Continuing on from last month’s superhero focused edition, this month I talk to Talayna Moana Nikora—actor, stunt person, and, in my opinion, all round superwoman! Any actor that says they haven’t dreamed of doing an action flick and smashing their own stunts is lying. The adrenalin rush you get from watching those films is insane—can you imagine being the one performing them? I know that growing up, and even now, one of my most coveted roles is a Bond bad girl! Give me the fight sequences, the death defying stunts, and, in the long run, the usually explosive death scene . . . argh!
Talayna was born into the stunt world, with her father an accomplished stuntman. She’s worked on Mad Max: Fury Road, The Great Gatsby, Matrix:Reloaded, and The Wolverine, to name a few. Her childhood and training made me gasp—excited, envious, and terrified at the same time. Not only a stunt extraordinaire, she’s also an accomplished actor, giving her stunts that extra edge. We all know how our bodies, regardless of whether we see the face, tell our stories.
Check out Talayna’s story below and give her awesome, ready-to-go skipping workout a red hot try—I have and man, it is awesome and really gets that heart rate going.
Until next month, if you need me, I’ll be out back practicing my fight sequences and death scenes!
Ali: How did you get in to stunts? What are the requirements needed?
Taylana Moana Nikora: I am very lucky to be able to say I was born into it. My father was a stunt man and stunt co-ordinator who worked predominantly here in Australia, which meant I spent half my childhood hanging out on film sets and the other half training with him, alongside his stunt team. My mum’s always telling this story of how I jumped off the 3m diving board at the “ripe age of 11months old,” so I guess it’s safe to say it’s always been in the blood.
My father was also an ex-SAS soldier and was huge on fitness, routine, and regiment. From a very early age, my brother and I took part in all sorts of activities and adventures. We were regularly woken up at 0500hrs to swim laps at the local pool, or run or skip our way around the block before school. Afterschool activities meant the likes of rigging flying foxes in the front yard, shooting cross bows in the back, and riding skateboards around the streets whilst being towed by a large German Shepherd . . . or a 1970-something Toyota Land Cruiser. We also took part in the local team and organised sports like tennis, gymnastics, and dancing, but when we finished and most kids went home to bed, training often wasn’t over for us. We’d go out to a park and play army games, learning and practising how to hide and seek under the camouflage of night. Then we did stunt training on the weekends!
Stunt training generally involved gymnastics, high diving, high falls, horse riding, abseiling, fight choreography, riding motorbikes, canoeing, water skiing, and skiing in the winter.
A very exciting life for any little girl or boy. I loved it!
Although I was definitely primed for a career in stunts from a young age, in the end it actually took me a while to get there. My father passed away when I was a teenager and, like many, my path strayed from what I’d always known and wanted for myself. It wasn’t until my mid-20s, after graduating from drama school, that I spent some time re-training myself. This took the better part of a year before I was ready to go for my MEAA Stunt grading. Today, I pride myself on working with, and training under, the men and women who trained alongside my father.
(For an initial stunt grading as a Stunt Action Person (SAP) there are five categories of competency under the MEAA National Stunt Grading Procedure. They are Body Control, Heights, Vehicles, Animals, and Water. To be successful in an application, one must show competency in Body Control and three out of the four remaining categories. Applications are approved by a majority vote of the National Stunt Grading Committee. See link below for more details.)
A: Being in such a physically demanding job means your body needs to be treated as a temple; what are your well being rituals?
TMN: A lot of self love!
Listening to my body and knowing when to keep going and when to rest is absolutely crucial. I have quite a regimented training regime, but sometimes I just have to put it all aside, so that my body or mind can have the recovery time that it needs. Days on a film set can be long and hard, so sometimes it’s as simple as catching up on much needed sleep. Prioritising my sleep is only something I’ve really learnt to master in the last couple of years, and it’s made a huge difference to my well-being and performance. On top of that, I look after my body by eating well, getting regular massages, and using Infrared Saunas and float tanks for relaxation, and rapid recovery (great for jet lag too!).
For my spirit, it’s all about slowing down and taking time out, holding space for myself in many different ways. I particularly like to use crystals and positive affirmations, I love connecting with nature, animal cuddles, washing my worries away in the ocean, and getting lost in cathartic, hands-on creative projects.
I also highly recommend a regular dose of fun! For me, this usually involves some kind of adrenaline-pumping adventure or a singing and dancing montage of some kind with one of my girlfriends.
A: How often do you exercise and what types of workouts are most effective for the rigorous demands of being on set?
TMN: My exercise routine is constantly changing and evolving due mostly to the fact that when I’m on set hours are long and days harder which means training often goes straight out the window. This is why preparation leading up to a role or during down time is key. If I’m not working, it’s safe to say that I’ll train at least once and sometimes twice, even three times a day. I can do this because of the ability to rest in between sessions. As a stunt performer, it’s required of me to have a vast and varied skill set, a number of tools in my kit that I can pick up and use whenever needed. This means I train a variety of disciplines at any one time and depending on roles I have coming up or jobs I hear about, I will learn or re-train certain skills.
In regards to the most effective exercises, I think, like anything, it’s very individual dependant. Performers come from a variety of backgrounds, so what works for one person may not work for another. Body control is the major element used in stunt work, so in my opinion incorporating any kind or gymnastics, martial arts, diving, dance, or co-ordination/choreography based skills are a must. As are training the basic rolls, falls, and fight scenes.
For me personally, there are different things that work in different situations. Bikram yoga is one of my favourite go-to workouts to strengthen and lengthen my body fast; running and conditioning both help with my cardio and endurance, whilst dancing and gymnastics hone my flexibility, agility, and co-ordination. But when I’m travelling I can’t take any of my gyms with me, so I simply take my trusty skipping rope, and that too has the ability to give me the full body workout I need. I also use it on set when I need to limber up fast.
At the moment, my training timetable looks a little like this (see right). I don’t always make it to all of these sessions and sometimes I substitute or add others in. I also usually like to incorporate some martial arts, high diving, dirt bike and more recently mountain bike riding. Oh and then where possible scuba diving, water skiing, snow skiing, and vehicle training. I’m always trying to up-skill and learn new things. It’s quite an expensive obsession!
My go to skipping workout:
10 x Straight jumps
10 x Single tap Alternating on each foot
10 x Double tap Alternating on each foot
10 x Jumps side to side
10 x Scissor jumps
This is an easy routine that not only makes skipping fun, but also gives you a guidance system. As a young child, my father started me off by jumping 1 set (of 50) as we arrived at each tree that lined our block—soon after it was 2 sets and then 4. It was a pretty cool thing for a 7 year old to do the maths at the end and figure out I had skipped 1000 plus times around my neighbourhood. I no longer walk the street and skip at each tree, but I do and will always use this routine because it stimulates my mind as well as my body and allows for easy goal setting. These days I usually start off with sets of 4 (200) to 10 (500) and complete multiple rounds.
A: How does nutrition fit in to your life and career?
TMN: Nutrition plays a major part in my life and I have recognised this most recently with a shift I’ve made towards becoming fat-adapted. I eat a low carb, high fat diet with the aim of maintaining nutritional ketosis.
I feel like it’s really helped in balancing my energy levels and as I’ve removed all sugar from my diet, so I don’t have any more cravings I used to get at hangry o’clock. The beauty of the way I eat is that it’s actually really easy to maintain, particularly on set, because its actually a very simple eating plan to follow. But mostly because with a high fat content—good fats, that is—the food is full of flavour! Because I’m more satiated by the meals I eat, I’m happy to say I no longer struggle with saying “No” to the chocolate bowl that gets passed around on set at 1500hrs.
A: How do you prep for a job? Is there a certain amount of acting/emotional prep required as a stunt role?
TMN: Depending on what the role is, the preparation will vary, but there is obviously always a performance involved. If I’m doubling an actress, it’s my job to do my best to make the merger of our two performances as seamless as possible. The audience will never see my face, in fact it’s my job to hide it, but they may see the rest of my body, and therefore the importance is in both replicating the actors physicality and in portraying any necessary emotion in her story through my own movement. It’s a little bit different if I’ve been cast as a stunt actor in a role where I actually play the character. In this situation, the role and performance are all mine, and I will approach it with the same preparation as I would an acting role. These are the parts I thrive in being a performer at heart, and because ultimately my goal is to take on roles where I can both be the storyteller and do my own stunts.
It’s worth noting that with any stunt, small or big, there are many elements of calculation and preparation. The bigger the stunt, the more that’s involved, the greater the calculated risk. Stunt work is not an exact science and although a team of people may do their best to eliminate the probability of an accident, in the end the risk falls to the performers. Understanding this brings with it a level of responsibility that often invokes a moment or two of emotional preparation of a different kind.
A: Any tips for those looking to venture in to the world of stunts?
TMN: I’d say if you want it, go for it! I’m a big believer that anyone has the ability to go after what they want and make it their own, whether you want to be a lawyer or a stuntman, as long as you’re willing to work for it, I see no reason why you can’t achieve it. I was very lucky as a kid that my life was one big, never ending stunt training session, but when I got into stunts as an adult, I had to do all the training on my own, which was a lot harder. These days there are some great facilities out there taking on the role of training up the stuntys of tomorrow. The Stunt Gym in Sydney and AP8 in Queensland are two gyms I would highly recommend checking out. But if you’re serious about getting in to stunts, the first place you should visit is the MEAA website—there you can read the National Stunt Grading Procedure and find out exactly what you’ll be getting in to.