If you’ve watched any of Hollywood’s big budget superhero movies in the last few years, you’ve almost certainly seen the incredible work of stunt woman Joanna Bennett. She’s been Wonder Woman (as Gal Gadot’s double), Captain Marvel (as Brie Larsen’s double) two queens of Atlantis (as Nicole Kidman’s and Amber Heard’s “Aquaman” doubles) and even Taylor Swift (in her “Bad Blood” music video).
Bennett officially entered the Star Wars universe this year, playing the standout Tusken Warrior (no stunt double needed) in “The Book of Boba Fett.” In one of her first extensive interviews, Boba Fett Fan Club spoke to Bennett about her childhood Star Wars fandom, how she developed the Tusken Warrior’s character and slapping Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and living to tell the tale.
Boba Fett Fan Club: I read that you were very involved in gymnastics when you were younger. Did your experience as a gymnast translate into your decision to become a stunt woman?
Joanna Bennett: My gymnastics career very much contributed to my introduction into stunts. I received a gymnastic scholarship to UC Berkeley. At that time, I was aware of stunt work, but never believed it could become a real career. Fortunately, during my senior year at Berkeley, a television show called “Make it or Break it” was in pre-production. They were in search of top-level gymnasts to double for their actresses and reached out to my coach looking for girls interested in the industry. This was my introduction into stunts, and I absolutely loved it! I gained the most amazing mentors from this job, and from that point, I was hooked. After wrapping that show, I wasn’t hired on another production for some time. I took on side jobs to support myself until I could make a living as a stunt woman. It was definitely a slow climb for me. I struggled to break into the industry, but the dedication and drive I learned from my gymnastics career translated into an (eventually) successful career.
BFFC: You have an incredibly diverse range of stunt and athletic skills, from martial arts to precision driving to Cirque du Soleil gymnastics. What’s it like to train in so many different disciplines as a stunt woman?
JB: I struggled quite a bit at the beginning. I started gymnastics when I was young, and I had a natural gift for that. So, when it came to training martial arts, it was hard to accept that it would take time before I could perfect the techniques. And I am still, and always will be, working on it! There’s always something new to learn, a new style, a different technique. But this is what keeps my job interesting. It is a constant learning process, sometimes you are even learning new things on the job.
Most of us get into stunts because we have a sport/ability that we have perfected. It’s always hard to struggle and fail with new things. But I try to use the failure as fuel to push further. I always strive to keep learning and training to further my craft.
BFFC: Is there a particular type of stunt work you love doing the most?
JB: I love wire work! Specifically, the very difficult, intricate wire work that you might see in some of these superhero movies. We are usually given a specific task, and with help from the rigging team (team members who safely construct wire systems to manipulate/aid the performer in accomplishing the task at hand), formulate a plan to accomplish what’s needed. Quite a bit of time, effort and teamwork goes into making this happen. The more intricate the move, the more time it takes to get it just right. It involves trust, skill, teamwork, and is really satisfying when you finally get it down. I really love this part of my job because it’s always a new challenge. And it can be really fun. The wire gives you the ability to do things your body, unfortunately, just can’t do!
BFFC: What role are you most proud to have played in your career?
JB: I realize as I’m trying to choose my most proud moment, that I have been so fortunate throughout my career. To be able to portray some amazing characters, superheroes, etc., over the years. I remember the first time I put on the Wonder Woman suit. That moment stood out because I really felt it was such an iconic character to bring to life for young girls. I saw little girls playing with swords and shields after that, and that was absolutely rewarding to see.
In relation to stunt work, I would have to say my work on “Aquaman” is what I am most proud of. I definitely feel that my work, doubling the two female leads, is something I will always look back on as an opportunity of a lifetime. This job was so challenging and allowed me to push myself further than I had before. I did some things on that movie that I later realized were very difficult and were performed under a lot of pressure. We created fight scenes that were shot in one take and involved wire components for both me and the other performers. Timing with the camera, which was also on a computerized wire rig, was not easy to accomplish. Every performer had to be successful in their timing and performance within one shot. This includes the rigging team, as you never actually see them, but their skill and timing are just as important as the performers. Needless to say, the pressure was high, but when we got the shot, it was definitely a very proud moment. For all of us as a team!
BFFC: Were you a Star Wars fan before you got this role? Did you do any Star Wars-specific prep work for your role, such as watching Boba Fett’s return and Gaffi stick fight scenes in “The Mandalorian?”
JB: When I was growing up, my dad and I really loved movies, and we were always interested in the movie making process. He introduced me to “The Empire Strikes Back” at a young age — one of his favorites! So I’d say I was always a fan, I remember watching that movie on repeat! I did feel that it was important to really dive into the Gaffi stick’s presence in The Mandalorian, and also its importance to the Tuskens in general. As a fighter you always respect your weapon, and this was no exception. It’s definitely something sacred and there’s a respect to handling it. For example, you can see the care taken when crafting Boba’s Gaffi stick. And of course, Temuera handled it so beautifully in “The Mandalorian,” we wanted to provide some foundation for this. We really put thought into every move with the Gaffi in [the Tusken warrior’s] fighting. Even just the way it was held when she was standing had thought put into it.
BFFC: I would love to know if there is a backstory you imagined the Tusken warrior to have that you brought to what we saw onscreen. Did the creative team give you any backstory to build from?
JB: The first thing I was told, before being given any real details about the character, was that she was very skilled and assured of her abilities. She was confident and used her skill as well as her knowledge/experience when approaching an opponent. For me, I had never seen a female Tusken in this way; I hadn’t seen much from the Tuskens in general. I was so honored to be given the opportunity to portray this strong female warrior. And to be given the opportunity to add to their story. We wanted to give insight into the Tuskens’ background and give them more screen time for character development.
After being approached about playing her, and realizing the opportunity at hand, I just wanted to make her strong and powerful. I really hoped the fans’ initial reaction to the character would be based on her movement and skill. To convince the audience that the character could be skilled enough to influence who we see Boba become. This was my ultimate goal. She trains Boba Fett, we needed the fans to believe she has the skill for this. I can only hope that came through in the performance!
After I signed onto the project, I worked closely with [Stunt Coordinator] J.J. Dashnaw, [Executive Producer] Dave Filoni, [Creator, Writer and Executive Producer] John Favreau, as well as my stunt team, all of whom were very much involved in developing the character’s movements and intentions. Ultimately, I always feel the research and work happens before the cameras are rolling. Once it’s time to perform, for me, the best results come from doing what feels right in the moment.
BFFC: What do you think Tuskens look like under their masks?
JB: No clue haha! This is a question I’ve been asked a lot. Your guess is as good as mine on this one.
BFFC: Who developed the fighting style and choreography used in “The Book of Boba Fett?” Was any of that in your background previously?
JB: I had an amazing stunt team. Our stunt coordinator J.J. Dashnaw, the stunt double for The Mandalorian, Lateef Crowder, Ming Na’s double, Ming Qiu, all helped so much with the choreography. Temuera was also so involved in helping with the choreography. He was a great asset when it came time to connect his training sequences to the Boba Fett we later see him become.
Throughout my career I’ve had to work with all different kinds of weapons. In “Aquaman” it was a trident, on “Wonder Woman” it was a sword and shield. In “Captain Marvel,” there was a lot of hand-to-hand combat. I definitely took my experiences with all of these into my work with the Gaffi stick.
BFFC: Temuera Morrison has previously spoken about bringing elements of the Maori haka into Boba Fett’s fighting style. Did that affect how you approached the Tusken warrior’s fighting style?
JB: Absolutely! I actually worked with Tem on “Aquaman,” so we had an existing friendship and communicated about this quite a bit from the beginning. I think/hope you can see his influence in the final ceremonial ritual around the fire. We knew we wanted to incorporate some of those movements in the training and fights. For example, hooking the leg of your opponent. I guess we kind of worked backwards in this way, pulling from that final scene.
BFFC: The costume you wore doesn’t seem like the most conducive to a very physical role like this. How hard is it to see out of that mask? Did that affect your performance and the physicality you had to give the character?
JB: It was definitely not an easy costume in terms of vision. What you see in the show is the mask I wore for all the stunt scenes. The eyes have a mesh screen over them, so it feels like you are in a different world when you put the mask on. That being said, I had the most amazing costume team who made sure my mask was fitted specifically to me. They accommodated all of my needs, and secured my costume so that it wouldn’t move during my action sequences. They really worked with me to make sure I could do all I needed to do.
It definitely added another element to my fighting and wire work. You have no peripherals! But, stunt performers often have to work with obstacles (high heels, restrictive suits, etc.). With the help of the costume department, we always seem to find a way to make it work!
BFFC: Were there any stunts you did in “The Book of Boba Fett” that were particularly challenging?
JB: In order to land the role, I was asked to submit my stunt/movement reel. So, I actually felt very prepared for the stunt part of this role. The job definitely played to my strengths.
For me, the challenge was to really make sure you could read her intention through her movement. You couldn’t see my face, so it was really important to amplify her emotions through body language.
BFFC: What is your favorite memory from filming “The Book of Boba Fett?”
JB: I’d say my favorite memory was during one of the first training sequences with Boba. I actually slapped Temuera on the head. At first, I was just selling it for camera, but then Tem said, “Don’t hold back.” On the next take, I really let him have it, I mean he did tell me to do it, right?! We finished the scene and I asked, “Are you okay?” He smiled and we both started laughing. It was a fun day for sure. That and jumping onto the train from a speeder. That was pretty fun!
BFFC: Can you give us any info on your upcoming roles?
JB: I can’t give any specific info on upcoming roles. But I can say that I spent about eight months in London last year filming “The Marvels” doubling my dear friend, Brie Larson. It was an amazing experience, and so much fun to work abroad with a friend by my side.
Other than that, all I can say is that I really enjoyed working with my Boba Fett family!