What it takes to be a 'Ghostbusters' stuntwoman

Meredith Richardson, left, and Luci Romberg training while on the set of "Ghostbusters." Courtesy of Meredith Richardson

Many athletes simply retire after they're done competing in gymnastics and other similar sports. Others go into the stunt world and continue doing flips -- with a side of hanging out of windows.

The women behind the leading ladies of "Ghostbusters" took the second option. Luci Romberg, Jessi Fisher, Meredith Richardson and Alyma Dorsey stunt double for Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, respectively, in the movie, which premieres in theaters Friday. And not surprisingly, each has a background in sports.

"We are the athletes of the entertainment industry," said Dorsey, the stunt double for Jones.

Dorsey grew up in Florida, playing every sport she possibly could. Eventually she focused on volleyball and was a member of Florida State University's varsity team. After a modeling stint, she got into stunts through personal training. One of her clients, Quentin Tarantino, brought her along to the "Django Unchained" shoot, where she fell in love with the industry.

Dorsey landed the "Ghostbusters" gig because "they needed someone who could double Leslie Jones," she said. Dorsey is 5-foot-10. Since Jones is 6-foot-1, it's often tough to find women who are of a passable height to double for her, and fewer still are also women of color.

Dorsey's path into stunts may seem uncommon, but there's not one direct route into the industry -- though knowing the right people can certainly help.

"There really is not a set way of getting into stunts," said Jessi Fisher, double for Kristen Wiig. "Everyone does have their own journey, but you see a lot of similarities. A lot of people train at the same gyms, and run in the same circles."

Originally from Michigan, Fisher trained in gymnastics but never thought she was good enough to make her college team at Central Michigan University. It wasn't until she saw a show at the now-defunct SeaWorld Ohio that she became interested in performing.

After bopping around shows for years, she eventually settled in at "O," a Cirque du Soleil water show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where she stayed for four years.

It wasn't until the stunt team from "The Hangover 3" came to the show and she gave them a backstage tour that she realized stunts could be for her. But they told her that in order to pursue stunts, she'd have to move to Los Angeles. So, half a year later, Fisher packed her things and headed for California.

"I've always been one of those people who just goes for it," she said.

The entry point to stunts often comes through being a great athlete with specific training -- gymnastics, acrobatics, martial arts or even motorcycle driving. The bulk of preparing for roles and jobs becomes diversifying one's skill set, and for many former athletes, that means adding fight skills.

"Fighting is a big part of it," said Meredith Richardson, who doubled Kate McKinnon, "When I got into [stunts] I had never done any of that, it was all gymnastics. So during my first six months, I took a lot of fight seminars, signed up for boxing at school, and trained with my martial arts friends. I think fighting is my new favorite thing."

Richardson grew up in the South -- "born and raised in Alabama," she said. She competed as a gymnast throughout her childhood and into college. When she was 10, her father said that he'd always wanted to work on movies as a stuntman. His words planted a seed that bloomed while she was at the University of Alabama.

After undergoing knee and ankle surgery just before nationals of her first year, Richardson decided to retire from competitive gymnastics and instead worked her way through school. Well, until she dropped out halfway through her junior year and moved to New Orleans.

"I took my exams and said, 'Mom, Dad, I'm moving to New Orleans to pursue my dream of becoming a stuntwoman," Richardson said. The movie industry, though thought of as being focused in Los Angeles, films all over the country (and in Vancouver) depending on tax breaks. For stunt performers looking for work, Los Angeles continues to provide the most consistent revenue stream, but there are additional hubs where TV shows and movies film. New Orleans became a hotbed for a few years, and Atlanta is one now.

It was in New Orleans that Richardson met stunt coordinator Walter Garcia, who was working on "Ghostbusters." Stunt coordinators put the stunts together and wrangle stunt performer talent, but more than that, they create a vision for the choreography of the stunts themselves and the ways in which action can be incorporated into a film. "Ghostbusters" doesn't have a ton of fighting in it, but the battle scene in Times Square is something each of the stuntwomen mentioned as one of the most enjoyable moments for them, among some of the other, more run-of-the-mill stunts.

"Getting dropped on a car was fun," Melissa McCarthy's double, Luci Romberg, said. "The fight where Melissa gets possessed was fun too. It's all fun."

Romberg, a world champion free runner, also played soccer and did gymnastics growing up. She was the 2003 USA Gymnastics Collegiate All-Around champion while at Texas Woman's University. Romberg was recruited into stunts by a former gymnastics teammate, Natascha Hopkins.

After working at Chili's for four years to make ends meet, Romberg began to find enough stunt work to focus on that full-time. She doubled McCarthy for the fourth time on "Ghostbusters," -- she was also her full-time double on "The Boss" and "Spy," and doubled her for one scene in "Identity Thief."

"Ghostbusters" shot for four months in Boston, and the stuntwomen trained even while on location. Most days on set, the women challenged one another to handstand contests. They worked out between rehearsals, went to a Parkour gym on days off, and hit mitts in the park.

The life of a stuntwoman is to always be training. "I always do gymnastics to keep up my body awareness," Richardson said of her weekly training habits. "I also do judo and Kung Fu and then sometimes driving stuff with one of my friends who is great on motorcycles."

As doubles they spend a significant amount of time with the actresses, and said McCarthy and Wiig were as funny as expected. "They would do the same scene over and over again and just ad lib it," Fisher said. "It was hilarious. They were fantastic."

Looking the part of the actresses is essential, down to their movements and body language. A fan actually confused Fisher with Wiig while they filmed in Boston one day. "That's good," Fisher said. "If people can't tell us apart, that means I'm doing my job right."

"We act with our bodies," Romberg agreed. "I watch the way that [McCarthy] moves, and how she does it. If I need her to make it a little more badass, then I help her with that. You coach them and help them do it the best they can and then you mimic their movements."

Working with the actresses is key to a film being successful in selling the action as authentic. And for the stuntwomen, the collaboration on "Ghostbusters" was as good as it gets. "As stunt people we have more athletic backgrounds, and we're used to doing more physical things, but some actresses are not," Fisher said. "Being able to work with them and teach them was an empowering thing too."

"Getting to be a Ghostbuster in a way is above and beyond any dream I could have come up with," said Romberg.