Kevin Feige, Jeremy Renner, Hailee Steinfeld on Nods to the Comics

From director/executive producer Rhys Thomas, the Disney+ series Hawkeye will take former Avenger Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), on a Christmas journey in New York City while he attempts to keep the promise he made to his family to be home for the holiday. But when Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) steps into his path and catches the attention of a dangerous threat, they find themselves having to team up to save the day in true superhero style.

During a press conference for the launch of the new series, co-stars Renner and Steinfeld were joined by Thomas and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige to talk about the emotional throughline for Clint, how quickly Steinfeld found her place in the MCU, The Avengers musical, the tip that Renner gave Steinfeld when she signed on for the show, Lucky the Pizza Dog, how the Christmas setting came about, introducing Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), and references to the comics.

Question: The last time we saw Clint Barton in the MCU, he was mourning the loss of one of his best friends, spending a little time with Wanda talking about it, and then retreating with his family. Now, he’s in New York and he’s caught up in a Christmas extravaganza. What can you say about where we find Clint, at the start of the Hawkeye series?

JEREMY RENNER: There’s an emotional throughline that ties in from Engame stuff and there’s a lot of healing. We start off with the a very, very happy step forward into family vacation in New York at Christmas, and taking the kids to go see a musical. And then, everything goes sideways from there.

Hailee, Kate Bishop is super confident in everything that she does. Where does that confidence come from?

HAILEE STEINFELD: I really do feel like playing this character forced me to find a confidence and a determination and a discipline that’s always been inside of me, but I really had to bring it out of myself for this to do this character justice. I feel so lucky to be playing a character that is so loved by so many and that people have been waiting for some time to see brought to life.

Jeremy, you’ve seen a lot of people join MCU, in your time as Hawkeye. How quickly did Hailee get acclimated to the Marvel family?

RENNER: She came in very, very prepared. She came in hot. She was ready. It was pretty awesome. It makes me feel old that I’ve seen a lot of people come in and a lot of people go. I’m a grandpa. It’s terrible. But Hailee came in, ready to rock and prepared, and ready to play.

Rhys, as the director of the first two episodes and an executive producer, how did you take advantage of the possible creative opportunities that came with doing this?

RHYS THOMAS: The MCU has already set a pretty high bar, the highest of bars, so stepping into this is a huge opportunity in so many ways. You’re also inheriting such a vast universe and a real deep well of backstory. The endeavor is essentially to try to match that, as best you can, and do it justice. You don’t think of it as necessarily an opportunity. It’s more of a challenge, but you’re in the best hands. So, you keep your head down and do what feels right.

Kevin, what did you want to show audiences with Hawkeye? What haven’t we gotten to see with him before, that we’ll get with this show?

KEVIN FEIGE: Primarily, it’s Jeremy Renner. You wanna see more of Jeremy Renner, and that goes back to the earliest days. We’re both grandfathers now, of the MCU. The trust that Jeremy had to jump into the MCU, it was, “Hey, you wanna do this thing with us? It’ll be pretty cool. I think it could be neat.” He said yes, and then he won an Academy Award, and he still said yes. I thought that was pretty cool. With Ultron, we saw a little more [of Hawkeye], and then he just started stealing all of the scenes, but there was always the intention to explore much more. The character’s history is vast. There are moments within all of Jeremy’s appearances where you see reluctant hero and mentor under the surface. One of my favorite scenes, in all of our films, is the scene with Clint and Wanda in Sokovia, when he basically says, “You go out that door, you’re an Avenger,” and motivates her to join the fight. That was the kernel of how we could connect our MCU incarnation of Clint Barton into the Matt Fraction storyline and the relationship with Kate Bishop.

This all started with one Iron Man movie, and now you have Moon Knight, She-Hulk, and all of these other projects lined up. How is it balancing all of these stories, with so much going on at the same time?

FEIGE: It’s fun. It’s just a culmination of what we’ve been dreaming about, in blue sky envisioning, for two decades.

The Avengers musical is everything you’d want it to be. How did that come about and will we get to see more of it?

FEIGE: There was an idea, early on, about why he comes to New York.

THOMAS: It was an innocent suggestion in one of our calls that I quickly tried to backtrack on.

FEIGE: Which is true. But I loved the idea. It was a bit of a generic Christmas in New York with Clint taking the kids for a daddy weekend before Christmas. I met the amazing composer Mark Shaiman at an event. I’m not a social guy, so to even say, “I met him at an event,” it was one of the three events I’ve been to in the last ten years,” and his husband is a giant Marvel fan. So, when Rhys said that, it gave us context for the opening episode, context for why Clint is in New York, context for Clint seeing himself the way the world sees Hawkeye, and gave us an opportunity to have an amazing song be Mark Shaiman.

RELATED: ‘Hawkeye’ EP Trinh Tran on Setting the Series at the Holidays, Why It’s Six Episodes, and Casting Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop

Hailee and Jeremy, did you do anything special to build your bond behind the scenes and did Jeremy offer any good archery tips?

STEINFELD: That I was never gonna shoot an actual arrow. That was the first thing he told me. For whatever reason, it didn’t occur to me that would actually be the case, but that’s that. As far as bonding, we really jumped right into this thing, right straight into the deep end, together. We were taking it as it was coming, but I felt so grateful to have Jeremy’s support and his mentorship in real life, as I do as Kate. We shared a lot of laughs.

RENNER: I just wanted to communicate with her that I had her back and that there’s gonna be a lot of strange things that go on. It’s different than other types of filmmaking. I just wanted to let her know that she wasn’t alone and I had her back, and that I’d give her the answers as she needed them.

Kevin, what made you decide to finally bring Lucky the Pizza Dog into the MCU?

FEIGE: Well, if you’re gonna do Clint and Kate, you have to do Lucky. That was pretty much a given.

Rhys, why do you think this format works better than a feature film?

THOMAS: It’s getting to spend time with these characters and let them grow. We’re introducing this character and it’s about these guys coming together and learning from one another. It’s a world that you get to live in for a little longer. I don’t know. To me, it’s just more time. You fall in love with these characters when you make these things, and you fall in love with all of the possibilities of the ways you can annoy Clint, so getting to really have the runway to do that, you’re always gonna take it.

You’re also putting them on the ground in New York City to film this, which brings an added level of authenticity. What led to that decision?

THOMAS: New York is very special to me. I was a tyrant about being as true to New York as we could. Nothing bugs me more than fake geography in movies and fake texture. It was a given that we had to go there. It’s Christmastime in New York too, so you want that real texture. Plus, we’ve got very human characters in the show as well, so I think anywhere that the real world feel can breathe through the show, we have to take it.

Jeremy, how much survivor guilt does Clint have, after Avengers: Endgame, and how does it affect him in the series?

RENNER: I don’t think about it as survivor guilt so much as loss. There’s a lot of things that are lost. It’s addressed in the show, in a way in which I think is beautifully intimate. It brings our characters closer together, as well as the audience. There is a lot of weight that’s carried. There might be a seeming veneer of grumpiness in his resting face in the show, but it ultimately comes from the weight and the horrors and the tragedies and loss that come with the superhero game. The lightness and brightness that Hailee’s character brings in counteracts that. She comes in and it levels out some. It’s pretty cathartic and quite beautiful.

We did also get to see you in a post-credits scene for Black Widow, where Yelena is made to believe you’re responsible for Natasha falling off of Vormir. What can you say to tease the connection there?

RENNER: I can’t tease too much about that. I’m aware that that’s there. I’m definitely aware that that’s happening. I don’t know what the deal is with that, but I hope it gets sorted out.

Kevin, did you always know that you wanted Hailee Steinfeld for Kate Bishop?

FEIGE: We were very, very lucky that Hailee was open to this. She was the prototype for the character. As occasionally happens, the dream version of the character agreed to do it. I think there were some early meetings and discussions, but we were very thankful that she wanted to jump into this role. We had a feeling that she would be great, and she is.

Jeremy and Hailee, how did you find the relationship dynamic between Clint and Kate and how it brings out the more playful side of him?

RENNER: First, there are scripts and it’s in the character development. You set up characters that could be polar opposites in a lot of ways, but then they have a lot of congruent values and belief systems and skill sets. It’s a wonderfully complicated relationship, friendship and partnership, but it’s already set up that way. You could put these two characters in various different scenarios, and it’s gonna be a winning scenario. It really is great. It has a buddy cop feel. It has a mentor thing. There are shared experiences that they have. It’s really touching and funny. I think it’s a really dynamic relationship.

STEINFELD: I would agree. It was very fun, figuring out, as we were going, the evolution of this dynamic and this relationship. There’s a really true friendship there and an understanding. Kate sees Clint as someone, despite his past, who wants to do good and wants to help people, and that’s all she wants to do in life. She’s inspired by him and motivated by him and wants to be at his level, and is very over-eager. He puts up with a lot, but she really delivers, at the end of the day.

RELATED: ‘Hawkeye’s Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld on Why They Loved Filming the Dialogue Scenes Between Clint Barton and Kate Bishop

Rhys, what was the inspiration for setting this show during the holidays and giving it a Die Hard meets the MCU kind of feel?

THOMAS: The holiday setting predated me. I’ll take the Die Hard feel. Why not. The story of a character like Clint just trying to live his life and trouble coming to find him is a trope that we all love and enjoy. And setting it at Christmastime, with that clash of family time with business time, is a classic combo. For me, it was just wonderful to wrap my arms around that and lean in, but I have to hand that to Kevin.

Kevin, I would argue that Iron Man 3 is a Christmas story.

FEIGE: I would, too. Thank you. I would say that as well, but it came out in the summer. This is fun because it is a Christmas story that is taking place during the holidays. It also is based on early discussions about a limited time period and about setting a series in not quite real time, but essentially in a six-day period. With six episodes and six days, will Clint make it home for Christmas? That was fun and a breath of fresh air, after world ending stakes and celestials bursting out of planets and multiverse shenanigans. Like Hawkeye himself, this is a grounded, family-based show.

What made you want to return to Christmas again, in the MCU?

FEIGE: I’ve always loved films or shows or specials that take place over the holiday season. There’s a heightened amount of emotion and a heightened amount of conflict and tension that can occur in this glorious season. I have always, honestly, been looking for opportunities. We’ve already announced The Guardians of the Galaxy holiday special, which has literally been in the works for four years. This show has come up and now come out in that time. I thought that Guardians would be our first. I just love this time of year, for the storytelling possibilities.

Hailee, you played Gwen in Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse and now you’re Kate Bishop in Hawkeye. As one of the few actors to play different Marvel characters, how do you bring something different to each?

STEINFELD: It’s incredibly cool. I feel so honored to be a part of both projects. They’re characters that have similarities, but they’re also very different. Of course, one is animation and one is not, and they’re two completely different worlds. But I do find the characters that I have played in the past do have this consistency in being young women who are strong-minded, have a point of view, have an idea of who they are in this world, and really stop at nothing to get what they want and to achieve what they wanna achieve. Both Gwen Stacy and Kate Bishop are proof that, if you set your mind to something, you can really achieve great things.

Kevin, what are your thoughts on balancing huge cosmic ideas, like what we just saw in Eternals, with much more grounded stories, like Hawkeye. Does that pose any unique challenges to you?

FEIGE: No, that that poses an enormous opportunity for us. The comics have always done both and it was a dream of ours to always be able to do both. Disney+ has allowed us to take that even further than we had dreamed. And they’re so different from one another. The MCU is this all-encompassing genre that provides a palette to be able to play in.

Rhys, what was it like to incorporate homages to the comics with this series?

THOMAS: It’s such amazing source material. Early on, there was talk about that specific tone. Ultimately, it’s funny, but it’s also intimate and this amazing character study. It just handles those elements so well that there were lots of moments that felt too good not to reference and touch on because it defines these guys and this relationship. I wouldn’t say it all fell into place so easily, but you’re lucky when you’ve got amazing characters and source material to lean on.

Kevin and Rhys, Maya Lopez is in the show, and she as recently was confirmed as getting her own show after this. What can we expect from her in Hawkeye?

FEIGE: Alaqua Cox came in as a cold audition and just read a number of different times. Rhys read her in person.

THOMAS: Yeah, we worked with her a few times. She just has this amazing determination. She’d never performed before, but seemed completely unfazed. We really put her through the ringer, but she never once botched it. She walked into this universe like she should’ve always been there.

FEIGE: She’s amazing. There’s a very brief moment in the first two episodes. It will bee fun to see the audience discover Maya over the course of this series, and then in her own series later.

Linda Cardellini is back as Laura Barton. What can you say about her return?

THOMAS: She was wonderful. Clint’s family life is a unique aspect of his character, as we’ve seen through his history in the MCU. Naturally, t’s a joy to be able to explore that some more and see that relationship because it anchors a lot of who he is and what we’ve seen of him. It thrilling to me to get to step onto the Barton homestead and revisit that. Those moments in Endgame were so iconic that it felt quite bizarre, standing by that tree on that field.

Kevin, in the early episode, you wear the Ronin suit. Was that the same suit that Jeremy Renner wore, or was there a new one made for Kate?

FEIGE: That’s a good question. I think it was a tailored version of the original suit, or was it a wholly original one?

THOMAS: It was too big for [Jeremy], so it wasn’t tailored too much.

RELATED: ‘Hawkeye’ Director Rhys Thomas On Exploring the Price of Clint's Superhero Life in the Disney+ Series

Jeremy, how did you want to approach Clint’s hearing loss and understanding how that would affect the vulnerability of the character?

RENNER: I grew up with my cousin being deaf. A lot of that’s in my life, with the idea of being differently-abled. Clint is hard of hearing. He’s not deaf. It’s part of Clint’s character in the comics and we found a way to make it a truthful entry point for his life and how it affects his life. There is a wonderful vulnerability that comes with that. There are a lot of ties into other characters because of it in, in a fun way, in a negative way, and in a positive way. It’s really, really interesting. I found it to be quite dynamic and interesting. Sometimes it’s an obstacle, and sometimes it’s an asset. Sometimes it’s nice not to be able to hear.

Rhys, where did the decision to tell Kate’s origin and training in the first episode’s opening credits come from?

THOMAS: Setting up Kate, as a character, and her abilities is something that could be a whole story onto itself. We waned you to meet the character on an emotional level, first and foremost, and understand more of the relationship to Clint. But at the same time, there is this other background with her. Just establishing that she’s been preparing for this moment felt important to understand too.

Hailee, the first big blockbuster film we saw you in was Bumblebee, and that was super effects heavy, whereas Hawkeye feels a lot more practical. What can you say about this acting journey you’re on? Did the experience on a Transformers film prepare you at all for the MCU?

STEINFELD: I feel like I’ve had a lot of moments, thankfully, that have prepped me for what I’ve continued to do, moving forward, and I always feel like I’m referencing back to different experiences when it comes to different scenarios. But I don’t know that there was a specific role or project or thing that could’ve prepared me for this. It’s so wild. It’s on such a different level. It’s just so incredible. It’s mad. I was so grateful to have [Jeremy], a real Avenger by my side, to really show me the ropes because this was unlike anything I’d ever done before. Of course, there are things that I’ve done in the past, maybe in Bumblebee or in other projects, that might have felt familiar.

Kevin, this is set in New York City and there are a lot of New York City heroes in the MCU. Is there an opportunity for cameos?

FEIGE: Marvel is the world outside your window. In the Marvel comics, yes, Spidey could swing by at any moment, or the Fantastic Four could come flying down. But even in the comics, it’s, “What is the story you’re telling?” That’s really what has to always be the primary focus, which in this case, very much is Clint and Kate, getting to know more about Clint, and getting to meet and know about Kate. Everything in this series is focused towards that.

Can you tease which future MCU movies and shows the Hawkeye story will connect with?

FEIGE: It was announced on Disney+ Day that there will be an Echo series, and you’ll see Maya Lopez go from the end of this series into that series. That will be the next direct link.

Hailee, when you sign on to play a character like Kate Bishop, do you think about the fact that you could be doing so for a long time?

STEINFELD: I don’t wanna get ahead of myself. I try to take everything one step at a time.

Jeremy, this series spends more time on Clint being a father. What’s it like to get to explore that side of him?

RENNER: To me, it’s one of the more important anchors. Laura is the bad-ass strong woman anchor for Clint. That informs me, to what Clint’s real superpower is. Any parent that’s a very involved and amazing parent is a superhero in their own right. It’s a tremendous honor and a gift, and the most difficult thing I think any human can go through. I think there’s a wonderful pragmatic-ness to it. It really is the anchor and base for where all of his emotional steadfastness and relatablility are for him and what his superpowers are. You don’t wanna get in the way of any Papa Bear or Mama Bear and their family because you’re gonna go down. There’s a pretty amazing superpower, just in that.

Jeremy, you’ve mentored Wanda and now Kate. Are you hoping the two will cross paths and team up?

RENNER: Yeah, sure. Sounds good to me. Why not? I love them.

Kevin, Hawkeye represents the end of year one for Marvel Studios on Disney+. Can you reflect on how year one went and what you’ve learned, as you head into year two?

FEIGE: It’s the end of year one of the projects finally coming out and people being able to see them, but it’s about year three or four, for us as we’ve been developing them. The reception to each of them is what has been most gratifying. We wanted them to be different. We’re talking about a fun, grounded Christmas action series. Loki is this very otherworldly thing. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is geopolitical. And WandaVision is an ode to sitcoms and grief. It feels like the audience has responded the way we wanted them to. It doesn’t seem like an overabundance of this. I have always said, “Nobody will get bored before we at Marvel Studios will,” of these projects. In going 20-plus years, I’m not anywhere near bored yet because we’re allowed to do, within the sub-genre, so many different types of things, with amazing casts like this . . . It means a lot when people sign up, and it means a lot when it turns out really well, like this show has.

Hawkeye is available to stream on Disney+ on November 24th.

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Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.

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