Hawkeye director Rhys Thomas talks finding Kate Bishop’s “element of chaos”, and Jeremy Renner’s emotional intensity

Thomas tells us about "reactively" putting together the Disney Plus Marvel series

Hawkeye: Rhys Thomas, Hailee Steinfeld, and Jeremy Renner

Hawkeye, the new Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series on Disney Plus, has several firsts for the franchise. You’ve got the first appearance of Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, the first proper Christmas-themed entry, and the introduction of Lucky the Pizza Dog.

Truly, Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton couldn’t ask for a better way to be distracted from his children during the holidays. We had a chance to sit down with Rhys Thomas, director of one-half Hawkeye‘s episodes, to chat entering the world of Marvel Studios, capturing that festive atmosphere in the sci-fi series, working with Lucky, and figuring out Kate’s moveset as a superhero.

He tells us about Marvel’s vast library of assets, what he enjoys most about Matt Fraction and David Aja’s hugely influential Hawkeye run in the comics, and working with Renner in shaping this chapter in Clint’s story. He also gives us some insight into the production process, especially when it comes to introducing new characters and ideas in Marvel Phase 4, and his excitement to work with Lucky the Pizza Dog in future.

The Digital Fix: Iron Man 3 aside, Hawkeye is the MCU’s first Christmas entry; What made you want to set the show in the festive period?

Rhys Thomas: I’m a sucker for Christmas movies, so I didn’t need much of an excuse. Yeah, it’s fun. I mean, obviously, I think Iron Man 3 has touched on it, but to be able to lean in specifically and use that timeframe and that time of year, especially in New York, it’s just a great texture and brings such warmth and energy. It’s almost like cheating a little bit.

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The show draws heavily from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye comics run. What about that specific run did you want to capture with the series?

The tone overall, for sure, [Fraction] does such a specific thing, from very detailed observations to – it’s just a great character study, and a great way of looking at Clint, who is this human guy that doesn’t have superpowers and gets hurt and beaten up and staggers back and keeps coming back, but also has this kind of low sense of self-worth, or an imposter syndrome as well, because of his background. So yeah, it was a great entry point for me, I love that run, and just felt like Clint was such an interesting character for it. Getting to bring that into this was great.

Hawkeye: Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner

The series is really a passing of the torch from Clint to Kate of the Hawkeye moniker. Can you tell me about developing Kate’s action, her moves and skills, compared to Clint’s?

It was interesting because Kate is someone who idolised Clint and decided that was her role model. She’s a rich girl, and took the classes and all the things that felt relevant. But then, confronted in a real-world situation, it’s ‘how do you use that?’ and you know, when someone is not playing by the rules, and there’s no referee.

Working with Heidi Moneymaker, our stunt coordinator, we talked about just trying to give her an element of chaos, essentially, that, again, whereas Clint would walk into a situation with a plan, he’d understand, he’d know his way out, he’d know what he could use, with Kate it’s just free-flowing almost. It’s almost like the way that Jackie Chan approaches action that it’s just whatever is at hand, and you just keep moving. And that was the early part, and then you get to see her learn from Clint, as we go.

Jeremy Renner’s been with this character for over a decade. Did you collaborate with him on putting this Hawkeye project together?

Jeremy was involved from early on, and knew the direction that the show is taking. It’s interesting in talking generally about it, he’s such an, I don’t know how to say it, like a role actor that, when you start talking about Natasha or about losing the family and the blip, you can see that he feels it.

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Like the way he talks about it is as though it happened to him, and he understands that sort of survivor’s guilt, in a felt way. So, it’s more than just his knowledge of what he’s done. He’s bringing his feelings about it into it too.

We saw in WandaVision a pet meet a dark fate at the hands of Agatha – can you assure us that Pizza Dog will survive Hawkeye?

I mean, it’s called Pizza Dog, we make a pizza with it at the end. [Laughs]

No, no, no, Lucky, I’ll lean on the other name. I can’t speak to them having a negative fate because obviously, we’d love people to grow with it. But he’s a great character, and, yes, such a key part of who Kate is and comes to be. I mean, I love Lucky, I sincerely hope to do more with Lucky, and I think that opportunity is still open.

Hawkeye is part of a growing line of Disney Plus series – did you work with any of the directors and filmmakers from Loki or WandaVision, or what have you, in putting the series together?

No, what’s funny is, it’s all Marvel, Kevin Feige and his team, Trinh [Tran], who’s our executive producer, they have the plan. Even while we were writing, sometimes you’d be like, ‘Oh, it’d be cool, if we do this’ and you’d be all excited.

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You’d think, ‘Oh, this is the thing, this is gonna fix it’. and then you’d be told, ‘No, we can’t do that, because that’s happening in this show’. Usually, you’d find out reactively. You’d have to suggest something to find out. But that’s the fun, too, in realising sometimes where the connections are coming from.

With Florence Pugh’s Yelena appearing here, is there a plan to have these younger characters crossover more in the future?

That’s above my paygrade. Yeah, I’m waiting to see it just like everyone else.

The first episode includes Avengers 2012, but from a different perspective. Can you tell me about capturing that aesthetic, and making something a decade old fit where the franchise is now?

That was thrilling and terrifying to realise we’re treading into that territory. We were seeing it from young Kate’s perspective, which anchored it in a certain reality. And I was lucky enough to work with ILM on it, and they’d done the original so the assets exist, and an understanding of what exists. So I can just owe it to the safe hands of Marvel in guiding that process. My job was just to keep a philosophy and an approach alive, and they’ve got the tools.

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Now that people are going back to cinemas, I’m wondering, do you have a favourite cinema?

It doesn’t exist anymore, it was the Arclight in Hollywood. I mean, I’ll tell, I don’t know where you’re from, but in university, the UGC in Dublin was my spot

Oh, I’m Irish.

Oh yeah, that’s what I assumed. So yeah, I used to have the movie pass there so I used to go and do like three movies, four movies a day there. Now yeah, the Arclight Hollywood was the jam and it’s gone now. So I’ll have to find somewhere new.

The first two episodes of Hawkeye are streaming now on Disney Plus. For more from Marvel, check out our guides on Spider-Man: No Way HomeDoctor Strange 2, and Black Panther 2.