Director's Notes: Nia DaCosta on her journey from Little Woods to Candyman and Marvel
Nia DaCosta is in the sweet spot. After breaking out with the critically acclaimed indie Little Woods, the director quickly leveled up with the highly anticipated Candyman, which finally hits theaters Aug. 27, and 2022's The Marvels. Below, DaCosta explains how she went from an indie to helming back-to-back studio movies — and where she hopes to go next.
The Origin Story
DaCosta's breakout debut, 2018's Little Woods, is an intimate modern Western that explores women's healthcare issues. But after the film's well-received Tribeca bow, DaCosta didn't want to stall or be pigeonholed.
"My worst nightmare was, sometimes you go to Sundance and there's a female filmmaker and they're like, 'It's been 12 years since their last film!' I was like, 'Yikes, I don't want that to be me,'" says DaCosta, 31. "I also didn't want to get stuck as being seen as someone who just makes small movies. It's really easy for that to happen when you're a filmmaker — especially a female filmmaker."
DaCosta avoided that fate when producer Jordan Peele tapped her to helm Candyman, starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Described as a "spiritual sequel" to the groundbreaking 1992 horror flick of the same name, the Universal film explores the way racial violence created the titular hook-handed killer, as well as many other unwilling martyrs.
Working on a major studio movie of this size forced DaCosta to figure out "how you fit inside something that is bigger than you as a filmmaker," she says. "What ended up really being exciting... is, I got to still be the filmmaker that I was. I didn't win every creative battle, but I got to figure out my voice and fight for the things I believe in."
Even though she definitely felt pressure taking on such an iconic property, revisiting the original movie and watching it with modern eyes helped calm those nerves.
"[As a kid], I remember I was like, 'Oh my God, the movie terrifying.' But, as an adult, I'm like, 'Oh, that movie is not like terrifying so much as what it talks about is terrifying.' It's really chilling and like a weird idiosyncratic art movie," she says. "Revisiting it again and again to prepare for this movie, I [realized] I have a lot more latitude and don't have to be confined to, 'I just have to scare people,' because it's about so much more than that."
The New York native is currently in London working on her third feature as a director, The Marvels (out Nov. 11, 2022) — Disney's sequel 2019's Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, WandaVision's Teyonah Parris (who also stars in Candyman) as Monica Rambeau, and Ms. Marvel's Iman Vellani. As of right now, DaCosta is enjoying tackling a lighter story, at least compared to her first two directorial efforts.
"It's a lot less traumatizing to work on for sure," she says with a laugh. "But this movie also deals with specific, personal, sometimes sad things. But no, it's been nice to work in a different world for sure."
So far, she's pleasantly surprised by the wide creative berth she's been given. "It's amazing," says DaCosta. "[It's] more [freedom] than I've had on anything. It's great because we're all just comic-book nerds who want to make a great comic-book movie."
After she wraps on The Marvels, DaCosta hopes to make a smaller movie that she can write herself, and she's considering taking a stab at adapting a play by Henrik Ibsen. Says DaCosta, "That's where my head is right now."
Candyman opens Aug. 27 in theaters.
A version of this story appears in the August issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now or you can order a copy online. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.