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Director Rhys Thomas On Why Matt Fraction’s ‘Hawkeye’ Is So Important To The New Series

It’s pretty early in the first episode of Hawkeye when you see director and executive producer Rhys Thomas’s unique touch. As you saw in the trailer, Hawkeye has poor Clint Barton having to sit through something called Rogers: The Musical that features a musical version of the Battle of New York that we see in the first Avengers movie. And, yes, Clint is miserable. And Rogers: The Musical itself is, as Thomas puts it, his specialty of, “not too good, not too bad,” that he perfected on SNL and Documentary Now!.

Hawkeye, so far (I was given two episodes before this interview) is about the relationship between Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and the Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) who becomes his protegee after she gets into some hot water after stealing, then wearing, his Ronin costume from Avengers: Endgame. (Clint made a lot of enemies during that time period and now they think Kate is the person who caused all their troubles.)

Hawkeye borrows a lot from Matt Fraction’s highly popular run with Hawkeye from the Marvel comics and, as Thomas says, Fraction is a consultant on the show. But how that happened isn’t probably quite how you think that might happen. And it all comes back to Seth Meyers.

Pretty much right off the bat in the first episode we get Rogers: The Musical, which feels very up your alley with your background with Documentary Now! and SNL.

Yeah. That musical, early on, we were trying to figure out what’s a fun way to meet Clint. We knew he was going to be in the city with his kids, and how do you sort of introduce him? And my brain just got to work on what was the last place that he’d want to be?

You found it.

And I threw it out there in a meeting with Kevin Feige. And I kind of almost immediately backtracked on it as well. Because, suddenly, I was like, hang on a second, we’re going to have to write music and choreograph it and stage it. And it’s still a lot of work. But Kevin really took hold of it and got excited. And then next thing I know I’m getting to work with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. And, again, I think I tapped into my specialty of making something “not too good, not too bad.”

That does seem like a tricky balance: It’s got to be good enough to be entertaining, but bad enough to be funny.

Exactly. You just want it to be absurd. And, yes, I obviously had to meet the standard of this is a musical about Steve Rogers in the MCU. So obviously, it needs to feel big and produced well.

Clint getting angry at the Battle of New York scene, “Ant-Man wasn’t even there!” and then there’s Ant-Man dancing on stage is very funny.

And, again, Jeremy’s face, that’s the thing. You knew you were kind of in golden territory, because all you need to do is cut to Jeremy’s face at any point in that performance and you’re fine.

So I didn’t know until recently that Matt Fraction is involved in the production?

Yeah, he’s a consulting producer.

What does that mean? Do you talk to him? Because everyone loves his run with Hawkeye. How often do you actually consult with him?

What’s funny is, actually, I was introduced to Matt Fraction through Seth Meyers.

Oh really?

Because they’re friends.

Actually, that makes sense. Mike Shoemaker is a big comic guy, too.

Yeah. So they’re actually friends and so I kind of, Matt was just someone that I could reach out to and ask questions. He shared playlists with me. I was a huge fan of that run and so it was just kind of crazy to be able to go like, “Well, hey, what about this?” So I don’t know, he’s like a confidant slash correspondent.

So how does Seth make that introduction? is it over email? Or was it in person?

No, it was an email thing. Because I started talking to Marvel about it and sort of, kind of, got in there, I think, through persistence. But I didn’t know about the Seth connection. But I brought up Hawkeye with Seth and that I was kind of talking to them about it and kind of working and starting to figure it out. And he was like, “Oh, I know Matt!” And the next thing I know I’m emailing with Matt.

So, famously, Matt Fraction’s run is what he’s doing when he’s not saving the world. But how far can you take that angle with a live-action series? My guess is, “We want some of that, but we can’t probably do all of that.”

No, exactly. Again, luckily, I think that’s where sometimes you also have the safe hands of Kevin Feige and Marvel behind you because I probably would’ve gladly spent more time just sitting with Jeremy in an apartment staring at the wall. Because I do find that approach to that character so refreshing and funny. But you’re inheriting the Jeremy Renner, Clint Barton of 10 years of the MCU as well. And, so, I think it was a constant line. The philosophy I sort of came to understand at Marvel is, “best idea wins.” And, so, I kind of unabashedly kept grabbing on to things that I enjoyed from the run and grabbing on situations and I think just trying to get to that character. What I liked is the character study of Fraction. And so wherever I could find ways that we could kind of be hitting the same tone, whether it’s a different approach, that was the goal, ultimately.

It’s interesting Hailee Steinfeld was, famously, up for Katniss in The Hunger Games. With Kate Bishop, did you ever joke, see, you finally get your bow and arrow role?

[Laughs] No, I didn’t gloat or anything over that. Again, it’s so amazing. You’re introducing this character to the MCU. And so I think we both… the other day when we showed the show in London, Hailee sort of said, “We’ve come a long way on this.” And it is, it’s crazy. Again, it’s been a year. And to watch her grow into the role and evolve has been super cool.

I am curious where you come from with Hawkeye. I’ve loved Hawkeye since I was a little kid reading West Coast Avengers, and I’m just curious, were you always interested in him? Because I feel like, just knowing your prior work, that it would be a kind of a character you like because of his attitude towards things.

I think that was it really. I would not identify myself as a comic book nerd. Because, again, I know what that really means to people. But, I think my entry point was the MCU Clint. But I was always fascinated by, again, this human guy. And the fact that he gets hurt and that sort of journey and the way that he also kind of had this identity as kind of the fifth Beatle. I kind of enjoyed the way the audiences were kind of not that excited about it sometimes. But then I came across the Fraction run. You know, I think as a result of hunting it down and kind of looking. And obviously, other Hawkeye runs, but… I don’t know. That was always amazing: to find this run that actually tapped into what my brain wanted to know about this guy. And it was kind of the way that, if I was going to do this, this is how I’d approach it as well. It’s so funny.

See, that’s the way to play it, “I’m not a comic book nerd.” Because once you do that, then you start getting the, “Okay, well, in West Coast Avengers 15 what happens,” questions…

Exactly.

You don’t want to be quizzed.

Yeah, exactly. It’s terrifying.

The first two episodes of Marvel’s ‘Hawkeye’ will premiere on Disney+ on November 24, 2021. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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