"I definitely was excited to get back into playing [Hawkeye] and discovering a bit more about him," Jeremy Renner tells GamesRadar+. "And using some comics is a good frame of reference for the storytelling this time around. I like the world that it's been set in. And the new characters that are being introduced, that was also very exciting."
We're talking Clint Barton's next outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the upcoming Disney Plus series Hawkeye. "We had six hours to discover stuff instead of just the two hour film," Renner continues. "That to me was also very exciting."
While Hawkeye, AKA Clint Barton, has been a familiar face in the MCU since his first cameo back in 2011's Thor, he's always been a supporting character to his fellow heroes. The Disney Plus series is about to change that, placing him firmly in the spotlight.
"Clint's someone that we haven't gotten to spend a lot of time with obviously, over the course of the films," Rhys Thomas, who shares directing duties with Bert & Bertie, tells us. "We get to see where he's at, we're two years after the events of Endgame. And so we get to see what he's been doing and how he's dealing with his past."
Hawkeye starts a few days before Christmas. Clint is visiting New York City with his children to watch the all-singing, all-dancing Rogers: The Musical (yes, that's a Captain America musical). We get more of a sense of the Avenger as a person, with the storyline inspired by Matt Fraction and David Aja's much-loved Hawkeye comics.
"Having the Christmas framework was an exciting way in, because I think it delivers a unique energy and atmosphere," Thomas says. "We had that tool in our toolbox. Part of the fun is that, because Clint is a human character with no superpowers, it was a joy being able to focus in more on character.
"The baseline for the tone definitely comes from the Matt Fraction run of comics, and I really love the way that he approached Clint's character as this individual dealing with his sense of self-worth, and the world just constantly invading his space. So that was part of it, just looking at our MCU Clint and trying to imagine what would annoy him over the course of this week [laughs]. Things like the musical, etcetera, were fun to conjure up to do that."
Enter Kate Bishop
Of course, Hawkeye wouldn't be much of a superhero show if it just concerned family and Christmas. There's another thing – well, person – set to give Clint a headache. Hawkeye superfan Kate Bishop, played by Hailee Steinfeld, crashes into his life after a charity auction goes disastrously wrong. While Kate is very excited about the encounter with her idol, Clint is less than impressed with her knack for causing trouble, but their relationship shifts over the course of the show's six episodes.
"Kate is a very big fan of Hawkeye," Steinfeld says of the duo's dynamic in the series. "[She] goes from this fangirl, overly excited, over-eager energy to a more well-rounded, better sense of who he is as a person, beyond who he is as her idol. And there is this mutual respect that they have for each other and this sort of partnership that definitely evolves."
Renner agrees that the surface-level bond of idol and fan morphs into something else. "The most important relationship for Clint in the entire show is the relationship between Clint and Kate," he says. "It takes six episodes to fully flourish into what it needs to be and what it is. It grows in each episode, it shifts and changes and re-calibrates."
But Kate is not just inspired to become a hero because of her admiration of Hawkeye – she's suffered tragedy in the past. "There are many reasons that Kate wants to just be a source of light," Steinfeld explains. "She wants to help people. And one of the main reasons is, yes, having [experienced this tragedy] in a moment where she discovers Hawkeye, and she sees this person single handedly save people with no special powers. She sees this true human-like quality to this person who is able to achieve these incredibly ambitious things, like saving people, saving the world."
Hitting the mark
Steinfeld's Kate joining the Marvel ranks reflects the series' progress towards better representation, with Kate a prominent female hero-in-the-making. "I feel it's a great privilege, and I'm very excited to be amongst [Black Widow and Captain Marvel]," Steinfeld says. "It's an honor to be playing this incredibly determined and strong-willed and opinionated young woman. And I'm very excited for people to meet her and to see her in this show."
Another way Hawkeye continues Marvel's efforts to better reflect the world we live in is that, in the show, Clint has a hearing aid for the first time in the MCU – and his hearing loss naturally affects his day-to-day life. "Introducing that was really great, because it was part of the comics," Renner says. "There's some limitations to it, and then there's some benefits that come with it. And it was another asset to work with in human behaviour and the daily workings of the character. I enjoyed the challenges."
Thomas explains the decision, and the care taken in representing Clint's hearing loss. "It was an interesting aspect, I think an extra way of discussing and showing his humanity," he says. "Because we are used to these characters generally having superpowers and suits and things, but Clint is someone who has been beaten up and thrown around and is a real person.
"So it was an exciting way to connect that, and to understand hearing loss and being hard of hearing, versus being Deaf," Thomas continues. "Disney were great in that we met a few times with Deaf consultants to talk us through that world and come to understand it. And I did my best at learning ASL as well. It's really fun, because I think those details were always very important to Kevin [Feige, Marvel Studios President] in getting them right, and later on we've got [Alaqua Cox's Echo] as well, who is a Deaf character."
Clint has indeed always been a non-powered member of the team, earning his place in the pantheon of heroes thanks to his skills with a bow and arrow rather than any otherworldly ability. Compared to the ground shaking powers of Thor, or the technological wizardry of Iron Man, Hawkeye seemed a little on the ordinary side in the past. But, Renner explains, his lack of powers has never been a hindrance – and that doesn't change in the series.
"Even amongst gods and all those sort of things, he's still always what he is. He's another cog in the wheel of why all that works in the first place," Renner says. "So, I don't think Clint changes at all [in the series] because of that. He's always going to be that guy that's just steadfast and family oriented and who's going to do the right thing."
While Clint has remained a steady presence through the MCU, the series has become a sprawling, interconnected universe, with new movies and shows laying the groundwork for even more down the pipeline. Black Widow's post-credits scene played into Hawkeye, teasing an imminent showdown between Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova and the eponymous archer. How does this series slot into the ever-expanding universe, then?
"It's definitely a standalone thing in that we have this Christmas setting, and this very fixed timeframe story," Thomas says. "But it being the MCU, of course, it all connects in some way as well. And we've got new characters, and this was teed up at the end of Black Widow as well. And so everything is always a nice entry point. But for the most part, the story is its own little world."
It's safe to assume Yelena and Clint won't be on good terms when they do meet. "We know their past, and obviously what happened in Endgame. We know in these first two episodes that Clint's dealing with the fallout of that," Thomas says. "But in terms of how they meet, I can't – I'll just pretend I don't know. Imagine it's a happy meeting, where they talk over coffee and work things out."
Avengers: Endgame didn't just see Black Widow's sacrifice – it also revealed Hawkeye became the brutal vigilante Ronin. In the Disney Plus show, that past finally comes back around. "There wasn't a lot shown of what happened during those years, right, when he embodied that character, which came from losing his family," Renner says. "A lot of this past catches up to him, [which] affects the storytelling of this… It's a deep rooted thing, and it's a very poignant thing, and a serious thing, and it's addressed in the show."
The way ahead
As for the future, it's nearly impossible to imagine a world where we don't see Kate Bishop again in the MCU. However, Steinfeld and Thomas are tightlipped on the particulars.
"I can tell you that [Kate's story is] beginning in this show, that I am so excited to be a part of, and I just am so excited to be playing a character that people have been so excited to see on the big screen for some time," Steinfeld says. "I feel very lucky."
Kate has taken up the Hawkeye mantle in Marvel comics before. Does that mean this series is a passing of the baton? "It's definitely the beginning of a story," Thomas says. "It's an interesting framework in that we do have this original Avenger, being framed by this new character in terms of, again, she has a vision of him. I would talk about it less as a passing of the baton and more as being Kate coming to understand what it means to be Hawkeye through Clint's experiences, and coming to understand both the responsibility and that cost."
Renner is similarly reserved on whether we'll be seeing Clint again once all of Hawkeye's episodes have been released. "I don't have a crystal ball, or I'm not a soothsayer," he says. "But having Hailee come in, and these characters, it opens it up for six great episodes for this 'event' type of television. After that, I have no idea. But these six episodes are pretty exciting."