It's almost time for the "most ambitious crossover event in history," Avengers: Infinity War, to hit theaters. The massive film brings together a good dozen Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes, which also means the movie has the most superhero diversity of any in the MCU. Infinity War, out April 27, will be the rare Marvel movie with more than one or two female superheroes, or superheroes of color. And this diversity extends to extras and even stunt people. The Avengers: Infinity War stunts will be more diverse than ever before, assures Infinity War stunt coordinator Monique Ganderton in a phone interview with Bustle, and that is entirely by design.
"I’ve always... looked forward to being in this position where I could hire a team and it be diverse," says Ganderton. For Infinity War, she focused on hiring a group of nondescript (ND) stunt people, aka stunt performers who double as extras, made up equally of men and women instead of the usual imbalance. "We really, really focused on getting like, 50 percent women when possible, and really fighting to get diversity across the board — men, women, every ethnicity — just really trying to represent every person in reality," she recalls. "So that, I’m really proud of.”
It's not too common in Hollywood for a stunt coordinator to be a woman; the industry's boys club unfortunately extends to every department. So when Ganderton took the position on Infinity War after years of working as a stunt performer for various Marvel projects, she was committed to hiring a diverse group of stunt performers, and the results can be seen in the new movie.
Yet Ganderton desire to ensure more women and performers of color were hired for the film did not come without some pushback. "With these big studio movies, they don’t want women to be the big military guys or the smart guys who are going to get beat up by our heroes," she says of Hollywood execs. "They don’t want to see your hero beating up a woman, even though there’s plenty of women who are FBI, plenty of women who are in the military or who are police officers, but they don’t get represented in these large movies."
In order to get around that, Ganderton hired women to play characters whose features were obscured by prosthetics or elaborate costumes. If they were talented stunt women and they happened to fit the costumes from previous Marvel movies, they were in. Yeet while being in a position of power on set allowed Ganderton the opportunity to change the make-up of the Infinity War stunts department, it wasn't without its challenges. The movie marked Ganderton's first time as stunt coordinator on a MCU set (not including reshoots), and she admits that making the transition from stunt performer to stunt coordinator took "a little bit longer" than one might expect from a man.
The position has historically been held by men, and while Ganderton doesn't mention any on set sexism or doubt levied her way, she does hint at some growing pains when it came to people accepting her position on set. "It’s like they have never seen a female stunt coordinator before. So it’s sort of, just odd for them, let’s just say," she says about her Infinity War experience. "The first step is just being like, ‘Hey, I’m the coordinator.’ Speaking in kind of a softer voice at times, and you don’t have that male bravado that they’re used to a lot of the time."
Despite these barriers, Ganderton is hoping to use her position to help move more women up the ranks. "For women who are just performing, it’s hard to form that sort of bond with an up and coming coordinator because most coordinators are male," she says of the challenges facing women in the business. "I don’t know... what the psychology is, or what is actually happening in there, but there’s something that’s missing with women getting opportunity to come up the ranking."
By opening up more jobs to women, Ganderton hopes to shift the "alpha male" culture that allows for inappropriate behavior to be dismissed as "locker room talk" or just another day on set. "I don’t know a single stuntwoman that I’ve spoken to that hasn’t gone through something. And that’s on set, or trying to get a job, or that’s just dropping a resume off and being asked to come meet them at the bar later, and say no and you’re not getting the job," she says.
By hiring more women, Ganderton hopes to create a more supportive environment on set, and in the stunt world as a whole. "These [stunt] women are so competitive, and it’s understandable because they’re fighting over these very few roles, and women need to support each other more," the coodinator says. "And I think that, especially in this business, the more we can give them parts and have it be more fair for them in the stunt world, eventually it will build and maybe we’ll be able to support each other rather than competing against each other.”
As the MCU grows to embrace more female superheroes like Captain Marvel and The Wasp, hopefully Ganderton's fellow stunt coordinators — both male and female — will hop on board and follow her efforts to create a better, more inclusive set. "That is my challenge to our business, to these male stunt coordinators," she says. "Just focus on reality, be diverse, hire some women, don’t make it a boys club. Don’t hire all of your friends or your family, just mix it up a little bit. Hire for the reality of what you’re shooting.” Those couldn't be wiser words.