Steve Gagne: from martial arts to the movies
by Randy Pascal
A combination of gymnastics and martial arts provided a wonderfully athletic foundation, on so many levels, for Steve Gagne, as the native of
Chapleau competed for years in both sports, both regionally and provincially.
Little did he know that his sporting pursuits would ultimately form the basis of a most interesting career choice, years later.
“They are very complementary sports,” said the 37 year old, who has spent roughly one third of his life in Sudbury, and currently calls Huntsville home,
though he returns to these parts typically three to four times a year.
“You’re working on similar explosive techniques, strength and flexibility is a positive for both.” And though he would enjoy a degree of success, there
was far more attraction, for Gagne, in working with the next generation of up and coming of martial art talent.
“I did very well, but I didn’t see myself as a champion fighter,” he explained. “I could see myself far more on the teaching side of things. The
artistic, self-expressive part of it, that’s what interested me.”
In order to pursue that vision, there was a need to streamline his interest, identifying exactly which of the many branches of martial arts pursuits
connected most with the young man who completed his secondary schooling in the Sudbury region, a graduate of Ecole Secondaire catholique Champlain in
“I tried to stay with the traditional styles, as much as possible,” said Gagne. “I started with karate, moved on with kick-boxing, and then eventually
found tae-kwon-do, the one true form that I fell in love with and stuck with, to black belt and beyond.”
“Tae-kwon-do is about 90% legs and I had long legs, good reach, and I was fast with my legs, so it definitely fit my body type,” he added. “It was
explosive and fast, which is really what I enjoyed doing. It wasn’t about endurance and strength, really, it was flexibility and speed.”
But by the time the end of high-school rolled around, Gagne was being pulled by his one other passion, an interest which did not cross-over, initially,
in the least, to his more athletic pastimes. “My first goal, straight out of high school, when I moved to Toronto, was to become an actor,” he noted.
“After four, five, six years of struggling, not really making it – the competition out there is tough, the industry wasn’t booming – I decided to come back
home to Sudbury.”
Thankfully, there was a fallback plan in place. In 2007, Gagne would open Impact Martial Arts Studio, and for the ensuing seven years, he
remained immersed. “I did that to re-energize myself, get my health back – I was not in good shape – to re-invent myself, in a sense.” Little did he know
his two worlds were about to collide.
By 2013, the film industry, locally, was making in-roads. And with growth, came the evolution of ancillary careers in this market. “The demand for stunts
were high and I knew, with my background, that I would come in with a certain skill set that might be useful,” said Gagne. “Maybe I can’t act, but I can
make an actor look good,” he added with a laugh. “That’s the real job of a stuntman.”
“Certain people knew of my interest in stunts and knew what I was striving for, so they provided my name to a stunt co-ordinator who was in town. I came
in with my fight skills and they liked what they saw, they took me in.”
Much like an aspiring actor, a burgeoning stunt artist requires a couple of fortuitous breaks in order to gain some footing in the market. For Gagne,
step one came in the form of the chance to work with established stunt co-ordinator, Eric Bryson. “He brought me in, under his wing, and mentored me
through the process of becoming a full-time stunt performer. Because of him, I am here now. And because of local support, I can say that I am doing what I
do best and living the dream.”
Then, roughly a year ago, the dream became even more of a reality, solidifying a future that Gagne could enjoy in the film industry. “The moment I
stepped on to the set of Star Trek for the first time and experienced a whole different level of the scale of everything – the size of the sets and
the people and the costumes and the security – was extremely satisfying,” he said.
“For me, to be part of that, gave me a real sense of accomplishment. It also helped to get me noticed in front of a lot more people, creating a lot more
opportunities.” In between the meeting with Bryson and his Star Trek adventures, a stretch of some three to four years, Gagne was busy honing his craft.
“In the stunt industry, everybody brings in a certain skill-set, something they are really, really good at. Their whole life is really their training
for this moment. From there, you learn hands on the other aspects. The only real place to learn it is on set. You just have to have something to get you in
first, and then you learn everything else from there.”
For Gagne, that “something” to get him in the door was largely predicated on his sporting resume, the very core of his athleticism that was groomed
through hours and hours of practice in both gymnastics and martial arts. And while both sports produced some memorable moments of competition, it’s safe to
say that his merged career has produced even more.
Working as a stunt double might not be the most demanding role a stuntman might undertake, but it’s often the most high profile. “That’s easy,” said
Gagne. “Nicholas Cage in the movie “Pay the Ghost”. I don’t even look like him. My involvement was almost by accident. His double got hurt
and I came in as a replacement.”
“I received a call at three o’clock in the morning, I’m heading off on the road at 4:00 a.m. to Toronto, not knowing what I am stepping into. Was I
dreaming this or was it actually happening? I couldn’t believe it until I got there.”
And while it is true that it’s an experience that he will never forget, Gagne’s greatest source of pride, as a stuntman, would come in a role that was
far more innate.
“There is a part a played in Shadow Hunters, which is a Netflix series geared towards a teenage crowd,” he said. “They brought me in to play a
karate master. For the first time, I got to showcase my real skills. That was something I was searching for – I felt like this role was built for me.”
Or, perhaps more appropriately, a role that he had spent his entire life building towards.