When Brie Larson talks about Captain Marvel, the word that comes up over and over again is “flaw.”
Carol Danvers — the Air Force pilot with alien powers that Larson plays in Captain Marvel — is very flawed. She may be a part-Kree, part-human warrior with the powers of a god, but she’s anything but godlike: She’s aggressive and brash, impulsive and hotheaded. She’s the first one to rush into battle, and she doesn’t always wait for orders. She tells bad jokes. And in many ways, Captain Marvel (out March 2019) finds her at war with herself, as she tries to reconcile her Kree perfectionism with her human fallibility.
“You have this Kree part of her that’s unemotional, that is an amazing fighter and competitive,” Larson says. “Then there’s this human part of her that is flawed but is also the thing that she ends up leading by. It’s the thing that gets her in trouble, but it’s also the thing that makes her great. And those two sides warring against each other is what makes her her.”
Carol’s flaws are what drive her story, and it’s those same flaws that drew Larson — an Oscar winner best known for dramas like Room and Short Term 12 — to Captain Marvel. There are the action scenes and wisecracks and bright-green aliens that come with most Marvel movies, of course, but there are also moments of introspection: When the film starts, Carol has left Earth behind to adventure in the stars and join the elite Kree military team Starforce, but she soon finds herself back on her home planet with new questions about her past and identity.
“That is something that is really exciting to me about this film: We did not cut corners on that stuff,” Larson says. “Like, when it’s funny, it is funny, but also when there’s deep emotional things happening, it’s real. So I was able to bring some of those same things that I’ve brought to full dramatic roles into this, which I’m really proud of because I think it will really set this film apart.”
Still, Larson didn’t immediately say yes. Marvel first approached her about the role several years ago, and she was intrigued but hesitant to come aboard. “I never saw myself doing something like this, mostly because I like being anonymous,” she says. “I like disappearing into characters, and I always felt like if I was out in the public eye too much, it potentially limits you in the future.”
She took several months to officially sign on, but she was ultimately swayed by the chance to bring such a complex, dramatic character into a blockbuster franchise.
“Just seeing a character who says how she feels and says what’s on her mind and doesn’t let people stand in her way is incredibly empowering,” Larson says. And becoming the face of a Marvel superhero doesn’t hurt, either: The first time she put on the Captain Marvel suit, she says, her first thought was, “Whoa, am I going to be a character at Disneyland?”
She just might — and it’d be a milestone that would only continue her history of heroics both on screen and off, something Marvel had been looking for when searching for the right actor to play their first big-screen solo female hero. Not only did Larson win a Best Actress Oscar for 2015’s Room, but she’s also emerged as a feminist advocate and voice during the #MeToo movement. “She’s already an inspiration to many in her real-world work, and now we get to put her in an iconic costume and give her these powers on the big screen,” says Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.
“She has a sense of determination that fits this character very well,” adds Samuel L. Jackson, who starred alongside Larson in Kong: Skull Island and reprises his role as Nick Fury in Captain Marvel. “It’s a lot of work to get ready for something like this, and she did all that. She’s got the talent and the skill to make it something that’s going to be very special.”
To prepare, Larson immersed herself in Captain Marvel comics, particularly the recent series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, where Carol officially took over the Captain Marvel mantle. She also met and trained with real Air Force pilots, even going up for a flight in an F-16.
And on set, she’s tried to imbue the film with a sense of camaraderie and joy. (She started a tradition of handing out different pin-back buttons to the cast and crew every week, each one with a different Captain Marvel image, ’90s reference, or inside joke.)
“There are certain people that are made for this, and she’s definitely one of them,” says Lashana Lynch, who plays Carol’s Air Force cohort Maria Rambeau. “She’s carefree, she’s disciplined, she creates a very cohesive environment. The whole crew are as tight as they are because of her. She brings in games to work. We’ve got like a karaoke machine somewhere on the lot that I’ve not used, but I know that we’re gonna use at some point.”
And then there’s the training. The role requires emotional heavy lifting, but there’s physical heavy lifting, too: Feige confirms that Captain Marvel is the most powerful hero the MCU has ever seen, and Larson started training nine months before filming began, learning judo, boxing, and even some wrestling. (Her pump-up playlist includes plenty of appropriately ’90s riot grrrl staples like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and L7.)
“I was an introvert with asthma before this movie,” she says with a laugh. “I really thought when they hired me, ‘I am the worst choice for an action movie.’ And I didn’t know that I had a little Keanu Reeves in me! Who knew?”
And once she’s conquered Marvel, she’s already got her eye on her next goal.
“I’ve been joking that I’m going to go to the 2020 Olympics [for judo],” Larson says. “What’s funny is I’ve been saying it the last couple of weeks, and people are like, ‘Ahhhh,’ like they can’t tell if I’m serious or not. And honestly, I can’t tell if I’m serious or not! I’m really not. But now when I’m getting scripts of what to do next, I’m like, this has to be better than the Olympics. My bar is the Olympics. It’s a pretty high bar.”
For more on Captain Marvel, check out EW’s cover story — on stands Friday.