For my first interview on my new blog I had the previlege of talking to the one and only Trampoline’s Flippin’ Authority, our Trampoline Pundit – Leigh Hennessy Robson – about her gymnastics career and how it influenced her life to the present day.
Who is Leigh Hennessy Robson?
I’m a former World and National Trampoline Champion from Lafayette, Louisiana, USA. My world titles include two World DMT Championships and several World Age-Group Championships in Trampoline and Synchronized. My father, Jeff Hennessy, was very active in the sport of trampolining since the beginning, having coached many greats from the 1960s through the 1980s. Today, I work in the film industry as a stunt performer, actress and stunt coordinator.
How did trampolining entered your life?
Because my father was a trampoline coach, my brother, sister and I were introduced to the sport at very young ages. I was a hopeless case until about 11 years old when I just “got it,” thriving from that point on.
There are lots of coaches wondering about this next question…How was it having your dad as a coach?
He and I probably have different views about this. To me, it was simply the way of doing things because it was all I knew. However, when I became a teen, my father felt it was best to get a new coach for his young team to prevent potential problems that come with raising a teenager. He arranged for Donald Waters to take over. Dad coached Donald, who was a World Synchro Champ (with Gary Smith). Donald was a trusted friend and expert, and he was young enough to better relate to teens and college students. The arrangement worked out great because Dad was always close by. He still made all our competition arrangements and attended all the competitions as a judge. An issue that did affect me, however, was judging. Judges were often influenced by my father’s stature in the sport. They would either over score me to “score points” with my father OR they would be very hard on me to prove that they were independent from my father’s presence. Either way, I felt I had to push myself incredibly hard to prove I deserved the higher scores. Ultimately, being the Coach’s Daughter made me a classic overachiever.
We all know you were inducted in to the USA Gymnastics all of fame in 2007. Are there words to express your feelings at the time?
It was an extreme honor, to say the least. When you see the list of inductees over the years, it’s overwhelming to be one among them. They include National, Olympic and World Champions and their Coaches, including my father. He and I are both in the USAG Hall of Fame. We are the only father-daughter (family) members in the Hall of Fame. I didn’t realize we were so rare!
Do you think your trampolining background was a launch pad for your career on the big screen?
Trampolining is absolutely the best background for a stunt performer! It impressed a lot of the stunt coordinators, who hire the performers. The two most important skills trampolinsts have is our kinesthetic awareness and our fearlessness – or commitment to that action. I never considered myself the most fearless gymnast in the gym, but surprisingly what I had was considerably more than most of my stunt colleagues. When a director wants you to tumble down a winding staircase, hitting marks on the way down, a trampolinist can get it done in one take without hesitation – as I have done! Trust me, I am so grateful for my athletic background.
How do you go from stunt to stunt coordinator?
For most Stunt Coordinators, they had a mentor who helped them transition from performing to coordinating stunts. That was not my case. Less than 1% of all Stunt Coordinators in the film business are women. We rarely get that kind of help, so it’s a struggle. The first couple of coordinating jobs I got because the production that cast me had limited funds, so they asked me to coordinate my own stunts. I agreed because I could add the coordinating job(s) to my resume. When I moved back to Louisiana, there were very few experienced Hollywood stunt performers here and only one active stunt coordinator in New Orleans. He was over-booked, so I took the opportunity to offer my skills. I coordinated several shows until the Hollywood stunt community began moving here. Louisiana is saturated now with talent, so it is very difficult to get those coveted stunt coordinating jobs. However, I still perform stunts. I just got a job that shoots this week.
So I heard you had to shave your head for a stunt double gig and I just have to know… How was it?
OH MY GOD! Shaving my head to double Demi Moore in GI JANE was the scariest thing I think I’ve ever done. My heart was racing the day we had to shave our heads. Demi shaved her head first and ON CAMERA! I knew I was next and kept hoping that it was just a dream. But, it was not. They sent me to the hair and make-up trailer and I sat in the stylist’s chair accepting my fate. Every morning after that day, I prayed that is wasn’t true that I was bald. I refused to feel my velcro head when I woke each morning. I preferred to go to the mirror first, praying to see hair. And, DAMN! It wasn’t a dream. I don’t know how many mornings I practiced that ritual. I bet it was for nearly the whole shoot and each morning the result was the same. My hair was gone. I wore bandanas and large hoop earrings off set to look cool underneath my total and complete insecurity. People had different reactions to me. Some thought I was Demi (they knew she was in town), some thought I was gay and the real crazy ones thought it was sexy. No one thought I was sick, though, because I was too fit at the time. At the end of the day, in spite of the rollercoaster emotions, I was incredibly fortunate to be bald to perform stunts for Demi Moore in GI JANE.
What are your TOP3 favourite movies you worked on?
GI JANE would be on the top of the list, of course. However, I’m very proud of the 90-foot high falls I did on both CHARLIE’S ANGELS movies for Lucy Lui and playing the Drowning Wife opposite Kevin Costner in THE GUARDIAN. If I could add another, I loved doubling Helen Mirren in TEACHING MRS. TINGLE. I did some cool stuff for her.
What are your projects for 2014?
Stunt Performers are the last to be hired on any set. Often I don’t know what I’m working on until the last minute. So, I have no idea what my 2014 projects are. All I know is that I’ve been asked to work on a movie called MIDNIGHT SPECIAL sometime during the next week.
Any tips for our readers who want to take gymnastics to other planes?
For a number of reasons, such as the Olympics, the internet, and Cirque du Soleil, there are more opportunities for gymnasts now than when I retired. But, whatever direction you chose, you’ll have to supplement your skill sets to increase your value to an employer, investor or client. Therefore, if you have to learn to act, write, photograph, dance – whatever – embrace it and start as soon as you can. Having a physically active career is limited. I know it’s hard to accept, but by the time you reach your 40s, you’ll realize that performing gets harder each year. Look to the future for transition opportunities. Also, take extra good care of your health and your finances. 40 years old is still young. You’ll have many good years ahead of you. In America, retirement age is generally 65 years old. So that means you’ll have 25 more years to support yourself and prepare for retirement! That’s a long time to ponder. Don’t have regrets.