Ngāpuhi stunt double trains new generation

By James Caldwell, James Perry

Dayna Grant has made a career as a stunts woman on some of the most well-known TV shows in New Zealand and around the world. Now the Ngāpuhi action award-winning actor is helping people of Northland break into the lucrative industry.

She has worked alongside and doubled up for some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Charlize Theron, Gwenyth Paltrow and Lucy Lawless.

Her New Zealand Stunt School, which she founded around 10 years ago are working with Te Hauawhiowhio o Ōtangarei Trust’s Rākau Rangatira program.

Rakau Rangatira helps beneficiaries or those who have experienced difficulties with alcohol, drugs or mental health obtain skills and resources to hopefully gain employment.

The course began in December, and Grant says the change in the 16 participants has been noticeable in two months.

“I'm so proud, I'm going to cry in a minute. It's yeah, people that wouldn't look at me the first day and they're running up and giving me a hug, it's pretty amazing.

“They've got a dream now. They want to be out there in film. They're better than anybody, they're coordinated, driven. Each week they're out there they're training and performing themselves, trying to get better. It's awesome to see.”


Dayna Grant teaches fight scene techniques at the Rākau Rangatahi workshop in Northland. Photo/File

The program caters to all ages, rangatahi and the not-so-rangatahi. 57-year-old George Vaughn-Ryder is one participant who says he has worked mainly manual jobs all his life and is enjoying learning about a very different industry:

“The confidence I'm gaining from it at my age it's pretty uhm - yeah, I'm pretty keen for it.”

Grant can empathise with those struggling to find a pathway in life, having faced barriers herself, and it is those experiences that inspire her to help others dream big and make plans to achieve them,

“I was pretty much kicked out of school, told that I was never going to be good at anything and I'm living my dream, so somebody gave me a chance one day and now I want to pay it back,” she says.

Grant first appeared on television on Hercules, before finding work as Lucy Lawless’ body double and horse riding double on Xena: Warriors Princess. Since then she has appeared in some blockbuster movies and performing stunts for some of Hollywoods A-List actors including Charlize Theron in both Mad Max Fury Road, and Snow White and the Huntsman.

She founded the New Zealand Stunt School nearly 10 years ago. Pai Pai (Tainui, Taranaki) is also a stunt actor and helps Grant teach stunt work through NZSS. He says the big goal of programs such as those they’re delivering with Te Hauāwhiowhio is to provide another potential career path for job seekers and rangatahi.


Stunt actor Pai Pai (r) working with Hamuera Henare-Neho at the recent workshop in Northland. Photo/file

Each participant of the program receives a profile and portfolio that will then be passed on to TV producers and the NZ Stunt Agency who supply actors and stunt people to production, including The Lord of the Rings TV series, filmed near Auckland with a rumoured $1 billion budget.

“Get them into films and on television and doing eventually stunts there's action extra work too,” Pai says. 

“But yeah just get them out there in the industry and see what it is.”

16-year-old Taipari Orbell, (Ngāi Tahu) is one of those participating in the course. He is hoping to break into the film industry:

“It is pretty fun and I want to do a career, make money doing something that I like, and yeah I'm liking this,” he says.

Hamuera Henare-Neho, (Ngāpuhi) enjoys the new experience, and highly recommends the course to others. He is also the new skills could see his life turn around and provide him an alternative to the benefit.

He’s dreaming big, setting his sights on the biggest Māori name in Hollywood, “might see Taika Waititi, ha. I don't know yeah, that's my dream anyways,” he says.

“They've already started getting put forward for roles, and some of them have already been chosen. So yeah, it's working,” Grant says.