String of Firsts for Iranian Stuntwoman Mahsa Ahmadi

Mahsa Ahmadi is an adrenaline lover, an extreme athlete who became the first Iranian woman to sky dive and base jump. She now works as Iran’s first professional stuntwoman. She has won several international prizes, including the Crystal Prize at the 2015 Action Icon Awards — becoming the first non-American to win the prestigious accolade for cinema stunt professionals.

KL: You’ve received awards for your stunts before, in Russia and elsewhere. How does the Crystal Prize compare in terms of importance?

MA: The competition in Russia was a different kind of international event. It was probably one of the biggest stunt competitions in the world, and I did well there. It was just another event for me; I don’t think it was that important. The most significant award that I received was in 2012 for the James Bond movie “Skyfall”: I won the Screen Actors’ Guild award, or SAG award, as it’s known. I haven’t received any subsequent awards in Iran.

KL: Is it because there are no competitions or events?

MA: There are many festivals and competitions in Iran. But their directors have ruled that our profession is not eligible to participate. So our work cannot be evaluated; there are no judges, no competitions, and no awards.

KL: How would you rank the level of expertise of stunt people in Iran? How professional are they?

MA: In terms of opportunities, resources are limited for stunt people in Iran. But in terms of strength, we Iranians have no shortage of it, and we can compete at almost the same level as anybody. Because of Iran’s limited resources, a stunt person might be perceived as not quite on a par with others. Stunt men working in Iran are ranked, but unfortunately, we don’t have a proper co-ordinated system. There is only one action coordinator, Arsha Aghdassi, but we don’t have a stunt person working for the profession.

KL: An accident happened a few years ago when an Iranian stunt man that used to work in Germany went back to Iran.

MA: You’re referring to Peyman Abadi.

KL: Yes, I’m referring to the late Peyman Abadi, who went back to Iran to organize a stunt group and develop the profession. He found himself working with a film industry that didn’t follow appropriate safety guidelines, and he died of his injuries. Why do Iranian stunt people migrate and prefer not to work in Iran?

Photograph: Getty Images

MA: Because of the lack of attention from movie producers. Producers don’t want to spend money and they don’t want to deal with insurance companies, ambulance operators, or even just paperwork. That’s why we don’t have insurance, and can’t get it: our profession is considered dangerous. Insurance companies don’t cover professions that are high risk, such as fire fighters, parachutists, or high divers; my job includes many high-risk categories. Insurance is only for regular professions, and I’m not eligible. In Iran, it’s difficult for producers to allocate funds for safety concerns, and they don’t want to spend time dealing with accident-related issues. I have to say that the situation has nevertheless improved in the past 2-3 years. We can request an ambulance on set: that wasn’t possible before. Since the death of Peyman Abadi, more attention is given to some of our requests. Of course, there are still producers who couldn’t care less.

KL: You are known as the first Iranian stunt woman. Do you know of any other stunt women who came before you, perhaps even before the revolution?

MA: There were no women doing stunts before the revolution. There were those who did action scenes, but not in the professional sense of the word. I am Iran’s first-ever stunt woman. There was a national women’s skydiving team before the revolution, but it was disbanded. In 1990, I became the first woman to skydive since the revolution, and I was also the first to base jump. I’m still the only woman to base jump in Iran, and I get invited to international competitions for it.

KL: It’s very unusual for an Iranian to become a stunt woman. In our culture, women don’t have those kinds of aspirations. Was this something that you wanted to do, or did you grow up in an environment where danger was appealing? How did you choose this career?

MA: I was a gymnastics champion for 11 years until 1985. In Iran, girls can compete until the age of 17. After that, there are no more opportunities to compete. Women can’t travel abroad for competition either, because of the dress code. When I started working and went abroad for film projects, everyone was curious to see an Iranian woman in hijab doing stunts. I had no problems working, and the hijab doesn’t bother me. The organizers and the foreign media were intrigued, and it was interesting for them to see me.

KL: Can you tell us which domestic or foreign films you’ve appeared in recently?

MA: I’ve worked in movies such as “360 Degrees” by Faramarz Gharibian, “Ice Age” by Mostafa Kiaei, and “Rokh Divaneh” by Abolhassan Davoudi. As for foreign films, I’ve been in the James Bond movie “Skyfall,” a popular Turkish series, and an Indian movie called “Bang Bang.” The movie won an award, I didn’t.

KL: You have considerable athletic abilities. Can you list what your specific skills are?

MA: When I entered the profession, I noticed that stunt people all over the world had a specialty. A stunt person might specialize in driving or high diving. But I do most categories of stunts: from driving, to car rollover or crash, to high diving, to fire escaping. The sports that I have learned since becoming a professional stunt woman include sky diving, base jumping, paragliding, motocross, bow and arrow on a horse, bungee jumping, and parkour.

KL: The element of danger is always present In your profession, and not everything can be expected to work perfectly every time. Do you recall a particular incident that happened during a stunt?

MA: Danger exists in every competitive sport. If a person decides to become a professional, it’s with the understanding that there’s always a risk of injury; that’s to be expected for any athlete. If I have to perform a stunt that looks dangerous, or if I’m uncomfortable because of a risk of injury to myself or to my teammates, I will certainly refuse to do it. Staying healthy is highly important, because your first mistake could be your last.

KL: Considering the awards you’ve received and the many international projects and films you’ve participated in, you’ve undoubtedly spent a lot of time outside Iran. Has being recognized for your work in international circles changed your attitude about work in Iran, and would you consider looking for more opportunities abroad?

MA: I’m a professional stunt woman and will always try to improve and learn new skills, whenever the opportunity arises. I can’t say whether I want to stay in Iran, or live anywhere else, for that matter. I travel frequently and have new experiences all the time. I take part in film projects, festivals, or competitions, and am constantly learning new things. That’s why I’m here today. Right now, I can’t say for certain whether I’ll stay in Iran or anywhere else. I’m a stunt woman who likes to travel the world, meet people and talk to them – who likes to learn and improve.