Even if the film’s out-of-the-gate success was inevitable (few in the fandom could resist seeing their favorite heroes fight together against apocalyptic evil), the studio’s task was no small feat. Forming a coherent narrative that interweaves the storylines of nearly two-dozen characters who have starred in 19 films over the last decade is a Hulk-ulean feat. And with three years having elapsed since the last compilation smackdown (2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron), expectations have been high.
One way Marvel has tried to slake fan thirst in intervening years is expanding their offerings into another medium: live-action events. Marvel Universe Live! “Age of Heroes” is the latest release from Feld Entertainment and Marvel. In a similar mash-up style to Infinity War, “Age of Heroes” unites characters from The Avengers, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy “to stop Loki in his quest to rule the universe.” Two women who make the show worth its salt are Caitlin Hutson, 21, who plays super-spy Black Widow, and Taylor Castriota, 28, who brings Guardians’ verdant alien badass Gamora to life.
It's not just about throwing yourself into danger ... but we're also always challenging ourselves.
Hutson, who is from Orlando, FL, was a competitive dancer and did gymnastics growing up, but her extensive background in martial arts and acting led her more directly to stunt work. While she was in college in Tallahassee, her father told her about a weekend boot camp back home and encouraged her to attend. Initially, she was unsure that stunt work was a direction she wanted to go in, but since her dad “just had a feeling” and was willing to pay for her to attend, Hutson went ahead — and promptly “fell in love.”
“You hear about daredevils all the time but I’ve honestly never considered myself a risk taker by any means,” she tells Refinery29. “I realized that it’s not just about throwing yourself into danger. It’s very careful and it’s very calculated but we’re also always challenging ourselves.”
Hutson landed a job at Busch Gardens in Virginia, where she learned about the auditions for Marvel Universe Live! from her new colleagues and decided to drive to Orlando to try her hand at a bigger professional role. Feld Entertainment tells R29 that two-dozen auditions have been held across seven U.S. cities since the show’s inception and that over 1,000 people have auditioned each year, meaning competition is fierce. It’s no wonder they sound like military training, with acrobatics.
Castriota, who worked in the stunt world for about four years before she landed the role of Gamora, reveals that tryouts almost always start with 10 pull-ups since upper-body strength is a must.
“In my training, I always make sure I can do at least 15 so I’m never sweating at number 10,” she says. “Even for the guys, 10 pull-ups is a lot. There can be a stunt audition with 100 people and then after the first round — pull-ups — there are about 30 people left. It’s kind of how they weed who won’t be able to do the show.”
Beyond that, those who audition execute basic stunt moves like rolls and falls and unique skills such as spinning fire. Acting might seem like a soft skill in this line of work but making the characters believable is a big part of the job; that’s one reason Hutson believes her experience in that area helped wow the judges.
“One thing a friend told me was to go in with a character in mind and do everything you can to portray that character during the audition,” she says. “I kind of embraced Black Widow as soon as I walked in because she’s my favorite superhero. They asked us to do front rolls across the mat, high kicks, and punches, and I tried to do everything how Black Widow would do it.”
Hutson landed the role just two weeks after her audition. She was ecstatic — but soon learned that her next effort as a stuntwoman was definitely on a different level: playing with fire. “When they offered me the job, they were like, ‘Hey Caitlin, you’re going to do a fight with a weapon that’s on fire. How do you feel about that?’” she says. “On the outside, I was like, ‘Oh sure! No problem. I love fire — it’s my favorite element to play with!’ but in actuality, I wouldn’t light a candle in my house.”
Luckily, Hutson says that when she showed up for practice and “spilled the beans” about her fear, the training team was happy to work with her one-on-one. They started by lighting small matches, then bigger ones, and finally started training with the weapon Hutson uses in the show, which was eventually set aflame. “I do that fight in the show every single night now, so I’ve definitely progressed a lot,” she says.
Castriota also had a weapon learning curve to scale. An expert tumbler, she had years of training as a high-school and college gymnast and later worked as a coach. After getting into stunt work, she learned how to do high falls, drive cars, and even light herself on fire, but she came to “Age of Heroes” with a beginner’s knowledge of swordsmanship. She says getting to the level she is at now “took a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears” and that she continues to work on her technique every show — “but when I look at videos of myself on stage fighting, it totally paid off.”
Aside from the physical tasks, canon character appearance and behavior are also instilled in the performers. Castriota says the company rents out a movie theater whenever a new Marvel film debuts to learn about new character traits and plotlines. The casting team also tries to meet the high expectations of audience members (who know how Black Widow kicks or how Gamora holds her sword) by compiling binders full of detailed information about each hero, as well as hiring makeup artists who can execute otherworldly looks offscreen — and make it look the same without CGI, every single time.
Castriota’s transformation into Gamora is not as long as Zoe Saldana’s three-hour routine for the film, but the routine is still “quite a process.” She mixes several shades of green paint and applies that to her face, neck, and ears, and wears a matching mesh bodysuit under her costume so her arms, hands, and chest are the same hue. The full job takes 45 minutes to put on, about 15 minutes to take off, and requires six different makeup removers.
Unconventional tools and uniforms aside, Castriota says some aspects of her work are like any other person’s: She has to show up on time every day, gets in trouble if she’s late, can’t leave early, and must commit to training (in her case, lengthy rehearsals). Still, neither she nor Hutson would trade the life of being an IRL superhero for a more traditional job.
“Only a handful of jobs are [about] your body, the way you move, how strong you are, or how long you can light yourself on fire,” Castriota says. “There is always something more to learn.”
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