Multilingual actress and stunt performer Avaah Blackwell is a well-established fixture in the world of Star Trek. She portrayed Osnullus and Lt. Ina on Star Trek: Discovery (you can read our conversation from two years ago here). Now, Avaah is Rebecca Romijn‘s (Una Chin-Riley/Number One) stunt double on Paramount Plus’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
I had the privilege of reconnecting with Avaah to chat about working as Rebecca’s stunt double, the parallels between stunt work and acting, what a day on set is like for her and what’s on the horizon.
This interview is condensed for length and clarity.
Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. What’s Avaah Blackwell’s origin story?
Avaah Blackwell: I was an actor from a young age, doing theater with my local church in Calgary, Alberta. I moved around with my military family, ended up in Europe, studied at the Prague film school and found myself in Toronto.
Then, I got a role on Star Trek: Discovery, which turned into me being the utility alien for them for a while. When Star Trek: Strange New Worlds came, my name came up to do a couple of smaller things on that show and double Rebecca Romijn.
MM: Let’s talk about Strange New Worlds. Can you talk about how your character fits into the narrative as Number One?
AB: I am doubling Una Chin-Riley, a.k.a. Number One, played by Rebecca Romijn. I’m her stunt double, essentially. I step in whenever Rebecca has things that insurance will not allow her to do. So, I step in when she needs to fight. That’s how I fit into the narrative of the show so far.
MM: What’s it like playing her stunt double?
AB: It’s incredible. I watch her do her thing, and she’s such a talented actor. We have a lot of parallels. We talked a few times on set, and it turns out that we both speak some Dutch. We’re both very tall. We both have moved around, and we’re left-handed.
On Discovery, my character’s name is Ina, and her character’s name is Una. One day on set, Rebecca turned to me, and she’s like, “Avaah, are we living parallel lives?” I looked at her, and I said, “I sure hope so, Rebecca.” Her life is pretty cool.
MM: Is there a lot of collaboration between you two on set? I imagine you would have to match her physicality.
AB: Rebecca has a big job. She’s very busy and a focused actor and incredible to work with. My job is to make her time in action seem as easy as possible. So, it is collaborative.
She likes to see what the action is all about, and my job is to match her movement and what she does. Then, I help smooth out whatever she’s performing in the fight scenes. She’s got to do her closeups, and there are times when I have to walk her through what she’s doing and show her how to do it safely. She always picks it up quickly and makes it look incredible.
MM: Describe this show using three words.
AB: Adventurous, expansive and fun.
MM: As a stunt performer, what’s a day on set like for you?
AB: Every day’s a bit different. When doubling, I get to my trailer; I sign in with the COVID team. I usually grab breakfast and put on all my gear, all the pads I need for the day, usually knees and elbows, and then put my costume on. I head to hair and makeup to prepare for whatever Rebecca looks like that day.
They match me as closely as they can to her. I get called to set when they’re ready for us; we run through the action scene with the coordinator. I run Rebecca through whatever she needs to do. Then, we set up the cameras and do the scene. There’s usually a physical warmup involved. When I’m in my trailer, I do some stretching if I’m able to and make sure my body’s nice and warmed up so that I don’t hurt myself.
MM: Do you have a favorite stunt that you’ve done on the show so far?
AB: There are quite a few. In “Ghosts of Illyria,” I fought La’an Noonien-Singh, played by Christina Chong, and Christine Trinh was her stunt double. We had a big fight where the whole ship was infected. Rebecca’s character, Una, is the only one that’s still sane from it. She tries to stop La’an, and we do a big fight. So far, that has been my favorite thing to do on the show.
MM: What can audiences expect when watching Strange New Worlds?
AB: They can expect that sweet spot from the original Star Trek. It’s got that fun, adventurous vibe. It’s cool. It’s an incredible show that they put so much into it in terms of care about the canon and making sure fans are going to love it. But it’s also slightly tongue in cheek. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s this relaxed vibe to it.
MM: Did you watch Majel Barrett-Roddenberry play Number One to get a sense of the character?
AB: Yes, I’ve watched the original Star Trek quite a few times.
MM: Do you find a strong correlation between acting and stunt work since you do both?
AB: They’re parallel, and I deal with this a lot in my career now — balancing both skill sets. It’s science, but biology versus chemistry, do you know what I mean? So, there are slightly different skill sets, but it’s all performing on camera. We’re all telling stories.
When it comes to stunts, you’re telling a physical story through physical dialogues. Sometimes, it’s a very technical stunt, just like a technical scene. When you have a lot of expositional dialogue, that will require a different type of concentration than when it’s free-flowing choreography.
If I’m doing a big fly on a wire rather than hand combat, that’s a different skill set. But it’s different when you’re speaking at a rapid pace with another person versus giving a solo performance on a stage. They’re different skill sets, but they are sisters.
MM: What else is on the horizon for you, career-wise?
AB: I just signed with a new agent in the states.
AB: Thank you! Yeah. We’re starting the expansion out to the states. I was on track to do that before COVID.
It was very stringent, and it kept me here. I was also busy working on film. Shortly after we spoke, the film industry picked up here in Canada, and 2021 was my busiest year ever. Now that it’s calmer, I put together stuff for my O-1B visa. We’re on our way over there now.
MM: That’s exciting.
AB: Thank you. I signed with Heidi Hydar at KMR Talent Agency. They’re in New York, LA and Atlanta. So, that’ll be very fun. She’s an agent that’s specifically for stunt actors and creature work, which is a perfect fit.
MM: Have you binged-watched anything interesting lately?
AB: Other than Strange New Worlds, I caught up on an older series with Tom Hardy called Taboo. Incredible performances from everybody, but especially Tom. I’m watching Final Space, which is a complete indulgence. It’s a cartoon about space. I love Mooncake — my favorite character ever. I’m also watching another animated series with Bob Odenkirk called Undone.
MM: Name your favorite films.
AB: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. One of my favorite films. I love the new Dune. Schindler’s List. It’s a great film. The Green Mile. I enjoyed Some Like It Hot. I recently watched that. His Girl Friday.
MM: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Avaah!
AB: Thank you, Melody!
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