Renae Moneymaker: Packing a Punch in Hollywood

By Neelanjana Gautam

 

Renae Moneymaker posing with one hand on her hip and the other extended out in a blue leotard.

Photo: Terrell Lloyd / San José State Athletics

Spartan gymnast Renae Moneymaker was weighing in fun summer job options sitting at head coach Wayne Wright’s office when Wright asked her, “Why don’t you go be an extra on that gymnastics TV show?” She immediately jumped at the idea, flew down to Los Angeles, and landed on the set of the 2009 American teen drama series Make it Or Break It.

From 2005 to 2010, Moneymaker spent five years as a San José State gymnast and was part of two teams that made it to NCAA regionals. The summer gig after her senior year turned out to be a dream launch as she ended up working on that series as a stunt double for nearly three years—all the while feeling grateful to be “at the right place at the right time.”

“I didn’t think I was going to be a stuntwoman, just by the exposure of working on a film set with people, cameras, lights and cords I fell in love with the process of everything,” says Moneymaker.

Her sister Heidi Moneymaker, nine years older and a sought-after stuntwoman in Hollywood, has been her role model since the age of three. When Renae joined the industry, Heidi took her sister under her wing. Seeing Heidi rain blows and punches, fight and flip, and jump off cliffs, Renae realized stunt work is all about facing fear, falling, getting hurt and then finally beating the odds.

Moneymaker thinks the possibilities are limitless for a stuntwoman. “You’re not put in a humanoid box. You can fly,” she says. On screen when Moneymaker dons a costume to perform stunt roles for powerful characters, that magic rolls over into a real-life attitude as well. “Super-heroic abilities create a powerful persona,” Moneymaker says. For example, Captain Marvel’s mantra—“Higher, Further, Faster, More”—comes to her rescue every time she needs a little motivation in her life.

Renae Moneymaker on a handstand with legs spread outwards on the horizontal bar.

Photo: Terrell Lloyd / San José State Athletics

Early in her career, Moneymaker realized to compete in Hollywood she would need to expand her skill set. Over the years Moneymaker trained in martial arts and specialized in different acrobatic moves like tricking, a backyard style of martial arts that includes flipping, twisting and fighting, as well as many dance moves, including styles from breakdancing.

When she displayed her acrobatic skills as a stunt double for Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games series, she had already started to enjoy the craft. Similarly, she says working on films like the X-Men franchise, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Birds of Prey, among others, left her feeling empowered. “Stunt work is about bringing a character to life,” she says.

After a decade in Hollywood, Moneymaker still falls back on the values she learned from her gymnastics days at SJSU. “Coach Wright always emphasized if the team didn’t do well, you didn’t do well,” she says.

Moneymaker practices gratitude as a way of life. Since her parents couldn’t afford a college education, Moneymaker banked on her SJSU scholarship as a way out of her small-town Santa Rosa life in California. Today, she gives back to the community, supporting young gymnasts by donating precious resources like time and money to the Spartan Foundation.

“I want to support them just like how others supported me,” she says, while lauding the way Coach Joanne Bowers is now handling the team during the COVID-19 pandemic. “San José State is so important to me. It was that place where I needed to learn and grow before I made it in the big leagues.”

Neelanjana Gautam

Neelanjana Gautam, '21 MS Mass Communication, is a graduate student writer on SJSU's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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