Warning: Minor spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ahead.
Caitlin Dechelle is already a Taylor Swift squad member and one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world. Now she’s adding bonafide Jedi to her resume.
The 28-year-old is one of just a few fearless women whose job it is to bring Hollywood’s most physically demanding scenes to life. As a silver screen stuntwoman, her credits include Terminator, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Furious 7. She’s appeared in television shows and music videos, like Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” and Dua Lipa’s “Swan Song.” Though you’ll never see her face, her extraordinary athletic prowess (Jackie Chan is her mentor) is memorialized in movies like Wonder Woman, where you can watch her kick, punch, and fly through the air as Gal Gadot.
Dechelle has black belts in three different disciplines: Chinese Kenpo, Japanese Goju-Ryu, and Taekwondo. She can also wield a bo staff and a sword, skills that landed her a role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker as one of Daisy Ridley’s doubles. I sat down with Dechelle to talk all things stunts, sabers, and Star Wars.
Three black belts is no small feat. When did you get interested in martial arts?
My mom’s dad actually suggested taking a martial arts class to have some self-defense skills because, being a woman, it’s a really handy skill to have when you grow up. But my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and I took a step back from training to help him heal. Once he started getting better, I went back. I trained in three different styles throughout my martial arts career, Chinese Kenpo, Japanese Gōjū-ryū and Taekwondo. I got my black belt in Taekwondo at 14, and then became proficient with about every weapon possible. I chose the sword as my speciality.
How did you turn martial arts into a career?
One thing leads to the next job and it’s all who you know in the business and how long you’ve been in the business. My parents weren’t crazy about me dropping out of college to pursue a career in Hollywood, but now they couldn’t be more proud. My dad, who had never done martial arts before, has become somewhat of an expert. [To me] he’ll be like: “That looks good. That looks bad. You need to pivot your bottom foot.”
You’ve doubled for so many characters, from Wonder Woman to Slay-Z, who was Gigi Hadid’s character in “Bad Blood.” Now, you’re Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars. What’s the casting process like?
When you get cast, it’s always about height and weight and skills. It has to be similar to an actor’s height and weight. If a director wants to get specific measurements, they’ll do that, too. Directors also look at how similar your hair is, but that can always be wigged. Skin tone is another factor, because if you’re in a short sleeve, you have to look the same. All that said, with movie magic and makeup, anything can be done to make you look like someone else.
What physical skills does director J.J. Abrams look for in a stunt double?
The film shot primarily in London, but I did a week and a half of reshoots here in L.A. They needed someone who could handle both a sword and a staff. A lot of people are only proficient in one or the other. I landed the role because I looked like Daisy, body-wise, and I also could handle weapons in the fight scenes we did. So a Japanese katana sword is basically a lightsaber, though it’s a slightly different fighting style using a lightsaber. In essence, it’s practically the same. Except, I have to say, a lot cooler.
Did Daisy do any of her own stunts?
Before I started, the coordinator said, “We’re doing this scene where you’re going to have to be able to use sword and staff.” You see those skills come to life when Rey fights herself. It’s this sort-of juxtaposition of battling your inner light side and your inner darkness. I stunted for Daisy in that scene and we switched between doing the light and dark version of Rey. We both played each side so that she could be in it all. One day, she was light and I was dark. The next day, I was light and she was dark. It got confusing, but we’d always laugh and joke about it. We filmed it over two days. I worked up some choreography ideas with the stunt coordinator initially, which J.J. approved. He had a very specific vision of one Rey attacking and one defending. Then, we taught Daisy everything. She was great. We’re so similar body-wise that on day two of shooting she was like, “Wow, I don’t think I’ve had a double who was closer in my body type and movement than you, ever.”
How stoked were you to add Jedi to your resume?
There was this moment standing on set holding the lightsaber and I just thought to myself, “Oh snap, I’m a Jedi! I have a lightsaber!” It felt so real.
And you’re still riding the Star Wars train as a stunt double on The Mandalorian.
Yes! But I can’t really talk much about it. I’m doubling two different characters. One now is a female version of one of the Mandalorian, but the character that I’d double for is very top secret and won’t be released until January. All I can say is it’s a very iconic moment in time that brings this character into play. It’s really, really cool. She’s a big actress, so I can’t wait for people to see.