Holly Raczynski knows how to take a hit.
Through the course of her career, she’s also become accustomed to taking kicks, throws, bullets, blasts, explosions and the odd tumble down a flight of stairs.
When the Provincial Martial Arts club instructor isn’t teaching karate to her Salmon Arm and Sicamous students, Raczynski can typically be found in the Lower Mainland doing stunts on TV and movie sets. Her filmography, available on IMDB.com, includes movies Watchmen, Tron: Legacy and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, while her TV career includes work on Smallville, Fargo, Wynonna Earp and Supergirl. As of late, she’s had frequent work on the set of Arrow, about DC Comics superhero the Green Arrow, and is the stunt double for Kelly Overton, star of the Syfy Channel series Van Helsing.
Raczynski also recently had a two-month stint doubling for Sophie Turner (aka Sansa Stark/Queen of the North of Game of Thrones fame), who reprises her role as Jean Grey in upcoming X-Men film, Dark Phoenix.
“She’s the lead character in that one,” said Raczynski. “I worked with her a whole pile – she was great, she was amazing to work with.”
Unfortunately, what was supposed to have been a four month job for Raczynski was reduced to two due to an injury sustained during one of her stunts on the X-Men set, putting her out of work for about seven months. Raczynski acknowledges it’s an inherent risk of the profession.
“All the stunts we do, they’re all calculated risks,” said Raczynski. “I’m not a daredevil. We train for what we do. We know how to fall, we know how to move our body through space, we know how to control those elements the best we can, and you always take all the safety precautions you can.
“That said, I mean, it’s like any job, you can hurt yourself doing anything.”
Raczynski’s Hollywood North career began through a contact in the martial arts world. He gave her the name of a stunt co-ordinator in Calgary. Eventually she and the co-ordinator met. She gave him a video of herself demonstrating her various martial arts and gymnastics skills.
“Then I got hired to do a stair fall,” laughs Raczynski. “My first stunt wasn’t martial artsy, it wasn’t really gymnasticy – I had to slip on marbles in this show and fall backwards headfirst down a set of stairs. So that was my first stunt, we shot it twice, it went great. And then from there, it kind of started to snowball.”
Raczynski says her big break came when she auditioned for Watchmen. The team doing the stunt co-ordination for the film, U.S.-based 87eleven, was impressed by her fighting skills, but found her acting skills lacking.
“I could fight, really fight, but real fighting is different from movie fighting… it’s all reactions,” said Raczynski. “So they gave me a smaller role in Watchmen, but through all of that they invited me out to train. I went to LA and trained with those guys, and that’s where I learned more of the reactions and more of the fun stuff. So that was a huge honour to be invited out there. And then Tron: Legacy came along and it was the same stunt crew who got hired to do that job, so they phoned and hired me…”
Not one to get star struck, as her busy life allows little time for watching the shows she’s in, Raczynski speaks highly of the celebrities she’s had an opportunity to work with.
“I guess people in any industry get a little high and mighty sometimes and whatever, but in my experience everybody has been amazing,” said Raczynski. “Because, I mean really, we’re the ones making them, or their character, look cool, look amazing.”
Though it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly what a stunt will entail, given how a scene will often change from how it’s scripted to how it’s filmed, Raczynski says her training, both with fellow stunt people and as a martial artist, plays a huge factor in her ability to do the job. This is something she’s shared with her karate students, two of which had an opportunity to watch Raczynski from the set of Van Helsing to see how things are done.
“What I’m trying to do with the karate program in town here is help give kids the opportunity to reach out to that kind of thing…,” said Raczynski. “You get your martial arts background and get a bit of your tumbling and knowing how to fall and these things, that’s huge. You’ve got to go in with something. You can’t just go, ‘I want to do stunts because I think it’s cool.’ Not enough. You’ve got to be physically able, you’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to know how to take direction well, especially with young ones, they’ve got to be able to understand all that stuff and be able to take criticism and not take it personally… That’s why I like keeping the karate program going here, even though I’m working lots, because it can provide such an opportunity for kids to develop these skills to be able to go into something bigger.”
Looking forward to another season of Van Helsing, Raczynski says she enjoys her work – the hits, the falls, the explosions – and hopes to keep doing for as long as she’s willing.
“So long as my body is healthy and strong and I’m physically able to and feeling good about it, I can’t see a reason for not doing it,” said Raczynski.