“I’m going to go get my husband,” announces Angela Bassett’s character, LAPD Officer Athena Grant, before rushing into a burning building to save him and confront the sniper holding him hostage amid the flames in the season finale of Fox’s 911.
Bassett is great, as always, yet key moments of the terrifying scene are actually the work of another Angela — veteran stuntwoman Angela Meryl — her fearless stand-in for the scariest parts of the high-risk shoot.
You may not know her face, but you have almost certainly seen Meryl in action. That was Meryl flinging those punches in the film Obsessed when Beyonce declared, “I’m going to wipe the floor with your skinny ass,” before whupping her nemesis in a nail-biter fight scene. If you recall Sanaa Latham fighting off Michael Ealy with a knife in The Perfect Guy, that was Meryl, too. She may be best known for her fight-scene stunts standing in for Vivica Fox in Kill Bill as she battled it out with Uma Thurman’s character.
“Kill Bill was one heck of ride, working for Quentin Tarantino,” Meryl says, before explaining what it took to prepare. “Training with the film’s fight team required jumping — 10 sets of knees to chest — roughly 36 inches of the ground, among other things. No wires were used to lift me in the shoot,” Meryl recalls. “Some nights I went home crying.”
The intense regimen is just part of life for Meryl who has trained for years to develop and refine a set of skills that range from the acrobatic feats of a gymnast, to the road chase tricks of a race car driver, and the quick fists of a champion boxer. “I’ve learned to fly around, deal with heights, drive into a slide … and do it all safely,” she says. “A split second can change everything, and a stunt is never the same twice.”
Meryl owes her confidence, in part, to her active childhood. “I didn’t have fear,” she says.
“Getting out exercising, doing something different every day, was just my life. I grew up playing football, doing martial arts, running and swimming with my brothers.”
Tomboy chops aside, Meryl did not expect her average workday to include walking through fire and smashing, headfirst, through glass (an impressive Kill Bill moment). She was pursuing a career as a model and actress, when she was offered an opportunity every young actor seeks — the chance to earn a SAG card from the Screen Actors Guild.
“Stuntman Rusty McClennon (Training Day, Star Trek) gave me a part racing up a down escalator … something I was not crazy about because I’d been caught on one as a child,” she says, laughing at how much she enjoyed it. “After that, I thought I could make a career out of it.”
She has never doubted her choice. “I’ve been at this 26 years,” Meryl says, looking incredibly fit and ageless in the LA sun, “and I still love my job.” One of just a few Black women in the stunt business when she began, Meryl has more company now, which she thinks is wonderful.
“If you love excitement and love to challenge yourself, then you can do this if you have the right frame of mind,” Meryl says. “You have to hustle, train and develop quite a few abilities, though no two people take the same path into this career. Some might have been gymnasts, drivers, dancers. People come from a lot of different backgrounds.”
Staying in Shape During the Pandemic
Since the pandemic cut off access to gyms, group fitness and in-person training for Meryl, she had to find new ways to stay in fighting form. Here’s how she pulled it off.
In addition to sticking to a diet that is mostly fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, she gets outdoors and hikes up LA’s famous hills and walks – a lot.
She also got creative. “I did lots of online bootcamps, bought a trampoline, and found great dancing and weightlifting videos online.” She especially loves videos by the twin workout team And8 .“I try to work out at least 30 minutes a day,” Meryl says.
An occasional indulgence in pizza, a little dark chocolate and her current craving – “I am loving Rob’s turmeric potato chips!” – helps her keep things interesting.
Grateful for her life and her blessings, Meryl is also aware of so much of the suffering endured by people who have not been as fortunate, and how things have been made worse by the pandemic.
The issue that bothers her the most is seeing people living on the street. “The homeless situation, especially here in LA, is just heartbreaking,” Meryl says. “I try to feed people when I can, but there are encampments everywhere now.” She finds such extreme poverty hard to accept while America mints “CEOs earning millions.”
While Meryl will be Maya Rudolph’s stunt double in the new comedy Loot, she is also working on a special project that is something new for her. “I’m writing a screenplay,” she says, “and of course it’s an action film.” She won’t share exact details, but she thinks, “we need more Black women in action roles, like Latifah in The Equalizer and Halle Berry’s new project. She plays a boxer,” offering hints for what we might get to see someday soon onscreen. We can’t wait!
Sheree Crute is co-founder and editor-in-chief of FierceforBlackWomen.com.
EXTRA EXCITEMENT: “A split second can change everything, and a stunt is never the same twice,” says actor, model and stuntwoman Angela Meryl. Check out this video to see for yourself. The reel also includes live versions of the featured image, in which Meryl dangles from the side of the AT&T Center, now known as USC Tower, after being kicked off the top as a stand-in for Aunjanue Ellis on NCIS: Los Angeles.