In ordinary circumstances, no sane person would mistake Kym Washington for actress Whoopi Goldberg. Not to diss Whoopi, but Washington is -- well, beautiful.
But with heavy makeup, a wig and just the right lighting, Washington has been mistaken by millions for the famous dreadlocked wonder.
L And Washington, who lives in Frederick, doesn't mind at all.
Being mistaken for Whoopi Goldberg is the bread and butter of her career as a stunt double. It's a career Washington, 40, has nurtured for nearly two decades.
"You know, I was going to be a dental hygienist, but after two years of looking into people's mouths, I thought it had to be something better to do," says Washington.
"And when I got that first paycheck and compared it to what I was making as a dental hygienist, that was it."
So Washington has spent the years flying from buildings, being set on fire, driving way too fast and, in the movie "Made In America," riding a bike while being chased by an elephant.
In the last movie she worked on, "Beloved," which stars Oprah Winfrey, Washington appeared to hang from a tree portraying a lynched slave. In the movie "Eddie," she did the basketball moves for Goldberg.
Her work in "Ghost" has probably been seen most, says Washington, who was a stunt double for Goldberg in that film, too. "There was one scene where it was supposed to be Whoopi and Demi Moore going up a ladder to a loft," Washington says. "They were being chased by the bad guy. He snatched me off the ladder and threw me down to the floor.
"It's a gutsy job," she says. Beats looking into mouths any day.
Washington is Goldberg's numero uno choice as a stunt double and has been the actress' substitute for the past 13 years.
Once Washington is transformed into Goldberg via makeup, her entire persona changes. "When I go into makeup, my mom says I walk like her and talk like her," says Washington, who jumps up from her kitchen table and imitates Goldberg's signature tippy-toe walk.
Goldberg, says Washington, is as down-to-earth and funny as her Hollywood image.
"Once she tried to shave my eyebrows off," Washington says of the actress, who shaves her own eyebrows.
Besides her regular Goldberg gig, Washington has doubled for just about every other African-American actress in Hollywood.
A partial list includes Phylicia Rashad, Vanessa Williams, Della Reese, Jackee, Anne Marie Johnson, Tisha Campbell, Angela Bassett, Cicely Tyson, Alfre Woodard, Kim Coles, Kim Fields, Queen Latifah and Oprah Winfrey.
That Washington is able to don the personas of such a wide range of actresses is something of a tribute to the wonders of makeup, bodysuits and camera angles. Yet Washington recalls one time when all the makeup, bodysuits and camera shots in the world weren't going to fool anyone.
"It was Grace Jones," she says. "It was a commercial that was shown in Europe. And no way could they make me look like her. They had to make a Grace Jones mask for me, and I put it on." And Washington kept the mask as a keepsake.
Washington, who was born in Boston, soon moved with her family to Los Angeles. In high school, she was always very active and athletic, skills that later helped in the stunt business.
"I was my father's son," says Washington, who has one younger sister who is not in the business. "I was always into gymnastics, baseball, track, all that kind of stuff."
It seems an impossibly long leap from dental hygienist to stunt double for the stars. And for most people, it probably is. Stunt doubling is a very insular business, says Washington. "It's easier when you know somebody. When you have someone who can take you under their wing."
In Washington's case, it was like father, like daughter.
"My father, Richard Washington, is a stunt coordinator. He's been in the business a long, long time," she says. A stunt coordinator organizes the people and the stunts they perform.
Like father, like daughter
"I kind of followed on my father's tail coat," she says. "They knew he had a daughter he was bringing up in the business. In fact, there are a lot of families in this business."
Her father began -- and still works -- as a stunt man in addition to his coordinating duties. He has doubled for Richard Roundtree, Yaphet Kotto and many others in his 28-year career.
He was not immediately sold on the idea of his little girl following him into what can be a dangerous, even if rewarding, business.
"She had tried a couple of jobs out of high school, but she didn't know what she wanted to do," Richard Washington says. "She asked about joining me in the business, but I said no."
He didn't think she was ready at the time.
"I did get her work as an extra," he says. Kym got to hang out on the set and learn what her father really did for a living. Then she went back and told him she was certain she wanted to work as a stunt double.
"I saw that she was serious, and I made her work out with me for a year," her father says. Throughout the years, father and daughter have worked together countless times, he says. Richard may retire in another year or so but is proud his child will continue.
"She has a great record," he says. "She works out all of the time and is stronger than I am, which is why I might retire. She has learned well."
It was his friend and colleague Tony Brubaker who offered Kym Washington her first job. It was for a television show called "Cliff -- Hangers," and being limber and agile was a necessity. She worked as a stunt double for an actress who was playing a vampire.
Her job was to leap over stairs and land on boxes. "Usually, we do land on air bags, but this time it was boxes. So I didn't practice that. I did it one time," she says.
Brubaker, in the business for 31 years, says he must be assured that someone is ready before he hires them -- and she was.
"I usually start someone off in something that is in her physical range, he says. "I know her father well. I questioned him, and he was confident. Then I questioned her, and she was confident. We all were confident that she could do it."
Over the years, Brubaker has seen Washington refine her skills and add to her repertoire. "She has gone from doing simple footfalls to some of the toughest things. For instance, she is an accomplished motorcyclist. In this business, you have to be a well-rounded person, and she is."
"One of my favorite things to do is drive," says Washington, who lists precision driving as one of her skills, as well as horseback riding, sailing, skiing and high falls.
There are no special schools for this, she says. "A lot of people will set things up in their backyards to jump off of. Everyone has specialties. And they help one another."
'A lucky draw'
Still, regular jobs as stunt double for one actor can be hard to come by. "It's really a lucky draw," Washington says. A lot of times, it depends on whether the actor is impressed enough to request a particular stunt double.
That's how she got the Whoopi hookup.
"When I first met Whoopi, I was working as a double for Oprah on 'The Color Purple.' Oprah was quiet, but Whoopi was very talkative," she says.
The two hit it off right away, and Goldberg has requested that Washington work as her stunt double ever since. She last worked for Goldberg in the 1996 movie "The Associate." Next time, it will be the movie version of Terry McMillan's novel "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," which will be filmed partly in Jamaica.
Living in Frederick instead of Los Angeles has made it harder for Washington to get jobs. She moved to Maryland to follow her husband, an executive with Toys "R" Us who works in Frederick.
"It is harder to be away from the scene," says Washington, who misses some aspects of being in the L.A. area. "Everything has to be done by mail or by telephone."
Still, she is able to find work locally and has appeared in the television shows "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "America's Most Wanted," both filmed in the Baltimore-Washington area.
And as many times as she has been in front of the camera, Washington has zero desire to switch to acting.
"I know it sounds strange," she says, "but I'm really camera-shy."
Pub Date: 3/02/98