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Making it look real – Tales of a scuba stuntwoman

(DiverWire) – If it was easy, everybody could do it. For me, I started diving as soon as I was old enough to get certified. My first few diving years was with a dive club affiliated with the Hungarian Military-BHG Dive Club. I logged over 1,000 dives by the time I was old enough to drink.

I always knew that I wanted to make a living out of SCUBA, and as soon as I learned English I became a PADI Instructor. Having logged over 5,000 dives, completing the training in Newport Beach made me to the youngest female Course Director in the world.

Until this point it was all hard work; then came the luck. One day a talent scout stopped by my old dive centre in search of girls who could swim in the ocean for an upcoming Axe Commercial. Swimming in a bikini is not difficult, but to do it all day long in 10ºC water proved more challenging.

The day began with 50 girls. By noon most of them were either seasick from waiting on the boat for hours between shoots or had severe hypothermia. By the end of the day only a teenage lifeguard and I remained, and thanks to her connections, we were pulled in under the Taft-Hartley Labor Act and became part of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) pool of stunt-women.

The Taft-Hartley Labor Act gives rights to non-union employees in union jobs, which meant we could both get hired for additional work by the production company. It was a huge deal! Most people wait many years to get a chance like this.

On the set of “Flash Forward”

I was fortunate to work with Keir O’Donnell in Los Angeles while filming the ABC series Flash Forward. During one scene we were trapped in a bus sinking fast underwater. He kicks the windows out and rescues me.

Even though tens of thousands of SAG stunt performers live in Los Angeles, only a handful work regularly. It is a very tight community where people often depend on each other with their lives. Most stunt coordinators hire stunts and water safety people that they know or have worked with before. I got lucky again. Lots of stunt coordinators frequent our dive shop and I taught their kids and friends how to dive. Looking like the actress who needs a double also helps; plus the fact that there aren’t many female divers out there with my background.

Szilvia and actress Dina Meyer

All of these factors helped me land the opportunity to be Drew Barrymore’s “double” in an ice diving clip in Alaska as well as the chance to be Dina Meyer’s double in the cave diving scenes in Piranha 3D. I have been fortunate to work with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Alex Daniels, one of the most respected and busiest stunt coordinators in the business. In fact, he spent many years as David Hasselhoff’s stunt double!

When I asked him what it takes to be a good stunt diver, he said it was important to “develop every possible skill. A good stunt man is specialized, yet is well-rounded and has complete skills”.

“Your body works better in different environments if it is trained,” he added. Most people can’t open their eyes and scream underwater without sucking in water through their nose while filming a scene in a trapped car under a bridge.

“Practice being underwater without a mask upside down,” was Alex’s tip for those want to become stunt divers. My favorite tip is “luck comes to those who stay busy while waiting”. All you need to do is to work hard, sharpen your skills, take classes and meet people. Luck will come.

My Scariest experience as a stunt diver
During the filming of Piranha 3D in the cave (I was doubling for Dina Mayer), my scene became a bit more complicated than was first planned. I was supposed to die in a cave on my back while the piranhas were munching on me, and I had to lose my gear as well during my final minutes. I also had to fight the piranhas off my face (holding my breath) and crawl out of the cave with my final strength. It was scary knowing the tight cave’s two entrances were both blocked with camera operators. I couldn’t see anything, my gear was thrown away and I had one breath. On top of that it dawned on to me that we had no signal to show when I was REALLY out of air, not just acting. Luckily, all went well.

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