Every seat in Room 103 of Stanley Russ Hall was filled last Wednesday night as stuntwoman Monica Staggs told stories about her career and gave some sound advice on the good and bad realities of the Hollywood life.
Staggs, 42, was born in Boulder, Colo., and moved to Arkansas with her family at the age of five. She attended UCA for one semester before transferring to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where she majored in drama and creative writing.
Staggs began her presentation by showing her stunt reel, a compilation of film clips of her stunts up until 2003. She said she had to go to a “porn place” to have the clips unencrypted from DVDs for a price she could afford.
She then showed a fight scene from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill, Vol. 2” in which she was a stunt double for Daryl Hannah. Staggs said that the six-minute scene required six weeks of rehearsal and eight weeks to shoot. While filming, she suffered a compression fracture in her spine and didn’t realize that it was broken until after the shoot.
“That film was miserable for me,” she said. “It was a ‘go into the bathroom, cry, and listen to Metallica’ [shoot].”
However, Staggs said that Tarantino was “great to work with.” She showed a scene from his 2007 film “Death Proof,” in which she had an acting part.
Staggs then took questions from the audience and told several animated stories of her experiences as a stuntwoman and actress. The audience was amused when Staggs occasionally got off-topic.
She said that the worst injury she ever had was when she fell from a moving truck and fractured her skull in four places.
“I’ve never felt pain like that before,” she said. “They thought my neck was broken.”
But that didn’t stop her. Less than a month later, Staggs was back to work, jumping from car to car on top of a moving train for N Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” music video. Staggs said that she didn’t want to do the stunt but her husband, veteran stuntman Gary Wayton, pushed her to do it.
“It was pretty easy,” she said. She said that when she got to the end of the train, “the sun was setting, the choppers were flying around me. I was like ‘yeah, this is cool.’”
Staggs, who acted in many theatre productions at the University of Arkansas, said that she hadn’t originally planned to have a career in doing stunts.
“I’m basically an actress that accidentally became a stuntwoman,” she said.
Everyone in the room laughed when Staggs was asked what keeps her going. She simply replied, “Money.” She then elaborated, saying that what keeps a person going in her career is having confidence and “not thinking you’re a victim.”
Staggs told about her experiences trying to get jobs and dealing with the hierarchy of the audition process.
“You have to love rejection,” she said. “You can’t take anything for granted.”
She also reiterated the importance of toughness in the career of a stunt person.
“You’re going to have contact. You’re going to have bruises,” she said. “Bruises are the least of it.”
While Staggs gave everyone a fun night of advice and interactive storytelling, the audience learned one thing from watching her: Hollywood life can make a person lively, hilarious and maybe just a little bit crazy.