By: Hannah Rose-Yee
Photo Courtesy Debbie Evans
Debbie Evans remembers her first job as a stunt driver. It was on a cult movie called “Death Sport,” a futuristic motocross thriller that filmed in rural California in the late ’70s.
Evans was only 20, but she’d already made a name for herself as the first female expert motorcycle rider, with a sponsorship from Yamaha and trophies in competitions against the boys. Someone called up and asked whether she’d be interested in filming a few scenes for the film, so Evans went down to the set and revved up her bike.
“At one point, the stunt coordinator handed me a plexiglass broadsword and said, ‘Now I want you to run and jump off this embankment and swing the sword at the next motorcycle to go by.’” Evans recalls. “And I looked at him and said, ‘You’re going to pay me to play?’” she laughs.
“You know, my mom had always said to me you’ve really gotta’ stop being a tomboy. And it went against every grain in my body because I love anything active, running, jumping, climbing, surfing, waterskiing. I feel like I had been training every day of my entire life to be a stunt driver and I just happened to fall right into it.”
Evans’ first film credit was “Death Sport” and since then her projects have gotten increasingly higher in profile. “Mission Impossible,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Independence Day,” “Terminator 2″
She doubled on the motorbike for Alicia Silverstone in “Batman & Robin,” in the car for Angelina Jolie in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and for Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix Reloaded.” (The pair look so similar that the filmmakers didn’t even bother to hide Evans’ face in front-on shots.)
It was on that gig, actually, that the now 59-year-old Evans came the closest she’s ever been to feeling like her life was in danger. In one particular chase scene, Evans was supposed to bring her bike right across from a truck, before ducking out as the truck slammed into the wall of a freeway.
“We rehearsed it four times and I told the [truck] driver to do exactly what he was going to do in the rehearsals. It took him four seconds to get over to the wall, so I figured I had four seconds to get out of there,” Evans recalls. But once the director yelled action, “I think he got a little bit over-amped and cut over much harder,” Evans says, downplaying the danger she was in.
She had just two seconds to brake as hard as she could and try to clear herself and her bike from the oncoming truck.
“The back of the [truck] smacked the wall right over my front wheel,” Evans says. “That’s the closest I’ve come to not being here. It was extremely unnerving and scary. I got off the motorcycle and my whole body was shaking. We do as much as we can to take the danger out of [the job] but there’s always an element of risk.”
Evans credits her knife-sharp reaction time — “a God-given gift to be able to react that fast, I’ve been doing this forty years and my reaction time is probably faster than the average teenager” — to her skills as a stunt driver.