She’s fallen headlong from high-rise buildings and been bashed and blown up more times than she cares to remember, but the only role to make stuntwoman Kylie Furneaux tremble was being the real-life show-and-tell for a group of Aussie primary school children.
‘Staring at all those expectant little faces was terrifying,’ admits the South Australian-born stunt actress who made a surprise visit to a class of seven-year-olds at Port Augusta’s Wallaroo Primary School after her aunt’s god-daughter Ruby Shore, seven, wrote asking about her work.
Kylie’s death-defying feats have seen her doubling for some of Hollywood’s most famous leading ladies, including Jennifer Garner, Sharon Stone and Anne Hathaway.
Incredibly, Kylie’s success story from Terowie – which has a population of 150 – to Tinseltown reads like a script that arrives in the mail to the Hollywood home she shares with Quantum of Solace star, actor Neil Jackson.
At 19, a high-speed car crash left Kylie with a fractured spine and doctors warned she’d never be able to lead a physical life again.
‘They said I’d never play tennis again and they were right – although I’ve done everything else,’ the 36-year-old smiles.
Kylie’s determination to prove everyone wrong saw her defy astonishing odds as she completed a business degree from her hospital bed, and learnt to walk again.
But it was a trip to Vancouver, Canada, in 1999 to visit her sister Shauna that fuelled her dream to become a stuntwoman.
‘Everyone told me I was too old and had no skills,’ she says. ‘But I’d already been told I’d never lead an active life and was proving everyone wrong so I decided to give it a go.’
Kylie mastered kickboxing and martial arts and it paid off when she landed her first TV job in a show called Dead Like Me.
‘The hardest part was staying skinny enough to look like the actresses – many were super-slim size double-zeros – and eating enough to have enough energy and strength to avoid getting hurt in action scenes,’ she says.
Her big break came when she was asked to do stunts for Sharon Stone in Catwoman.
‘I was thrilled and even though work schedules meant I didn’t work with Sharon much, I met Halle Berry who was absolutely lovely.
‘On Valentine’s Day she bought a big heart-shaped cake for the whole crew. It’s me you see in the big fight scene at the end between Sharon and Halle.
‘I’m the one being smashed backwards and forwards against a cage attached to a wire that nobody sees.’
In 2003, the dynamo from Down Under landed a role in the movie Elektra, doing stunts for its star Jennifer Garner who she describes as ‘an absolute sweetheart’.
‘She introduced herself saying: “Oh gosh, you must be Kylie, I am so happy
to finally meet you.”
I rang my parents laughing that Jennifer Garner the star was happy to meet me, a small-town girl from Oz,’ she recalls.
‘I spent my days on set wearing an upper body harness getting chucked upside down in every way imaginable and it’s me you see wearing the hood in the opening sequence of the movie, not Jennifer.
‘She was just the sweetest person and at the end of filming gave everyone a present and thanked them for their hard work.’
As stunts became more challenging, Kylie’s mum insisted that she call home each morning before work and again at night – just in case.
‘Being dragged and thrown around movie sets, smashed into walls and dashing from exploding falling cars can be pretty dangerous,’ Kylie says.
In the movie Passengers, she doubled for Anne Hathaway, filming the motorbike chase and the scene where Anne’s character falls off a passenger liner.
‘Anne was lucky enough to film her part in an indoor heated pool, while I was the one bobbing up from the icy waters of Vancouver Harbour in winter, gasping to match a line she says while divers rushed to drag me out.’
Today, Kylie’s working alongside fellow Aussies who are also living their dreams in Hollywood. She has doubled for Toni Collette in the hit TV show United States of Tara and she has just finished filming Thor with former Home and Away heart-throb Chris Hemsworth.
‘On X-Men 3, even through my mouthful of spiky metal teeth and prosthetics, Hugh Jackman recognised my Aussie accent,’ she laughs.
And while Kylie, who’s working on Pirates of the Caribbean 4, claims she’s never spooked by work, being show and tell for a group of kids isn’t her only anxiety.
‘I’m kinda scared of the dark too,’ she laughs.
By: Megan Norris
Photos: Stephen Hardacre Photography