'Avengers: Endgame' Stunt Coordinator on Shattering the Glass Ceiling and That Final Battle

Monique Ganderton, the first woman to hold that position on a Marvel film, opens up about dealing with "pressure" in her role, choreographing the climactic fight (without knowing the ending) and breaking barriers in her industry.
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
'Avengers: Endgame'

Canadian-born stunt performer Monique Ganderton has an action-packed résumé, from doubling as Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde to most recently serving as Marvel's first-ever female stunt coordinator for Avengers: Endgame. Her credits also include work on Captain Marvel, Avengers: Infinity War, Thor: Ragnarok, Suicide Squad and three Hunger Games films.

For the second-to-last film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's phase three, Ganderton wore two hats by doubling on set for Proxima Midnight (who is voiced by Carrie Coon) as well as overseeing all stunt action for the film. When considering the responsibilities of a stunt coordinator — choreographing action while ensuring creative storytelling and safety for all stunt performers — it's no surprise that Ganderton describes the task as "a really complex brain game."

Add to the mix the impact of being the beloved franchise's first female stunt coordinator, who orchestrated the MCU's battle of all battles featuring the most superheroes ever onscreen — Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Captain Marvel and Black Panther, to name a few — and it's possible that anyone up to that task is a superhero themselves.

Ganderton, 39, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the "chess game" that was coordinating Avengers: Endgame's stunts while also reflecting on her progression into a momentous leadership role in her industry.

What initially drew you to stunts?

When I finished high school, I moved to Toronto to model. A lot of the models in my agency were taking acting classes on the side. While doing a fashion show on La Femme Nikita, I saw this girl roll down some stairs and shoot this gun and kick a guy in the nuts. And I was like, what the hell is that? What job is this? I ended up learning the stunt coordinator was Mic Jones. I wrote him this three-page, handwritten letter about how inspired I was watching the whole thing. He called me back and was like, "Well, this is the weirdest letter anybody has ever sent me." But he was so generous. He broke stuff down and told me to take gymnastics and some martial arts classes, and go outside to a park and run and fall down a thousand times. When I was able to make a little bit of money, I'd take a class here and there. After a couple of years, I eventually booked a job and was able to work.

When did you know doing stunt work was the job for you?

My doubling job on The Recruit [2003]. I doubled Bridget Moynahan. It was the first time I'd ever had that much pressure put on me physically and mentally. After that job, I got a phone call to double her again because she told the stunt coordinator about me. I got called for I, Robot and that pushed me to my limit — physically, mentally. I was on set every single day. I went from being totally broke to being able to buy an apartment. The Recruit changed my life in every single way. It was truly an amazing experience. It's kind of luck in that sense that Bridget Moynahan booked that job and I happened to have, by chance, doubled her on a show for like two days and she remembered my name.

Which roles helped prepare you to enter the MCU — as a stunt performer, and eventually, as a leader in that space?

Atomic Blonde. That was the very beginning of my journey to being a credited assistant coordinator. I remember them calling, asking, "Hey, will you come double Charlize?" I said, "I'll double her, but I want an assistant stunt coordinating credit." And I cringed, waiting for it, thinking it's not going to happen. [Director] David Leitch was like, "Yeah, of course." That was really cool to be a part of a very small group of people choreographing the fight, designing the action, also being able to perform it and then having people respond so positively to that action. That helped build my confidence moving forward. It helped me in thinking my instincts are good. I can do this job. Other women could do this job. Moving into Marvel after that — Atomic Blonde gave me the confidence to stand in a room with 50 men staring at you, going like, "So what are we supposed to do?" And you're like, "I have a plan!" Atomic Blonde really helped me build that confidence — the people that I trusted, that I'd worked with before, who respected me. Also being in a movie that people loved the action so much. It was a really big deal for me.

As Marvel’s first female stunt coordinator, when you look at the stunt industry, how inclusive does it feel?

Everything is changing. I feel like you go through these different cycles. The cycle that was before I started was very, very different. It was all about women having to be tough, prove everything, wear the same clothes that guys are wearing and throw themselves against the wall harder than the guys. Then guys would sort of go, "OK, you're one of us." Then you could become a stunt person or a stunt coordinator.

Now, I feel people are starting to look for women to bring up — and this is [still] at the very beginning. I know there are a few coordinators starting to bring women in as assistant stunt coordinators and at least start to mentor them because there's no other way to advance. You can't go from zero to stunt coordinating — you need somebody to teach you and to pass jobs on to you. That's how guys have been doing it forever. It's a cycle that is happening, but women haven't really been involved in it.

Like on Infinity War, Sam Hargrave was the stunt coordinator, so he brought me in as an assistant stunt coordinator. And with the role there were only two units — he was coordinating one and I'm coordinating the other one. I've had this uphill climb with Marvel, and when Endgame came, and he became the second unit director, I was able to be the credited stunt coordinator. That was just a huge achievement in a lot of different ways, for Marvel, as well as me, because it has been this journey.

For Endgame, what helped you get in the mindset for either doing stunts and coordinating others?

It's so hard to take that time when you have so much going on. I did buy a yoga hammock and brought that into our training gym because I needed a little of me in this very masculine gym. I moved my desk across the gym, put fake grass in front of it. I have my little rose water spray bottle and it was funny because eventually, guys would do a little lap and they'd come by for a chat then spray their face. I started bringing my two dogs to the gym, and you start seeing guys stretching and then having dog therapy.

How do you handle the attention that comes with being Marvel's first female stunt coordinator?

I feel like it is huge pressure on a woman because everyone's looking at you. You feel responsible for any other women. If you do a good job — and I'm not just talking about stunts, but all of the departments — if you do a good job, people go, "Oh this is interesting, the dynamics are different, but the job gets done the same." The more you can do that and show female coordinators in a positive way, in an efficient way, then people will start to break down their barriers.

How did you balance playing Proxima Midnight on set as well as overseeing stunts for Endgame?

It was all mo-cap really, so less big stunts, but it was incredible to be a part of the visual effects. There are actually multiple people playing the character because it was mo-cap. I had my face captured, so it's a weird mix of my face and Carrie Coon's face and then like my physical acting was on set, so I was doing all the dialogue with the actors and doing the physicality so they capture that. Then when I sat back and was coordinating main unit in Atlanta, they took second unit, which had Proxima, to Scotland. We used a guy who was best with the bo staff. Proxima is over 6 feet tall so, with eye lines and the bo staff, using someone of that size — we calculated it all and were like, "That's the best choice." I came to Scotland a month after that and did some other fight pieces and dialogue and interactions with other actors. It really was a mishmash of people and performance, which was actually really cool.

What was one of your biggest challenges as Endgame's stunt coordinator?

We shot Infinity War first. Then we shot Endgame for a couple of months. But Captain Marvel and Far From Home had not come out yet. So, they didn't know how they wanted the movie to end, and Infinity War was not out yet and they didn't know how people were going to respond to different parts. So for the end battle, we shot stuff that was a mix of "maybe we'll use it, maybe we won't." I knew I was going to need a lot of people because we're going to need to split up and it's going to be a divide-and-conquer for choreography.

Within Endgame's final battle is the iconic scene featuring the women of Marvel — how complex was that to coordinate?

We shot like 30 different versions … there are so many actors. What people don't really understand for a movie is actor availability. Marvel isn't holding those actors for a year. Doing the women of Marvel, we knew we'd have them all run together and do one establishing shot, but the rest of the day was, "What actors are easy to use with the stunt double because they're either CG characters or have a helmet on?" It was a really complex brain game, designing action and trying to keep track of all of that and still design something that gives each character a moment. Technically, Endgame was a chess game … It could have been a disaster, but everyone was so kind and so respectful and just loved each other. Everybody did such a great job and was really pushed to the limit, and we all still love each other so much after working together for three years.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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HIT THEM WITH YOUR BEST SHOT
By Tara Bitran

Franchise blockbusters showed off some intense, stunt-heavy scenes in 2019.

CAPTAIN MARVEL
Ringing in the era of female superheroes who take the lead in their own stand-alone films, Brie Larson's Carol Danvers cheekily proves she's not "Just a Girl" while fighting for the Tessaract, set to the No Doubt song.

HOBBS & SHAW
David Leitch's Fast & Furious spinoff starring Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs) and Jason Statham (Shaw) features an increased number of fight scenes, along with high-speed car chases and an intense battle set on Samoa.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Tom Holland's Peter Parker didn't face Thanos like in Endgame, but he did fight interdimensional foes across the Atlantic, with the help — and hindrance — of Jake Gyllenhaal's Mysterio.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 — PARABELLUM
With horses, motorcycles and a closing VR set piece, Parabellum has no shortage of stunts. The finale sees Keanu Reeves (John Wick) fend off a horde of martial artists in a house of glass.

A version of this story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.