A Little Respect

The personality that Malahni most resembles in terms of her extracurricular endeavors is not Martha Stewart, but Erin Brockovich; the Erin Brockovich of stunt-people. For most of her career, Malahni has been trying to get the attention of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, working to pursuade them to start giving out Oscars to stunt-people.

“I’ve been plugging on that for years,” she shrugs, leading a tour of her shady, tree-lined garden. “Handing out flyers at Screen Actors Guild meetings, standing up to make speeches. I’ve never understood why stunt people aren’t eligible for an Oscar, but they’ve always told me, ‘We can’t put stunt people up for an Oscar. They’d just go out and kill themselves to get an award.’ But that’s ludicrous. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”

Malahni has turned to face me, eyes aflame with a flash of kindled anger, her muscled arms tense and ready for a fight. I think to myself, “I’m certainly glad I’m not the Academy right now.”

“Stunt people put safety first,” she exclaims. “We’re the ones who make movie sets as safe as they are. We’re not stupid, and we’re not crazy. We’re stunt-people. If it weren’t for us, movies would be very dull. If it wasn’t for the action scenes that we make possible, Hollywood would make a lot less money every year.”

Fortunately, says Malahni, assistance finally came from an unlikely source. Dietrich Mateschitz, longtime stunt-person fan and founder of the Red Bull Energy Drink Company, the ones who make those caffeinated cough-syrup-flavored power potions, was persuaded to sponsor The World Stunt Awards show, an annual fundraiser for Mateschitz’s Taurus Foundation, which aids stunt professionals who have suffered severe physical injuries on the job or in pursuit of their work. The first award ceremony took place in 2001, in a giant airplane hanger in Santa Monica.

“It’s kind of cool,” she states, “to see each other when we’re not all torn up, or on fire or standing there with fake blood all over our faces.”

On the day of this interview, Malahni is preparing for her trip down to the second annual World Stunt Awards ceremony (which took place on May 19, and was broadcast a week later on ABC), grateful that someone is finally giving stunt-people their due – “It’s bigger than the Oscars,” she says and still prone to get a little get misty-eyed remembering the shock and surprise she was treated to during last year’s event.

“All through the show, they were showing clips of famous stunts,” she recalls, “and then they did this big tribute to the best ‘Vehicular Stunts’ of all time.” The homage began with a clip of Steve McQueen, jumping the cars in the legendary chase scene from 1968’s “Bullitt”. “And of course every stunt person in the place went, ‘Aaaaaah,’ because Steve McQueen was such a nice guy,” Malahni says. “And then, to my surprise, they panned to me hanging from the train in ‘Runaway Train’.”

That stunt, in which Malahni doubled Rebecca DeMornay, dangling between two bouncing train cars careening through icy Alaska at 55 miles an hour, was greeted by the assembled stunt professionals with a rousing ovation.

“What an honor,” Malahni says, “to cut from Steve McQueen to me, hanging from that damn train. I started crying,” she confesses. “It was a real difficult stunt.”

Jean reveals more in part three of JEAN MALAHNI: BLOOD AND GLORY>>>

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