Filming in Auckland for big-budget television series Lord of the Rings has made a rocky start after an accident on set left a stuntwoman seriously injured.

Elissa Cadwell, an experienced Brisbane-based stunt woman, actor and dancer, who recently doubled for Nicole Kidman in Aquaman, is understood to have been injured during rehearsals at the sprawling Kumeu Film Studio.

Sources confirmed she fell into water in large tanks as planned, but her head struck a bolt in the process. One witness said the resulting injuries were traumatic.

Cadwell, who recently wrapped filming in South Australia in her first big break as an actor after being cast as combative vampire Nitara in the upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot, declined to comment when reached by the Weekend Herald.


"As you know there is a strict NDA [Non Disclosure Agreement], so there will be no comment," she said.

Cadwell is understood to have suffered severe concussion and requires further plastic surgery. She was recently discharged from hospital.

Amazon Studio's flagship production, based on the works of JRR Tolkien, is being shot in Kumeu after the Government won a bidding war against Scotland, largely on the back of offers to subsidise up to a quarter of the reported $1.5 billion production costs.

Emergency services confirmed they were called to the studio on Friday, February 7 at 4.11pm. A spokesperson for the service said one patient with moderate injuries was treated on site and then transported by ambulance to Auckland City Hospital.

A spokesperson for production company Amazon Studios, based in California, yesterday confirmed the incident and said a safety review was underway.

Stuntwoman Elissa Cadwell who was badly injured during filming at Kumeu. Photo /supplied
Stuntwoman Elissa Cadwell who was badly injured during filming at Kumeu. Photo /supplied

"While rehearsing a stunt on set, one of our talented stuntpersons was injured and sustained a cut on her head. She was immediately transported to a hospital, where she was seen by a specialist and went home to recover shortly after.

"We are happy to report she is doing well and we plan to have her back at work soon. The health and safety of our cast and crew is our top priority, and we are reviewing the accident to ensure we are maintaining the highest levels of safety on our production."

Denise Roche, director of actors union Equity New Zealand, said Cadwell was a member of her sister organisation in Australia and she had been liaising with her mother.


"She's got concussion is my understanding. She's pretty banged up."

Lord of the rings - one ring to bind them Picture supplied
Lord of the rings - one ring to bind them Picture supplied

Andrew Crowley, the director of Equity at Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said he had only been made aware of the incident following Weekend Herald inquiries.

"We are deeply concerned that a stunt performer was injured at work – and expect that all of our members can attend work in a safe environment – whether in Australia or elsewhere."

Roach said the deregulated employment environment for filming, whereby virtually everyone involved in productions was classed as contractors, and the use of NDAs, raised complications in ensuring safe workplaces.

"The fact that nearly everybody in the screen sector is an independent contractor means there could be hesitance in reporting accidents in case it makes it less likely they are employed in future," Roche said.

"The cone of silence around the production really shouldn't come into play with health and safety - that's how Pike River happened."

WorkSafe, the government health and safety regulator, was first made aware of the incident midweek after inquiries by the Weekend Herald. Labour laws require workplaces to notify the regulator of serious injuries at their workplaces "as soon as is reasonably practicable".

Questions to Amazon about why WorkSafe had not been promptly notified were not directly answered, but were quickly followed by the regulator confirming receipt of a notification late on Thursday evening, nearly a week after the accident.

A spokeswoman for the WorkSafe yesterday said: "We are making initial inquiries to establish what our next steps might be."

Roche was critical of the belated report: "I would have though that WorkSafe should have been notified immediately, because it's a serious injury. That's standard on any production, and, actually, any workplace."