“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) proved to be one of the biggest Marvel hits yet, and the fighting prowess of Cap and Black Widow probably has something to do with that. Natasha Romanov is known to be one of the best martial artists in the Marvel Universe, and to help bring the combat skills of such a powerful fighter to life on the big screen, came stuntwoman Amy Johnston who was eager to step up to the plate as only a true Avenger can!
The daughter of world kickboxing champion David Johnston, Amy has been involved in martial arts her entire life, and now takes the figurative and literal leap of becoming a Hollywood stunt performer. With an impressive resume of stunt work now under her belt, Amy will soon step into the spotlight with the upcoming “Lady Bloodfight”, marking her first time as a leading lady.
Today, we sit down with Amy to talk about all the ways in which martial arts continue to drive her in the realm of stunt work, her work as Marvel’s Black Widow and DC’s Harley Quinn in an episode of the web-series “Super Power Beat Down”, and everything she can tell us about “Lady Bloodfight”, set to be released later this year!
Brad: Hi Amy, welcome to Kung-Fu Kingdom, great to connect with you and thanks for taking some time out to share with us.
Amy: Thank you so much for having me 🙂
Have you taken a look at our site?
Of course and it’s a great place to keep up to date on action related content!
What do you think of the name Kung Fu Kingdom (KFK)?
I’d say it makes perfect sense for what the website’s about!
Great! Now let’s kick off with some basics if we may: when and where were you born?
I was born on Feb 5th, 1990 in Van Nuys, California and grew up in a small town in Wyoming.
What is your height and weight?
I’m 5’4 ft. (1.62 m) tall and weigh 115lbs (52.1 kilos, 8.2 stone)
So, how did you first get into the martial arts? How old were you?
My father is a martial artist and started “teaching” me to kick in my crib 🙂 I didn’t seriously get into it until I was about 6-years old though.
Ah Crib fu! interesting introduction to the art. What was the first main style you trained in and what other arts have you studied/trained?
My father taught “the progressive style” which is a blend of kenpo, taekwondo, kung fu, kickboxing and arnis. I have dabbled in many other styles such as wushu, wing chun and jiu jitsu. I try to keep evolving in the martial arts and to blend different styles that feel right for me.
Nice you’ve had exposure to quite a few different things. So, who would you credit as having most influenced you in the martial arts and who would you consider your heroes or inspirational figures in martial arts, a top 5 perhaps?
My father definitely as my role model growing up. I wanted to be able to kick as hard and as fast as him! Michelle Yeoh really is who inspired me to get into film, she moves with such grace and strength. She is also a great actress. Jackie Chan is awesome of course; he is so entertaining and always keeps it interesting. I have so much respect for him. Bruce Lee for bringing the physical and spiritual aspects of martial arts to the screen and leaving us with some great classic films!
Definitely a lot of genius influences there. Speaking of your father, he’s a 5 time world champion kickboxer – did this maybe influence your time on the open competition circuit?
I didn’t compete in the circuits but I competed for different tournaments across the country. I think if it influenced me in any way I felt more pressure to win because I was the daughter of an instructor but I like the pressure 🙂
You’ve won a number of titles and Grand Champion trophies. What one or two experiences stand out for you from your competition/circuit days?
Well the first time I got second place I was absolutely CRUSHED! I was 15 years old, had been competing for years always getting 1st place. I sparred against a great opponent and lost, feeling in complete disbelief I cried and felt like the world was over…silly I know, lol! That loss was great for me though because it gave me a kick in the butt and a realization that you can never become comfortable with where you’re at. There is always going to be somebody better than you but you have to train the hardest possible to know that you gave it everything you could. You must keep pushing and evolving. May the best man/woman win!
A winning attitude. Okay so jumping forward a little bit, how did you first get started in the film industry?
I moved to Hollywood when I was 18 and slowly started getting into stunt work and acting. I was involved with several YouTube projects and eventually people started seeing me and I got more and more work but it was a long journey.
Well, now you’re also a member of the group: Thousand Pounds Action Company, how did you first become involved with them?
I was contacted by them to be in a video of theirs called “Tag Match” and we got along really well and so kept working together 🙂
Nice. You’ve also gained considerable notoriety online after the release of the video, “Amy vs Many – Thousand Pounds Rough Choreography Practice” which currently has over two million views on YouTube. In brief how did this video come about and what was your reaction to seeing the enthusiastic response to it?
The Amy vs Many video was a previs for a project that unfortunately never came to fruition. I am absolutely pleased to know people enjoy it!
It’s definitely an awesome video, and a great choice for the soundtrack, as well. Thousand Pounds Action Company has also recently released the first episode of the web-series, “Clandestine Path”. How did the series come about as well as your role in it?
The group had been wanting to film a project of their own instead of making a fan film, so the writers created “Clandestine” and wrote the characters for members of the Thousand Pounds team.
Moving now into your career in stunt work, some of your credits as a stuntwoman include the films “Blonde Squad”, “Raze”, “DBZ: Light of Hope”, “Iron Man 3”, and the TV series “Pair of Kings”. Did you meet people like Robert Downey Jr? Describe some of your more memorable experiences in making these films.
I’ve met some great people absolutely, and every film has its own experiences. I learn something from each project I work on. I really enjoy working on smaller budget films like “DBZ Light of Hope” because there is so much passion involved. Then of course bigger budget films/shows are wonderful because things usually run like a well oiled machine.
Well, on that topic, you recently served as one of Scarlett Johansson’s stunt doubles in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. Describe how you became involved with the film and the experience of doubling for Ms. Johansson.
I was invited by the stunt choreographer James Young to film a previs for the directors and they liked me. It was a great film to be a part of. Scarlett was a pleasure to work with!
It’s certainly one of the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Speaking of superheroes, you also recently appeared as Harley Quinn in the Super Power Beat Down video, “Joker and Harley vs Deadpool and Domino”.
How did your involvement in the film come about? (Thought you played an awesome Harley Quinn, by the way!)
Thanks so much, I loved playing Harley! Aaron Schoenke contacted me to play Harley and I jumped on it quickly as I am such a fan of the character. It was an absolute pleasure working with everyone and I’m really happy with how the video turned out!
It’s a very memorable installment of Super Power Beat Down! You also served as fight choreographer for the short films “Kung Fu Femmes 4” and “Angering the Gods”. Tell us about your experience working as a fight choreographer and how it’s different from being a stunt performer?
I enjoy choreographing and plan to do more in the near future. It’s exciting to me because I get to create the characters’ movements more so than being a performer. Although, I do love to perform and am equally happy to do either.
Fantastic! Looking ahead now, you recently just finished up the film “Lady Bloodfight”, which marks your first outing as a leading lady. Do tell us more.
Yes, I’m very excited about the film! I was initially contacted by Voltage Pictures (Hurt Locker, Dallas Buyers Club) and I came in to meet them and audition. I landed the role and we filmed about a year and a half later.
What can fans expect from “Lady Bloodfight”, which has been described as a “Bloodsport with women”?
I would say fans can expect beautiful cinematography, awesome fight scenes and a great character driven story to go along with it. Oh and some lovely badass ladies!
That sounds like fun, can’t wait to see it! So, what kind of training was involved in preparing for it? Were you asked to do any complex or difficult physical moves, if so what?
Actually, training for the film was one of my favorite parts of the process because I trained with Yan Yan (Jet Li’s stunt double), who is a dream to learn from. There were some difficult moves that I performed that will hopefully look great!
I admire everyone on that list, so much talent. They all inspire me!
What kung-fu movies make Amy Johnston’s definitive top 10?
- Enter the Dragon
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- House of Flying Daggers
- Once Upon A Time in China
- Drunken Master 2
- Fist of Legend
- Kung Fu Hustle
- Police Story
- Ip Man
Epic choices! Which martial artists/actors would you most like to work with?
Who wouldn’t I like to work with 😀
(Laughs) Moving now onto the subject of training, what is a typical workout for you? Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training, do you use weights etc?
I do some sort of cardio everyday and I incorporate weights 3 days a week. I also train at a gymnastics school for martial arts and more acrobatic skills whenever I can.
Great combo. What’s your favourite exercise and what specific or special training techniques do you really find brings out the best in you?
I like to push my capabilities by always learning and trying new things. I take different classes and train with different people to find my weaknesses and work on them. Working or training with talented people can only make you better in my opinion.
Exactly! So, what’s the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?
Oh I’ve you know, jumped out of windows, fell off a running horse, gotten run over by a car, and some other fun stuff!
Wow, sounds intense. What was your most serious injury and how did you work around it?
My only really serious injury was about a year and a half ago. I tore my ACL and had surgery. It was pretty devastating to me as I’d heard so many stories of athletes going downhill after an ACL injury. The recovery was emotionally difficult but I was so committed to proving others wrong and being an inspiration that I became much stronger in the process. I am in better shape now than I’ve ever been.
That really goes to prove that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger! What do you like to do to recover from a particularly strenuous period of physical activity? What do you recommend for those leading an especially physical and demanding lifestyle?
Eat right, drink plenty of water, sleep right, take care of your body and stretch.
A solid strategy. What about training equipment? What are a couple of your favourite pieces of gym, exercise or training equipment that you absolutely love using and would recommend to others?
It depends on the goal but I definitely love the heavy bag and squats.
Those old school mainstays never fail! Looking at nutrition now, what kind of diet do you follow?
I don’t follow any particular diet, I just make sure that I know what I am eating. I maintain a good healthy amount of protein, low carbs and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Which foods do you find work for you to remain at your most energetic and are the best fuel for your workouts?
Bananas, yogurt, nuts, oatmeal. The higher intensity workout the more carbs I will consume.
Do you take supplements, what do you recommend?
I take mulitvitamins, BCAAS (Branch Chain Amino Acids) and sometimes whey protein. I’d recommend looking into what your body needs specifically, do the research because it’s the only body you have and you are in total control!
Indeed! Now, for a look at fun and leisure; what’s one geeky thing that people don’t really know about you?
Hmm…I named my car Ruby, my guitar’s name is Yamamama and the list goes on… 🙂
Interesting! If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to possess?
I’d easily have Superman’s powers; people don’t give Superman enough credit. He is king of superheroes!
Fo sure! What are some of your other hobbies?
Photography, cooking, yoga, reading, hiking, dancing, guitar, movies, video games, learning 🙂
Depends on the day, I love so many different types of music but right now I’m really loving Carla Bruni, her music is super relaxing.
Favourite non-martial arts movies?
“When Harry Met Sally”!! Such a witty script and great acting.
On reflection what in life do you really:
Animals and nature
Traffic! blah :/
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
Even keener to see it! What are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Whoa! we’d all better watch out then! So, what advice would you give to martial artists who aspire to use their skills on film and television?
To study fight scenes, choreography, different movements and to challenge themselves in as many things as possible. Keep learning. Most importantly, DO! Just start filming or creating with your friends etc. Stay positive, work hard and enjoy the ride.
Wonderful advice! A little philosophical peek now, which warrior-wisdom quotes have shaped you up to this point and molded you into who you are today?
Something I really loved that my father always said is that attitude is 100%, it’s everything. Your perceptions are so important. If you take each letter of the word “attitude” and give it a number to where it is in the alphabet (a is 1st letter so it’s 1, t is 20, etc) and add them all together you will get exactly 100. 😉
That’s awesome Amy, those are some words to live by! As we (sadly) prepare to sign off, what special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world?
I want to thank everyone that supports me or has supported me, it really keeps me going and means a lot that you appreciate my passion.
Finally, if people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?
Thank you Amy for your kind participation in this interview. We hope it gives our readers a glimpse into the life of Amy Johnston. I’m sure our readers as well as all of us here at Team Kung Fu Kingdom eagerly anticipate the release of “Lady Bloodfight” and everything you having coming up in the future!
Thank you very much for this opportunity and featuring me on Kung-fu Kingdom!