For most people, the idea of jumping off a burning building or climbing up a sheer precipice holds about as much appeal as Bloemfontein during a lightning storm, but for Lee-Anne Liebenberg, taking risks has been a part of her life for 15 years. The most experienced stunt woman in South Africa, and the first female stunt co-ordinator in the country, Lee-Anne thrives on the energy and excitement of the industry.
"I believe I was born for it," she says. "I used to do karate and later took up kickboxing as a sport. As a child, my three brothers taught me everything from boxing, biking, karate, wrestling, rugby, headbutting, foofy sliding, jumping from the roof and all sorts of things only boys like to do. I was always hanging with them. So I suppose that it was already in my blood to do the rough stuff."
"I never decided to get into the stunt industry; it all happened by chance. I was discovered by stunt co-ordinator Roly Jansen. I was asked to kick down doors and when they found out I was a Springbok kickboxer – they were interested to see what I could do. They then put me through a crash course and off I went."
From the April/May 2005 issue of Cape etc. magazine.
These days, her work consists mostly of co-ordinating and performing stunts for feature films and commercials, as well as live shows. She has also worked overseas and has performed stunts for international films made in South Africa. But the local market is small and competitive, with many stunt performers forced to rely upon side jobs – as divers, climbers, gymnasts, motorcross riders, physical instructors or circus performers – to keep their heads above water.
"As a female co-ordinator, I am slowly making my mark, but I have to look for my own jobs as they are not handed to me, especially because stunts is a very 'manly' game," she says. "My perception is that it is a male-dominated industry and jobs are only spread to male co-ordinators, but that will hopefully change in the future."
Lee-Anne now runs her own company, Stunts 4 Reel, and offers stunt training courses once a year. But, she warns, this is not a career choice for the faint-hearted. "The work is considered highly dangerous as we are deliberately taking risks with our lives. The risks involved are always 50/50 – accidents do happen, and therefore we work at a very high safety standard, but there is still a risk for insurers and the costs are extremely high. Insuring your own life as a stunt performer is impossible as the rates are too high to come by."