Rachel McDermott '05 is taking care of business as a stuntwoman, actress, producer and new mom. Catch her in Extraction 2 on Netflix.
For Rachel McDermott ’05, flying through a window, hurtling down a flight of stairs and rolling off a roof are all in a day’s work.
An Adelphi University graduate unlike any other, McDermott has gone from earning a degree in business management to making her mark—and absorbing cuts and bruises—as a stuntwoman, actress and producer in Hollywood.
As a stuntwoman, she doubles for an actress and performs action scenes for that character. She describes the work as “danger in a safe area.” Yet injuries happen. While filming Extraction 2, an action thriller just released on Netflix, starring Chris Hemsworth and directed by McDermott’s husband, Sam Hargrave, she sustained a broken nose and facial cuts from crashing through a pane of glass.
The accident occurred because the glass, controlled by a special effects device, shattered a split second too soon and sent McDermott through shards of glass.
Adelphi Is All in the Family
McDermott grew up on Long Island in an Adelphi family. Her mother, Jeanne Berkowitz, is retired after many years as a financial specialist at Adelphi. Her brother, Charles McDermott, earned his MBA in 2005. Her sister, Nicole McDermott, attended Adelphi for three years.
“I chose Adelphi for the theater program and soccer,” said Rachel, who spent four years on the soccer team and one year on the lacrosse team.
She specialized in advertising and marketing in the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business because she considered it a more realistic career path. But the acting bug never left. At night, she attended the Lee Strasberg Theater & Film Institute in Manhattan.
“I don’t know how I did it all,” she said. “Taking classes at Adelphi during the day, playing sports, acting classes at night and doing student jobs on campus.”
After graduation, she turned down an offer to work in commercial sales for WNBC-TV to pursue acting. Her first movie role was a small part in Inside Man, a 2006 film featuring Hollywood heavyweights Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Christopher Plummer.
However, the years McDermott spent taking business classes at Adelphi have not gone to waste. “The Adelphi business courses helped me develop my oral communication skills, which have helped me in the entertainment industry,” she said. “When you’re in meetings with people who make hiring decisions, you have to project confidence and market yourself.”
Going All In on Acting
McDermott moved to Los Angeles for more acting opportunities and appeared in national commercials for McDonald’s, Toyota, Progressive, Aflac, Starbucks, Chase and Bank of America.
“I was in five to seven national commercials a year,” she said. “You can make a great income because you get residuals [money] every time the commercial is shown.”
McDermott became a more versatile performer by training with friends at ninja warrior gyms in Los Angeles. She also joined a group that practiced escrima, a Filipino martial art that includes fighting with sticks, knives and swords.
“A friend who was a stunt coordinator said, ‘Send me your headshot and sizes. I’m going to submit you for work as a stunt double,'” she said. “I got more work because the filmmakers liked that I could do both acting and stunts.”
Her Most Beautiful Creation
Just as McDermott was set to work as Ali Wong’s stunt double in the Netflix series Beef, she found out she was pregnant with her first child, six-month-old daughter Ronin.
“Having her has been life-changing,” McDermott said. “She’s my most beautiful creation, and the most exhausting.”
An actors’ strike that began July 13 coupled with a writers’ strike that started May 2 has ground Hollywood to a halt. The unexpected time off could alter the new mother’s perspective on the “safe danger” of full-time stunt work.
“I’m finding things more interesting behind the camera,” said McDermott, who is co-executive producer of Ella Unpacks, a short film now in postproduction.
Asked what advice she would give to someone wanting to follow her unique path, McDermott said, “Find the person who inspires you. Ask if you can follow them around to learn about what they do. Just see a day in their life. That’s something that has helped me the most.”
Keep up with her on Instagram.