Meet America Chavez: Xochitl Gomez on joining the MCU with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
For Xochitl Gomez, America Chavez is a star-making role — literally.
The young actress is joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, playing an interdimensional teen heroine who can punch star-shaped portals between parallel universes. America has long been a favorite among comic fans, ever since she debuted in 2011 as one of Marvel's few queer, Latina characters, and now, Gomez is ready to bring America to the big screen.
"It was very important for me to keep that youthful, fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of vibe," says Gomez, who celebrated her 16th birthday just a few days before the Multiverse of Madness premiere. "In this movie, there's a lot of heavy stuff going on. It's not easy when you're a teenager and you have all this pressure and crazy stuff going on around you. You have to remember that you are a kid. You're allowed to make mistakes, and we're all learning."
Originally, Gomez thought she was too young to even have a shot at Doctor Strange. She's been working as an actress since age 5, when her mom got her hooked on performing in musical theater, and she's best known for her role as Dawn Schafer in the first season of Netflix's The Baby-Sitters Club. She had just wrapped her role as Dawn and was only 13 when she taped her first audition for Multiverse of Madness. At the time, the role of America was written for a young adult, somewhere around age 18. Gomez assumed she was way too young to be considered, but she auditioned anyway and tried to put the role out of her mind.
Then, months later, Marvel invited her to audition again. It was still for the role of America Chavez, but this time, screenwriter Michael Waldron was reimagining the character as a much younger, teenage version. To prepare, Gomez says she threw herself into stunt training, practicing martial arts and kickboxing "every other day for hours, so that if I potentially got a test audition, I could blow their minds." (She's been studying martial arts since she was 11, she adds, and she's now halfway to earning her black belt.)
Eventually, Gomez flew to London, screen testing for the role with Benedict Cumberbatch on the set of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Just a few days after she returned home, she got a call from casting director Sarah Halley Finn: She was the new America Chavez.
"She brought a spirit or freshness of youth, of not going to take Doctor Strange's guff," director Sam Raimi says of his young star. "She has a little bit of a flippant quality to her, which I really like. She's got a lot of spirit."
With her wide smile and giddy, infectious laugh, the now 16-year-old Gomez brings a joyous energy to Doctor Strange, a rare burst of teenage rebellion in a franchise that's mostly headlined by ancient gods and middle-aged wizards. The adult America of the comics has grown into a confident hero, but Gomez's version in Multiverse of Madness is still young and unsure of her powers.
"The most exciting part was definitely that she is 14, which is younger than any of the versions in the comics," Gomez says. "Michael Waldron got to write her a new introduction. It was kind of fun taking the version from the comics and making her younger and less experienced."
America Chavez also marks a first for Marvel: As a Latina lesbian, America is one of the rare LGBTQ superheroes in the MCU, and the film also features a scene with her two moms. Gomez says that she hopes having a young, queer Latina superhero in a big-budget film like Doctor Strange will "give an opportunity for others to see other cultures." She also notes that America wears a rainbow pride flag pin on her jean jacket and has another rainbow painted on the back, so it's visible in nearly every shot. "You always see it," she adds. "I really like that. It just shows how much Marvel is devoted to growing their diversity."
Gomez has been working for years in theater and television, but she says she was still surprised by the sheer scale of a film like Doctor Strange. One of her biggest learning experiences, she says, was adjusting to last-minute rewrites: Since Gomez is dyslexic, she was careful to study every piece of dialogue, even when she received script changes right before filming.
But on set, Gomez says she found particular inspiration in costar Elizabeth Olsen, who returns as Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch. The young actress says she found herself quietly watching as Olsen took a moment to herself to prepare before every scene.
"She did give me great advice," Gomez recalls. "She told me to never hesitate to give Marvel any notes or any opinions I have because they really want to hear my input. At first, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, really? I don't know, okay.' But I did take her advice, and it was really rewarding. Especially at my age, I [focused on] some of the small things that I would say, like, 'I feel America would do this or that.' Sam would be like, 'Let's do it!'"
And now, with America finally making her Marvel debut, she hopes that audiences connect with the teenage heroine the same way she did.
"I never thought I would have a chance to offer my input like that before — especially on this huge Marvel movie," Gomez says. "Especially at my age, I was like, I'll just do what they want me to do. It was really nice to get that reassurance that I can say stuff and try things. That's what was so great about Sam. He was like, 'Well, if you want to try something and you have an idea, let's shoot it. If it doesn't work, at least we shot it. We gave it a chance.' That was really positive for a 13-year-old girl to hear."
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters May 6.