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UCLA

Stunts and Circuses

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By Wendy Soderburg '82, Photos by Hugh Hamilton

Published Jan 1, 2010 8:00 AM


Hollywood Swingin'

Other former Bruin gymnastics stars who have found stunt work in Hollywood include Dee Fischer Murphy '96 and Kiralee Hayashi '00, who was featured in a popular viral video for Gatorade, playing a ball girl who scales a wall to catch a foul ball. And Karin Silvestri-Coye, 33, has managed to combine a steady job as gymnastics coordinator for Make It or Break It with an extremely successful career as a stunt woman.

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Tasha Schwikert plays a background gymnast on Make It or Break It, and once even had a speaking role.

A member of the UCLA gymnastics team that won a national championship in 1997, Silvestri-Coye's plans to become a sports psycholo-gist "took a left turn" when Kondos Field told her about the chance to work on a new show about college athletes called Push.

"The call was for a 5'6" gymnast, and I'm kind of a giant in the gymnastics world," says Silvestri-Coye, laughing. She got the job, which was soon followed by stunt work in dozens of TV shows, films and national commercials. Her first big break came in 1998, when she landed a Super Bowl commercial while still a UCLA student. The commercial, which featured actress Ali Landry doing flips and the splits in a laundromat while catching Doritos between her teeth, is still remembered fondly across the Internet.

Of course, it was Silvestri-Coye doing all those gymnastics moves, and since then she has appeared in Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ER, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Serenity, Alias, Mission: Impossible III, Spider-Man 3, 24, Angels & Demons, Medium, Dollhouse, NCIS: Los Angeles, and How I Met Your Mother.

When doubling for actress Kate Beckinsale in 2004's Van Helsing, Silvestri-Coye recalls being particularly tired while filming a scene in Prague. It wasn't long before she was feeling much more energized, however. "Hugh [Jackman] and I had to roll around on the ground, and I was like, 'Oh, my job's not so bad!' " she says, laughing.

Silvestri-Coye's teammate on the 1997 UCLA national championship team, Heidi Moneymaker, has been doing stunts full-time since 2001. She joined Silvestri-Coye on several films and TV shows and has also appeared in Fast & Furious, Star Trek, Hancock, Rambo, National Treasure, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, NCIS, Damages, My Name is Earl and The O.C.

Her little sister, Renae, also is a gymnast who will be doubling actress Chelsea Hobbs ("Emily Kmetko") on Make It or Break It this season — ironically, the same actress that Heidi doubled for in the pilot episode.

"I'm very lucky to be working quite frequently," says Moneymaker, 31, who has also done commercials for Acura, Sonic and Radio Shack. "I've even had speaking roles. Usually they're just one line before you get blown up, but I did have a guest-starring role on CSI: New York." For that one, Moneymaker bungee-jumped off a bridge wearing a nude bodysuit.

Going Live

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Natalie Padilla shows her style on the set of Make It or Break It.

Perhaps not as large-scale, but just as exciting to watch, are the live shows. Malia Jones '04 has performed in La RĂªve at the Wynn Las Vegas, as has Carmen Tausend '99. Kristen Maloney '05 and Stella Umeh '99 have both performed with Cirque du Soleil.

Yvonne Tousek '05 is in the middle of a 16-month stay in Japan, where she is a regular cast member of Cirque du Soleil's show, Corteo. Like the other cast members, Tousek, 29, plays several roles in each of the eight to 10 shows performed per week, including "Tournik," in which she and some of the other girls do simple gymnastics elements on men's high bars, and "Animation," which involves mingling with the crowd, in character, to help set the mood for the show.

Her most dangerous act, "Bouncing Beds," requires her and five other acrobats, dressed in children's pajamas, to jump over each other between two trampoline beds.

"I do a single flip backwards on the bed and fly backwards, upside down, arriving in a handstand on the headboard. It's dangerous because the head rail is a skinny little bar, so missing my hands on it could mean a big injury," she says. "The first time I did it in the show, I wasn't sure how people would react. But when I heard the audience gasp when I arrived in the handstand, it was the most exhilarating feeling."

Like most of the other women, Tousek had never even considered a career in entertainment. Yet once she tasted it, she was hooked. "From the very first time I saw Cirque du Soleil, I was intrigued by it, but I could never have guessed that this would become my career," she says. "Now, nothing feels more natural. Not only is it the best playground on Earth, it is always challenging and inspiring, and the possibilities are endless."

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