Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever. An Interview With an Underwater Stunt PerformerJanuary 2, 2023
Although CGI can be used to create incredible special effects in movies, stunt performers still play an important role in capturing impressive shots. SSI freediving instructor and professional mermaid, Rachel Novak was selected to be an underwater stunt performer in the new movie Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever. We reached out to Rachel to ask how she landed this incredible job, and what was involved in getting the shots.
Are you ready to find out what it takes to be an underwater stunt performer?
1. Hi Rachel, you recently performed underwater stunts for the movie Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever. How exciting! How did you land that amazing gig? Were you the only freediver involved?
"Thank you! It was a dream come true to be part of this production, and definitely a humbling experience. I first found out about the role as a casting call was making its rounds in the freediving community on Instagram and Facebook. I applied due to my background as a freediving instructor, circus performer, and mermaid performance artist. It was not until I arrived on set that I found out that I would be performing stunts on Black Panther 2. I was not the only freediver involved, and it was exciting to work with some of my colleagues and friends from the freediving community in a completely novel setting!"
Learn to Freedive: 9 Reasons Why Freediving is the Perfect Hobby (divessi.com)
2. What sort of stunts were you required to do? Was anything particularly challenging for you?
"I cannot really share too much about the stunts that I performed, but I can say that I played a few of the underwater characters, and if you have not yet seen the film, I will not spoil the plot for you! One of the big challenges with performing underwater stunts is making sure that your equalization is on point at all times. While safety was the highest priority on set, it is also important that you are able to perform whenever you are needed. Our team always worked together to make sure that we were taking care of ourselves and staying hydrated so we could perform at our best. Another aspect that we had to be aware of was buoyancy control. You didn’t want to be that one person in the scene floating or sinking out of frame in the middle of the shot!"
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3. What experience or expertise helped you to do a good job as an underwater stunt performer?
"I would say that my background in diving, general water activities, and the performance arts were invaluable for this role. I have lived on sailboats and worked in the yachting industry, so comfort around the water, a background in rigging and knots, and a general sense of problem recognition and solution were useful. I have worked as a circus performer, professional mermaid, and performed live stunts for many years, so these activities taught me a strong sense of body awareness, ability to take direction, and play a character to the audience or camera. Lastly, I have worked to build comfort and knowledge in multiple professional settings as a performance artist, divemaster and freediving instructor. My work gave me familiarity with the safety considerations for both myself as a stunt performer and that of my teammates."
Want to find out more about Rachel’s water-based life? Check out our previous interview with her here: Inspiring Mermaids – Meet Freediving Instructor Rachel Novak (divessi.com)
4. Is working as a stunt performer hard work?
"My work on this project was challenging but definitely rewarding. Any time not spent filming was spent getting to know the crew in other departments or finding an unobtrusive spot to observe the filming of the scenes. There is so much to learn, and I was thankful to have mentors to answer my questions and provide insights into different aspects of the film industry. Some of the best advice I received was to show up early, be positive and helpful, and show initiative. Lastly, always stay humble and open to direction. There is always something new to learn and improve on, and there is always someone better or more knowledgeable than you."
5. Would you do this job again? If so, do you have any other underwater stunt performing projects in the works?
"I would absolutely do this job again, and I hope to find work in the film industry as a stunt performer or in water safety projects for commercials and documentaries. As a performance artist with a background in diving I am always up for collaborating with productions to showcase novel products or dive spots around the world. Until then, I am continuing to train in martial arts and other activities that might be useful for stunts, continuing my fitness regimen so I am always in good physical condition, and continuing to teach freediving and mermaiding courses in Las Vegas and elsewhere."
Would you like to take a course with Rachel? Check out her website: https://www.aquanautsfreediving.com/
6. Did anything surprise you about being on a film set for such a huge movie?
"I would not necessarily say that I was surprised by this observation, but it is something that I want to bring awareness to for the general public - and that was the production’s commitment to safety. As films like Black Panther 2, Avatar 2, and others feature freediving on the big screen, it is important that we all as recreational freedivers set a good example for those interested in getting into the sport. It is rare for mainstream media to report on freedivers exploring, training, or participating in freediving competitions. However, the moment that a fatality occurs because someone is freediving in the ocean alone or shooting for personal bests in their backyard pool by themselves, freediving gets a reputation for being a dangerous activity. In order to protect our sport and increase access to places for freedivers to train, we need to raise awareness for safe practices and proper freediving education. This is one of my biggest projects for 2023, and I want to encourage people to reach out if they want to partner with me to bring a freediving safety workshop to their local community."
Become a mermaid and start your career: 10 Best Places in the World to Take Your SSI Mermaid Course (divessi.com)
7. Wow, thanks for that message! We agree, it is definitely something freedivers should keep in mind. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
"Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my experience on the set of Wakanda Forever! Freediving is a fun activity that gives you access to a vibrant community, a way to maintain your physical and mental health, and a unique skill set that helps you explore the world in a different light. As more and more people get into the sport, we need to make sure that they have the knowledge and resources to enjoy it safely!"