By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—In her meteoric rise to stardom, Brie Larson has played smart, heroic characters. She managed to save herself from a psychotic kidnapper in “Room,” then subsequently squared off against a warehouse full of warring gangsters in “Free Fire,” and then evaded the clutches of a giant ape in “Kong: Skull Island.” Now, the feisty actress fights intergalactic injustice as a superhero in Marvel’s “Captain Marvel.”
Ironically, Larson’s heroic character is never referred to as Captain Marvel in the new action-fantasy film, arriving in theaters Friday. Rather, she is Carol Danvers, a one-time Air Force test pilot with a cloudy memory of her past, who is now part of an elite team of human-looking fighters on the planet Hala known as the Kree. Carol has the unusual ability to fire photon-blasts from her hands but has to learn how to control her power from her trainer Yon-Rogg (Jude Law).
The film is a prequel in the “Avengers” franchise, and is set in 1995. When a rescue mission goes awry, Carol is captured by the Krees’ enemies called the Skrulls, an alien species of shape-shifters, but then escapes and ends up back on Earth, where she allies herself with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and another female pilot who was her best friend, to stand up to her pursuers. Naturally, things get complicated as Carol’s memories become clearer.
The action-packed adventure also stars Samuel L. Jackson, reprising his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Nick Fury and Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, both reprising their roles from previous “Avengers” movies. With a little movie magic, they both appear about 24 years younger than their current ages. Oscar nominee Annette Bening (“American Beauty”), Gemma Chan (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Lashana Lynch (TV’s “Bulletproof”), Lee Pace (“The Hobbit” movies), Ben Mendelsohn (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) also star.
“Captain Marvel” is co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (TV’s “Billions,” “In Treatment”), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Geneva Robertson-Dworet. The film is produced by Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios.
During a press conference, Feige explained that Boden and Fleck were selected on the basis of their body of work, which not only encompasses directing TV shows but also character-driven independent films including “Half Nelson,” which they co-wrote and Fleck directed, as well as co-directing and co-writing the 2010 coming-of-age dramedy “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”
“It’s their focus on character and our belief that they wouldn’t have lost the characters amongst the spectacle and the fun and the effects,” he says. “It was (during) those early meetings and their amazing body of work that made us realize they could bring Carol to life.”
Still, co-directing their first big-budget, visual effects-laden movie was a learning process for the filmmakers.
“The visual effects were challenging at first for us,” notes Fleck, “but we were working with the best in the business, and they’ve done one or two of these movies before we got here. 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.”
Boden, who used to be so shy she hid behind her co-director once at a film festival when they were introduced, has clearly blossomed as a filmmaker and as a person. She says she was game to go up in an F-16 fighter jet just as her “Captain Marvel” actors Larson and Lynch did.
For Larson, signing on to play the iconic Captain Marvel was a no-brainer because the character possesses strong, positive attributes that she wants to convey to audiences, particularly girls.
“There’s a lot to love about her, which is why I was really excited to do this,” she says. “The idea of playing a superhero—a female superhero, in particular—is 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.”
To appear convincing as a superhero onscreen, Larson poured her body and soul into training for her character for months prior to shooting.
“I sobbed in the gym many times,” she recalls. “My trainer would be like, ‘Oh, she’s crying again.’ But 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. 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 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 what I learned from her.
Larson adds that her takeaway from her prep work was that she’s stronger than she anticipated.
“I can’t personally shoot photon blasts; there’s not enough prep in the world for me to do that, yet,” she says, possibly only half-jokingly. “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 5,000-pound Jeep up a hill for 60 seconds.
“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.”
Larson adds that even with all her training, it wasn’t always easy getting it perfect when the cameras rolled.
“You don’t know all the other takes that are on the cutting room floor where sometimes I physically landed on my face doing stunts—and sometimes I’d just do a bad take,” she says. “It’s just how it goes.”
The actress says it was important for her to show that Carol was the type of person who wouldn’t give up, even if the odds were stacked against her.
“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,” she says. “And those are the moments— the defining moments of her character—where she doesn’t lay down, she gets back up. That’s everything. That’s for everybody. There isn’t a person who can’t relate to that.”
Jackson, who reprises his Agent Fury character from previous “Avengers” movies, says it was fun to go to the early days of his character’s career, and explore his motives and attitudes before he was constantly surrounded by alien and human superheroes and villains. He describes Fury in “Captain Marvel” as “a sort of a kinder, gentler, not-so-cynical world-weary, chip-on-his-shoulder” agent who hasn’t met anyone from another universe. That is, until he meets Carol. Coincidentally, Jackson previously co-starred with Larson in “Kong: Skull Island,” so their chemistry seems natural onscreen.
“It’s kind of fun to not be the all-knowing, angry persuader that Nick Fury always is,” he says. “It’s even more refreshing to have two eyes … so I don’t have to cover one eye while I was learning my lines, he quips.
Lashana Lynch, who plays Carol’s best friend and former test pilot colleague Maria, says she likes the female friendship aspect explored in the film. The idea of being in a Marvel movie has been on her bucket list for quite some time.
“I am a Marvel fan. I’ve grown up watching (the movies). I’ve grown up loving the characters, enjoying the trajectories and I just had a feeling that something would come up,” she says. “I felt like, energetically, I was drawing towards something that represented something that I care about: women. So, I campaigned to be up here. Maria embodies that in a very human way. She’s able to just be a kind, good person.”
Getting a chance to ride in the cockpit of an F-16 also was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“I was able to take some military training,” she says. “Flying in an F-16 is like your eyeballs coming out of the sockets and landing in your back-pocket kind of thing. I feel like I’m not only representing women, I’m representing black women. I’m representing single mothers and representing all women in the military and that’s pretty **** special.”
Co-star Gemma Chan, who plays the lethal, blue-alien sniper Minn-Erva in the film, saw the role as a nice contrast to her previous good-girl character in 2018’s comedy “Crazy Rich Asians.”
“I loved it,” she exclaims. “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’s got a harder edge. She’s sarcastic. She’s a bit of a mean girl. I like kind of tapping into that side of me. It was fun to be bad.”
For Clark Gregg, who originally played Agent Coulson in 2008’s “Iron Man,” and now plays him on the ABC TV series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” it has been a wild and enjoyable journey.
“Eleven years, I think, including 130 hours of television and a lot of trauma and heartbreaks,” he counts. “So, for me to come back around to a very innocent, exciting space, an origin moment, I found it really moving.”
One of the memorable characters of the film is a four-legged tabby that the heroes nickname “Goose.” Goose is depicted onscreen by four specially trained cats, but mostly by Reggie, who spends a great deal of onscreen time with Nick Fury.
Jackson reveals during the press conference that he’s not particularly a “cat person,” but he also points out that he isn’t a dog-person or otherwise species-specific person either.
Nonetheless, he says, Reggie and the other feline stand-ins were pros.
“Like most animals that (trainers) bring to set that have been trained to do this, that or the other, he’s snack-oriented,” he says of his furry co-star. “You give him something to eat, he shows up. You talk softly and nice to him and (then) give him something to eat again. They love you. So, it works out. We didn’t hang out between shots.”
Jackson reveals that Larson had issues with Reggie. Not that the cat—or Larson—were divas, but the actress is allergic to cats. Nevertheless, they muddled through.
Co-director Boden says she and Fleck sometimes just called on Reggie to act like a cat.
“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,” she says. “The set got very, very quiet and respectful whenever Reggie came on.”
Larson points out that, like with any film, it truly is a team effort of cast and crew to make it all work.
“Not one of us can tell the entire story,” she observes. “We can only tell our piece of it. If you want to just enjoy it, you totally can. But there a lot of aspects to it that are worth talking with your friends about, talking with your family about, and so when you have a multicultural, global conversation like that, it allows all of us through the veil of metaphor of a film to be able to reveal some deeper truths and maybe empathize in a new way.”