LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Proud WAVE Country native Nicole Callender now travels around the world creating the action in film and television for the world to enjoy.
She has been a stunt person and actress now in New York for twenty-three years. You may have seen her work in productions such as “Orange is the New Black”, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” just to name a few.
As we start our interview, Callender laughs and said with a smile to the camera, “Hi to everybody in Louisville!”
“I went to Eastern High School in Middletown, Kentucky,” she boasted proudly. “I went to Eastern Kentucky University in theater."
Callender also studied at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio, receiving a Master of Fine Arts in Acting. She then turned her attention to Broadway and a career in acting in the competitive market of New York City.
“Whoever I was auditioning in front of told me they would never hire a little black girl from Kentucky to be on Broadway," Callender still recounts with disgust in her voice. “It was awful. It was humiliating and it was right before the audition. I came and I auditioned, and I got the job.”
Callender’s tenacity, skill and hard work paved a way to a very lucrative, physical and creative career on stage, film and television. She became a stunt-person. If the job is gritty, tough and dangerous she jumps in when 'action’ is called to make the situation on screen look and feel like a real-life situation.
“I’m a stunt performer so I get bumped and bruised quite a bit," she shared.
Callender takes the fall so the actors on set don’t have to. Her latest performance can be seen in “Harriet,” the American biographical film of Harriet Tubman, the slave who escaped to freedom only to return to free others using the Underground Railroad. She steps in to replace Janelle Monae as a skilled replacement when the action gets dangerous.
“I had no idea I was doubling Janelle Monae until I got there," she said with some surprise and lots of admiration. “I was so excited.”
As a stunt double, Callender is at times called to audition, but often just receives a call from the stunt coordinator to come in to do the part.
“I fit Janelle Monae's stats,” Callender explained. “My skin tone, my height, my build matched hers.”
Monae’s character is a fictional woman named Marie Buchanan. Buchanan is an amalgamation of all the numerous brave men and women who worked as conductors and ran safe houses to protect former slaves. Callender steps in when Buchanan must fight for her life.
“I show up to do one thing and that one thing is to either get slapped around or carried out of a burning building or driving a car and doing a trick with a car,” she said casually.
That one thing Callender steps in to do is a pretty important.
“I’m not there to do her job,” she stressed. “I’m just there to support her and do the stuff maybe she doesn’t want to do and there’s a risk of the actress being hurt.”
Callender recently took on the job of intimacy coordinator and choreographer for television and film as well. The job has taken on a greater role in productions with scenes of intimacy after the 'Me Too’ movement. She ensures the well-being of actors who participate in sex scenes or other intimate scenes and makes sure the movement of the performance is safe but believable.
“Intimate scenes look sexy, but they are all technical,” Callender stressed.
The demand for the role grew after the 2017 Harvey Weinstein scandal, especially as stories of sexual harassment and misconduct continue to grow.