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A former nurse is gearing up for an action-packed life as a stuntwoman in Hollywood after years of research and training which involved conversations with John Cleese and Arnold Schwarzenegger. She plans to make the move Stateside with her five children who perform gymnastic tricks with horses too.

When single mum Laura O’Donnell, 38, first stepped into the spotlight as a background actress in an episode of BBC hospital drama Casualty in 2014, she was immediately hooked. Now combining her current job as a mental health counsellor with extra work as an actor and learning to be a stunt woman, she has even inspired her children Shannon, 19, Malachy, 16, Felicity, 14, Harvey, 13, and Blake, 10, to perform with her.

Laura, of Llangollen, North Wales, said: “We all perform in stunt shows together. If you put your mind to something, you will achieve it.

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“I wanted this so bad and I was willing to work hard to get it. I love my life now and my kids love learning stunts and tricks, too.”

She added: “Life is crazy now, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” Laura, who has written a memoir about her extraordinary life, says her stunt work gave her a new purpose after hitting rock bottom back in 2011.

Laura says the secret to her success lies in ‘a lot of training and years of really honing your skills’

She said: “My relationship had broken down, I was in a really tough job with low pay and I was really dissatisfied with life. A lot of my colleagues were also really unhappy in their jobs and I didn’t want to end up stuck in a miserable career.

“I was racking my brains for what I could do and I remembered that when I was a child, I was obsessed with becoming a stuntwoman. I loved the idea of working on a set and getting to take part in impressive tricks and stunts, but I had no idea how I could get into it. ”

On a quest to make her own luck in life, she started researching careers in stunt work. She said: “I read a lot of books and took up rock climbing and martial arts classes.

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“I’ve been horse-riding since I was around 14, but it was never a serious hobby. I’ve got back into it, though, and even my kids can do tricks on the horses now.

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“I knew I needed the skills from these classes to be hired for work. In the meantime, I started working as an extra for TV.”

Remembering her first TV job in Casualty in 2014, she said: “The shots were filmed in Barry Island, South Wales, around Christmas time and I just remember it being so cold. Filming is nowhere near as glamourous as you might think.”

She added: “I remember the make-up artists had to keep touching up our faces, so we didn’t look so cold.” Since then, Laura has gone on to appear in popular TV shows including Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Game of Thrones and Brassic.

The hard working Laura is also an actor

The hard working Laura is also an actor

She said: “I completely fell in love with the TV industry, it was just the excitement, the butterflies, getting into character and being someone completely different. I really get a buzz out of it.”

She added: “I knew I wanted to push it further as a career, which is why I started training and looking for an agent in Hollywood to take me on as a stuntwoman. I’m still getting some qualifications that I need.

“I need a supervisory level in rock climbing and I’m completing courses in scuba diving and gymnastics. It’s very, very physical and hard work.

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“It takes a lot of training and years of really honing your skills. It’s also quite a male-dominated industry and I can be underestimated at times by stuntmen.

“There was a scene I once shot for a local production where a group of us had to jump 100ft into water. The men hesitated quite a bit and I literally just went for it and jumped, they were all quite gobsmacked.”

She added: “I went out to Hollywood in 2019 and was getting a lot of interest from casting directors for stunt roles. Unfortunately, the pandemic put a halt on productions.”

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Laura made it back to the UK just before the first lockdown hit in March 2020. She is now waiting to return to the bright lights of LA.

She said: “In 2020, I paid for a video from John Cleese on Cameo, which is an app where you can order personalised videos from celebrities. As a result we started talking and, during lockdown, we spoke over Zoom and he gave me some really good acting tips.

“I’m trying to work on my American accent, too, because I’d like to get into more acting over there and I hope that’ll improve my chances of getting hired for roles. But, during the pandemic, I’ve been focusing a lot on my work as a mental health counsellor and life coach, too.”

Laura with her children, Shannon, 19, Malachy, 16, Felicity, 14, Harvey, 13, and Blake, 10

Laura with her children, Shannon, 19, Malachy, 16, Felicity, 14, Harvey, 13, and Blake, 10

She added: “It’s not all about the glamour of Hollywood and film sets, I’m also very passionate about helping people and giving back. I’ve had people who I’ve worked with tell me that I’ve changed or even saved their lives, and it’s a really good feeling to know I’ve made a difference.”

Laura has also been busy training her kids to perform the stunts they enjoy watching their mum do. She said: “My kids are all involved in stunt work too now and they love horse riding.

“Harvey is really into gymnastics. He’s so good that his coaches have said he has a chance to represent Great Britain if he continues with the level he’s at now.

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“And my youngest, Blake, is a very talented horse rider. The kids and I take part in local stunt shows through the year too.

“I just love the connection I’ve got with horses. I own two horses now and we do a lot of stunts with them and ‘trick riding’ which involves standing up while riding and doing backflips off the back of them.

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“It’s not just about me, it’s about the kids as well and how talented they all are. They all have the right mindset and work so hard.”

Action woman Laura loves doing horse stunts

Action woman Laura loves doing horse stunts

She added: “To see the way they’re developing is amazing, especially as a mother. I’m so proud of them.

“The future is very bright for my family. I’m very much looking forward to seeing all of us succeed.”

Now Laura hopes to return to Hollywood this year to work as a stuntwoman in feature films. She said: “I’m waiting to be able to go back, it’ll definitely be sometime this year.

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“I can’t wait to see what incredible projects are in the works over there that I can be part of.” But while she waits to make her return to the US, Laura has published her life story which she says was inspired by action movie hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.

She said: “I met Arnold at an event in 2018 called An Experience With. I told him about my life and how I was trying to crack Hollywood as a stunt artist and actress and he remarked that I should write a book.

“It took a while to get there but, four years later, my memoir titled Being Laura is now out. To me, it’s not just a book, it’s a release for all those stored up emotions and feelings.”

Laura really enjoyed talking on Zoom to John Cleese, who gave her some acting tips

Laura really enjoyed talking on Zoom to John Cleese, who gave her some acting tips

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She added: “This is the freedom I have created. My family, friends and horses are what makes me truly happy. And that’s all that matters.”

Laura’s book is available to buy here.

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