Kimberly Shannon Murphy, a renowned stunt performer with an extensive list of action-packed film credits to her name, recently shared her most harrowing career experience during the filming of the post-apocalyptic blockbuster I Am Legend. Although her work often goes uncredited, Murphy has contributed to iconic films such as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel’s Most Wanted, and I Am Legend.
One might recognize her from scenes in which she doubled for A-list actresses like Cameron Diaz and Uma Thurman. However, it’s not all glamour and applause in the world of stunts, as Murphy’s career has been marred by a series of painful knocks and bruises.
“My worst injury was on ‘I Am Legend‘,” Murphy revealed in an interview with LADbible. “I was doing a descender out of a window.”
A “descender” is a stunt where a person is securely attached to a wire, jumps into the air, and is arrested mid-air before reaching the ground, ensuring they don’t collide with it.
A Terrifying Turn
However, things took a terrifying turn on the set of I Am Legend, which is now available for UK audiences on Netflix. Murphy described the incident, saying, “My wire didn’t catch me, I fell probably 20 feet. We went out the window, so the glass had already hit the ground. And when I fell, I fell into the glass. So my legs kind of came up over my head. I kind of just face-planted into the glass.”
Thankfully, Murphy’s body remained unscathed, but her face sustained severe injuries, leading to approximately 60 stitches at the hospital. Astonishingly, she persevered through the pain and continued to work, completing most of her day on set before seeking medical attention.
Despite the terrifying ordeal, Murphy had high praise for her co-star, Will Smith. She described Smith as “exactly the same person” as one would expect and “super nice,” adding that he is one of her favorite actors to work with due to his kindness and appreciation for the crew.
However, one question that frequently arises regarding stars like Smith is whether they perform their own stunts. Murphy shed some light on this, stating, “Um, you know, it’s always interesting. So my husband doubled Tom Cruise for 11 years. So it’s really interesting when actors say that because some of them do, you know, some of them do as much as they can do, some are more physical than others, for sure.”
She explained that some actors, like Cameron Diaz, are eager to be more physically involved and even throw punches when possible. Still, when it comes to the riskier stunts, it’s a rare sight to see actors take them on. Murphy noted that Tom Cruise is one of the few actors she has witnessed personally performing such daring stunts.
Kimberly Shannon Murphy’s journey into the world of stunts took a unique path. Before transitioning to stunt work, she worked as an acrobat for a company similar to Cirque du Soleil. Her big break came when she doubled for Uma Thurman in My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
While her resume boasts participation in numerous high-budget productions, Murphy suggests that smaller films can often be riskier due to the extensive preparation involved in larger-scale movies. One of her most memorable roles was as the stunt double for Madisen Beaty in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, particularly during the climactic fight scene where a character’s face is crushed against a phone.
The entire scene, including both exterior and interior shots, took approximately three weeks to shoot. Murphy underwent an intense four-month rehearsal phase that involved learning how to grapple with a massive pit bull.
Reflecting on the experience, she explained, “I did all of the face smashing. We did that for real. It was a breakaway phone. So, it was like an old phone where you kind of hang up and has those two things coming out an old kind of payphone type thing.”
The meticulous preparations allowed for genuine face-smashing moments, with the phone’s internals modified for safety. For Murphy, working on Tarantino’s film was a dream come true, as she experienced a unique and creatively charged environment.
“Quentin just works in a certain way. He keeps the crew that’s shooting really small. He handwrites all of his shot lists. So that was really cool,” she recalled. “We would get that in the beginning of the day and see what we were going to be shooting. And it was just really cool to see him work as a filmmaker. I just had never worked with a director like him before.”
Kimberly Shannon Murphy’s experiences reveal the dedication and sacrifice that stunt performers often endure to create the thrilling action sequences we see on the big screen.
Daniel Radcliffe recently announced he would be producing a documentary on his stunt double who was tragically injured during the filming of the Harry Potter series.
Despite the challenges and risks, Murphy’s passion for her craft continues to shine, making her a respected figure in the world of stunt work.