A WEST Cork woman who left school at 15 and became an A-list stunt woman is turning heads with her graceful performance on popular Netflix show Fate: the Winx Saga.
The programme recently debuted on the streaming service and depicts a magical universe inhabited by fairies, witches, and other mythical creatures.
Avril Murphy, from Clonakilty, doubled up for the character Bloom, played by US star Abigail Cowen. On the show, Avril demonstrates her graceful flying skills with the help of specialist stunt equipment.
The former Montfort College of Performing Arts student said her retirement from the industry comes at the perfect time. Now, in her late 30s, Avril said she is glad to have left this chapter of her life on a high note.
The segments were filmed two years ago, though the show only debuted late last month.
“Bloom has only just gotten her skill to create fire and is learning how to use it,” Avril said.
“Abigail did quite a bit, but my job was to take care of the more complex stuff. For much of my life, I worked as a professional dancer, so it was great to be able to do something that incorporated some of that.”
Avril described the physical demands of the stunt work on the show.
“The equipment was similar to what they use on Marvel movies. You are up in the air for most of the day, so it can be very tiring.”
Avril left school at the age of 15 to pursue a career in the performing arts. Many people questioned her decision at the time. Nonetheless, the gamble paid off, allowing her to carve an international career, first in dance and later in stunt work.
Avril has worked as a stunt double on films like the Rhythm Section and for Penny Dreadful star Eva Green.
It was Avril’s mother, Eileen, a former secondary school teacher, who inspired Avril to pursue her dreams.
“When I was in school, I was sitting in class, just staring out the window,” Avril said.
“Mum saw my talents and knew it was time for me to move on. She wanted me to go for it. It wasn’t the easiest path.
“However, to take a risk like that you have to have this unwavering belief and know that whatever happens, things will work out,” Avril said.
“Luckily, I was able to follow my dream and it took me on so many different adventures. I’ve always followed my heart to the detriment of other people telling me I’m crazy.”
Avril completed a dance course in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, before studying for a degree at London Contemporary Dance School. After much hard graft, she found herself touring the world with musicals and glittering productions. At the age of 30, a colleague of hers, Jenny Redmond, on a Cork Opera House production of Grease, suggested she take up stunt work. The performer took her advice and landed work on the television show Vikings.
The Clonakilty native’s red hair helped her stand out and secure stunt roles.
“We are a rare breed, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to really appreciate my natural hair colour,” Avril said. “Growing up, I hated it and wanted to have any colour but red. Now, I realise I was born with it for a reason. Getting the stunt work I have has helped me embrace it.” Even as a child, Avril was no stranger to rough and tumble.
“I have three brothers and no sisters. Hanging around with my brothers and their mates, and joining them on their adventures, set me up well,” Avril said.
“Every job is a great adventure, because you are transported to this make-believe world.”
The reaction to Avril’s appearance on Fate: The Winx Saga has been heartening.
Behind the scenes working on Fate: The Winx Saga.
“I must have spent two nights replying to people on social media,” she said.
Working in the performing sector has its downsides.
“It takes years to trust yourself to do what feels right,” Avril said. You’re always waiting for your next job and you have to fill the gaps in between. I always think it’s super-important to stay humble and grateful. I keep myself grounded.”
Her adventures were all worth it.
“When you’re in it, it’s surreal. It’s great to be part of something so special.”
Avril is proud that she took up a temporary role as a healthcare assistant at Cork University Hospital during the pandemic.
“Given that I have a background in healthcare, I wanted to do something to help people and give back,” she said.
“I saw some very sad things, but was really glad I had the opportunity. The pandemic really hit home the importance of looking after each other and the vulnerable in our society,” Avril said.
Patients at the hospital where she worked were stunned to learn about her former career.
“They were often laughing about how I was fighting on screen, while being really soft and gentle in reality. You don’t meet a lot of stuntwomen in Ireland, so it does make people laugh,” she said.
Avril is grateful for the opportunities that she had within the stunt industry and is now looking forward to a new chapter in her life.
“I’m looking forward to normality and the simple things in life,” she said. “Carrying on doing stunts for another number of years would have taken its toll physically. I’m glad to be able to leave on a high.”