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Catching up with Hannah Betts

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Hannah has surely the coolest job in the world – she works in Hollywood making stunts for the world’s biggest movie stars. She’s recently finished a 4-month role as Sandra Bullock’s stunt double

Hannah Betts – Stuntwoman and World Champion athlete

What do Sandra Bullock, Tom Holland, Daniel Radcliffe, Mark Wahlberg, Brad Pitt, Channing Tatum and Antonio Banderas have in common? They are all relevant with big movies this spring. And they have been helped to look good by skydivers.

Hannah is one of the industry’s best stunt workers and has worked hard to establish herself in a relatively short space of time. Kjetil Nordin of Frittfall magazine interviewed Hannah, asking about her latest exciting project… 

Hannah Betts, Sandra Bullock’s stunt double

British-American Hannah Betts 
Photo: Karen Lewis Dalton

Hannah Betts has been Sandra Bullock’s personal stunt double, in the film “The Lost City”, which premieres in March. This movie also stars Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe and Brad Pitt. Hannah was a skydiver before she became a stuntwoman. Her parachuting career became her entrance ticket to the stunt profession.

Hannah has a rich stunt career. She has been one of the Zombies who got to taste Michonne’s Katana, in “The Walking Dead”. She’s had superpowers in the Marvel universe. She has literally mastered all the elements, with stunts in free fall, underwater, on land, and in flames. She has starred in Jurassic World, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Ant-Man, Agents of Shield, and Ad Astra. And now she is relevant as Sandra Bullock’s personal stunt double, in the film “The Lost City”, which premières late March.

Excerpt from “The Walking Dead” Season 5, Episode 8
Hannah is closest to the camera, with a Katana through her head

Hannah Betts lives in Los Angeles, but is still rural. She has found a little paradise in the countryside, still close to the city. Here she lives with her husband Travis Fienhage, who is a former world champion in Freefly, for the USA. She has two donkeys and two horses.

Hannah is a trained police officer, and worked as a police officer in England. When she started skydiving, the thought of a stunt career began to surface. But she was captivated by the sport, and prioritized all her time and all her money to become the best possible in 4-way. The dream of a stunt career had to take a back seat to her dream of becoming a world champion. In 2008, Hannah succeeded in becoming world champion in FS4 for women, for UK with the team Bodyflight Storm. They won by an average of 20, one point ahead of the United States, in a competition that only had 6 rounds due to weather.

Video, World Championships 2008, Bodyflight Storm from UK

In the end, however, it was her parachuting career, along with a background as a gymnast, and from other activities, that made Hannah gain a foothold in Hollywood’s stunt world.

So, police, professional parachutist and stuntwoman. All are high-intensity occupations. You do not appear to be the typical high sensation seeker anyway, in terms of personality. Do you see yourself as an adrenaline junkie?

“By no means, by no means”, Hannah laughs. “When someone reads out what I have done and is doing, like you did now, I always start laughing. Because it just does not sound like me at all. I really think I’m a bit of a ‘risk-avoider’, and when I first take a risk, it is always calculated. I get really scared very easily. People think I’m fearless, but I’m not at all. I just do it anyway. On my first 50 jumps, for example, I did not cope with seeing people jump off the plane before me. I had to back down towards the door, to avoid seeing the others jump out in front of me, because otherwise I would not have been able to complete my own jump”, laughs Hannah.

So why did you do that?

“Because I knew it was worth it in the long run”, she answers

“But this also happened in competitions”, Hannah continues. “I was incredibly nervous the whole time. And once you are nervous, you can easily escalate your emotions, by stressing that you are nervous. But I learned to separate what the body felt and what the head thought. I accepted that there was tension in my body, and learned to accept a little high heart rate and other physical signs, without it being allowed to control my cognitive process. And that’s something I use a lot in my job as a stunt performer now.”

Video: Hannah Betts Skydiving Reel

What is it about stunts that makes you want to work in the industry?

“It’s a lot about the challenge. Finding out what you can do. And then it’s a very unusual type of job, and it’s amazing that you can get paid to do these things. My first job was on the TV series Agents of Shield [Marvel Universe]. I got that job because of my skydiving expertise. And then I think the stunt coordinator was impressed with my attitude and personality, so he asked me if I had more athletic background than just a parachute. I replied that I was an ex-gymnast, climber and swimmer. He said, keep training, and then I’ll keep hiring you, as long as you don’t f*ck up. That’s the way jargon is in Hollywood”, Hannah laughs. “It turned out to be a job a month, but it served as fuel for the fire that was the dream of becoming a full-time stunt performer.. because who doesn’t want to work with stunts? Everyone in the whole world does!” says Hannah, before I interrupt very quickly with a laugh…

No, no, no, not everyone in the world wants to work in stunts. I can’t imagine throwing myself off cliffs, down stairs, through glass, or through fire. But I think it’s incredibly cool that you do.

“Yes ok, but very many say they would have liked to have worked with stunts”, she counters with a smile. “But it requires a lot. A lot of training and physical, but it is also demanding to navigate in Hollywood. There is a lot of ‘yuckiness’ that comes with that environment. So originally it was a challenge if I could handle it. As I got more and more jobs, and worked more full time, I became confident that I really enjoyed this job. The best thing is all the people you get to work with in the stunt world. We all have very similar backgrounds. Everyone still has the child in them. And between all the intensity, there is a lot of laughter and good friendships.”

Does this job have much in common with being on a 4-way team?

“Yes absolutely! There are preparations, visualizations, planning, and the same type of short intense action sequences as a 4-way jump. , the team spirit is present in the same way as in skydiving, especially in larger projects, where you get to work with the same people for a longer period of time.”

Hannah Betts (left) with the 4-way team Bodyflight Storm, World Champions 2008
Photo by Stikkos

Sandra Bullock, and The Lost City

The night before I became aware that Hannah had been a stunt double for Sandra Bullock, I surfed Netflix and found the movie “The Unforgivable”, starring Bullock. When Sandra Bullock plays in a movie, it is for me a sure proof that the movie is good. I’ve never seen a bad Bullock movie. In other words, I was easily starstruck when I learned the next day that Hannah had worked with her.

How did you get the job of being Sandra Bullock’s personal stunt double?

“I got a call from a team that I had just worked with on the Micheal Bay film ‘Ambulance’, which includes Jake Gyllenhaal; I’m a stunt double for Eiza Gonzales. And they said ‘Hey, we know you’re not a big fan of going out of town to work, but we have a job for you’. I asked what it was and they replied ‘Well, it’s a month of practice and training in LA’. I just said ‘Amazing’, but then they said “Wait a minute. After that, it’s three months in the Dominican Republic.” And then I said the opposite. I thought it was too long to be away from my animals, and it would be hard for our marriage. But they asked me to wait to make some decisions before I heard who I was going to be a stunt double for. When they said Sandra Bullock, I just went quiet.

“There was still a lot to sacrifice, not only for myself, but for others around me. But fortunately, I live in a community where many have horses, and they were willing to support us, so it could be done. I love the city I live in, says Hannah. It was a logistical nightmare, and it was very difficult to be away for so long, but I couldn’t say no to this opportunity.”

You have to be in good shape to be a professional stunt performer 
Photo: Hannah Betts by Ian Spanier

Is Sandra Bullock as amazing as I imagine?

“You know how they say you should never meet your heroes, because there is a high risk of being disappointed? That was not the case with Sandra Bullock. She is epic. An incredible amazing person, and completely professional. She was naturally hysterically funny. Seeing her deliver lines, with her own twist, and different angles, was the highlight for me.”

Tell me about the movie

“Sandra Bullock plays a romance book author, Loretta Sage, in this film. Channing Tatum plays the model Alan, used on the book covers. He becomes very popular, because readers do not quite manage to separate him from the hero, “Dash” in the series of books , and Alan may live a little too much into the role as well. The two travel together on a promotional tour, and Loretta hates that Alan gets all the attention. She puts nothing in between when she tells him that he is not Dash in reality, and she hits a sore but correct point when she calls him an idiot. He is by no means the sharpest knife in the drawer.

“Loretta is kidnapped by Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) because she’s a historian and he thinks she can help find “The Lost City”. Alan then follows, to prove that he is not just a pretty face, and otherwise worthless.”

I understood most of that from the trailer – but what about Brad Pitt? He suddenly appears as some Rambo character towards the end of the trailer. What’s the story?

Hannah laughs raw, and I understand that I have asked a good question.

“Unfortunately I cannot reveal anything here, except that it is ingenious! No one will be disappointed” 

Video: The Lost City: Trailer

What can you tell us about specific stunts you have performed in this film?

“It’s a comedy, so it’s not a movie where stunts and action have the main role. And even though Sandra Bullock is 57 years old no, she is in extremely good shape. She’s doing incredibly well, and we tried to let her accomplish as much as we could. It was we who set limits for her, and not the other way around. I can say that I have done stunts under water, I can say that I have been in the back of a car, and I can say that I have completed falls, tumbles, climbing and the like. But I cannot share anything specific beyond that.”

Are you allowed to share photos of yourself from the recording?

“Yes, but not before the film has premiered, so not yet unfortunately”

Scene from The Lost City – with the Pink Pant Suit 😉

The reason I ask has a lot to do with outfits. Sandra Bullock is wearing a tight-fitting pink sequin suit in large parts of the film. This is the one Loretta is wearing when she is kidnapped, and thus it is the outfit she is wearing in scenes in the jungle, with the accompanying heat. When a friend of Hannah’s asked on Facebook what the most difficult thing she had done in this film was, Hannah replied dryly “Wearing the pink trouser suit in the Dominican jungle for three months!” 😉

Any comments on the pink pant suit? 

“Yes, that outfit was an experience in itself. It was not very comfortable. It itched, and I had to wear high heels and everything. I came into the training for admission, and saw the pink pantsuit there, and thought “oh my god”. I tried to trick myself with some information, and cautiously asked if this was just for the first scene, or something like that. But they just “no no, she’s being kidnapped in this one, and this is what she’s wearing pretty much the whole movie”, and I just thought ‘fantastic’,” says Hannah with clear irony in her voice.

How was it compared to a solid black FS suit, in 40 degree heat in the Perris valley?

“Good comparison! 😂 It was probably much the same yes. But I cope much better with being a little too hot than freezing, so this was easier than jumping in cold weather!”

Excerpt from the trailer for “The Lost City”. Here is Hannah Bett’s stand in for Sandra Bullock, in the aforementioned pink suit, while Channing Tatum is standing next to her.

Hannah loving the pink pant suit 😉

Was there any relief from the pink sequins?

“The other thing I was to wear was a long airy dress, which was much more comfortable. But funny enough, it was the one I was going to wear when I was going to work in water. And right there, it would have been much easier with the pink trouser suit anyway.” Hannah laughs again. It is clear in the tone that this has been a challenging film to make, but that they have still had a lot of fun. “A big part of our job is to feel uncomfortable. It’s not just laughter and fun, it sucks sometimes too.”

How much of the time did you work directly with Sandra Bullock?

“About half the time. Much of my job is about backing her when she performs scenes herself. It can mean anything from making sure equipment is available, helping her put on braces, or just being an extra set of eyes to making sure things are safe. I tried to be as present as possible, without taking a seat.”

Were you starstruck around her?

“I have been very much around famous people in recent years, so it is not often I get starstruck anymore. But Sandra is pretty much the whole world’s favorite actress, and is loved by both women and men equally. There are not many at her star level, and it took me a few weeks to fall into place in my role, and to work so closely with her. It was a little out-of-body experience. But then you get used to it, and it becomes everyday.”

Just another day at the office
Photo: Selfie by Hannah

Grateful

It’s early morning in California, where Hannah is sitting and talking to me from. And her donkey looks in the window at her, waiting for breakfast. We are approaching the agreed end time, because she has to go out and give food to the animals. I end the interview with Hannah, by asking her if there is something she would like to add.

“I want to say how incredibly happy I am that I opted for skydiving. I would never have been the stunt woman I am today without the mental training I received through competing in FS4. In fact, it has been even more important than the gymnastics background.”

Hannah’s ‘CV’ can be found below. I highly recommend watching it.

Video: Hannah Betts Stunt Reel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1D-yWQdO0s

Stay Tuned

Next week Kjetil talks to stuntman Seth Ericson about the movie Uncharted, and – of course, – skydiving cats!

Stay tuned!

Article originally in FrittFall magazine, reproduced with kind permission

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Meet: Kjetil Nordin

Kjetil has been skydiving since 2003, and is currently the chief editor of frittfall.org (Norwegian membership magazine). He is a 16 times national champion in formation skydiving, divided between his two home countries of Norway and Denmark.

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