***Update! Maja Aro sent a note: She did not win the award, but had a great time at the show in L.A. as a nominee. Good for you, Maja!***
When Maja Aro comes over to meet me at the Dominion building the athletic young woman is what I had expected from a stunt performer. However, I am impressed when I see two recent scars in her face and a splinted hand. When I ask her about it, Aro smiles and shrugs. Injuries come with her job and she doesn’t make a big fuss about it.
She obtained the cuts at the set of the sci-fi show The Tomorrow People, where she flew through a tempered glass door and got such a big gap on her face it needed stitches. However, Aro says she didn’t deal with it until the take was over and continuity pictures were shot.
“I have a very high pain threshold, luckily, and I don’t bruise easily,” she laughs, knocking on my wooden desk. “[The stunts] seem dangerous, but when you learn how to fall properly and roll and disperse the energy, you really don’t get hurt very often.”
Indeed, in her nine years as a stunt performer, Aro has been careful and fortunate.
“My biggest concerns when I am doing stunts is protecting things that you can’t replace. Skin heals, but your brain doesn’t,” she says.
Aro (also known as Maja Stace-Smith) is one of around 40 active stunt performers in Vancouver, a group that is, according to her, competitive and solidary at the same time. Always in the background, their faces invisible in the end product, stunt performers are not always publicly recognized for their amazing achievements. Whereas UBCP does recognize stunt performers, the Leo Awards, for instance, have categories for stunt coordinators, but not for the athletes themselves.
The Taurus nomination
This year, however, Aro has been nominated, as the only Canadian, for the “Oscars” of the stunt world, the Taurus World Stunt Awards in L.A on May 10. If work doesn’t interfere, she will travel to Paramount Studios and hopefully receive the award for “Best overall stunt by a stunt woman,” for her work in a particular scene of the movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Aro, who heard about the nomination while on set, was quite surprised, as the film was shot three years earlier at Studio Babelsberg in Germany. As her phone kept on buzzing with congratulations from the stunt community, all she could say was, ‘Can I have a moment?’
“For us, it’s like getting nominated for an Oscar,” says Aro. “It’s our only award show.”
The nominated scene shows a woman (Aro, doubling for British actor Gemma Arterton) being thrown by a witch, crashing through a wall, falling to a roof, and then to the ground. After going through a breakaway wall, the stuntwoman fell 8 feet to the roof and then fell 9 feet to face plant in a landing mat dug into the dirt – horse poop in the film.
A funny anecdote about this scene, which was shot in two parts with more than one month in between, was that a small mistake actually made it look so good.
“The wall didn’t break properly, which is why the stunt looks as cool as it does,” says Aro. “My legs got hung up on it, my upper body burst through, so I got tipped onto my head more than I was supposed to.”
From fashion to Fringe
Aro grew up as the daughter of a teacher and a forester in Williams Lake, B.C. and when she first came to Vancouver as a 20-year-old, she worked as an extra and waitressed at Toby’s on Commercial Drive, where she was addressed by a group of stuntmen, regular patrons, who got her into the biz.
Aro had studied to be a fashion designer and had her own clothing company for a few years, showing at the New York and Vancouver fashion weeks. But she decided while she could always come back to fashion, stunts are something to pursue when being young.
The biz is where she met her love, Jeff, also a stuntman. They got engaged on a trip to the Kilimanjaro and re-named themselves ‘Aro.’
“Taking the last three letters of Kilimanjaro seemed suiting to us,” says Aro. “And when we researched it, it means ‘powerful and complete.’ ”
Helping the whole industry to be stronger
After nearly a decade in the biz and numerous credits including Once Upon a Time, Fringe and Red Riding Hood, Aro says she still loves challenge of learning new skills for each gig, and has mastered horse riding, scuba diving, martial arts and fighting with several weapons.
Together with Jeff she built the Sea-to-Sky stunt lab in their house in Britannia Beach, where they work out and train with other actors and stunt people.
Her ultimate goal is working as a writer-director and here’s where the networking and educational opportunities of Women in Film and Television work perfectly into her plans.
“I’m sad that I didn’t find it earlier in my career,” says Aro, who joined this year and has already coordinated two projects through other Women in Film members.
Aro says she is a huge advocate of women networking and supporting each other, especially in the stunt world where there are not as many roles for women as for men and competition is fierce.
By Katja De Bock
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