Car crashes, fight scenes, drowning, jumping from buildings…you name it, and Hanka Dvorská can do it. Though her petite stature might deceive you, her bulging biceps betray her profession. “If I didn’t have muscles, I couldn’t fall or fight. It’s my protection,” says Dvorská.
Though a naturally gifted athlete, her career as a stuntwoman began unexpectedly. I asked her if she had always wanted to be a stuntwoman. “No, never. I didn’t even know what that was.”
As a young girl, her first passion was skydiving. From the age of sixteen, she belonged to a national group of skydivers who jumped in competitions. Dvorská had always been attracted to sports of all kinds, and her childhood dream was to become a P.E. teacher.
She got her big break while studying at the Faculty of Physical Education at Charles University. A film director needed someone to jump from the 3rd story of a building, so he went to the local airport where Hanka, coincidently, did her skydiving. The leader of Hanka’s group recommended her for the stunt, which she performed flawlessly.
She had found her niche, and soon after joined Filmka, an agency for Czech stuntmen (and women) where Hanka began her training in earnest. There, she learned a variety of skills, like how to safely get run over by a car. She added with a chuckle, “I know how to fall off a horse, but not ride one. I’m the girl for falling and we have another one who can ride.”
In those early days, before the Velvet Revolution, she performed movie stunts only two or three times a year, due to travel restrictions imposed by the regime. So in 1984, after graduating from Charles University, she began teaching P.E. and Czech language at a secondary school as her main job.
Already with one baby at home and a husband studying his Ph.D., she didn’t have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom. “We didn’t have any money, but it was the nicest time in my life,” she recalls fondly. Dvorská’s daily routine consisted of dropping her daughter off at a jesle (daycare), teaching, and then picking her up in the afternoon. In the later years, she sometimes brought her children to the movie set. Go figure: they took after their mother, becoming “stunt-children,” for other child actors.
The decisive moment in her professional life came in 1989 when, with her second child on the way, the Iron Curtain finally lifted. For Hanka, this meant a chance at a fulltime career as a stuntwoman. Her husband jokingly advised, “You have to go under cars because it’s better money than teaching.”
She took her husband’s advice and hasn’t looked back since. As one of approximately ten serious stuntwomen worldwide, Hanka has teamed up with a lot of big names, including Jackie Chan, Wesley Snipes, Orlando Bloom, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie, just to name a few.
Some actors are better than others to work with, she admitted, but while training with Brad Pitt for his role as Achilles in the movie Troy, she had only positive things to say. “He’s good, very good. He’s friendly and doesn’t act like a big star.” When the movie Wanted was filmed in the Czech Republic, Dvorská doubled for Angelina Jolie in a car crash scene. “I couldn’t fit into her trousers, Jolie’s too slim!” she exclaimed with a mischievous grin.
Her job doesn’t come without risk, although Dvorská claimed, “It isn’t dangerous—everything should be prepared properly.” Despite that, while filming a Kurdish war film in eastern Turkey, Hanka completely blew her knee out—torn ACL and PCL ligaments, in addition to a destroyed meniscus.
There were no hospitals nearby, so they took her to the local shaman. Her knee was “as big as a melon,” but nobody panicked. They just sat her on a prayer rug while the shaman chanted and prayed for at least twenty minutes. After that, he began slicing an onion and packed it around her knee. That was the whole of her treatment until she could get a flight to Istanbul.
Hanka takes it all in stride, even the yearlong recovery after doctors had told her she’d never be able to play sports again. “It only hurts now if I exercise more than two hours,” she claims. Once a month she limps in to see her doctor, who injects a liquid into her knee, “like oil for a machine,” and strolls out, good as new until the next visit.
Another occupational hazard, albeit less serious, is her aversion to watching action films. “I can imagine where the camera man is and I know the blood isn’t blood.” She revealed that in Troy, they used watermelon to create the effect of blood, mud and muscles strewn about the ground in battle scenes. In the non-action category, one of her favorite movies of all-time is Forrest Gump. She likes the soundtrack.
Dvorská can crank out her own tunes, with the guitar or bass, and as if that weren’t enough, this versatile woman also enjoys sewing. During communism, she started sewing clothes for her children, and she also taught herself how to make rock climbing harnesses and sleeping bags by looking at pictures from magazines. Now, of course, she only does it for fun.
Although Hanka has travelled the world and built up quite an international reputation on the stunt scene, she also enjoys the simple things in life. She’d rather spend a weekend at her cottage in Kokořín than a weekend in New York. Dvorská doesn’t place an importance on material things. “Health and family are the most important for me,” she asserted.
At fifty-two, she may not be in the prime of her career, but she says, “It’s not ending, just getting slower.” However, bear in mind that “slow” gear for this woman includes running her own business (Sportujeme.cz Boot Camp), being a fitness instructor, spending time with her family (husband, children and even grandchildren), and doing movies on the side.
I asked her what’s next. “I don’t know. It’s like acting. You sit on the chair and wait [for a phone call].” Hanka Dvorská doesn’t strike me as a ‘chair-sitting’ kind of person though, so I, for one, am looking forward to witnessing what stunts this amazing woman still has up her sleeve.