Zandara Kennedy is a professional stunt performer, stunt coordinator, and precision driver, licensed to drive scooters to tractor-trailers and everything in between. Her work has been featured in many major motion pictures, television shows and commercials, marketing brand names like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. She’s spent her career as a stuntwoman crashing, falling, and burning but where she truly excels is behind the wheel of a car. Trained by some of the best driving schools across North America, Zandara is currently working with Drift School USA and pursues competitive drifting when she is not on set working to pay for tires and car parts.
1. For the people who might not know you, could you introduce yourself?
I’m a Vancouver-based stuntwoman who is very focused on but not limited to stunt driving, currently working as the stunt coordinator for the CWs Nancy Drew, and spending all my spare time and money drifting cars.
2. How did you get started in the entertainment industry specifically?
I knew I wanted to be a stunt woman when I got started in film, but my first jobs were actually in commercials. I had been training to build my skills for stunts and doing some rappelling and an acquaintance needed people that weren’t afraid of heights to spend 3 days in the rafters of a studio, throwing paper down onto the set – he invited me out, and that was my first job on a film set. It was a very long road from there to where I am now, and every different job that I got to do on set helped me become a more well-rounded performer and crew member in general.
3. What do you love most about your job as a stuntwoman?
I love getting to challenge myself all the time. Every day at work is different, and I’ve definitely learned over the years that I am capable of a lot more than I expect. It’s a really great feeling to have succeeded at a stunt that made me nervous or where the stakes were high and precision was really important.
4. You are the head of the stunt department of The CW’s hit series “Nancy Drew”. Could you explain what that entails?
I oversee any action that takes place on the show and am also responsible for performer safety. Sometimes it’s as simple as making sure we’ve taken all the steps to make a scene involving working at heights or near a fire as safe as possible, and sometimes it’s planning fights or other action sequences. When a script for a new episode comes out, I read it and break down a list of all the action as scripted, questions I have, and what I think I’ll need – we’ll have a series of meetings to get more specifics about the episode as a whole, and then I’ll work with the episode’s director, the writers, and producers, to get a clear idea of the vision for the action in the episode. After that, depending on what the scene is, I’ll talk to the cast about their ideas for the action, and work with other departments whose elements are involved in the scene, usually Special Effects, Props or Set Dec. If it’s a big stunt, like a fight or a wire pull, we’ll rehearse it in advance and make a “pre-vis” video to show what’s planned. After all that, we finally get to the shoot day, and we finally get to have some fun!
5. What is the most interesting stunt you have choreographed for “Nancy Drew”?
There’s definitely some upcoming stuff that I can’t discuss yet since the episodes haven’t aired. I always have fun working on the dead Lucy scares, and I really enjoyed working on the ghost world scenes from episode 8 – without giving too much away, we had some fun challenges trying to get a stunt guy playing a ghost to fit in and emerge from an unusual space in a very wide shot, so we couldn’t use rigging.
6. Did you ever injure yourself while working on a project?
Many times! Let’s just say it takes me a long time and at least one extra sheet of paper to list my injury history when I go to a new physiotherapist or massage therapist. The most serious injury that I have had was a complete break and dislocation of my radius close to the wrist – my arm was S-shaped, and I still have a large metal plate and 8 screws holding my arm together. I did get a really sweet picture that usually makes people turn green out of it though, so, pretty much worth it!
7. In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions about your job?
People often say “I’m fearless, I’ll do anything – I should do stunts!” but the most important aspect of the job is actually safety. We take risks, but they are calculated risks and we work hard to create big action in the safest, most repeatable way possible. We still get hurt, accidents happen, and if what we do was 100% safe, our job wouldn’t need to exist.
8. What has been your biggest accomplishment in the field so far?
Getting paid to drive a school bus on a motocross track is definitely up there! In all seriousness, though, that would probably depend on who you ask – I’m very proud to have carved out a niche for myself as a stunt driver, and as a stunt coordinator. Both jobs are mostly done by men, with very few women having the opportunity to build those skills and test them on set. I have been very fortunate to have had a number of great mentors that encouraged and created space for me to have those first opportunities.
9. What are some projects you would love to work on?
Female James Bond! If I say it enough times, hopefully, I can make it happen. I’ve stunt driven an Aston Martin on set before, but I’d love to drive the hero car in a big Bond movie chase.
10. Who are some people that inspire you and who you would love to work with?
I’ve been very lucky to have had the chance to work with quite a few women that inspired me early in my career and continue to be role models now. Melissa Stubbs, one of the top Canadian stunt women continues to inspire me and countless other female performers as she constantly breaks through barriers and opens doors for herself, showing us all that is possible. Marny Eng, another Vancouver-based female stunt coordinator, has a great leadership style and a calm set presence that inspires complete confidence – I look to her as a role model of how I hope to be able to be on set. I also had the opportunity to work with Debbie Evans-Leavitt on a few projects that brought her to Canada – one of, if not the best and most prolific female stunt riders and drivers in the history of film in North America. She did the driving on movies that I grew up watching and can probably still out-ride most people on a motorcycle.
11. What are some causes that are dear to your heart and that you hope to bring more awareness to in the future?
I love dogs and I recently came across the Comfort Dog project by The Big Fix organization, in Uganda. They pair dogs in need of homes with war trauma survivors, who then do weekly training with their dogs and eventually become ambassadors who visit villages and schools to teach about kindness to animals, positive training techniques, and the healing power of the dog-human bond. I love everything about the concept, and I’m hoping to be able to take the time to go and visit the organization in person with some duffle bags full of dog supplies.
12. What advice do you have for people who want to make a name for themselves in this industry?
Be sure you want to do it – if you don’t NEED to do it, don’t. This job and this industry are full of amazing people and amazing experiences, but those things come at a price and your non-industry friends and family may not understand when you let them down over and over again for work. That said, once you’re on your way: Listen more than you talk when you’re just starting out – you can learn more by observing than you will any other way. Opportunities can come from anywhere, so don’t just be nice to the people that you think can get you something – people can spot that from a mile away and it will hurt you in the long run. Also, diversify your skillset. The more you can do, the more you will work!
13. What are your plans for the future? Are there any upcoming projects you can talk about?
Right now, we are shooting episode 17 of 22 of Nancy Drew and preparing to shoot episode 18 – I’m really excited about what’s in store for the Drew Crew – it’s keeping me and my crew very busy! Aside from Nancy Drew, I’m planning a tour of North American drifting events this racing season, so I’m excited to check out places I’ve never been to – Colorado, Virginia, Michigan, and drive cars sideways with lots of new friends.
Photo credit: Rorelee Tio