'Hawkeye': Hailee Steinfeld Talks Working With Florence Pugh and Kate and Yelena's 'Connection' (Exclusive)

The actress dished to ET about Kate's mac and cheese dinner with the Russian assassin in 'Hawkeye's penultimate episode.

Hawkeye's fifth episode featured the return of a new MCU favorite, Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh, who dropped in on Kate Bishop for a surprise visit -- and an ominous warning. And while a dinner date with a trained assassin was a bit nerve-racking for Kate, the scene was nothing but a thrill for star Hailee Steinfeld.

"That was some of the most fun I've had working, and Florence is incredible in that scene," the actress raved to ET in a recent phone interview. "It was really awesome to see her do her thing, and we had so much fun together."

After their initial meeting during a rooftop fight scene with Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) the previous week, episode 5 -- titled simply, "Ronin" -- saw Yelena tracking down Kate to warn her off of interfering with the Widow's mission to kill Clint. However, instead of another intense fight, Yelena and Kate's latest encounter came in the form of a "girls night in, over mac and cheese and hot sauce," Steinfeld said with a laugh.

Pugh enters the Hawkeye universe following her introduction in Black Widow as the younger sister of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), newly freed from the Red Room assassin program that Natasha escaped before joining the Avengers, and Steinfeld marveled that it was "really amazing and interesting seeing Florence come in having spent more time with her character and in this universe than I had at that point."

"I was so excited and so incredibly impressed by her coming in and onto the set and just creating this space for the two of us to just sort of run," she added. "We're playing these two incredibly strong-willed young female characters who are capable of a lot, and it was just amazing to see us work through the writing and find the truth in all of it."

The "truth" of their scene is complicated to say the least. The beginning of the episode saw Yelena's experience getting blipped following Thanos' world-changing finger snap, and then coming back to learn of her sister's death -- the heartbreaking sacrifice MCU fans saw play out in Avengers: Endgame. Her pursuit of Clint, however, is based on a lie -- in a Black Widow post-credits scene, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine approaches Yelena at Natasha's grave to tell her Clint was to blame for her sister's death, setting her on the path for vengeance.

While their dinner together in Hawkeye is "incredibly fun and the banter is fresh and witty," Steinfeld noted the pain and determination lurking beneath the surface for the two women -- who might each recognize something of themselves in the other.

"There's a lot of depth here, and the stakes are incredibly high," the actress shared. "These two characters are sort of at a loss. They're both working tirelessly to protect those that they love, and in that, they sort of find this connection to each other. In the midst of all this chaos and craziness, I think they both crave that friendship and connection that they kind of get a hint of in this scene. It's humorous in that that's not what they're there to do, become friends, but they sort of can't help it."

Despite their rapport, Yelena leaves Kate with a deadly serious warning: stay out of her way, or else. But Kate's loyalties lie with Clint, who, despite his protests and warnings to stay away, has become something of a mentor to the young hero.

"That's where it gets a little tricky," Steinfeld admitted. "Because I think, more than Kate being borderline terrified of this person, and curious about this person, I think she is really trying to figure out why [Yelena] is so set on this task at hand, that she's there to do."

"Kate knows that [Clint's] not perfect, he's no saint, but she knows that deep down, she is somebody who means well and wants to help and protect those that he cares about," she added. "She knows for a fact that Natasha was one of those people, and so they're at a disagreement there."

ET previously spoke with Hawkeye directors Bert & Bertie about bringing Pugh onto the show in episode 4, and both directors had nothing but praise for the actress, who they say came in with a strong command and understanding of her character and what she wanted to do with her new storyline. “Watching her decision-making and being really brave with the character not only was inspiring, but also just a lot of fun,” Bert said, joking, “What’s great about her is she’s batsh*t crazy. She’s like us!” 

Bertie added that while Pugh had strong ideas, it was a collaborative process the whole way through. “For instance, we'd chosen a certain outfit for her to wear, but she was like, ‘I get that. But also, this is Yelena we’re talking about,’” the director recalls. “She was so good at choosing things for great reasons.” 

Hawkeye's season 1 finale debuts next Wednesday, Dec. 22, on Disney+.


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