No Business Like Show Business
Actors play characters; Heather (Mktg’03) and Jonathan Arthur (Mktg’03) play actors. They’re stuntmen.
“I was with Jennifer Love Hewitt for three years and Ali Larter for five, and it worked out nicely because then I knew their movements better,” Heather says. “If I do a good job, then no one will ever know it is me.”
She’s performed stunts in the films Furious 7 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, as well as in scores of TV show episodes. Husband Jonathan has doubled for Patrick Dempsey and Ben Stiller and appeared in NCIS, The Mentalist, Captain America and a slew of other projects.
Neither started out in entertainment. Heather worked in law firms as a marketer and Jonathan as a real estate developer for Walmart.
But the athletic pair had a Hollywood connection — Heather’s father, Michael Vendrell, was stunt coordinator for the television series “Lost.” In 2005 he offered them positions as stunt doubles on the show, and needed an answer fast.
“We both quit our jobs and moved to Hawaii in less than a week,” says Heather.
The California couple travels a lot and needs to be ready to go on short notice, sometimes to places as distant as Asia and Australia. Often they bring their one- and three-year-old children.
Always, they need to stay fit.
“My first stunt ever was for Michelle Rodriguez, and I had to fall into a hole, about a 12-foot drop,” Heather says. “I had to lay there as they dropped me like a dead body. I was super nervous.”
At first, working with famous actors was daunting, says Jonathan.
“Early in my career it was certainly intimidating when I’d be working for an actor that I watched on Letterman the night before,” he says. “What I came to realize over time is that we’re more like teammates who need to work together to make the scene look great.”
Variety is part of the work’s appeal.
“I don’t always know what I am going to be doing until I get to set,” says Heather. “I could be told that I am going to be lit on fire that day.”
Even a fight scene, which is considered routine, is exciting, because the conditions are never the same.
“Even on an almost identical stunt, there’s always a changing variable from the day before,” says Jonathan. “Everything matters.”
The job has its downsides: Heather is sore every day. Last November, for example, she was tackled by Mark Wahlberg’s stunt double in a scene for the upcoming comedy Daddy’s Home.
“Then you go home and still have all the mom things [to do], too,” she says.
But the thrill of the job keeps them going.
Jonathan recalls a shoot at Lake Havasu a few years ago: “I had to escape out of the bottom of a sinking and burning boat underwater just before it exploded, tied to a stuntwoman I was saving.”
Heather — despite a fear of heights — dreams of dangling from a helicopter, as her dad once did.
“After a good stunt, the crew and staff all clap for you,” she says. “If you have done a good job, it’s a very proud moment.”
It’s also a moment to remember the importance of humility, as her father taught her. Because there’s always the next stunt.
“We realize the nature of our business has inherent risks involved,” says Jonathan. “It’s what we’ve signed up for.
Photography by Chris Sanders