MATRIX: How did you get into stunt work?
DEBBIE: As a kid I was into every sport I could get my hands on: wheelie-ing bicycles, riding unicycles, skateboarding, surfing and water-skiing. I started riding motorcycles when I was six years old, and I started competing when I was nine.
When I rode motorcycles competitively, I competed in the national championship competitions against all men. I was 23rd in the nation in the highest ranking class and I was the only woman. At the Supercross races I would do a show before their final race, where I’d do wheelies and a balancing act where I stand on my head on the motorcycle with no kickstand down, just balancing there. I performed at places like the Houston Astrodome, Texas Stadium, Pontiac Silverdome Stadium, and the Anaheim Stadium… and that was all when I was in high school.
I got into stunts through the motorcycle riding, I was the Women’s World Champion in the seventies, riding for Yamaha, and somebody just called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to work on a movie. Once I got started, I realized they took safety precautions and weren’t just crazy and hurting themselves all the time, so then I got interested in doing the rest of the stunts as well.
MATRIX: What was the initial stunt work you did?
DEBBIE: The first movie I worked on was called Deathsport with David Carradine and Claudia Jennings, a Roger Corman B picture, and there was a lot of motorcycle riding. I had to jump a thirty-foot ravine on a motorcycle, an old, old Yamaha DT400. I had never done anything like that before, but as a kid I always looked for every bump or thing that I could jump, and I loved to jump. So they said they would take me out on a dirt road and we would get the ramp set up and measure out the distance, and then keep jumping it until I got the correct distance every time, so that’s what we did.
Those bikes had no speedometer or anything, so what I did was click a gear and listen to the rpms and know I had the right speed. We did it first time no problem, I jumped about thirty-five feet to clear the thirty feet.
DEBBIE: It was kind of like when you start a race or a competition – you get those butterflies – the same thing happens when you do stunts; it’s the adrenalin kicking in.
MATRIX: Are the rumors that you worked on Wonder Woman true?
DEBBIE: I doubled Wonder Woman [Lynda Carter] early in my career on the TV show, doing all the motorcycle stuff. I jumped over vans and fences and cars, did wheelies, and all kinds of different things. She’s like five ten and I’m five four, but on a motorcycle you can’t tell. I did Barb Wire, doubling Pamela Anderson on that, doing the motorcycle riding, and driving the big truck. I also worked on The Jerk, the Steve Martin movie, doubling that S & M chick, riding over a Volkswagen, and I did a turning wheelie off of a big semi truck, and then I had to ride through a wall of fire. I’ve worked on hundreds and hundreds of things over the years.
MATRIX: Do you encourage your children to ride motorcycles?
DEBBIE: My seven-year old started riding when he was three, and he’s a natural. We have a twenty-year old son who wasn’t that interested in motorcycles, he’s more interested in music. Whatever gifts they have is where I want them to put their energies. I think my seven-year old is going to be a stuntman. We had a port-a-pit out in the yard the other day because we have stunt equipment, and he comes up on his bicycle – he’s riding, riding really fast – and he hits head-on into the pad, which is about two feet tall, and flips over into the pads doing a little stunt. Then he goes again, only this time he figures he’ll do something different, so he comes in and slides the rear tire and highsides into the pad, which is a really difficult move for most stunt people. He had perfect form, he’s a natural.
MATRIX: What brought you to THE MATRIX sequels?
DEBBIE: They needed a girl who could ride one of the Ducati 996s really well, and I’ve done a few jobs recently on the Ducatis. I did a promo thing for Carmen Electra where they had me wheelie-ing through smoke with a straight up and down wheelie on the 996. They wanted it straight up and down, so I before I got to the smoke I picked it up – it’s really weird going through the smoke because you can’t see anything – and then I’d break out of the smoke and the camera was right there, and I’d set the bike down and go round. Also, Jimmy Roberts taught me how to do nose wheelies, which are where you come in and lock up the front brake and get the rear wheel up in the air, then you ride it like this for a little bit, then come down.
MATRIX: How long does it take to learn something like the nose wheelie?
DEBBIE: Jimmy took me out and in one morning I had it because I learned it on my trials bike. Trials motorcycles are built to go over obstacles and I did ‘stoppies’ on that so I had the feel of the front brake and what I needed to do. He just gave me the coaching and let me use his bike, and I’d say the third time I got on the brakes, the rear wheel came up. Then I started working with it from there, until I felt comfortable getting it up higher and riding it a little bit.
MATRIX: Do you specialize in bike stunts?
DEBBIE: Yes, I specialize in bikes and cars. I’m known for my motorcycle and car driving ability.
MATRIX: Are there many people who specialize in doing the specialist bike work, like the nose wheelie?
DEBBIE: There are a lot of guys, but very few women. I don’t know of any other stunt women who do the nose wheelie. A lot of times they’ll try to get by with a guy doing a stunt, but on a motorcycle you can tell. The body type is so different that it’s much better to have a girl on the motorcycle, even if the size difference is substantial.
MATRIX: At this point, how long have you been working on THE MATRIX sequels?
DEBBIE: Three months. It has been a long run.
MATRIX: With the specific types of stunts that you do, does the type of bike make a big difference?
DEBBIE: Yes, but part of being a really good stunt person is being able to jump on anything, any motorcycle, any car, and make it work, because you never know what you’re going to get when you get to the set. A lot of times they’ll call you to go to work, and when you show up there’s an old junker there. When I was young my Dad taught me how to work on motorcycles, so a lot of times if something’s set up wrong, or it’s just not right for me, I can borrow some tools and get the thing working. A lot of people who just ride a little bit don’t know how to do that, or maybe they’re used to one particular kind of motorcycle.
I’ve ridden everything from Pocket bikes, which look like miniature roadracing bikes, to big old Harley Fatboys. I’ve jumped sportsters and wheelied motor scooters; you have to be able to be really adaptable because the riding positions are so different. On trail bikes you stand up and ride, but on the Ducatis you’re way down and the pegs are way back, so it changes the whole feel of the motorcycle. You have to be really adaptable to be able to jump from one motorcycle to another, and be able to be proficient on both.
MATRIX: What are the qualities of a Ducati motorcycle?
DEBBIE: The Ducati is a road racing style bike, the bars are really close in, and you lay down on the tank basically. Your pegs are further back for when you’re going through corners. It’s good for cornering and tight turns and high speed racing type stuff. It’s a really cool bike, I like the Ducati.
WORKING ON THE MATRIX SEQUELS
MATRIX: What was one the most challenging sequences for you during the last three months?
DEBBIE: When I was alongside the big eighteen wheeler truck with Will [Leong, stunt Keymaker] on the back of the bike. We had to come alongside the truck with the wall and the K-rail right there – I had to come in, the truck cut across, and at the same time I’m backing out of it, while he just basically closes the door. It got real close one time, and that got my attention, I did not care for that one.
That was really challenging because, in a car, you’ve got lots of metal around you, but on a motorcycle you’re not protected at all, so I was glad when that sequence was over. You can stand back and count how long it takes to get to the wall and all that, but every once in a while things change. In fact, in one instance things did change, and I wish they had caught it on film, because it would have been the greatest, greatest shot. The trailer came over and smacked the wall right near where we stopped, it was so close, but that was the one I was glad was over when it was done.
MATRIX: Trinity’s costume is skintight, what kind of safety precautions are you able to wear?
DEBBIE: I had some Fox elbow pads on which were real form fitting, so I could squeeze them underneath the outfit. I have some real thin knee and shin guards that I put on, and I slipped a couple of inserts from some motorcross pants – they’re little hip pads – and stuffed a couple of those in there, and that’s about all I could get on. Underneath I had some long underwear that gave me another layer of protection, and then also the wig. They wanted to cut my hair in the beginning, and I really didn’t want them to cut my hair, one of the main reasons was that with a wig on, I had that extra layer of protection. We’re doing all this stunt work without helmets on, and should something happen, I have the hair from the wig, the wig’s cap, and all my hair underneath, which all acts as a little bit of a cushion. That’s it in the way of protective gear.
MATRIX: Do you find that stunt work has progressively become more ambitious?
DEBBIE: Not really. I feel that the safety devices and things we’ve come up with have made us able to extend into another realm, as far as excitement. When I first started in ’77 there wasn’t a lot of equipment that was safe back then, now we have more and more equipment, and we know a lot more than we used to. I really don’t feel it’s gone over the top, for the most part.
MATRIX: Do you find blue screens a lot more often these days?
DEBBIE: Yes, and sometimes that makes it even safer, because you don’t have to do the stunt practically, you don’t have to do it for real. You can put your background in, you can have pads underneath you, and things like that.
MATRIX: Which sequence has been the most fun?
DEBBIE: I loved cutting in and out of the traffic, and laying the bike down sideways. It was the neatest feeling, especially with somebody on the back. It’s really hard to get that fluid motion, and a lot of times Will and I just had it dialed in. Sometimes we were doing sixty-five [miles per hour] through traffic, laying it down and making hard cuts; I really enjoyed that.
We also did a jump that was a double on the Ducati, which was pretty ambitious, because those bikes aren’t made to do that sort of thing, but we pulled it off. We did it about six or seven times and everything went fine, but man that bike landed hard. For that particular stunt I had David Barrett [stunt Keymaker] on the back, who is a professional motorcross racer, he’s a stunt man, but he’s a pro racer as well. I chose him because he knows how to fly through the air, he has that air sense. It was great because I didn’t even know he was on the back, and that’s the way it should be.
MATRIX: What was your reaction when you first arrived and saw the Freeway set?
DEBBIE: I thought it was great, because most of the time we have to shut down streets. You get a location that’s a practical location, then we have to shut down and wait for the police officers to get in place and everything else to happen, and then you have people coming in who shouldn’t be coming in, dogs running around, and all kinds of distractions. Just to be able to know we had the set was so great. It’s just remarkable what they built, it really is, I think they should leave it up because other shows will use it; it’s a great location.
MATRIX: Thanks Debbie.
Read more about Debbie here: www.stuntrev.com
Interview by REDPILL