Higher. Further. Faster. After years of waiting, after 20 movies spanning a decade, Marvel Studios has their first female-led superhero extravaganza with Captain Marvel. The highly anticipated film arrives just a little over a month from the even more highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck helm the ‘90s set blockbuster with Academy Award winner Brie Larson starring as the film’s hero Carol Danvers. The cast and crew of Captain Marvel were recently gathered in Los Angeles for a press conference about Marvel’s latest big screen hero.
The directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are known for their character-driven indie films, not for blockbusters teeming with special effects. So how did this team of filmmakers wind up taking on a major Marvel tentpole? “It’s their body of work and it’s their focus on character,” said Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige. “Anna spoke very eloquently about Carol Danvers and about that female hero, and over the course of developing the movie, and producing the movie, Anna went up in a jet, as did Brie, which was super impressive and I wouldn’t do for a million dollars.”
Feige concluded, “It was those early meetings and their amazing body of work that made us realize they could bring Carol to life.”
“I think in the early conversations with Kevin and with Brie, what we wanted to bring to this story is a continuation of the things we had done in our other movies, which is an intimacy and character-focused storytelling,” co-director Ryan Fleck said of taking on the massive Marvel property.
For the first female superhero to headline their own movie, Marvel turned to Brie Larson right after her Academy Award-winning performance in Room. Of course, taking on a superhero role presented a unique challenge for Larson, though she was eager to take on the task. “There’s a lot to love about her, which is why I was really excited to do this. In particular, the idea of playing a superhero, or a female superhero in particular because my interest is in female complexity; I was a little worried about playing somebody, a superhero that would be perfect – because I don’t feel like that’s realistic, or something aspirational at all,” Larson said of playing Carol Danvers.
“So getting to play a character where the whole character arc and turn of this is watching her be this major risk taker, which means it’s not always going to work out the best,” Larson continued. “Those are the moments, the defining moments of her character, where she doesn’t lay down, she gets back up. I mean, that’s everything. That’s for everybody. There isn’t a person who can’t relate to that, I don’t think.”
Brie Larson had to put herself through a rigorous training regimen in preparation for the role of Carol Danvers. “It’s very emotional when you’re kind of stirring up something very vulnerable and raw inside of you and you’re also learning that it’s just for you,” Larson said of her exhaustive training. “There was nothing for me to prove. I wasn’t proving it to other people at the gym. I certainly wasn’t proving it to my trainer, because he was never going to be fully impressed; it’s his job to not be impressed. It was for myself.”
The Captain Marvel star continued, “And for me, the main reason for doing it was so that in moments like this when we’re talking about Carol’s strength and we’re talking about, you know, what I learned from her, it’s that I’m stronger than I realized. Of course this movie is assisted with the VFX, because I can’t personally shoot photon blasts. There’s not enough prep in the world for me to do that, yet – but I will figure it out if there’s a way. But I can stand here and say that I am really strong. I was able to dead-lift 225 pounds. I was able to hip-thrust 400 pounds. I was able to push my trainer’s 5000-pound Jeep up a hill for 60 seconds. So this concept, when it comes to like gender norms or what the human body is capable of or in particular maybe what a female body is capable of, it’s capable of a lot, you know.”
Returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for his ninth appearance as Nick Fury is the great Samuel L. Jackson, only this time we see a different side of the hardened super-spy. “Sort of a kinder, gentler, not-so-cynical, world-weary, chip-on-the-shoulder Nick Fury, who hadn’t met anyone from another universe just yet and sort of looking at the crazy lady, trying to figure out why she thinks she’s an alien and what all that means,” is how the venerable movie star explained his different turn as his iconic character. “It’s kind of fun to not be the all-knowing, you know, angry persuader that Nick Fury always is and even more refreshing to have two eyes.”
Since the film is set in the ‘90s, a bit of digital trickery was employed, as it has been in other Marvel movies, to make Jackson look like he did in so many ‘90s classics. “They put the wig on me and they put dots my face so it kind of felt like I was in Wakanda.”
“Well, the technology is spectacular and we’ve done it in a number of films and I think this represents the peak,” said Feige of the digital de-aging process. “However, the two people up here who we, who we did do it to, Sam Jackson and Clark Gregg, are the two human beings on earth who don’t need it.”
Of course, Clark Gregg is another veteran of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this time Gregg plays a younger version of Agent Phil Coulson, a role he’s played on both movies and television for Marvel. “It wasn’t a long conversation,” the Agents of SHIELD star said about reprising Coulson in another movie. “You know, they said, ‘Hey, do you want to come back? It’s the ’90s. Cool soundtrack. Ryan and Anna. Little origin buddy stuff with Sam. And they’re going to give you more hair and make you look younger. Oh, and Brie Larson is going to be Captain Marvel,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, where do I go?’ And it superseded that in every way. It was so incredibly fun to do. And I’ve gotten the thrill of taking my young daughter to a bunch of Marvel movies, but I’m taking a 17-year-old young woman to see Captain Marvel next week and I’ve never been more excited to take her to anything ever.”
While Boden and Fleck may have a grasp on telling character-focused stories, they’ve never dabbled in CGI spectacle. “The visual effects were challenging at first for us, but we were working with the best in the business here and they’ve done, you know, one or two of these movies before we got here,” Fleck said, “and we were in good hands and we were able to lean on them and work very collaboratively with the effects team and learn how that works. They were patient with us and it was wonderful. I can’t think of a better studio to take that leap with. They are just the best collaborators at Marvel and really let us tell the story we wanted to tell.”
“I mean, in terms of the visual effects, it was having [executive producer] Victoria Alonso, who’s been with us since the beginning, who knows this stuff inside and out and is an amazing mentor to filmmakers,” added Kevin Feige. “Christopher Townsend was our Visual Effects Supervisor, who’s done many movies for us. Because it ultimately is always about the story, there’s nobody pushing. The process never overwhelms story. We’ll alter the process if it fits the story, if it fits their vision, and that’s how you end up with a great movie like this.”
Captain Marvel also brings a bunch of newcomers into the world of Marvel, headlined by Lashana Lynch as Carol Danvers’ best friend Maria Rambeau. “They’re both in the military, so they come from male-dominated environments where they were drawn towards the women anyway. They would find power in whoever they, you know, find energetic connections to,” Lynch said of her character and her connection to Larson’s Danvers. “I think they had a sarcasm together.”
Lynch continued, “The nice thing about how Brie has represented Carol is that she’s just a normal person. She’s able to be every facet of what a woman represents today – sarcastic, dry, funny. She can kick men down and thrown them into different parts of the universe. So I feel like Maria embodies that in a very human way. She’s able to just be a kind, good person.”
“I mean, that’s kind of what we’re talking about in this film is – without being too showboating about it – this is the love of the movie. This is the great love,” Larson said of the bond between Carol and Maria. “This is the love lost. This is the love found again. This is the reason to continue fighting and to go to the ends of the earth for the person, the thing that you love.”
Also joining the Captain Marvel cast is Crazy Rich Asians breakout star Gemma Chan as Minn-Erva, a Kree warrior who fights alongside Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers and Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg. “I like to change it up and surprise people a bit and it was really fun going from playing Astrid, who is this very warm-hearted, kind, empathetic person to Minn-Erva, who is like she’s got a harder edge. She’s sarcastic, yeah. She’s a bit of a mean girl. But I like her. I like kind of tapping into that side of me. It was fun. It’s fun to be bad,” Chan said with a bit of a laugh.
For the aforementioned Jude Law, starring in Marvel movie was a way to impress his teenage children. “They cared only in vernacular of those teenage kids, so it was like, you know, it’s cool,” Law said of his kids’ reaction to the film. “It’s about all I got, but I knew that that was quite high on the Richter scale.”
Perhaps the most beloved of the newcomers to appear in Captain Marvel is the film’s feline star Goose (played by few different cats). Though he shared numerous scenes with his feline co-star, including many where he was quite affectionate, Samuel L. Jackson didn’t find himself too enamored with the kitties around him on set. “No, I am not a cat person. But I’m also not a dog, bird or a fish person, either. So I just don’t engage pets,” the actor confessed.
“You know, Reggie is like most animals that people bring to set that have been trained to do this, that or the other – he’s snack-oriented,” Jackson added. “You give him something to eat, he shows up. You give him something to eat, you talk softly and nice to him, give him something to eat again. They love you. So it works out. There were actually four cats, but Reggie did the majority, he did the heavy lifting most of the time. It was great to be around. I mean, [Brie Larson] had more problems with him than I did, because she has cat allergies.”
The problems associated with filming cats, aside from allergy concerns, have been well-documented over the years, but for co-director Anna Boden it was just another exciting challenge that was a part of Captain Marvel. “There’s something about getting a cat to just do what he normally does,” Boden said, “and it was part of the struggle, actually, of having a very well-trained, very directable cat on screen is that sometimes we just wanted him to do the random thing that a cat’s going to do, like lick his paw or go rub up against somebody. And so we sometimes had to kind of suggest to the trainer, maybe we should just let him do his thing for a little while, because there’s something about the spontaneity of what an animal can do and I feel like it was worth it.”
Captain Marvel opens in theaters everywhere on March 8, 2019.