then and there to do something about it.
“I left the building and walked to my car,” she recalled. “My insides were burning with mixed emotions of frustration and defeat. I got in my car and the minute I turned the key I thought, ‘I am going to start an all-female drive team.’ ”
She called two of her stunt-driving buddies – Dee Bryant and Angela Meryl – and though delayed by the industry shutdown, they have now teamed to form the Association of Women Drivers, which they say is “the first and only all-female stunt driving and performance driving team.” Between them, they’ve performed stunt driving in over 500 commercials and more than 300 films and TV shows.
“AWD is a collection of diverse women stunt drivers. We’re professionals, we’re fun, and we get the shot done,” said Summers, whose mother is from India and her father, who died last year, was of German-Hungarian descent. Summers was Sarah Paulson’s stunt double on Netflix’s Bird Box, snaking a Jeep Cherokee through a line of oncoming cars; Kylie Jenner’s driving double in an Adidas ad campaign, spinning 360s in a Ford Mustang out in the desert at night; and driving a Greyhound bus in Hulu’s Dollface. (Check out her sizzle reel here.)
Paul Feig, who directed Summers in Bridesmaids, has said: “I needed Olivia to do something difficult at the end of Bridesmaids when Annie is trying to get Officer Rhodes to pay attention to her – I needed her to drive really funny. And she did. Olivia is the best.”
Bryant, who for more than 20 years has been fighting wigging, unfair hiring practices and “paint-downs” – in which dark makeup is applied to white stuntmen so that they can double non-white actors – told Deadline: “It’s time for change, and for women and people of color to be given a seat at the table – and behind the wheel.”
“We want to create visibility for talented women stunt drivers, who are often ignored or shunned in our business,” said Bryant, who is biracial – her mother is Latina, and her father African American. She’s driven on over 100 TV shows and feature films including doubling Angela Bassett on Fox’s 9-1-1, stunt driving a ’59 Chevy Chevelle on Dolemite Is My Name, stunt driving an MRAP military tank-type vehicle on Fear the Walking Dead and doubling for Gabrielle Union as a motorcycle cop in a wild chase scene in LA’s Finest. (Check out her sizzle reel here.)
“We also intend to create a format for the next generation of women stunt drivers,” she said of the new group.
“I love that our group is diverse,” said Meryl, who is African American. “It’s all about women supporting women.” Meryl, who has been performing stunts for 25 years, noted that she has personally witnessed paint-downs. “It’s nothing new. It’s been happening for years.”
On ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, she crashed an ambulance into another ambulance, and on the CW’s All American, she skidded a car to a stop at the very edge of cliff. “It was pretty hairy,” she said. And for a Jeep commercial, she had to hit a guardrail in the mountains, in the rain, and skid to a stop without going off the road and into the ravine below. (Check out her driving reel here.)
“We all have skills in many different areas,” she said of her teammates. “It’s great to be part of something inclusive.”
All three members of the team say they hope a new era of inclusion has begun, and that more women stunt drivers will get a shot at getting the shot.
Here’s that Bridesmaids stunt scene with Summers at the wheel.