Even by Marvel Cinematic Universe standards, Captain Marvel has a lot riding on her shoulders.
There are all the usual concerns about starting a franchise and translating a fan-favorite character to screen, of course. Then there’s also the fact that Captain Marvel is the first solo female-led film in the MCU’s 10-year history, arriving at a time when women’s roles on film are more closely scrutinized than ever.
Given all that, you might assume that its star, Brie Larson, is feeling the heat. But when I, along with a small group of other journalists, met her on the set of Captain Marvel in May, she looked perfectly at ease.
“I don’t feel nervous,” she told us. Partly, this was because she’d made an active effort to avoid social media buzz around the film. She also drew confidence from Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, herself.
“I find the character so inspiring that whenever I feel nervous and scared, I feel like I can turn to her and I feel like, No, I got this. And that feels really awesome,” said Larson. “I feel like I have the same awe over her that a lot of her fans do.”
But Larson wasn’t always so comfy with Carol. When she first started talking with Marvel, she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to make the leap.
“I had a meeting with Marvel and what we discussed was they wanted to make a big feminist movie,” she recalled. “I remember going home and being like, Shit, am I going to do this?” In an interview last year, Larson admitted it took “a really long time” for her to decide.
What eventually convinced her was the realization that, as she put it, “It’s kind of everything that I’ve wanted.” For Larson, a proud feminist, Captain Marvel presented the opportunity to advance the cause of female representation through a broadly appealing piece of popcorn entertainment.
“As I’ve grown, I’ve noticed that these movies and the Marvel movies in particular have so much meaning in them. They mean so much,” she said. “You can have a great time and just enjoy it for having a great time, but you can also be left with some really deep philosophical questions. That combo is really powerful.”
Larson doesn’t know what impact, if any, Captain Marvel might ultimately have on our cinematic landscape. But she had to try. “The opportunity came and I feel like I’ve got to take the call in the same way [Carol] had to take the call, you know?”
As for what made Marvel’s “big feminist movie” so feminist: As Larson tells it, the studio was adamant that Carol Danvers’ gender wasn’t incidental, but an essential element of the character that they wanted to reflect in the filmmaking.
“That’s a wonderful thing that Marvel understood innately,” said Larson, citing this year’s Black Panther as another example of that approach, “that if you’re gonna tell this story, you’ve got to make that it’s really embedded in everything. It’s not good enough to just make it be me.”
“I realized it changed the way I viewed myself.”
To that end, Captain Marvel staffed up with women behind the camera, including director Anna Boden (with Ryan Fleck), screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman, Anna Waterhouse, and Jac Schaeffer, costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays, and composer Pinar Toprak.
The difference this made wasn’t always dramatic—Larson offered, as a hypothetical example, a line of dialogue using “woman” instead of “girl”—but they had a cumulative impact on her. “They’re just slight things, and I realized it changed the way I viewed myself,” she said.
“You don’t realize it, that you’re slowly conditioned in these ways and always viewed[…] through somebody else’s lens,” Larson continued. “The beauty of this is that there’s been so many women involved in the making of it that I don’t feel like I’ve had to fight as much, ’cause I felt understood from the beginning.”
It was in that cozy context that Larson set about the work of becoming Captain Marvel. In the movie, as in the comics, Carol Danvers is a U.S. Air Force pilot transformed into a warrior for an alien race known as the Kree; the film follows her as she battles another alien race known as the Skrulls, and digs into her own mysterious past on Earth.
To capture Carol’s fighting spirit, Larson met with the closest thing Carol might have to a real-world model: female fighter pilots. These women became one of Larson’s “biggest inspirations” for the role. “The things that I thought were just innately Carol were actually, a huge piece of it, is her background in the Air Force,” she explained.
And what, exactly are some of those qualities?
“They are just the coolest, the coolest,” Larson gushed. “And just this great combination of really confident, super humble, not boastful. You just feel the power being with them, and they’re hyper-intelligent and just badasses.”
But understanding Carol’s mind was one thing. Being able to convey Carol’s physicality onscreen was another. So Larson fell into a physical training regimen that at one point had her working out four and a half hours a day, trying to get strong. “I knew that if I could go through that experience, I would get closer to her,” she said.
While Larson has two “amazing” stunt doubles in Captain Marvel, Renae Moneymaker and Joanna Bennett, she insisted on putting all that new muscle to use by doing “a lot” of her own stunts. “If I was seeing this movie, I think it would mean so much more to me knowing that there was that type of dedication put into it, and that it’s not just CGI.”
Carol isn’t just a solo heroine, though—like Captain America or Spider-Man, she’s part of the Marvel family. Understandably, Larson remained tight-lipped about how Carol might fit into the MCU, in Avengers 4 and beyond. However, she was happy to talk about the “surreal” experience of showing up for that Marvel Studios 10th anniversary class photo.
“This is a family, and you feel it. I could feel it that day. You can feel the history. You can feel the love. You can feel how much time these people have spent together,” she said. “I was just really grateful that they were so generous and so excited about me joining it, and so open to answering my questions.”
Of course, all of this—Larson’s training, her research, her intentions, Marvel’s insistence on a strongly female perspective—only matters insofar as Captain Marvel does what it sets out to do, and wins us over.
Unfortunately, most of us will have to wait ’til March to see how brightly Captain Marvel shines onscreen. In the meantime, though, Larson is eager to spill how much she loves her character, and why.
“I love that she’s unapologetic. I love that she’s not apologizing for her strength, first as just a human in the Air Force, that she’s never trying to shrink herself because of who she is,” she enthused. “She can’t even be somebody else if she wanted to. She can’t. It’s like she can’t be contained. And I think that is such a beautiful thing.”
That seems like a bittersweet assessment of a character who, as we’ve seen in the trailer, literally seems to have been transformed into someone else—someone who can barely even remember her own history.
Then again, maybe that just speaks to the force of Carol Danvers’ personality. “The fact that she is just herself, and cannot be contained is pretty awesome. It means that she’s wild,” Larson said. “That’s part of what I love.”
Captain Marvel is in theaters March 8, 2019.