Tara Macken was born in a car in Kuwait. Her mother was en route to a hospital when Macken just couldn't wait anymore. She was ready to greet the world at that very moment.
"When I tell people that story, they're like 'that makes sense,'" Macken said in a phone interview.
It does make sense. Macken is always high-energy and constantly moving. It is literally her job to fall out of windows, get hit by cars, and fight off bad guys. She's a stunt woman who has previously doubled everyone from Eva Longoria, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba -- and now Taraji P. Henson in "Proud Mary," which hits theaters on Friday.
Henson plays Mary, a hit woman working for an organized crime family in Boston, a role that required many action sequences. Macken was one of three women who doubled Henson in the film, and she handled the reshoots. Veteran stuntwoman Cheryl Lewis participated in the original shoot of the film.
"My background is in martial arts and film fighting, so ["Proud Mary"] was right up my alley," Macken said. "It was a cool experience."
Macken worked with the Academy Award-nominated Henson on fight choreography and prepped her for action sequences. After prep, Henson would film the sequence and do the choreography herself, and then Macken followed it up with her version of Henson's performance. The editors would do their magic, and suddenly, there's a film. The end product is usually a combination of the actress and the stunt performers.
"She is super talented and able to pick things up quickly," Macken said of Henson. "[Taraji] is such a good performer, she was like a sponge and absorbed it all."
Macken has been working in stunts for about a decade, including double performances in "The Hunger Games" series and upcoming roles in "Avengers: Infinity War" and "A Wrinkle in Time." Macken, who is of Filipino and Irish descent, also credits her ability to double a wide range of diverse actresses as helping open a few more doors for her in the competitive stunt-double business.
"I've noticed in the past 10 years there has been a transition in casting," Macken said. "Everybody is in this melting pot, and casting has gone toward it, which works in my favor."
Macken fell in love with movement as a child. She started in gymnastics at a young age and played in the jungles of Brunei, in Southeast Asia, when her family moved from Kuwait. She later picked up dance, which she would go on to study in college, and rock climbing. While at Santa Clara University in Northern California, Macken began studying martial arts. She started with Judo and added kickboxing and Filipino martial arts to her training regimen. The blend of gymnastics, dance and martial arts styles allows Macken to bring a unique and varied skill set to productions.
"It's a way to explore movement, be creative, and use your whole body," Macken said. "It does come in handy when you're doing action scenes for a lot of characters. For example, how would an alien fight? They wouldn't do traditional boxing, so you start morphing everything you learn into an interesting movement idea."
Macken studied theater and dance in college with the intention of moving to Los Angeles and becoming an actress. She was always interested in action, but she had no idea that there was an entire profession dedicated to making the action come alive on film.
"When I found out about stunts, I thought it was just a bunch of guys flipping over cars and setting themselves on fire," Macken said. "I didn't know it was martial arts related. I thought actors did that. So I figured out I could have a whole career doing the best part of acting. Fantastic!"
Macken's favorite stunt in "Proud Mary" was tumbling out of a car. Turns out that jumping out of a moving vehicle is more complicated than just opening a car door and going for it. She had to jump a specific way so that she could roll away from the car, not get run over, and not smash her face into the asphalt. Luckily, there was lots of padding.
"Not something you probably want to get into, but if you do, there's a way," Macken said.
She was still stiff the next morning. Though, she has no regrets.
And it's just par for the course. Additionally, Macken has been set on fire, and knows how to reload and fire multiple weapons. She trains in martial arts for three hours every day (except for the weekends), and she rides horses for her stunt-double role on HBO's "Westworld."
"I'm just training myself to be a super spy," Macken joked. "All I need now is a couple more languages, and I'm good to go."