Atomic Blonde: 7 Secrets From Charlize Theron’s Personal Stunt Trainer

Monique Ganderton lifts the lid on the year’s biggest and best action movie.

Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron kicks ass In Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde arrives in cinemas this week, confirming Charlize Theron’s status as the biggest action movie star on the planet in the process.

Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name and directed by stunt supremo David Leitch, who previously worked alongside Chad Stahelski on John Wick, it’s part Berlin-based Cold War thriller, part all-out action movie.

Keen to find out more about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into a movie that included one incredibly brutal single camera take fight sequence, loaded spoke personal trainer and stunt woman Monique Ganderton, whose previous credits include Suicide Squad and X-Men, about her work with Charlize Theron on the movie.

Here are her seven biggest revelations – plus one potential idea for a sequel.


Planning Was Everything

Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde.
Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde

“About a month before filming, the stunt team went to all the filming locations in Budapest and shot mocked-up versions of the action sequences. These were then presented to the director for approval or adjustment before the actors showed up. That way, when the cast arrived, we could just jump right in to training and rehearsals.”


Atomic Blonde Was As Intense As It Looks

“A lot of the action in Atomic Blonde is very condensed so it was very demanding. There also wasn’t a lot of room for error compared to some of these big budget superhero movies. They might have a week to shoot a sequence and get a B-unit in for some of that time. The stairwell fight sequence in Atomic Blonde was done in four days.”


No One Else Could Have Done Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde

“Charlize is amazing. There are other actresses that are physically very able but Charlize is the complete package. She’s tall, she’s empowering and just a dominating presence in terms of height and strength. To have an actress of her caliber doing action movies is what the industry needs. She’s the only one who can do all of that stuff – there isn’t an actress or actor who could have pulled this off like her. She totally crushed it.”


The 15-minute Fight Sequence Took Three Days Planning

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron Image LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images

“The stairwell and landing were measured and then taped out in a training gym, so the fight could be choreographed perfectly. It was a process of training, then choreographing the fights before shooting test footage. Then local stuntmen were hired and the shoot went on location for three days.”

“Sam Hargrave, who was the stunt coordinator, was the cameraman for the stairwell sequence because of how physically demanding it was. He shot practice footage, with me as Charlize, with all the choreography and camera moves. It was edited together and shown to David Leitch who made adjustments before the team went back and did it again. It gave the production a great blueprint to work from once Charlize arrived. Otherwise, it would have been a nightmare.”


Everything Played To Charlize Theron’s Strengths

“Charlize did most of her training in LA. She was working with a great bunch of guys who were going through drills and strength training which was designed to help figure out what her best punches and kicks were. Basically, working out everything she might need to do and what she was most comfortable doing. The drills she excelled at were added into the choreography after watching tapes of her in action. So when she got on set, all of that stuff had been added in which made her look good and comfortable at what she was doing. It meant we could do some stretching every day and just get straight into it.”


Some Shots Required Up to 15 Takes

James McAvoy and Charlize Theron.
James McAvoy and Charlize Theron In Atomic Blonde

“What makes the stairwell sequence so unique is that there is no clever editing in it. The entire thing had to be perfect. In any normal shot you might do three or four takes but because this had to be perfect, which took anywhere between 10 and 15 takes. Because it had to be perfect. If just one thing, was missed the whole shot had to be done again. It was intense and had to be perfect but when it worked it was so rewarding.”


It Was Atomic Blonde vs John Wick 2

John Wick 2 trailer Keanu Reeves guns

“Charlize trained alongside Keanu out in LA. He was preparing for John Wick 2 at the time and there was definitely a little friendly competition between the two productions, especially as you had David Leitch and Chad Stahelski making the two movies. Having the two actors working and training at the same time … there was a little bit of rivalry and some eyeballing for sure.”



Charlize Could Hit The Road In The Sequel

“It would be great to see more car stuff because Charlize is a great driver. She picked up a lot of driving skills on the Italian Job remake and it would be cool to see more of that. She’s also great in the water. The hand to hand stuff in this movie is great but a really crazy driving sequence – like Tom Cruise style driving – would be cool. Maybe an intense underwater sequence or skydiving. There are so many directions we could go in but an intense car chase with her would be amazing.”


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