"What a treat to see this all firsthand, but not have a clue what's happening!" actress Lashana Lynch laughs as a group of extras painted as green alien shapeshifters pass by. Captain Marvel is one month into shooting and the Los Angeles set has been opened to a handful of reporters to clue us in on Marvel's intergalactic origin story.
Like, the fact that Monica Rambeau is now canon. Lynch, best know for the ABC series Still Star-Crossed, plays Maria Rambeau, a surname that should be familiar to comic book fans. Maria's daughter, Monica, is a superhero who once held the mantle of Captain Marvel, before rebranding as Photon. On the page, Maria is a seamstress, but in her translation to the screen, she's become a fellow Air Force fighter pilot, with the call sign Photon, and best friend to Brie Larson's Carol Danvers.
"You catch a lot of us being strong, driven, bold females in a male-oriented environment," she says. "It's nice to flash back and see that, [women] not having to have a man tell them what to do, where to stand, how to look -- and to not be glamorous, to not have to wear heels and the pencil skirt and be on their Ps and Qs. Just being a complete badass going to work. That's all we want to do as females. We just want to rule the world and feel fly doing it!"
Dressed in a fly yellow tee and Air Force bomber jacket, Timberland boots and a nameplate necklace that says, "MONICA" -- which Lynch excitedly points out was her idea -- she huddles during a break in filming to discuss previously auditioning for Black Panther and raising a future Avenger.
How much time did you have to research before you started the role? I know you replaced DeWanda Wise before production started.
I came to L.A. originally for pilot season. I was here for two weeks pulling out all of my hair.
This is the best pilot you could get. Literally, a pilot. A fighter pilot.
Girl, I never even put that together! [Laughs] I've been focusing so much that I actually haven't put that together, so thanks. I was here for two weeks and literally the first day of the third week, the Monday, I got the call for this and then I was in again on the Friday for the test with Brie and then got it that day. And then maybe like a week later, I was doing fittings and all those things, so it happened quite quickly. I've probably been on this for, I don't know, two months? I'm not good at math.
In the comics, Monica grows up to be a superhero in her own right. Does her mom have any of those qualities that we'll see, that she might pass down to her?
I honestly don't know. I have feelings. I feel like we should just round this table up a year from now and I'll tell you all of my feelings that I felt a year previously and hopefully, I'll be right, and then we can, like, all have a drink. But I honestly don't know. There’s always things in the works when it comes to the MCU, and there's always things changing. They go by the comics, but they also switch things up sometimes to keep us on our toes, to keep us excited, and as a Marvel fan, I'm always excited to see why they didn't go by the comics for that particular detail and how it unravels down the line. I'm gonna say yes for me and a question mark for the MCU.
Did you also get to spend some time with real Air Force pilots and talk with them about their work?
Yes! I did. I'm so glad you asked. I spent some time with -- I'm going to use their call signs, actually -- Mother, is one, and Taboo was the other. I have to put that out there, because calls signs are freaking wicked, and I love that they do that. I went to Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix and spent the Monday with Taboo and the Tuesday with Mother. Both of them have husbands and children and a household, and they're both commanders of a squadron, and one of whom has a husband who is also a commander.
So, it's interesting seeing just the small amount of time that they have at home with their children. It's crazy. They're at work being absolutely amazing and then they go home, quickly fix dinner, talk to the nanny, take out the washing, get dressed and it's just like, "OK, are you ready to go to dinner?" And I was like, "But, but, but..." How do you even do that? That's already being a superwoman in my opinion. But then the next day, I got to fly an F-16 and I'm soooooo excited that I did! It was the best experience of my life. It was a whirlwind, you can't really compare it to anything, actually. Pulling more than six Gs is something I don't know if I’ll experience ever again. I pulled 6.9 and apparently that's, like, an Air Force number they use for other things in life, joke-wise... You can use your imagination with that.
[The interview pauses during a take.]
Brilliant. It's just Brie being amazing!
How does Maria's relationship with Carol change from the beginning to when she becomes Captain Marvel?
They were best friends at the beginning, absolute best friends. They were in and out of each other's houses. Carol was very close with Monica. I would say she helped raise her, in the fact that I'm a single mother and [Carol] was just in her house a lot. And I would take my child to work whenever I could.
Do we see a lot of Maria's home life with Monica? Is it like what you described with the Air Force women you followed?
Yes and no. She kind of gets interrupted by something. It's the MCU, so, things happened. You see their relationship through a different situation. So, it's not just them at home being mother and daughter. There's other people involved and Monica has to deal with these other people in her house and how she feels about that. And you see her strength, actually, from the jump. You can see Monica being Monica, even at 11, which is great.
Can talk a little bit about Maria and Carol's friendship? What does each one bring to the other in that relationship?
Strength, mainly. Mental and spiritual strength. In order to do the job that they do with them being female fighter pilots -- and especially with me being an African American female fighter pilot -- I think to have any other woman that just gets you, that understands the journey, gives you enough power just to go to work, do you know what I mean?
When Carol gets her powers, it's like, Well, I don't really have a friend anymore. I have someone that's crazy amazing in a different way. It's hard for her to deal with that, being a single mom and left at home to be a different type of superwoman. Which she loves and respects and she would do anything for her child, but when your friend goes off to do something amazing, you just want to be with them, don't you? You just want to be in their space, constantly, all the time. And to know that Carol isn't there and maybe isn't even in the world anymore, is frightening.
She feels abandoned in the most strengthening way, because then it helped her to raise her child in a way that no other person would be able to raise her child. Monica had to deal with a lot growing up, because she had this potential loss of someone that was like an aunt to her. But coming back into her life, Carol's been someone that reignites a power within Maria that she had when she was younger. Instead of now going through the monotonous getting up everyday, doing her amazing job and raising her amazing child, she now has this other element of her life that is unexpected and reignites a fire in her.
What's her relationship with Nick Fury like? We see you have some scenes together.
Yes! It's so weird that you guys are seeing things. I'm like, "I can talk about this!" [Laughs] When Carol's coming back into her own, he is there to be Nick Fury, to save and support and make things happen and put things in line and make sure the world is going to stay intact after she does her super awesome superhero thing, basically. Without giving away too much.
This being the first female-led Marvel movie, it's a moment we've been building to for the past ten years of the MCU. What does it mean to you that you're a part of this film?
Literally, I've been a Marvel fan for 10 years, but I've been aiming to be in a Marvel film for two years. And when I say aiming, I mean every single time there's an audition, I'm like, "Ahh! When am I gonna get in the room?!" [Laughs] And I'm in London, so they're trying to send tapes to L.A. which is a whole other crazy thing.
Which other Marvel movies did you send a tape in for?
It started with Black Panther. Literally, I was begging my manager to get me in for Black Panther, and I was in L.A. and they hadn't started yet, because they were just finishing up on Spider-Man, and I was like, "But I’m here now! If I could just do a tape. I'll make up sides and I'll just do an audition and it'll be great." No. Didn't happen. I was shooting a series at the time and sent in a tape, and they loved it. Sent in another tape and then there was, like, an age issue. I looked too young for one and too old for the other, and that didn’t happen.
But I'm really happy, because in the end, Letitia Wright got it, and she is bombastic. And a fellow Brit and I'm just very proud! [Laughs] I'm just really proud of the journey that they've taken, and they absolutely are the correct cast for that movie. So after that was... You know why I don't know? Because they don't tell you! Even with this, I went in not knowing what it was, not knowing who it was, if it was one line, if it was gonna be a lead character. Nothing. Maybe two days later, I found out what it was and then I kind of knew who I was playing, but then the script completely changed by the time I go to set.
Obviously there is a feminist undertone to this film, it being the first of its kind. Does that paint the story in a major way and is your character part of that storyline?
Absolutely. I feel her being a fighter pilot is enough to set the bar really high for any other female in cinema. [Laughs] Being a female fighter pilot is more than just being strong and being able to do a good job. It's a whole life. It means moving around a lot. It means training with only men, especially in the '80s, which is when [my character] would've gone to college. It means pulling Gs. It's a whole thing! Like, your eyeballs are in your skull.
To casually just fly a jet and dip it from here to here, literally on its side, just baffles me. Doing that is nuts. But I feel like for every young female -- or any female watching this -- to see that there's a female in a male-orientated environment, gives some strength to know that they can walk into work and not have to be someone else. They are enough. And that's the message that I hope that the film gives, that they are absolutely enough on their own, just being amazing. Just being born.
When we're first introduced to Captain Marvel in the film, she's forgotten her past. Does the re-introduction of Maria spark her memories? What's the importance of seeing your character again?
It actually is that. Have you seen the film? [Laughs] Going back to being best friends, there's a certain energy that you share with your friends that you can't get anywhere else, and she has these flashes of the feeling of being herself through seeing her friend. The feeling of being at home through being in a home, which is mine. The feeling of being normal and accepted and able to be herself without being an object, which I think is what happens when she gets her powers. She's looked at as this thing, rather than as herself. And slowly through conversations and through me nailing it into her head that she is her, giving her some history about herself, giving her some might through my words, she recalls things and it all comes flashing back and can be herself, but also use her power through human form. Because there's being a superhero and not knowing who you are, which is dangerous, and then there's know who you are and using your superpower for good, and I think that's what she’s doing.
What's Maria's reaction to these alien life forms? This is the first time S.H.I.E.L.D. or anyone else is interacting with aliens, and then to find out that her best friend is an alien, too.
[Laughs] She, like, weirdly gets used to it. Being a fighter pilot, you are exposed to so much weirdness, like pulling Gs casually. She is prepared for any eventuality, so it's nice that she has that background to face these weird creatures. She's not scared. She's not scared at all, neither is Monica. She's definitely here for taking in the experience and contributing her expertise to these situations, instead of using it as a way to retreat out of it. She uses it as a way to take a bit of their power, use it as a weapon and fight for them. Because they're good people! [Laughs] They're great, and the actors playing them are even better.