‘GLOW’ Stunt Coordinator Talks About Training the Ensemble and Importance of On-Set Safety

Stuntwoman Shauna Duggins photographed on 3/29/18 for Variety at Variety Studios.
Damon Casarez for Variety

GLOW” stunt coordinator Shauna Duggins first moved to Los Angeles with a background in gymnastics and an interest in the industry but without a clear direction of the career path she was going to take. Joining a gym that had a lot of stunt performers as members exposed her to a new kind of training and networking opportunity. She worked as a stunt double and performer on shows such as “The X-Files” and “Alias” before moving up to coordinator for “Ray Donovan,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and the aforementioned Netflix comedy.

“I love telling a story, so for me the action has to tell the story,” she says.

What was the biggest adjustment for you when you transitioned from a performer to a coordinator?

When you’re performing it’s normally just your body — you’re putting yourself at risk. Unless it’s car work and it’s the other car, camera, all that. But when you’re coordinating you’re setting it up for somebody else, so it’s not just “Can I do this?” It’s going to the director and the producers and saying, “What do you want to see? What’s your vision?” It’s getting in their head and then bringing it to life — hiring people and training them, or maybe they already have that skill and you’re hiring them because they’re better at it than you. It’s building a team and putting your ego aside. You have to hire the right team to make it work.

How did you handle the added challenge of having such a large ensemble cast who had to perform high percentages of their own stunts because the actors’ faces are in the shots on “GLOW”?

On “GLOW” it’s a very unique experience. From the time I met with [series creators] Liz [Flahive] and Carly [Mensch], they welcomed me in and said, “We want to make this amazing project. We want them to feel amazing and strong.” Kia Stevens is the only professional wrestler; the other 13 girls are actresses, musicians, comediennes, some athletes — it’s a wide spectrum. So I just looked at them and I said, “I know you guys are out of your comfort zone. All I ask is that you trust and that you’re honest with me, you tell me what you feel, you tell me what you like, you tell me what you don’t like. We’re going to read your bodies.” We trained every day, five days a week for a month before we started. And we started to learn who’s good at what pieces so we could go to the writers [with] their strengths. We build to their strengths instead of forcing them to do something they don’t like very much or aren’t very good at.

What was the process like to re-train the women of “GLOW” when they came back for the second season?

We had a month again, and within a week and a half they already had everything they had from season 1. And then by the second and third week were building on each person’s strengths and by the fourth week we were working on the scripts. Faster than we ever could have imagined they had everything back from season 1 and more. The nice thing with season 2 is you already know them all so well, and a lot of times teaching somebody is learning how they learn — are they visual learners, are they method in their head, do they need to feel it in their body? Now that you know them you can build it so much faster.

Do you feel it’s important to step up the complications of the moves the women are doing in the second season to show that their characters have advanced, or do you prefer to see them still learning as they go?

I think you want some trial and error, but I definitely think they have to step it up. There’s a lot of wrestling and a lot of character development with 14 girls to get to know with big personalities. I think everybody will be blown away with what these girls can accomplish in season 2. Girls that did amazing season 1 come in season 2 and they were just game — everyone really went for it.

What is your strategy for how to handle stunts that the actor can’t perform: do you prefer to use a double and not see the actor’s face or try to tweak the stunt so the actor can do enough of it to see their reaction in the shot?

Sometimes that came down to Liz and Carly and the director. I would go to them and say, “What is more important? Is it more important we do this specific move and go smaller with the actress and put a double in for a piece? Or is it more important that we’re on the actress the whole time?” 99% of the time it was more important to do it on the actress than it was on the move. So we built to that. There were times when they would come in and say, “Who can do a front flip into a pool?” We would give them five girls that could already do a front three-quarters with their back in the ring. Those girls we can teach to flip. So they would go, “OK this will work great for our story.” We were a great team.

How hands-on are you personally when it comes to testing the stunts versus choreographing them?

I’m still very in the mix. I have to kind of feel it in my body to know. With “GLOW” we have this nice team — Chavo [Guerrero] and Helena [Barrett] and myself. Chavo is a third generation wrestler, but he hasn’t taught people as much. Helena and I are used to teaching actresses, but we’ve never tried some of those moves. So we become the guinea pigs, and between the three of us we can teach them.

What is the vibe like when all of the women are together working through these things?

They are so supportive of each other. It’s beautiful to watch. Sometimes they’re not even shooting and they’re on the sidelines cheering each other on. It’s empowering. Instead of tearing each other down, they’re building each other up.

How much were you involved with the choreography of the musical numbers when you were working on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”?

In the pilot, Rachel has this dance number with 50 to 75 background people and in the middle of the entire dance, she has to step in exact time where the pretzel comes in, sit on the pretzel, get buckled in without anyone noticing, have her weight in the exact right spot because the pretzel’s lifting at a certain time no matter what. It’s pretty impressive. And the rest were little funny falls and things. There were also a couple of times where Vinnie had to do a couple of flips or kicks in [a song] so I would help with that, but they have a wonderful choreographer who handles all of the dances.

What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?

I think the first thing they always say is, “Oh wow, you’re a woman.” There are very few stuntwomen that are coordinators. There are a few of us, and they’re great at their jobs, but it’s just now in the last few years happening more and more. I think with “GLOW” they’re not as surprised [but] with “Ray Donovan” almost every director was surprised. It’s such a male-dominated show. But I was proud of the fact that they watch the action and they watch Liev [Schreiber] who’s so tall and strong and such an amazing actor, and Jon Voight and all of the amazing actors who crush it every week. And to have a director say that, it doesn’t bother me. We can do it all, too.

Why do you think there’s still such gender inequality in the role?

I think as more women do it, it just opens more doors. I don’t think there’s anything against women in it at all, but once you trust somebody, you offer them the job because you know they’re going to do it. So it’s not that they don’t want to offer it to women, but if you already know Joe Bob, and Joe Bob has done a great job with you 10 times, you’re going to hire him. You’re talking a lot of time, a lot of money. As you work with more producers, they’ll recommend you to somebody and then they’ll recommend you to somebody. It’s not “She’s as good as a man,” it’s just getting in with those people to prove you can do it.

What is the most important thing for safety on set?

The end all-be all is that everyone go home healthy at the end of the day so they can come back the next day and do their stuff. They may be sore, and that comes with it. And the writers are very good about trying to give them breaks in the schedule. We are pushing it every day with them. I could not get on the stage and play music like Kate Nash does, but I’m asking her to do what I can do. So that makes me like a proud mother every time they do it.