'Captain Marvel' directors on the film's many groundbreaking firsts

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

"Captain Marvel" directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck at the Los Angeles premiere of the Marvel Studios film.

Carol Danvers is a complex character, and "Captain Marvel" co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck wanted to capture Danvers' toughness, vulnerability and power.

The film, which releases widely on Friday, stars Oscar-winning Brie Larson as Danvers, an Air Force pilot whose DNA becomes combined with that of an alien after a crash. The film is the first in the Marvel franchise to focus principally on a female superhero. Boden is also the first female director behind a Marvel Studios film.

"This movie is about a female superhero who is finding her own power and voice. It felt important to have women behind the camera," Boden said.

Boden and Fleck -- who met on the set of a student film while studying at Columbia University and New York University, respectively -- recently discussed their approach to creating a woman-led superhero film and the movie's Stan Lee cameo.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

espnW: What was your pitch process like?

Ryan Fleck: The comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick really uniquely tapped into Carol Danvers -- not just her toughness and her power, but also her vulnerability. We wanted to capture Danvers' humor and flaws. For us as storytellers, those are all aspects that we really appreciate in characters. That's something that we went to Marvel with and said, "Hey, this is what we want to do with this character."

And they said, "Yeah. Let's do it."

Anna Boden: We met with Marvel executives a handful of times, throughout a few months. We'd done a lot of reading on our own, looked at a lot of comics, got excited about the kind of version of the character and the version of the story that we wanted to tell and tried to express that to them, as best we could. Luckily, I think it aligned with their idea of who this character was.

espnW: Did you think it was essential to have a woman director on this project, as this is the first Marvel film to feature a woman as the lead?

AB: This movie is about a female superhero who is finding her own power and voice. It felt important to have women behind the camera who can be part of that. And it was undoubtedly necessary to Marvel. There were also women writers -- women helped shape this character. And Brie Larson, who plays Captain Marvel, had such a unique and important perspective on being inclusive for women.

espnW: What was the most challenging scene to shoot and why?

AB: It was often the circumstance of the scene that made it difficult. We had to create this entire alien world, which our production designer [Andy Nicholson] built, literally in a sand quarry in Simi Valley, California. It was all fantastic and incredible, but we were shooting at night -- from 8 p.m. until the sun came up at 5 a.m. the next morning. People started losing their minds after around six or seven hours of shooting.

The most challenging part was making sure that we could keep everything and everyone straight. Luckily there are two of us, so when one of us would start to kind of fade, the other one would come in and be able to step in.

RF: It's so surreal, because in a situation like that, where you're half-conscious because you're so tired, and you look around, and there are all these alien people walking around. And the aliens are kind of tired too, and there are superheroes walking around, but it's tired superheroes, so it's kind of comically funny to remember.

espnW: Aliens and superheroes from the 1990s -- how did the premillennial become a part of the storyline?

AB: We set the movie in the '90s, primarily because this is not just an origin story for Captain Marvel, but it's also an origin story for Nick Fury [who is played by Samuel L. Jackson] or the Nick Fury we know today. We wanted to meet a young Nick Fury, [an espionage veteran], who hasn't already seen it all -- who didn't even know the aliens existed and Captain Marvel introduces him to this whole wider world of threats out there.

This is a pre-Avengers universe. There is no Iron Man. That was part of the reason that we wanted to set it in the '90s.

RF: And I wanted to shoot in a Blockbuster Video. I worked at a Blockbuster in 1995, so it was like a time machine for me, stepping into that set.

espnW: Stan Lee, who died in November 2018, made a signature cameo in the film. How was your interaction with the legendary Marvel Comics creator?

RF: The Stan Lee cameo on any of these movies, and this is the first one we've done, but I imagine they're always special days. He's such a legend. All the nerds come out when Stan Lee comes around.

AB: Yeah, the nerds in all of us, is what he means. All of these rich characters and storylines that came from him have not only inspired readers but have inspired so many artists who have taken that on and told stories in their voices. Lee was so excited and thrilled by that as well. We are always inspired by the legacy he created.

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