If you're watching episodes of shows such as Stranger Things and The Haunting of Hill House, the child stars may actually be being stood in for by someone else. That someone else could have been Victoria Donchess.
How does an adult get to be a stand in for child actors? Well, you have to be very small. Victoria is only 4'10" and weighs 75 pounds but is 40 years old.
"I got my start as a stand in on the Walking Dead," Victoria explains. "While I was there, they asked me to be a photo double, and I agreed even though, honestly, I didn't even know what a photo double did. It was a big deal to be on the set one day and then be asked to be a photo double. Although I didn't know what I had agreed to do, I knew it was a good thing. A stand in for an older actor on the show pulled me to the side and graciously showed me the ropes and taught me what I needed to do. It was such a blessing!"
For those of us who don't know much about the entertainment industry, a stand in is part of second team on a set. The second team comes in when the first team, the actors you see on screen, goes off. The second team is used for blocking scenes, which is working out the details of an actor's moves in relation to the camera, and lighting. A photo double must resemble an actor as closely as possible in height, build, hair color, and complexion. Since the photo double looks like the actor from a distance, they can film in the actor's place while they prepare for other scenes.
Since those early days, Victoria has worked on tv shows and movies such as Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House, and both of Marvel's Ant Man movies. Because of her small stature, she stands in for the child actors and, since children work shorter hours than adult actors, she is able to also do off-camera dialogue. In this role, she has worked with actors such as Paul Rudd in the Ant Man movies.
From L to R--Some behind-the-scene pictures of Victoria at work on The Haunting of Hill House. Victoria and Mistie Gibby (@mistiegibby) blocking the scene for episode 106 on The Haunting of Hill House. At bottom, Second Team on The Haunting of Hill House preparing for episode 106. With their amazing Assistant Director.
Obviously, not many adults are able to stand in for children, but Victoria did not come to be her size due to genetics; she has Chiari Malformation and an autoimmune disease. Chiari Malformation is a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. It occurs when part of the skull is abnormally small or misshapen, pressing on the brain and forcing it downward. This rare condition was discovered after an extended illness.
"I was sick, and the doctors could not determine what was wrong with me. They sent me home from the hospital because I wasn't improving and there was nothing else they could do. My mom, however, is not a person to take 'I don't know' for an answer," Victoria says.
After much investigation and many doctors' visits, the diagnosis came back as Chiari Malformation, but that isn't the cause of her small size; she also has an autoimmune disorder. Her size has turned out to bring her many job opportunities putting Victoria in a unique position. She's the size of the children for whom she stands in and the age of their moms.
"I've gotten a great deal of work because I'm such a people person, I love everyone. The child actor's parents sometimes request me to continue to work with their kids on different projects. I treat the kids like they're regular kids."
There is no regular day working in the entertainment industry. It may start at 4:30 in the morning or 11:00 at night. Regardless of when it starts or how long it lasts, it's a hurry-up-and-wait kind of business. It's certainly not the schedule that keeps Victoria working in the industry, it's the people.
"I love being on set," she explains. "The people become family spending so many hours and months together, and it can develop strong community depending on the setting."
But Victoria continues by explaining that all of that begins with the culture of the set. "This is just like any other business--it starts at the top. If the leadership is good, then it trickles down to make a great work environment for everyone. Because of that, I'm so grateful for every opportunity that is given to me to work with people who treat their people well like Michael Flanagan, who is best-known for horror series and films. If I'm offered a chance to work with people like him, I jump on those chances immediately."
In the future, she hopes to continue to work in the industry. Ironically, she met her husband, William Sims, who is also in the film industry, on set. He has had a few small roles as an actor in some television shows and movies and works in the media world as a media and audio visual director. William is also a musician on the side and has a non-profit organization, the GLOW Music Project, that helps raise money to buy guitars. He delivers those guitars to children and young people in the Dominican Republic and teaches them to play so that they can develop their musical talents.
Below, William J. Sims on set of AMC Halt and Catch Fire. To the right, William J. Sims, not acting this day, but working in the sound department on AMC Halt and Catch Fire. @williamjsims
The two have an agent and are continuing to pursue opportunities and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Victoria has already increased her resume by doing modified stunts for the actors for which she stands in. She wants to learn more about the business by making herself useful around the set.
So, in the future, when you think you're watching one of your favorite child stars, you may be watching Victoria Donchess. "Stranger Things" have happened.