Media notes Zendaya’s “Challengers” movie scenes filmed at Wheaton College

Mike Faist (left) stars as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in scene shot in Chase Dining
Mike Faist (left) stars as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in “Challengers.” This scene was shot in Chase Dining Hall. (Photo by Niko Tavernise / courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

Tennis courts, Haas, dining halls, students and alum get screen time

A beautiful campus, a polished team of professionals to support logistics and many potential actors to cast as extras, Wheaton College is always ready for its close-up. Starting today, April 26, 2024, the college will have some screen time in the movie “Challengers,” starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist.

In the movie directed by Luca Guadagnino, Zendaya stars as Tashi Duncan, a former tennis prodigy turned coach and a force of nature who makes no apologies for her game on and off the court. Haas Athletics Center and Chase and Emerson dining halls are featured in the movie. Of course, Wheaton’s tennis courts have a major role. Zendaya posted several behind-the-scenes photos that feature Wheaton on Instagram.

Wheaton tennis courts
The Wheaton tennis courts are featured in “Challengers.” (Photo by Keith Nordstrom)

Several media outlets have noted that some scenes were filmed on campus. “In reality, ‘Challengers’ was filmed in the Boston area, with the tennis courts of Wheaton College playing stand-in for Westchester County,” noted in “‘Challengers’ review: Zendaya’s sexy tennis soap opera is a total blast.” The tennis courts are also mentioned on in “10 things to do in Boston this weekend.”

A review, “’Challengers’ is a sexy soap opera about a tennis love triangle,” also mentions Wheaton: “The tennis scenes were shot at Wheaton College, where [director Luca] Guadagnino and [Cinematographer Sayombhu] Mukdeeprom went wild with cockamamie camera tricks and racket-POV shots to make an incredibly boring sport (sorry, fans) visually thrilling.”

The New York Times features a video, “”Challengers’: Anatomy of a Scene,” that shows Chase as the actors go through their scene and the director narrates the sequence.

Country & Town House magazine included a photo of Wheaton’s tennis courts in “Challengers: Where Was Zendaya’s Upcoming Tennis Movie Filmed?” Olivia Emily wrote: “This Massachusetts college has a starring role in ‘Challengers,’ with its Haas Athletics Center, Chapel Field and Chase and Emerson dining halls all featuring in the movie. The biggest scene stealers, though, are Wheaton’s pristine tennis courts, which stand in for Westchester County. In the background, some Wheaton students even star as extras.”

A Wheaton student who was cast as an extra can be seen in the stands in a pivotal scene. Isabel Pongratz ’20 also was an extra in three scenes in Chase, on Chapel Field and at the tennis courts, where she sat in the stands a few rows behind Faist’s character watching the match and dramatically gasping with the crowd when directed.

Isabel Pongratz ’20
Isabel Pongratz ’20 was cast as an extra in three scenes shot in Chase, on Chapel Field and at the tennis courts. (Photo by Wheaton staff)

“I was in a scene in Chase where Zendaya and Faist’s characters were having an argument of some kind,” said Pongratz. “Seeing Zendaya casually walking around Chase was surreal. They placed me outside the vestibule where you first walk into Chase. It was cool because at the end of the scene Zendaya storms out, so every now and then she walked right past me!”

Setup and filming took place on campus in early June 2022. The weeks of preparation by the movie crew prior to filming included a facelift for the Wheaton tennis courts, the creation of stadium seating and adding “sponsor” logos, and transforming areas of the campus to look like Stanford University.

Pongratz, who double majored in theater and English, said the three days of filming in which she was involved included a lot of waiting in one of the staging areas in Haas and Clark Recreation centers and a lot of repeatedly walking around campus.

“It was a little strange walking around a campus I know so well, yet feeling a little out of place. Whether it was red banners hanging from poles and the chapel, or the furniture from Emerson sitting in Chase, it felt a bit dreamlike,” said Pongratz, who was an assistant director of the Wheaton Fund when the movie crew came to campus.

“It was so fun! I’m thrilled Wheaton has these types of opportunities and I encourage any Wheaton students who have a chance to participate, to try it out,” said Pongratz, who is now a development manager at the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in Boston.

“It was also really exciting watching the trailer and seeing Wheaton students and locations. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie,” she said.

Poster for "Challengers" movie
“Challengers,” starring Zendaya, is now showing in theaters. (Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

While a student at Wheaton, Pongratz was in a few mainstage theater productions, but never had been in a movie.

“I was always disappointed when I found out that a movie was filmed here and I didn’t know about it. Finally knowing that something was being filmed here in advance, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to participate. I’ve always thought this kind of thing to be a blast,” she said.

In addition to playing a role in this motion picture, the Wheaton campus was one of several Massachusetts locations chosen for filming scenes in “Don’t Look Up,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio. Parts of the HBO Max series “Julia” were shot here and the campus also was used as a location site for “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” starring Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall.