The stunt woman
As fans of The Hunger Games know, this gal goes down fighting.
She’s been thrown through a bookcase. She’s been stabbed, both by a sword and a broken mirror. Justin Timberlake, Jessica Alba, and even The Fonz have done her in. She’s kicked the bucket in a straight-to-the-web video, and she’s met her maker in a half-billion-dollar blockbuster.
“I’ve died so many times, therefore I’ve lived
so many different lives.”
For stuntwoman Tara Macken ’08 there is no role too gruesome that hasn’t piqued her interest. “This one time I was a cannonball or something and I was covered in blood … Most people hate stage blood. It’s just messy and gets in your hair.” But that doesn’t faze Macken. “It’s just a lot of fun,” she says.
She’s also philosophical about her on-screen exploits: “I’ve died so many times, therefore I’ve lived so many different lives.”
Macken’s biography reads like the sum of several of those lives. The story she tells: She was born in a car in Kuwait to a Filipino mother and Irish father. Throughout her early childhood her family kept up with her father’s work around the Middle East as an engineer for Shell, before settling in the Philippines for her school years.
Growing up in the Philippines, Macken had a passion for gymnastics and loved to watch professional wrestling. “I was a good gymnast, but I wasn’t the greatest,” she confesses. “I had a lot of learning to do and I fell a lot—a lot. So, that probably helped my stunt work.”
Her first trip to the States was to attend Santa Clara University. And the first time she stepped foot on the Mission Campus was exiting the bus that brought her to SCU. Despite the initial difficulty fitting in to a culture and campus completely foreign to her, by her second year she was beginning to find her stride in the theatre and dance department.
“I loved the teachers. I loved the classes,” she says. “I really got the chance to learn a lot and to learn about myself.”
She credits a ballet class taught by Karyn Lee Connell as being especially formative. “Karyn’s approach was, ‘You’re a good person, even though you’re the worst ballet student.’ And, yeah, I was horrid.”
Upon graduating with a double major in dance and political science, Macken had one year left on her visa and a car. She decided to give L.A. a chance. With her background in gymnastics and theatre, stunt work was a perfect fit.
Now, a few years later, Macken is getting noticed. Her role as one of the 24 competitors in a deadly, televised death match in the hugely popular The Hunger Games this spring meant red carpets, media attention, and fan mail from places as far away as Finland. Next year she appears in GI Joe: Retaliation as the stunt double for Jinx, a ninja. She also landed a coveted role in the Star Trek sequel, currently filming and also due out in 2013.
She can’t say much about her role in Star Trek; actors even had to wear robes between sets to hide their exact roles from the prying eyes of a rabid fan base. So it can’t be said for sure whether it’s a phaser blast, explosion, or an unfortunate run-in with an open airlock that punches her ticket. Or—who knows? For this rising star in the world of stunts, maybe this time around, she lives.
Sword Form: Check out Macken's swinging skills in the video below. Read about her approach to workouts in Shape magazine.
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