Hawkeye Director Rhys Thomas Explains How SNL Prepared Him For Marvel Studios And More [Interview]

"Hawkeye" is nearly upon us, with the first two episodes of the Marvel Studios series arriving on Disney+ on November 24 this week. Before the series premieres, we spoke with director Rhys Thomas ("Documentary Now!") about stepping into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with experience from "Saturday Night Live" helping him. In our discussion, Thomas reveals the lessons he learned at "SNL" that ultimately prepared him for working at Marvel Studios. Plus, we talk about creating "Rogers: The Musical" and crafting the show's impressive, blockbuster-level opening sequence that ties directly into an MCU moment that fans will be all too familiar with.

"What is the last place that Clint Barton would want to find himself?"

Have you been wanting to do a Marvel Studios project for awhile? And if so, what was it that drew you to "Hawkeye" as a director?

Yeah, I've been a fan of the MCU like everyone else. I've waited for the movies to come out and gone to see them. Honestly, I don't know if it crossed my mind that I might get to do one. It was sort of a surprise. I got called in to meet with Marvel generally, and that's where the idea was introduced to me. So, yeah, it's thrilling, and then to suddenly find yourself trading in mythology and characters that I've just watched on a screen, it's insane.

Speaking of which, the opening sequence of this series is on par with a Marvel Studio's big screen experience in a way that I wasn't expecting. Can you talk about the development process for something like that to make sure it fits into the MCU and also geography of that battle, because it has to fit into such a larger action sequence?

Yeah, the battle of New York is such an iconic moment, and it felt like such a great way to, I think, emotionally connect these two people. Also I think it was a great way into understanding the humanity, that Kate [Bishop] essentially was just a civilian in this moment and experienced it in this way. So it was a cool sequence from the get-go in from what it gave. But then yes, you realize like, oh my God, we're going to recreate this and from this different perspective and this iconic moment. So you suddenly start spinning out with sort of how big is it, what's going on, and where's everyone when this moment happens? Again, luckily there are bigger brains than I, and actual computers, I think, that had a pretty good track on that stuff. So I didn't have to worry too specifically about all of those details.

You also get to do a fun makeover of the battle of New York with "Rogers: The Musical." Can you talk about bringing something like that together and making it so that it's not even this big expensive Broadway musical. It feels pretty low rent.

Hey, that is my specialty man. No, I mean, again, that was the fun of doing that opening sequence. Maybe it's catharsis to come back and do it from this other point of view again. To me it was just like a silly idea of a fun way to meet Clint. What is the last place that Clint Barton would want to find himself? Watching a little energetic dancer portray him in this iconic moment felt funny. The image of Jeremy's face watching that was the initial thing that made me laugh. Then I pitched it, and then Kevin [Feige] seized on it. Suddenly, we're on the road to making it. But yeah, the goal was to try and have fun with it. And it had to match a certain level, like it's a Broadway show so it needed to be realistic in some ways. But yes, it needed to be absurd as well for you to enjoy it. 

"You can only get through it if you're not intimidated by it."

Your previous work on "Saturday Night Live" has had you emulating all sorts of genres of films. You did the Wes Anderson Halloween sketch, you did the "Beygency" bit with Beyoncé. I'm curious, in your time spent on "SNL," what it is that you learned from working in such a unique environment that helped you with something like "Hawkeye" at Marvel?

I think it's the Douglas Adams adage of, "Don't panic." The thing that I took away from "SNL," that I will always take away from "SNL," is that nothing's impossible and you have to keep pushing. My goal in "SNL" was always to go further than anyone would expect me to in two days. I think that's the fun, and that's what you carry. So I try to carry it into everything. So even though it's Marvel, you can only get through it if you're not intimidated by it and look for those opportunities to, I think, surprise or find a different avenue in. And luckily it's an environment where best idea wins and so it feels quite open in that way.

Because you have emulated so many different kinds of movies, both with "Saturday Night Live" and "Documentary Now!" too, I was wondering if there were any specific movies that you used as a frame of reference for what you wanted Hawkeye to be?

Yeah, I sort of took from [Matt] Fraction [and his comic book run.] I really enjoyed the kind of '70s New York texture that he had. A lot of references, sort of early on when I started pulling images and sharing them with my director of photography, Eric Steelberg, came from everything. From "Klute" and, I remember, "Thief" was one and "Point Blank." But then "Léon: The Professional" was a big one when we started defining textures. Obviously you could go back to the French New Wave as well. So that's the pretentious answer. But ultimately, it was really just trying to find portraits of New York and portraits of people that just had a grounded quality to them and that had a real texture of New York as well. And sort of looking at the way that New York is shown in those and an approach to action too. I would also say, on Christmas level, "Die Hard" and "Home Alone" were also that.

Do you have a favorite Easter egg that got stuck into Hawkeye that we might be able to look out for?

Well, obviously Easter eggs are to be found. I put Ant-Man in the musical while we were in New York. So that was fun. Yeah, there's a little nods to the Fraction run throughout. There's bits about everywhere. Go find them!

The first two episodes of "Hawkeye" are available on Disney+ starting on November 24, 2021.