Sulinh Lafontaine looks athletic and confident posing next to the Challenger from Furious 7. And why shouldn’t she? As she’s said publicly a number of times, she was the only female stunt driver in the blockbuster movie. There’s only one issue: that’s total bullshit. The only stunt she’s done is insulted the entire stunt community in one huge jump. [UPDATE: Lafontaine has apologized, see below.]
Here’s what’s going on. Fundamentally, it’s really quite simple. Furious 7 is a huge movie, and an awful lot of what makes that movie relevant at all is the phenomenal (and almost all non-CG) stunt driving. Stunt drivers, by their very nature, are professionals who work in the shadows, and are deliberately low-key, since their job is to do remarkable things while never being seen.
Lafontaine took advantage of the fact that most people don’t know who actually did all the amazing driving that actors pretend to do, and has been taking credit for that work in interviews, both on a number of sites online and in person, even at the Furious 7 premiere itself, an event the real stunt team didn’t even attend.
LaFontaine’s appearance at the Furious 7 premiere was covered by a blogger with the trust-inspiring name ‘Montebubbles’ and posted on CNN’s iReport blog — which, we should clarify, is not an officially-vetted part of CNN. The story, titled “Furious 7 World Premiere with the only female stunt car driver Sulinh Lafontaine,” has since been taken down, but since the internet never really forgets anything, it’s available cached here.
Here’s a bit of the writer’s interview with Lafontaine from the story:
What was it like coming in to an established movie franchise as a new kid on the block?
“Absolutely thrilling. Especially a franchise and big globally as Fast and Furious. Being both and actress and stunt driver, there is no better film to be involved in.”
What cars did you drive?
“I drove both hero cars as well as non-descript cars, Bugatti, McLaren, Dodge Charger, and a few others.”
What was it like being the only female stunt car driver?
”Female stunt drivers are far and few in between. It’s hard to break into the stunt industry, even harder if you are a female. But to be the only female stunt driver on a set of this magnitude was absolutely mind blowing! I feel very honored. And blessed.”
What was the most difficult stunt you did as a stunt car driver on Furious 7?
”The rally. Avoiding collisions at that speed on the track.”
How fast were you driving?
”Speed varies depending on the scenes. My top speed on this set was 140mph.”
Where did you drive?
”Most of my driving for the film was in the desert.”
If the cars from Furious 7 could talk about the movie what would they say?
“Let’s ride as if this was our last!!!!!!!!”
Did you the feel the overshadow of Paul Walker while filming?
”Absolutely. Fast and Furious storylines have always been about the dynamic between Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. Without Paul to wrap up the filming was extremely tough on everyone. The mood was very somber. But the job had to be done. The film had to be complete. It definitely was not an easy task. I think they gave a terrific tribute to Paul at the end of the film. I was completely teary-eyed at the premiere.”
What was it like attending the Furious 7 World Premiere knowing you were one of the people that made it work and at the same time knowing that you’re one of the unknown stuntmen?
”Proud. Very proud. So many amazing people were involved. Furious 7 is definitely a stunt film. Having worked in the industry for a while now as a stunt driver, I am used to the idea of being a part of an team. It is not about the recognition. Passion is key. I love what I do. I feel very blessed to be able to wake up each day doing exactly what I love most, professionally speaking of course, whether it be “acting” or “stunt driving”. Being known for my craft has never been the reason that drives me. Acting, driving and riding is in my blood. It’s a lifelong passion, and I am just simply grateful I am able to live my passion.”
This is the article that first got noticed by the stunt community, and as you can imagine, triggered a great deal of outrage. The almost pathological-seeming ease with which the lies flow is remarkable, and it’s especially galling when she’s talking about how the cast and crew dealt with the death of Paul Walker as though she has any idea what was going on there.
Also, to anyone even remotely acquainted with the technicalities of stunt driving, there’s a number of huge red flags here. First, what “rally?” And, the claim that her “top speed on this set was 140 MPH” is absolutely absurd. I actually spoke with Joel Kramer, the supervising stunt coordinator for Furious 7, and he confirmed that in multi-car scenes, the cars would be traveling at 25-50 MPH, max. On camera, 30 MPH can be made to look like 130 MPH with ease, and any speeds beyond that only introduce serious safety issues.
Lafontaine didn’t limit her claims to just the premiere, of course. In addition to the number of smaller websites and podcast interviews she gave and repeated her claims, she took every public opportunity to voice them as well, like in this interview with New York Fashion Times (skip to 1:20 to hear what we’re talking about):
Here you can actually see the alarming comfort and ease this woman has when spouting out long streams of complete bullshit. And, as before, while to casual listeners this may sound plausible, a little bit of knowledge makes some details stand out. As Joel Kramer told me:
“She says they don’t use the brakes when they drive? That’s insane. And what’s “rigging the e-brake?” That’s horseshit.”
Kramer’s overriding concern comes more from his years of doing and coordinating stunts, where the primary goals are “all about safety.” Even beyond the injustice of taking credit for other people’s work, Kramer feels it is important to expose this woman for safety reasons. If she were to somehow keep these lies going, and could potentially use them to get actual work as a stunt driver, there could be real consequences.
As Kramer reminded me, when unqualified people are driving on a set, “that’s when camera crews get killed.” Stunt driving work is serious business.
Kramer was also able to confirm for me that Lafontaine was not, in any capacity, employed as a stunt driver on the film. Kramer suspects her involvement with the movie is limited to being an extra in one of the large crowd scenes— a crowd of about 1,500 extras. Kramer also states that he has no evidence Lafontaine is even a SAG performer at all. Her work as an extra in the crowd scene would also explain the cellphone photos of the shooting locations on Lafontaine’s Flickr stream. It should be noted that she hashtagged those on-location photos with
#Furious7 #FastAndFurious #stuntdriver #workingactor #workinggirl #pedaltothemetal
The stunt community did not react well to Lafontaine’s appropriation of their work. After members of the stunt community became aware of what was happening, there was a flurry of activity on Twitter feeds and stunt-community websites, enough to prompt a strange non-apology from Lafontaine on her (now deleted) Facebook page:
Dear friends and co-workers,
Please accept my humblest apologies for any confusion and/or misunderstandings with regards to the CNN iReport article “Furious 7 World Premiere with female stunt car driver Sulinh Lafontaine”. As you are all aware I am new to this industry and I am learning as I go along. I had no idea that an inconsequential interview of a few questions about my experience working with all of you, would create such a rift between us. I assure you, I meant no harm and I hope you will accept my apologies for any inconvenience it may have caused. I am new to this industry and I hope that in the future you can give me advice on how to better handle this type of situation, if it ever arises again. The article has now been taken down. Thanks for being understanding while I learn the Hollywood ropes.
What the hell is that saying, even? She doesn’t seem to deny anything, and even still seems to obliquely reassert her claims by saying “about my experience working with all of you,” all while blaming any backlash on being new to the industry and having to “learn the Hollywood ropes.” Are there places outside of Hollywood where routinely and publicly lying about your work in a major motion picture are, you know, just fine? If anything, I would have thought it would be more likely in Hollywood. This is insane, and is in no way an apology.
That’s a shame, because there are real apologies owed here, not the least of which would be to the legendary stuntwoman Debbie Evans Leavitt, who did the stunt driving for Michelle Rodriguez’s character and did a huge amount of incredible and dangerous driving in the film.
Even beyond just taking credit for the work Debbie Evans Leavitt did, what Lafontaine is doing is also hurting all female stunt drivers in general. By claiming to be the only female stunt driver, she’s perpetuating the idea that women don’t do this sort of work. In fact, according to Kramer, there were a number of female stuntdrivers on the set — there was a rally driver hired locally for the scenes in Abu Dhabi, and Kramer says there were at least seven or eight other female drivers in the production.
Joel Kramer was actually the second unit director for the Abu Dhabi scenes, and when he saw that Lafontaine claimed to have driven the Bugatti and two other cars in the scene, he was impressed with her ability to split herself into three separate drivers at once.
The truth is that there’s actually plenty of great female stuntdrivers around, doing incredible and dangerous work. In fact, it was a female stunt driver friend of mine who brought me this story in the first place, even.
So, why would someone do this? Lafontaine seems to have had a pretty varied and rich career as a fashion designer, model, and has had some admittedly small acting roles (think roles like ‘wedding guest’ and ‘salon manicurist’), so why would she feel the need to just make shit up? What, exactly, is going on in Sulinh Lafontaine’s head that would make her think this is in any way a good idea, or that she’d be able to get away with it? Sure, she can edit her IMDB page to list an (uncredited) Furious 7 “Race Car Driver” role, but that should be able to be easily disproven — should be.
The ease that someone can pretend to be a stunt person in even such a high profile movie like Furious 7 just shows how little recognition stunt people actually get. You could easily argue that the stunt drivers are as important (if not more) than the actors in a movie like Furious 7, which is, let’s face it, basically a bunch of incredible action and driving sequences strung together with less-stellar dialog.
The fact that the stunt team was not invited to the premiere of the movie is not anything new. In fact, the only premiere Debbie Evans Leavitt was ever invited to in her long, rich career is one where she almost got killed while making the movie. Joel Kramer assured me that the studio was very supportive of him and his team, but the fact that the stunt people don’t get anywhere near the recognition of the actors needs to change.
It’s also crazy there’s no Oscar category for stunts when other technical, behind-the-scenes parts of movies like sound editing get one, but that’s another story. For now, it’s enough to realize that because the public is generally far more aware of the actors in a movie than the stuntpeople, people like Lafontaine can make these sorts of baseless claims without getting immediately laughed at.
Joel Kramer was quick to point out that he knows everyone makes terrible decisions sometimes, and while he’s certain she’ll never work as an actual stuntdriver on any movie, he would happily accept Lafontaine’s apology and forgive.
“If she has the integrity and backbone to come clean, it’ll all go away. We won’t forget, but we’ll take the high road.” Kramer said.
So far, Sulinh Lafontaine seems to be in pretty short supply of either integrity or backbone, but if she manages to find some, there’s a whole community of stunt people who deserve some recognition and respect.
A request for comment sent via Lafontaine’s agent was not returned by press time.
[UPDATE: Lafontaine posted an apology to Facebook wherein she admits that she fabricated her involvement in the film.]