Like high-school seniors just before graduation, superhero fans around the world have awaited the release of Avengers: Endgame with both eager anticipation and a bittersweet sense of nostalgia. The 182-minute movie signals the conclusion of a memorable chapter in American cinema, a time when Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’s Captain America almost felt like real (super) people who’d aged along with us over the course of 11 years.
“It’s hard to let it go,” Daniel Hargrave tells me. He’s not exactly a fan, though the longtime Captain America stuntman certainly has an affinity for the franchise. He’s spent years on Avengers sets, which he describes as normally very businesslike — the cast and crew “want to get in, and get out.” But for the Endgame team, it was different. There were days, he says, when he’d linger after takes, and wear the suit a few more minutes than he needed to. “Sometimes we take our jobs for granted,” he explains, “but you’d take that suit off every day, and be like, ‘Man, I’m never gonna do this again.’”
Hargrave is one of many Marvel Cinematic Universe stuntpeople who have spent portions of the past decade and more living inside a suit of one shape or another. Over the course of the 21 films that preceded Avengers: Endgame, doubles like him have hidden behind masks and clever editing, graciously providing the brute force and impact absorption required of their superhero characters. And yet for all their time on sets, their essential roles go largely unrecognized by the Steve Rogers–loving public. Among the two-dozen categories at the Academy Awards (which include Costume Design, Sound Mixing, and Makeup and Hairstyling) there is no Oscar for stunts. Hollywood’s various Chrises might battle for primo billing in the franchise’s indulgent credit sequences, but the Daniel Hargraves are relegated to a flash of text your eyes glaze over while you’re waiting for a bonus scene.
So with the release of Avengers: Endgame around the corner, Vulture reached out to some of Marvel’s top superhero stunt doubles to find out what it’s been like to bring our favorite Marvel characters to life. From sequences so tough they make their tongues numb to sequences so heart-wrenching they make adults cry in costume, the doubles for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, and more celebrate the end of an era.
Marvin Ross, double for Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War
The second I got the part, I was in front of the mirror practicing every Spidey pose I could. When you put that suit on, you really embody the character — your back has that hunch that Spidey has, you do his hand motions, and you have jerky head movements for your Spidey senses. I had to fly to L.A. a few times to get the suit fitted, and when I’d go back I’d be in the airport and I was like, I was just in the suit, and no one knows. No one knows that I’m Spider-Man. It’s crazy to start feeling like you’re actually a superhero.
There was this one shot [in Civil War] — a superhard hit. I’m fighting Captain America and pretty much beating him, but he learns my style, so when I go to web him, he catches my web, pulls me toward him, and backhands me with the shield. I had a ratchet and wire pulling me forward, which activated a deadman line attached to my back [so that when he hit me] I’d get slammed on the ground. On the first take, I hit the ground and I couldn’t move. They go, “Cut! Okay, Marvin, that was great, but you’re Spider-Man — you’re not dead.” So we do it again — boom, I hit the ground, and I try this crawling-away motion. We end up doing it four or five times, and after all those sequences, I was trying to drink and I couldn’t even taste anything.
One of my favorite memories from shooting was the scene where we’re all running at each other on the tarmac. Daniel Stevens, who was doubling Iron Man at the time, had brought his kids to the set. I’m sitting in my cooling tent, but I put on my costume and go over and start doing all the gestures and performing for them. I can’t talk, obviously, because that would reveal that I’m not really Spider-Man, but their faces just light up. You could see all the joy that came from just seeing me in the suit — and that’s the reason we do it.
Monique Ganderton, double for Karen Gillan as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy
Ganderton was also the assistant stunt coordinator for Avengers: Infinity War and the stunt coordinator for Avengers: Endgame.
Pre-call [for Guardians] was at 2 a.m. to get four hours of makeup and be ready to shoot at 6 a.m. I also doubled Mystique in X-Men 3, and that was almost six and a half hours of makeup. But at least Nebula wears clothes, so, you know, that portion of your body doesn’t need to be made up. Then you work a 15-hour day, and it’s an hour and a half to get your makeup off. It’s always a challenge working in prosthetics — you’re fighting and sweating in it, it’s constantly needing to be touched up. But when you look in the mirror, you’re like, Okay, this is pretty cool.
The first scene I worked on as stunt coordinator [was Infinity War’s] ark sequence. Obviously I’m female, and I couldn’t believe how many people said that was the first time they’ve seen a female stunt coordinator. I was like, “I’m glad [to be here], but also, what the hell, man?” There are so many talented females out there, but not a lot of them have been given an opportunity to climb the ladder. So I was pretty grateful that I was able to do that and that my voice was heard.
I feel very close to the ark sequence. Creating the CGI characters and figuring out how they move in a realistic way was something I was really happy about. For the fight between Hulk and Thanos in that sequence, I had Lloyd Bateman playing the Hulk, and Greg Rementer was playing Thanos, and they really did the fight in the motion-capture studio, which is why it felt more real than some of the other CGI fights. When Thanos throws the Hulk and he smashes through the pillar, part of the pillar was built on the set.
Gui DaSilva, double for Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War
Before doubling Black Panther, DaSilva was a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. who appeared in the elevator scene in Captain America: Winter Soldier, during which he is utterly beaten by the Avenger.
I get knocked out pretty early on [in the elevator scene]. I end up lying near this big guy named Bubba — who’s already knocked out — while there’s still more fighting left. During one take, I’m on top of Bubba, hoping he doesn’t fart, and I totally shut down. I’m supposed to be unconscious, so I become unconscious. I can fall asleep anywhere. It’s a blessing and a curse … Stunt coordinators don’t like it. They’re like, “You’re not supposed to be asleep!” And I’m like, “I’m sorry! I’m new to this!”
[During] the fight between Hawkeye and Black Panther in Civil War, I got to use a lot of [martial-arts] tricks for avoidance and to close distance between me and Clint [Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye], and that was a lot of fun — especially given the fact that I was facing off against a fellow tricker and friend, [stunt double] Kyle Mclean. I did an envergado and a [cartwheel to a front flip]. I think I did a touchdown raiz in there. And I did a jackknife against Captain America.
What about that rubber band on the tarmac?
Oh yeah! Winter Soldier uppercuts me and I get knocked back. That was actually pretty funny, because on the third take, Sebastian [Stan] actually hit me — he uppercutted the crap out of me. You could tell he’s a good guy, though, because he felt so bad about it. I was like, “Dude, it’s okay! You just hit the mask. Let’s do it again.”
I actually cried in the suit [once]. We were all lined up for the big battle scene, just standing there, and I saw everybody in front of me. I looked at James [Young, as Winter Soldier], a very close friend, and he’s in full costume and I’m in full costume and we’re about to fight. He’s like, “See? See?” And I’m like, “I can’t see right now … My eyes are watering.” He’s like, “You’re going to cry right now? You’re lucky you have a mask on.” And I’m like, “Yes, I am.”
Chris Romrell, double for Chris Pratt as Star-Lord in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame
How does it feel to wear the Star-Lord suit?
Oh man, it’s so cool. Everything about it had this tailored touch, and to look at yourself in the mirror and see yourself as a superhero — that’s the moment that 12-year-old me was screaming on the inside.
What about the mask?
I love the way it looks, but the mask is horrendous. Chris Pratt’s mask has a little fan in there and a little vent, so he gets air in. But they don’t spend that much money on me, so the mask was clamped around my head like a Power Rangers mask with just these tiny little slits for breathing. And once you start moving in it and doing action stuff, you lose all the oxygen in there real quick. Then the lenses are like these quarters that are about half an inch away from your eyes. Once they turn the red lights on, you can see very little. Then once you get sweating in there, they fog up and you can see even less. It’s not conducive to filming action scenes.
I actually broke three of the masks. I don’t think they used this scene in the movie, but at one point I’m falling out of the sky, I do a backflip and a quarter onto my back, and then Spider-Man was supposed to yank me off the rock that I land on. But during filming — they had me on wires — I did the backflip and a quarter, I hit the back of my head, and the helmet just shattered off my face. Six months into filming, I’m putting on the mask, and [a costume professional] was like, “Do you wanna just put dots on your face? We can just add the mask in with VFX.” And I’m like, “That’s an option?” He’s like, “Yeah!” That was probably a $50,000 decision.
Daniel Hargrave, double for Chris Evans as Captain America in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame
[Playing Captain America] was a little nerve-wracking. When we were filming the big Wakanda charge in Infinity War, I was on a wire holding me up and pulling me by my chest to make it look like I was running really fast. But the hard part was staying on my feet, pumping my arms and legs without falling. On one take, I miscalculated my steps, stubbed my toe, and pulled my hamstring. I couldn’t keep up with the winch, so I fell — and got dragged face-first for about 20 yards, passing by all these superheroes. Finally, they hit the button, the wire pulled me up, and there’s Captain America just hanging in the air, grabbing his hamstring. Everybody got a good chuckle out of it.
Chris [Evans] had just completed an entire movie with my brother [Sam Hargrave] as his double. He was very cordial, very nice, and Scarlett [Johansson] was the same way. My brother and I look a lot alike, so they kept calling me Sam. But that’s okay — it was interesting to fill my big brother’s shoes. Without giving too much away, there’s one scene in Endgame where my brother and I both get to be on set at the same time and perform together as stunt guys. Back when we were 6 and 9 years old on our farm, Sam and I actually used to make home movies with a VHS recorder. We had an old hay barn we used to do fight scenes in — we’d throw each other out of windows and do some crazy stuff. So it’s funny to see us 30 years later, getting to do it for the biggest movie in the world.
Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.