Okoye surfing atop a Lexus GS F, red dress flowing, spear in hand, is one of the more iconic images from the Marvel blockbuster, “Black Panther.”
But the dress – four layers of silk chiffon embellished with crystal details – wasn’t engineered just for aesthetic appeal. The garment cleverly hid a harness holding the stunt double in place during that high-speed car chase through the streets of Basan, South Korea.
That stunt woman? She’s Keisha Tucker, and she credits her knack for riding atop cars at 50 mph while wearing a designer evening gown to an “adventurous spirit” she developed growing up in Randolph.
“It’s all in a day’s work,” Tucker said. “That wasn’t the hardest stunt but it was dangerous. I like thrills.”
That danger is motivation. “I could have been hurt, yeah, but you don’t think about it at the time. I get scared. My heart beats. But, you just focus your energy or nervousness in a different way. My heart will never not pump hard, but getting over that hump is what makes you brave. Usually, I get excited. I just want to give a good performance.” Tucker echoes that sentiment as one of the performers featured in the new documentary, “Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story.” The movie traces the evolution of action heroines in film and TV from the silent era through today’s superhero spectacles. The documentary can be rented via video on demand.
Okoye, played by actress Danai Gurira is, a member of the Dora Milaje, the all-female Secret Service-style bodyguards sworn to protect Wakanda’s King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Doubling for Gurira is Tucker’s biggest gig in a feature film. “I really got into that character. Her costumes were my warrior wardrobe. There was so much action, running and fight choreography. I did a lot of martial arts training.”
Tucker is a 2002 graduate of Randolph High School, where she earned the Randolph Performing Arts Scholarship. She also sang in the chorus and played softball. “My mom was always putting me in modeling and acting. I played instruments, chorus, gymnastics, track, tons of dance classes, all that,” Tucker said. “I was always the kid going to amusement parks to ride roller-coasters or jumping out of a plane in college.”
Tucker went on to be a theater major at UMass-Amherst. While in college, she landed a gig at Six Flags amusement park, learning to breathe fire. Later, she took a job with Marvel Characters and made appearances as Storm. After graduation in 2006, she headed to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming an actress. Action comedies are her favorite.
While auditioning and playing extras, Tucker accidentally fell into stunt work. She became friendly with a stunt coordinator who taught her moves. Now, her résumé lists skills such as rappelling, high falls, fight choreography, ice skating, skateboarding, driving, stair falls and the air ram, a device sending a performer hurtling through the air.
“For a while my mom (Edna Powell) was like, ‘are you sure you don’t want to take nursing classes?’ ” Tucker says, laughing.
During her more than 10 years in Hollywood, Tucker has worked on several blockbusters: As a stunt double for Lupita Nyong’o’s duplicitous character in “Us” and Lashana Lynch’s high-flying pilot Maria Rambeau in “Captain Marvel.” She also had a role in “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).” She played a roller-derby girl, a part requiring her to have a stunt double of her own. “It’s confusing, but I couldn’t do my own stunt in that movie, but my stunt double was punched in the face by Margot Robbie’s double,” Tucker said. “Later, you see me all bruised and bandaged flipping off Harley.”
Tucker also did stunt work in more than 20 TV series, including the firefighter drama “Station 19,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “S.W.A.T.” and “American Horror Story.”
Tucker can be seen next as a stunt double for Ashley Blaine Featherson in the horror satire, “Bad Hair,” which premieredOct. 23 on Hulu. She just finished working as a double for Jodie Turner-Smith (“Queen and Slim”) in the action-thriller “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” starring Michael B. Jordan. That movie is scheduled for a 2021 release.
“Black Panther” was Tucker’s first feature film. She admits, with a laugh, that every time she watches the movie at home, she pauses on her parts and thinks to herself, “Wow, that’s me.”
Tucker said the hardest part of doubling for Gurira was not the spear work or the fight choreography or the car surfing; it was shaving her head. “My head wasn’t looking too cute at the time, and I had to do it again six months later for some reshoots in Atlanta, but all the Dora Milaje are bald, butt-kicking women and it was a thrill to be one.”
It was all worth it in the end, though. “Black Panther” went on to become a groundbreaking celebration of Black culture, earning in excess of $1.3 billion and a best picture Oscar nomination. Given the stature of the cast — Boseman, Gurira, Nyong’o, Jordan, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whittaker, Letitia Wright — Tucker had an “inkling” the movie would be something special.
“You have a Black superhero and the badass women of the Dora Milaje representing an audience that isn’t used to seeing themselves like that. I’m so proud to be part of it,” she said.
Tucker is not only a part of the film but she’s also the MVP of that thrilling car chase. As the high-speed pursuit unfolds, Okoye, a perfect shot with her Vibranium spear, launches the staff into the SUV carrying Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), Wakanda’s most wanted, causing the vehicle to crash and flip.
Tucker said working on “Black Panther” was an experience like no other. She didn’t meet the late Boseman on set, but said his death from colon cancer on Aug. 28 was “devastating.” “Just the fact that he was part of something in my life is pretty special.”
A “Black Panther” sequel, which is again to be written and directed by Ryan Coogler, had been planned for 2022, but due COVID-19 concerns and the loss of Boseman, its status is uncertain. No matter, Tucker will keep her spear-spinning skills sharp, just in case.
Credit: Google News