Author: Hanno Meier
Pictures: Hanno Meier, Anni Nagel

Just The Unusual

When she was six years old, Anni Nagel used to watch films such as “Laurel and Hardy”, “Bud Spencer” and the “Bionic Woman” together with her father. By this time, she had already come to a decision: “I want to do that too!”

Anni was a bold and wild child back in the 1980s. “I was climbing up and jumping down everywhere,” she relates. This is generally an age at which children’s future career dreams change as rapidly as their shoe sizes. But Anni, a small girl with black hair, never allowed anything to get in the way of her aspirations. No adversities or bad news ever knocked her off course.

A catastrophe at the age of 18

The catastrophe occurred just before she got her Highschool graduation. Anni suffered cruciate ligament rupture, serious damage to her outer meniscus and a cartilage injury. Her right knee was a total right-off. The doctors predicted that she would be in a wheelchair by the age of 30 if she continued to pursue top-level sport. The diagnosis shattered her dreams. “As a young adult, you are of course prepared to take statements like this at face value,” she adds.

With a heavy heart, Anni faced up to the mental challenge of readjusting her plans. Supposedly certain that professional sport and action were now off the agenda for ever, she retrained as a make-up artist. After specializing in special effects, she was very quickly enjoying huge success. She worked on the outfits for all three Hobbit films and was also involved with Superman and other such projects. A constant steam of Hollywood productions was now knocking on the door of this creative artist from Germany who was able to transform faces so spectacularly.

Anni was in huge demand. One of the major assignments she was able to secure was the legendary Bregenz Festival. She worked there for three full months alongside a stunt team. Each evening, she was troubled by the same question: “Am I in the wrong team?”

From the Hobbit to Lara Croft

It had not escaped Anni’s notice that the diagnoses previously made by her doctors were not taking effect as predicted. “What they said was correct at the time of the accident.” She had never permitted the prognoses to stop her from training or from continuing with her keen interest in acrobatics. A circus trainer showed her how to deal with such injuries and also explained the mental blocks that also needed to be overcome alongside the physical aspects.

Anni is an optimistic and cheerful soul. When she received an offer to work with the stunt team as well as performing her make-up duties, she grasped the opportunity with both hands. Shortly afterwards, the team “happened” to be looking for a stunt woman who could climb, abseil upside down and fire a gun. The person they were looking for also needed to look (more than a bit) like Lara Croft. “Fate had taken a hand,” laughs Anni.

Launch pad to stunt

The first stunt shoot Anni secured was a TV report on the “Lara Croft Myths”. This represented a delayed entry to her dream job. “I just thought: wow! Are you telling me that I can earn money doing this? I can get paid for having so much fun at work?”

Anni is a perfectionist. She prepares meticulously for every scene and pays close attention to her equipment. She scrutinizes everything from her helmet down to her footwear. Craft trade or commercial occupations have apprenticeships, but there are not really any formal proper training programs for those wishing to become stunt women. “You join a stunt team, train with them and find out what every individual can do best,” explains Anni. “The skills of a stunt woman are tough to acquire, and you need to work hard. Learning by doing forms an important part of the necessary homework. Anni watched on and continued to train. “One member of the team might be a particularly good car driver, whilst another is familiar with all the technical tricks used in rope work,” she says. “At some point, a good stunt coordinator will realize that you have finally reached the right level in a certain area and that you can be deployed.” The team was performing a large number of car stunts when Anni first joined. As a novice, she made sure that she got her hands on any old banger that still had four wheels once filming had been completed. Then it was a question of practice, practice, practice. “Car stunts are expensive. You can only learn what to do if you have access to vehicles you can train with.”

Rollover through a wall of fire

Anni, who is also mother to an eight-year old daughter, is one of Europe’s most sought-after female car stunt performers. In the award-winning advert for the new AMG Mercedes A Class, she is the woman who can be seen thundering up the winding roads of Mallorca whilst being pursued by a helicopter. Her repertoire now extends far beyond driving vehicles. She is a formation parachute jumper and can also ride, dive, climb and guide a surfboard through the waves. She does fire stunts and has mastered the techniques of abseiling. Virtually no one can now match her when it comes to precision driving.

When working on a Hollywood documentary, she spiraled a car through a gigantic fire explosion whilst traveling at 80. Hard stunts such as this are a lot of fun to do, but they also make just as many demands on the body. “Sometimes you need a few days to recover,” states Anni. Nowadays, she is also happy to leave some of these exploits to her younger colleagues. She celebrated her 40th birthday last year. “In my mind,” she says, “I’m fitter than I was at the age of 18.” Her mood is at least as good as it was on the day she embarked on her second professional career. So she did everything right after all!

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