An actor and stunt performer based in Dublin, Jordan Coombes has appeared in shows such as Penny Dreadful, Vikings and Reign. She has been working in the industry for seven years, performing a variety of stunts – from flames to falls. We spoke with her recently about her journey in the world of stunts and she had shared with us some snippets of her career and the field that she now takes part of.
Growing up, Jordan admits that she was a bit of a daredevil but it didn’t cross her mind that she could make a career out of it. It was in acting school where she discovered her passion in doing dangerous stunts. “I had trained as an actor for years and my favourite part of training at drama school was stage combat. My two teachers happened to be stuntmen (Paul Burke and Ciaran O’Grady) and I kept training with them after I left drama school.”
Aside from going to drama school, she had also acquired different skills and certifications throughout the years to become a full-fledged stunt performer. She said that whilst in-house training is valuable, being externally adjudicated is equally important.
“I’ve got my Rock Climbing Instructorship from ‘Mountaineering Ireland’ and my Divemaster certification from ‘PADI’. I’ve done my Stunt Horse Riding qualification from recognised horse-masters in the industry. I also train in kickboxing, gymnastics, swimming, trampolining, driving, weapons and then all the gag skills I train in, like fire (setting yourself on fire – takes a bit of training), wire work, rigging and guns. On top of that, I do my own gym training so I’m physically capable of doing stunts.”
Drawn to roles with action or fight scenes, her first stunt job was in Vikings, a historical drama television series featured in History channel. She has done different stunt works and small acting roles in the show over the past six seasons. In fact, she has been Katherine Winnicks’ (Lagertha) stunt double for three seasons now.
“I’ve probably died a thousand different deaths on Vikings over the years, I’ve lost count of how many battles I’ve fought in. There was a lot of fighting, mostly in the mud, sometimes in the water, sometimes on horseback and sometimes up burning ladders.”
When asked about the challenges she faces in shooting the show, she said that it’s been difficult to shoot outdoors in Ireland. “We have had four seasons in one day shooting battles – from sunshine to snow, gale force winds, pissing rain and sunshine again! So you’re sweating one minute and freezing the next, it’s very hard to judge what layers to wear under your costume in the morning.”
Along with this, there have been physical challenges as well, like fighting in the mud for 10 hours, performing in a restrictive costume and adjusting to abrupt changes in the set. But she isn’t complaining as she believes that it will be boring without those challenges.
Doing the stunts in Vikings may be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding but Jordan says that she enjoys her job, especially because of the amazing team she works with.
“The crew on Vikings is fantastic. They’re like a big family and it’s genuinely a pleasure to come to work at 4 in the morning. I’ve met so many great people there. The stunt team and coordinator are great too. They’re always pushing themselves to do bigger and better stunts every season so I have learnt so much since I started.”
Jordan is proud to be part of Vikings as this is the first show in the country that created a demand for stuntwomen and had female warriors rather than solely male battlefields. It has also given women a chance to play positions of power rather than being victims or femme fatales.
Working in a male-dominated industry such as stunt performing can be difficult and Jordan is aware of it. She said that there are more opportunities given to men and most core teams doing full-time stunts are predominantly male. This is despite the fact that there is a strong representation of women on the screen. However, looking at the bright side, she adds, “There are far fewer women in stunts so if you train hard and skill up, you have a good chance of standing out and making a career in it.”
It may be small and slow but Jordan said that there have been improvements on how women are treated in the industry. Although it is still far from being gender-balanced, it can be noted that they are heading the right path. In addition, she noticed that there has been an increase in the number of stuntwomen in Ireland. “When I started, when there were only 3 in the whole country. Now there are maybe around 20, mainly because there have been more jobs with a need for a mix of men and women.”
Moving forward, Jordan would like to see more stuntwomen and female stunt coordinators in the future. She believes that introducing women into positions on screen, where they may not have been stereotypically seen before, can gradually change people’s attitudes and perspectives. To see more of her life as a stuntwoman, you can follow her on instagram @jordancoombes_.
For those who would like to enter the stunt industry, Jordan suggests to train in as many skills possible and to get on a team like Stunt Register. By being part of a reputable team, you will be motivated to train harder and be more qualified to do stunts. You will also learn more about the industry and the people working in it, which is a way on how you can land on a job.