TBB Talks to … British Black stunt actress Maria Hippolyte

Maria Hippolyte hails from East London and is one of a few British Black registered stunt actresses.

Beginning her professional career as a dancer, she then went on to graduate with a Bachelors Degree from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Hippolyte then became a circus performer at the Millennium Dome, going on to perform at the 2006 Commonwealth games, and 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. Her skills took her across the globe, until she decided to take her stunt register training in High Diving, gymnastics, trampolining, Scuba Diving, climbing and becoming a 1st Dan in WTF TaeKwondo.

After becoming a registered stunt actress Hippolyte went on to star in her first feature, Wonder Woman, with follow up roles in Avengers Infiinity War and End Game, Star Wars, Artemis Fowl and notably as one of the Dora Milaje warriors in Black Panther.

On the eve of the 91st Oscar awards and Black Panther being nominated for Best Picture, TBB Talks caught up with Hippolyte to find out more about her career and why stunt performers are fighting for recognition during award season …

Introduce yourself …

Maria Hippolyte, stunt actress

Which came first the desire to act, or to get into stunts?

My desire for stunts came first, coming from a circus background the risk element has always been there and not wanting to lose the physicality and movement knowledge I’ve gained over the years through dance and circus.
My love of movement and expressing myself though movement has always been my drive.

Was there a person, or a scene which triggered your interest?

Thinking back I would have to say Jackie Chan’s film, Armour of God is the one film that woke me up to the idea of stunt work. Watching him fight these four kickass black women sparked something in me that said I could do something like that.

Is there an iconic stunt person who is a legend in the field – and what does that mean? Because for an actor they become the character, for a director they direct an effective piece, what makes a stunt person shine through or gain a reputation in the industry?

I think Buster Keaton is the man who set the bar for stunts. In regards to this question, stunts are so vast that you can never really aspire to one person. As a stunt performer, you may have to drive, ride a motorbike, high falls, car hits, stair fall, falling through a roof the list goes on. From watching and speaking to some amazing stunt performers consistency in one performance, making the stunt believable; your work ethic, training.
The self-development work never stops.

How does someone train to be a stunt person?

In every country it’s different but here in the UK, we have a stunt register that once you have done the training, you’re added. The skills are changing so I can’t really comment on it until they have finalised the skillsets, but the British Stunt Register is the place to ask futher questions.

What’s the environment like for black stunt people? Black stunt women? There are a lot of movements ranging from 50/50; Times Up, Inclusion Riders, diversity standards in front of and behind the camera, is there something for stunt people when it comes to racial and sexual harassment, and increasing diversity?

That’s an interesting question. So far I haven’t been treated any differently to any other stunt performer I’ve been welcomed and respected by those that I have worked for. Maybe the obvious is people noticing that it is just Amanda Foster and me on the register. Currently, we have Equity and the BSR to turn to if any problems do arise.

In regards to the push for diversity, I think the most important thing to remember is that stunts are not for everyone it is specialised; not everyone is happy to get hit by a car. I can see where that lack of diversity is, but most importantly I can see the skill it takes and the dedication and drive it takes to become a stunt performer. If it’s made easy you run the risk of people hurting other people on the job, which is not what you want. My hope is that with the BSR we will help to educate trainees and anyone interested in stunts so that we have the right performers for the work.

So you were a Dora Milaje in the now record-breaking culture changing Black Panther, how did you hear about the role?

When they expanded their search for Black female stunt performers, I was put forward by friends and people who I’ve worked for in the industry

What was the audition process like?

I was asked to perform falls, fights learn a routine and show my own skills which I had to perform in front of the director.

We’ve heard the cast and director Ryan Coogler talk about how impactful, inspiring, family like it was being on set, and powerful to see so many black people as a part of such a monumental moment, what was it like for you?

That’s how it was we were a family on set the energy had a calmness to it at times which is what Ryan had about him. The respect he showed everyone on set was amazing when a director knows your name and pretty much everyone’s names on set shows the respect he has. Stunt coordinators Andy Gill and Jonathan Eusebio showing how psyched they were to have me on board.

I remember my first day on set and Danai and Lupita coming over and talking to me and Chadwick having a laugh with us at training, Michael B Jordan keeping us all warm in his tent on set. Letitia and Daniel would regularly check in on me that I was OK working away from home. It’s the little things that go a long way. Just a great team of people to work with.

Will you be back for Black Panther 2?

That I have no idea about. My fingers and toes are crossed though!

Where will you be watching the Oscars? What are you going to do if Black Panther wins Best Pictur?

In regards to watching the Oscars, I’m not sure, as stunt performers are not represented at all. The Black Panther stunt assembles won a Screen Actors Guild award this year, but if Black Panther wins Best Picture at the Oscars I know that stunts won’t be included in it. There’s a movement called Stand Up For Stunts which calls for a boycott of the Oscars until they include a category for Stunt Professionals. This is what we would love to see as stunt performers in the industry.

Keep up to date with Maria Hippolyte here.


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