“CGI just doesn’t cut it for me, man!” Blindspot’s Heidi Schnappauf Speaks About Stunt Work

Heidi Schnappauf at Sword Class NYC

When Blindspot enters its fourth season this Friday on NBC, it will of course be bringing the action that has garnered the series multiple Emmy nominations for Outstanding Stunt Coordination. While last year burst onto the scene with, amongst other things, Jane Doe and Co in a tank, this year’s premiere has taken Jane (Jaimie Alexander) to Tokyo where she engages in some impressive swordplay with a new adversary. Behind Jane’s hardest hits is Alexander’s stunt double, Heidi Schnappauf, who has been with the show from the first season. Speaking with me at New York Comic Con*, Jaimie Alexander said of Heidi: “Just the hits she takes, the body slams…I don’t know how she’s OK. Half the time I’m terrified for her because she does a lot of the heavy lifting in the fights…And she’s just incredible, she’s an incredible lady.”

Besides Blindspot Schnappauf has an impressive credits list that includes Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Broad City and Orange is the New Black. I was lucky enough to speak with Heidi about her action-packed job this past weekend when Warner Brothers sent us along with her and Jaimie to, fittingly, a beginner Kendo sword lesson!

Lauren Damon: How long have you been with the show?

Heidi Schnappauf: I’ve been with the show all the four seasons, however, I came in toward the end of the first season. I think episode twenty. So right at the end kind of filling in for her old double [Ky Furneaux].

LD: What are your favorite types of stunts?

HS: I love to fight. My main background was fighting. This, sword fighting, was not something I grew up with, but definitely something I picked up on the way and trained a little bit. But fighting, which includes all the falling that we do—getting thrown around—I started at such a young age that I got thrown around a lot when I was in karate as a kid, moving into college years. But I really do love all the hard hits and driving. I’ve been doing stunts driving now for about eight years. So yeah, anything where I’m maybe flying through some glass or getting thrown out of a car, I totally dig it! Any of that.

LD: Have you ever had any major injuries?

HS: I’ve had a few. Biggest injury was not on Blindspot, actually it was right before I got on Blindspot. I was recovering from my biggest injury which was I was doing a high fall and there was faulty landing equipment, it was nobody’s fault, just a one in a billion chance I ended up injuring my neck pretty badly. I was out for about ten months from work, which was a really big bummer actually. And the doctor—I was in the ER from that injury and with you know, on morphine and valium and a neck brace and tears coming out of my eyes—the doctor’s like ‘Oh I guess this is gonna put a damper on your career’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I really know what I’m going to do next time so I don’t hurt myself’ and he’s like ‘Next time?! Are you nuts?!’…I’m like ‘Well, yeah, I’m just bummed that it’s gonna be a while!’ So that was my most devastating injury. Everyone wanted to cut me open, everyone wanted to do surgery, they wanted to replace my disc, or fuse my spine and all this stuff…I kind of basically talked to doctors until I got the answer I wanted and then I found more doctors to support that.

LD: As a viewer, what are some of your favorite films or tv shows for stunts?

HS: Um…Blindspot? [laughs]…Oh, I really like Supergirl, is that WB? I do like Supergirl. I’m not gonna lie, I don’t watch a lot of TV because I work and I sleep and I try to watch Blindspot. But I do, actually, this new season of Iron Fist is probably my favorite bit of action on tv or Netflix…Blacklist, I love Blacklist. They just have such a variety of stunts on that show. And Game of Thrones. Come on, man, you can’t deny that setting like seventy five stunt people on fire is NOT cool. From a DRAGON. It’s insane.

LD: There’s a faction out there that is pushing for a Best Stunts category at the Academy Awards, how do you feel about that?

HS: I think that’s a good idea since like every other category is out there. I mean, I don’t know how you’d delegate that but I think that’s a good start to just recognizing it. I don’t do stunts, obviously, to be recognized. I love it because I get to kind of be the magician of the action world of film and tv. You don’t really want to give your tricks away, you want to make it an illusion…most, some people I know anyway, don’t do it for the glory. It’s not really about that. It’s about making good work. I would love to see it so it’s recognized as an art and as you know, that magical things that happens isn’t actually magic. It’s people that are putting their bodies and their lives on the line to bring everyone a cool product. CGI just doesn’t cut it for me, man!

Blindspot season 4 premieres Friday October 12th at 8pm on NBC.

*Check back here this weekend to see our full chats with Blindspot stars Jaimie Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton!

NBC’s “Blindspot” Goes Global at NYCC

NBC’s hit show Blindspot returned this week for its third season. The second season finale certainly raised the stakes for this year by launching the story a full two years ahead, scattering the show’s main characters across the globe, and increasing the mysteries of the missing timeline. Not to mention a whole new set of glowing tattoos for main character Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) to unlock. In case you missed it, the premiere certainly rose to the challenge set down by that cliffhanger. Friday night’s “Back to the Grind” featured no less than a wedding, a knife fight and a boat chase through Venice while reintroducing Jane’s nemesis brother, Roman (Luke Mitchell).

I spoke to the show’s cast and creator recently at New York Comic Con about what to expect for this new season. If you head on over to the Media Mikes Facebook page you can check out the full video interviews (don’t forget to give us a “Like” while you’re there!)

For Jaimie Alexander, Jane Doe’s new set of tattoos were a complete surprise. “I get to the end of the script,” said Alexander, who hadn’t read ahead, “and I was like ‘What!? More? I have more?!'” As seen on “Back to the Grind” one new tattoo already had Tasha Zapata (Audrey Esparza) on edge, which is right in line with Roman’s schemes. “These tattoos are not only about Roman’s end goal…” said creator and executive producer, Martin Gero “but also exposing truths within the team.” Luke Mitchell was excited to take on the role of The Big Bad saying “it’s nerve-wracking and feels like a lot of responsibility.”

It’s not all about the big bad though, as Gero and crew emphasized the James Bond-like nature this new year is bringing. “The world is kind of a scary place right now and we could all use a little escape,” Gero said, “And the show–the show can be scary and serious at times, but it was really important for us this year to have a lot more fun. To bend towards more of a kind of Bond model. The show is very international this year. We shot a big part of the premiere in Italy and we’re shooting in Australia, in Barcelona, all over Africa. So like the show’s going to have a scope the likes of which you’ve never seen, I think, on a network television show before. But then on top of that it’s also just more fun. the show is a lot of fun this year. And we hope it’ll be kind of addictive and great.”

Adding to the fun is the return of fan favorite character Rich Dotcom (Ennis Esmer), who is now working on the good side, though annoying the team all the while. Esmer, who’d appeared twice last season says his return was “a complete surprise.” He joked “It still feels like someone made a mistake at some point.”

Blindspot airs Friday nights at 8pm on NBC

Full interviews are viewable on our Facebook page:
Jaimie Alexander & Luke Mitchell
Audrey Esparza & Ashley Johnson
Sullivan Stapleton & Rob Brown
Ennis Esmer & Martin Gero

The Cast of “Blindspot” Speaks at NYCC

One of the new tv hits of the season is NBC’s “Blindspot”. The mystery show created by Martin Gero focuses on a Jane Doe (Thor’s Jaimie Alexander) recovered from a duffel bag in Times Square. Jane didn’t know who she was or how she got there, but she was found covered head to toe in new tattoos that seem to offer some clues. The most obvious of all is the name ‘Kurt Weller’ on her back, a specific FBI agent. Kurt (played by Sullivan Stapleton) and his team are now working with Jane–whose knack for fighting skills and foreign languages is intact despite her identity crisis–to crack the codes all over her body. In recent episodes it’s becoming clearer that Jane may be more connected to Weller than originally thought. Fortunately for the creators and audiences, the show was just picked up by the network for a full season so there’s hope for solving Jane’s past after all.
Gero, along with series stars Stapleton, Audrey Esparza, Rob Browne, Mariana Jean-Baptiste and Ashley Johnson joined me in the press room of this year’s New York Comic Con. Though they were mum on spilling any spoilers, they were more than enthusiastic to talk about their characters and the making of the show.

Lauren Damon: How much research did you do into actual memory loss when creating Jane’s character?
Series Creator, Martin Gero I’ve been obsessed with this drug that this is kind of based on that’s being designed for you know people that have traumatic experiences which will basically gently erase memory. So if you’re–like let’s say you’re in the army and your car gets blown up, and you see your friends die, it’s literally this thing that you would administer immediately and you would–it would make it difficult for that memory [to be retained]. So you wouldn’t be traumatized by it. And then there’s another version where as you–memory is really interesting in how it gets unpacked and packed, and so there’s a lot of people working to erase trauma. Again, to ease kind of like traumatic memories. It’s to like kind of delude them. It’s hard to talk about in like sound bite sort of way…I’ve talked to a lot of neurologists and I mean, like listen that’s the kind of science fiction-y part about the show is the drug, but it is based on some very real research that is going on.

LD: The character of Patterson often has to deal with a ton of techno-jargon, do you ever look at your script and just go ‘Wow…’?
Ashley  Johnson (plays Forensic Scientist “Patterson”): Every time. [laughs] Every time whenever we you know, we get the scripts maybe a week in advance? I don’t know maybe sometimes a little bit more and every time I sort of read through it–it’s just panic sets in. Every time. And the episode that we’re doing now…just everytime I see the new stuff I just, I panic a little. But then, you know, we don’t have a choice. We have to do it. And it’s fun.

LD: Do you go out and research the same as Patterson does?
Johnson: Yeah. A lot of the time…with a character like this you have to do a lot of research, but it’s fun because I’ve learned so much. Just with all of the stuff I’ve had to talk about…I have to do a lot of research [laughs] it’s like I’m in school.

LD: When you have a major mystery at the center of the show and then you’ve wound up being picked up for additional episodes, are you constantly fighting bringing closure to that mystery too soon?
Gero: No, because I was a little arrogant and I designed the show to go a while…So like if we had only done 13, it would have been really not that exciting for fans to be honest, because there would have been no resolution…No but like I know what all the ‘tent pole’ episodes are for the first couple seasons and so like I know what [episode] twenty-two is already…And episode ten which is the last episode of the first half of the season, so it’s the mid season finale, like is a huge twist on the show that propels kind of like a new energy into the back half of the season.

For the actors, are you the type of people that prefers to know the secrets that are going to be revealed on the show to help with how you act or not? Do you ask Martin about it? 
Marianne Jean-Baptiste (plays FBI assistant director, “Mayfair”): In certain instances, there are certain things that will impact a character that I think you need to know. And you need to be alright with. And there are other things that–it’s like you’re picking up the script and you’re just really excited because you want to know what’s going on…Because you’re not going to play it regardless of whether you know about it or not. You’ve then gotta sort of act as if you don’t know it. So it really depends on what it is. For me anyway. It really depends on what the thing is.
Johnson: Right. I would agree. I think that there’s a lot of things that you need to know for the character’s sake–because your character would know–but I think for me, like I’ve had the option to sort of know sort of what the end goal is. Sort of who she really is, I don’t want to know. I want to sort of find out when everybody else finds out or as the show goes along. And I want to discover along with Paterson and it keeps it fun that way, yeah.
Audrey Esparza (Plays FBI Agent “Zapata”): I have a little ‘Martin chat’ before every episode and ask him dumb questions. So I do. But I actually don’t ask too far ahead unless I feel like it’s a question that needs to be answered for me in that episode. I kind of like working from scene to scene, moment to moment. So if it doesn’t affect that particular episode, I try not to grab to much. I think you can only play with the moment.
Rob Brown (Plays FBI Agent “Reade”): Same. We trust Martin. He gives us what we need to know to execute. As a fan of the show that I’m on though, every now and then I’ll kind of tug at him, ‘hey hey hey…’ and he’ll oblige, usually. And you know, sometimes we can snag a little more out of him…

Were there any training courses for you when you got the part?
Esparza: Oh my god we’ve been doing so–we did, we did, after. It was so much fun. First of all we have some incredible FBI and DEA men on the set helping us. And Sullivan Stapleton is an incredible asset. if I’m holding a gun wrong, he’ll definitely let me know. We went to the shooting range, we learned tactical skills. The boys came in knowing a little bit more than me, I’m getting better every day. It’s really important for me, from my dance background, to understand the physical vocabulary of somebody who’s trained that way and yeah, every episode try and get better.
Brown: Everybody in the cast is a really really good athlete, so we just pick shit up as we go along. Anything physical after this, we’ll probably be fine.
Esparza: And we’ll probably absolutely do it ourselves.

LD: Sullivan, do you have more gun experience?
Sullivan Stapleton (Plays FBI Agent “Kurt Weller”): [Laughs] Yeah. You’re in big trouble, Esparza! Yeah it’s just I think I’ve had years of working with weapons. So it is like funny seeing–sometimes they’ll tell people if you’re firing an M4, some people said to portray some of the kick-back of those weapons…they don’t do that. Unless you’re not holding it! [laughs]

LD: Jaimie and Sullivan get into a whole lot of action, do you guys ever get to do stunts?
Baptiste: Yes, stuff is coming up where you know, people who don’t necessarily go out of the office go out of the office and are involved in field stuff.
Johnson: Yeah we may go out into the field a little bit every once and a while. I know for me, I’ve found that I’m very bad at walking and talking and doing other activities [laughs] So you know, I’ll have the dialogue and then they’re like ‘Ok! So you’re gonna walk over here and then you’re gonna type some stuff on the computer and then you’re gonna point up to the screen!’ and I’m like ‘Okay, woah woah woah, I don’t know if I can do all of this at once!’ Which sounds ridiculous but I think with the dialogue that I have it can be a little rough. So those are my stunts. Basically just walking and talking [laughs] is a stunt for me!
Esparza: Yeah.
Brown: We can do more. I’m happy to run around with a gun, we’ve had plenty of that.
Esparza: Lots of running, lots of guns and helicopters.
Brown: There’s action and blowing stuff up, New York.
Esparza: I’ve got a fun fight thing that happens in [episode] 8.
Brown: You’re really showing off
Esparza: I am. I’m just gonna show off all day…
Brown: It’s been very fun. 

LD: When it comes to shooting, do you find you go in with any different mentality on the days you’re shooting the action sequences versus the dramatic days?
Stapleton: No. No, just going in there to do the action and the stunts, I’ve got to wipe the smile off my face and you know, pretend like that’s what we do every day being agents. Yeah, there’s no challenge, it’s just fun.

LD: Jaimie comes from a lot of action roles and how much of that helped like just with her walking onto set and having to function as this amazing fighter?
Gero: Oh yeah…I mean you couldn’t have done it with somebody that had no fighting experience before and Jaimie has an amazing stunt double, Ky Furneaux, who’s just like literally one of the best in the world–recognize game, internationally. So she brings so much to the show and we just take it really seriously. You know what’s exhausting I think for Jaimie and Sullivan is even though they’re done filming some days, they have to go immediately into fight rehearsal. Because these fights are like incredibly complicated and hard to do on television shows. Which is why most television shows don’t have a giant fight sequence every episode. They’re smart, they figured it out, it’s a lot of work. But it’s important to us…So her being able to do action was incredibly important.

Did you know from the beginning that you wanted Jaimie for the role?
Gero: I didn’t know from the beginning, but the second I met her like there could never be any other Jane. It was her or I was just gonna be terribly disappointed. And she kind of felt the same way. So it was like one of those really exciting meetings when we met. We were like ‘Okay this is gonna be great.’.

Being at Comic Con, do you guys have any favorite superheroes? Ashley are you partial to Captain America? [Johnson plays a waitress Cap rescued in the 2012’s Avengers]
Stapleton:Han Solo.
Johnson: [laughs] Um, oh man.
Baptiste: Oh my gosh, that’s a tough one man! I love Batman.
Johnson: Yeah you love Batman
Baptiste: I love Batman.
LD: Which Batman?
Baptiste: I like the Dark Knight stuff. That’s the stuff I love.
Johnson: Daredevil is awesome, I think
Baptiste: What’s his power?
Johnson: Have you never seen it?
Baptiste: I’m not sure. Red. Red outfit?
Johnson: Oh, Marianne…
Baptiste: Is it good? I’m gonna–you’ve got me watching X-Files again, so…
Johnson: I am also such a Deadpool fan. I wanted to see the Jessica Jones stuff because I love–I mean that is exciting. Oh god there’s just so many. I do love Captain America, he’s a little bit too straight laced for me. But he’s great…There’s just so many.
Baptiste: Batman.

Blindspot airs Monday nights at 10pm on NBC.