Australian native Kylie “Ky” Furneaux, 40, has starred in numerous blockbuster movies such as “Thor,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Snakes on a Plane” and “Elektra,” but most moviegoers have never seen her face because she works behind-the-scenes as a stuntwomen for some of Hollywood’s top actresses.
“I was definitely hooked from the first stunt. I’m really good at not being scared [when] all of your instincts are screaming ‘Don’t do that!’” she said.
At 19, Furneaux was told she might never be physically active again after a car accident left her with a fractured spine. “For a second, I just sort of cried. [But] I refused to let that be my future,” she said
Soon after she recovered, Furneaux began working as an outdoor guide in the Australian Outback kayaking, rock climbing and scaling mountains. One of her first projects was producing and co-hosting the documentary “Hike for Survival,” a 100-mile trek spanning the Sierra Nevada mountain range where a pocket knife was the only thing she packed.
Furneaux entered the world of stunts at 27, which is considered “old” in that field. In 2012, she was honored with the Taurus World Stunt Award for her work in “Thor” as Jaime Alexander’s stunt double. “It was an incredible experience – my favorite so far. I did every single move on every single stunt in that movie,” she said.
Growing up in Australia, Furneaux said she “was always outdoors” and that she’s happiest “in the middle of nowhere.” True to form, she participated in the Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid” series where a male and female are paired together to survive the harshest climates with only their survivalist skills.
Furneaux’s episode, “Beware the Bayou,” garnered much attention because she and partner Billy Berger spent 21 days in the swamps of Louisiana, without dry land in sight. She said the most difficult part of the challenge was reaching the extraction point at the end of the trip because the duo had to swim through a lagoon infested with alligators 10 to 12 feet long.
Furneaux said that the stuntmen in the industry don’t harbor animosity towards her. “I think there’s a stigma being a stuntwoman. I think most of them consider it pretty hot. You’ve got that advantage – they’re like ‘You can beat me up? That’s hot,’” she added.
Prior to “Naked and Afraid,” Furneaux wrote “The Superwoman’s Survival Guide,” a book that covers topics from coping with a broken stiletto to foraging for sustenance in the wilderness. The inspiration for the project came from a friend’s Twitter post of a “Dilbert” cartoon that suggested the best thing a woman can do in times of disaster is to run to the home of the closest male.
“I feel very strongly about what amazing characteristics women have that are really good in emergency and survival situations. We’re not men, but we have a lot of incredible traits. I wrote this book before ‘Naked and Afraid’ came along and proved my point. I wanted to put out a book that celebrated all the attitudes and all of the incredible things that women do and can do in times when their life takes an unexpected turn,” she said.
This reporter decided to play devil’s advocate, asking Furneaux who would win if she was ever pit against adventurer Bear Grylls.
“He’s a very, very talented man – I think I’d rather be with him than against him. I think I’d give him a run for his money [though],” Furneaux said. She pointed out that the survival of the human race does depend on the females, insinuating that women are tougher than they look.
“I love dressing up, wearing four- or five-inch heels. But, then I can be barefoot and naked in a swampland for 21 days and I love that too. I think that you don’t have to be one or the other. It’s all about balance,” she said.
Being a role model was something Furneaux didn’t consider herself at first. It wasn’t until after her book tour that she realized there was an opportunity to inspire youth. Many of her appearances were at schools, where she’d meet the students face-to-face.
“It’s a bit of pressure, but I’m also very, very proud of all that I’ve achieved and how I’ve moved through life and I think I can help a lot of people out,” she said. “One of the reasons I’m so vocal about getting my own show is [because] I want kids to have a good female role model.”
She is currently working on a second book about the importance of “looking at health, not size.” To be a successful stuntwoman, Furneaux had to remain a similar size to the actresses she works with, while maintaining a strong, muscular physique. She hopes to inspire women to embrace their femininity and strength.
“It’s probably one of the number one of the things that I’m passionately pursuing: girls standing proud about being girls and feeling good, but not feeling like they have to be men. Women can be women, and be strong and powerful without needing to lose any of the attributes that make them feminine,” Furneaux said.
Now retired from the stunt industry – coming out of retirement only for special occasions such as the show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” – Furneaux is actively pursuing hosting her own survival program. She also conducts speaking engagements around the country. Even so, she still finds time to escape from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles to travel to remote locations in Africa or Belize where she “can breathe again.”
Furneaux noted, “Every step of the way along my career people have told me that I can’t do what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve worked very hard and pursued my dreams passionately and ardently to find ways to make them happen.”
Her ultimate dream is to move to Africa – her favorite place – and build villages. “I would love that, to get back to something completely rural and give back after everything I’ve received.”