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How Evangeline Lilly brought The Wasp to life

Actress Evangeline Lilly plays Hope van Dyne and The Wasp in "Ant-Man and the Wasp," out on Friday. Marvel Studios 2018

"It's about damn time," Hope van Dyne's character, played by actress Evangeline Lilly, said to her father at the end of "Ant-Man." She was talking about the opportunity to become The Wasp and wear the suit her father had been making for her mother before she disappeared.

Hope's decree represents a seminal moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Wasp is the first female superhero to be a titular character in a film -- Wonder Woman was not made by Marvel. Ten years after "Iron Man" premiered in theaters, and 19 movies later, a woman is finally given at least a share in the title of a Marvel Cinematic Universe film.

"We were very conscious from the beginning that this film isn't called 'Ant-Man 2.' It's 'Ant-Man and the Wasp,'" producer Stephen Broussard said. "It's about two individuals, but it's also about their partnership. We checked ourselves at every turn to make sure it didn't get unfairly weighted."

Lilly, who is tasked with bringing Hope and The Wasp to life, said, "There were a lot of girlfriends and wives. And that's typical of what we saw in the original comic books. So it's an exciting time for me to be working with Marvel as they give women these mantles in which they are fully realized people."

For instance, Hope has been ready to be a superhero her whole adult life. In the film, there aren't scenes where Lilly is trying to figure out how her suit works, or moments that are designed for her to look awkward on screen. Hope's already good at being super.

"Hope van Dyne is incredibly smart," stunt double Ingrid Kleinig said. "Everything she does is calculated. When she goes into a room, she can see all the angles and has it sorted in advance."

Aside from having to make sure she didn't fall over in the suit, "It doesn't come naturally for a person to look cool in a super suit," Lilly said.

Lilly, along with director Peyton Reed, producer Broussard, her two fight doubles -- Renae Moneymaker and Kleinig -- and the rest of the creative team brainstormed how to construct the character of The Wasp through her movements.

"In the original comic books, The Wasp is extremely feminine and graceful," Lilly said.

"There's such a tricky dynamic that's going on right now where we're taking old stories that were written in a sexist and misogynist time, and we're modernizing these women. One of the things I wanted to be careful of with The Wasp was that in 'modernizing,' I didn't just turn her into a dude. I thought it was important that we honor the fact that grace is also power, that moving in a way that resembles what we associate to be female movement does not make you weak."

Every character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has their own fighting style and unique movements. Spider-man and Captain America do not fight the same way, so neither should Black Widow and The Wasp. Lilly wanted her character to emphasize precision and grace. The Wasp is accurate and long; Lilly continually referred to The Wasp's lines. And The Wasp literally changes sizes.

"We all know and love Black Widow's varying ways of using her body to wrap around another and throw them to the ground with incredible force," Moneymaker said. "For Wasp, we played on the fun and interesting ways she could attack someone -- her niche is that she can go from the size of an insect to regular size in a moment's time, meaning she could start a move small and finish it big or vice versa."

"Some people think a punch is a punch, but we would challenge them [on that]," Broussard said.

On set, Lilly worked with Moneymaker and Kleinig on fight choreography and conceptualizing The Wasp's fight style. Kleinig doubled Lilly when she played the elf Tauriel in "The Hobbit," another action intensive role.

Kleinig and Moneymaker took the concepts from Lilly to co-create the physical action that made it onto the screen. Lilly gave feedback on the choreography, highlighting specific tweaks she wanted to make to the movements.

"[Lilly] has a very acute awareness of physicality and form, and is able to communicate her vision very clearly," Kleinig said.

Kleinig and Moneymaker also worked with Lilly to impart the choreography. They did boxing and kickboxing, as well as smoothed out a few specialty kicks, first in gym clothes, and then in the suit. It was through that process that the team discovered the limitations of how the suit moved. And Lilly was continuously checking her own movements to make sure she looked the part.

"There was a lot of posing in the mirror and doing stunts in front of the mirror to make sure I got the shapes right," Lilly said.

It was an intense amount of teamwork and collaboration, which Lilly says is not something Hope is particularly good at. It's one of the things about Hope that Lilly recognized in herself.

"I relate to Hope's sort of lone ranger, 'if you want something done right, then you've got to do it yourself' attitude," Lilly said. "I have been known to say that on many occasions in my life. It's only been through my work in film and television that I've learned the joys of collaboration."

Hope and The Wasp might break new ground for Marvel, but playing the character has opened Lilly up to seeing new possibilities within herself as well.

She's not the kind of nerd she thought she was.

"I liked imaginary worlds, but I didn't read comic books," Lilly said. "I didn't think I was a Comic-Con nerd; I thought I was more of a bookish nerd. I liked Dickens and Steinbeck. But as my career keeps rolling on and I keep getting attached to these fantastical worlds, the more I've realized that I am a total Comic-Con nerd."

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" opens on Friday.