Noelle Mulligan dies for a living. It’s one of many things that’s required in her profession as a stunt performer. She recently doubled for one of the leads in the upcoming Annabelle sequel and appeared in the Red Hot Chili Peppers video for their song “Dark Necessities,” directed by Olivia Wilde. Noelle’s impressive resume also includes stunt work on The Voice, Fear the Walking Dead, Hawaii Five-0, and True Detective. In her spare time, the 27-year-old, who’s also a model and YouTube adventure travel host, likes to tell dad jokes and skateboard. For Halloween (her favorite holiday), she wants to be the Gingerbread Man from Shrek and go skateboarding with her friends. “I’m trying to find his costume. I don’t want to be a sexy gingerbread man, I want to be a legit gingerbread man.” Cosmopolitan.com recently spoke to Noelle (also known as Noelani Tsunami) about what it takes to be a stunt zombie, what it’s like to die on screen, and whether or not anything spooky happened with the Annabelle doll.
What kind of training have you had?
My background as a stunt performer is in action, sports, and emergency medicine. I grew up skateboarding, snowboarding, rock climbing, things like that… and when I moved to L.A. I started training in fights and high falls, sword, weaponry - things to make sure I’m ready for whatever comes my way. It’s a constant thing. I train five days a week, three hours a day. I research upcoming films and what actresses are my height. You never know what’s going to be next. You can get an e-mail asking if you’re comfortable riding a skateboard and getting hit by a car, or if you’re comfortable jumping 40 feet into an air bag or doing a fight with four dudes.
How does the audition process work for Fear the Walking Dead? Did you have to scream?
They found me on a stunt directory for a coordinator I worked with before on True Detective and who knew I was taller and thinner, which works for the zombie character. They took my photo, submitted it to the director and the director chose me. When I got to Rosario, Mexico, they went over basic zombie movements, making sure that we knew how to walk like zombies, which was super fun.
Tell me more about these basic zombie movements.
What’s interesting is the director was explaining to us that for example, Fear the Walking Dead does not have [your] typical horror film zombie where they have a little more personality to them, if that makes sense. We had to just make sure we had this dead stare. Basically they said to look forward with a dead stare and not move the shoulders but [keep them] really stiff, like rigor mortis movement. Kind of a little off balance, but your legs are stiff and your feet drag along the sand.
Did you have gruesome scenes to film on Fear the Walking Dead? What was the mood like on set?
I was a zombie that rose up out of the water and my intention was to eat these little kids on the other side of the fence. What was really helpful was watching clips of previous actors or stunt performers who had done the exact same thing and try to guess how they’re feeling. The makeup takes a few hours… we had contacts that were white… when you’re there, in costume, you’re able to really channel these feelings that maybe when you’re having pizza or skateboarding with your friends you probably wouldn’t be feeling. Once you’re in full wardrobe you just kind of hunker down and show exactly how you’re feeling. It really all comes together once you’re in costume and on set.
What’s it like to die on screen?
I got pick axed on the face [on Fear the Walking Dead]. One of the characters was going along the fence, they had a pickax and we were trying to go through the fence and he pickaxed me. It was half CG… but pickax goes through my eye. It was interesting because you’re trying to go through the fence to eat the kids, this character is after you, you’re going hard and you’re being the zombie but you’re also looking directly into the eyes of someone, trying to eat them. After a point you’re like, oh my gosh. When they throw the pickax at you, it’s all timing and selling the reaction and the hit. You have to take the hit and fall to the ground and fall like a limp bag of potatoes.
I’ve gotten shot on another show, I’ve gotten beat up, strangled. A lot of crazy stuff. That’s your job, to be the person who gets beat up. We’re not often the superhero unless we’re doubling the superhero. We’re the one the superhero gets to beat up.
Is there competition in the stunt world over the best way to die on screen? What’s the most popular way to die?
Performers get shot a lot or get into really big fights, or kicked off the building and fall to their death, or big crazy shootouts or turnover car crashes. I think probably the most would be big brawly fights or getting shot. Getting shot is a pretty big one, or getting blown up. I’ve been blown up before.
Do you have a preferred recipe when it comes to fake blood?
One of my special effects guys that I’ve worked with a few times [Chris Hanson, who’s based out of Utah] developed his own [mix]: corn syrup and food coloring. It’s nice because it doesn’t taste super gross. All the blood that they use get so sticky so fast, when you get it on your elbows or on your hair, it’s kind of the worst. I always have a spray bottle with me. Corn syrup seems to be the best in my experience.
What was it like working on Annabelle 2?
Stephanie Sigman has been my actress on a couple of other projects – I doubled her for a big pilot [John Ridley’s Presence]this year. She was the first Mexican Bond girl [and appeared in] Spectre. She’s super awesome, super talented, one of my great friends out here. Because I had doubled for her before - I’m 5’9” and have similar coloring to her - the same coordinator who hired me for Fear hired me for Annabelle. He hit me up and made sure I had the skills - wire work, falls, whatever - ensuring I was prepared.
Did anything spooky happen on set?
When I told my mom I booked Annabelle 2, she was like, “Make sure you say your prayers” and “I don’t know if I want you on that set!” I said, “Mom, I’m gonna be OK.” It’s a common [question]. The couple weeks I was there, it was a pretty good environment. The energy was good. But I definitely have heard from other horror sets that sometimes all the lights will shut of randomly for no reason or craft will be setting things up and they can’t find things. Sometimes stuff like that does happen. It didn’t happen on the set that I was on. But I’ve definitely heard stories. It makes you wonder.
Did you come in contact with the doll? Is there more than one doll?
There are always a few of one prop to make sure that they have what they need for different scenes. I will say that everything looks really cool. I’ll put it that way. You’re not going to be bummed. Everything was very real and done very well and the prop masters and set designers did such a fantastic job. It’s gonna be super spooky. I will say that one of the scenes that we did is going to be one where you sit in theaters and go, “Oh my god.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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