Nia DaCosta is ready to take off.
The 34-year-old filmmaker (and self-proclaimed nerd) officially joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe and directs the high-flying superhero epic The wonders (out this weekend). The film brings together three of the MCU’s brightest stars for a colorful galaxy-hopping adventure filled with alien cats and impeccably choreographed fight scenes. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of interstellar neon saga DaCosta has dreamed of since she was a child flipping through her uncle’s old comics.
“The biggest challenge was finding the balance between my perspective as a director and my perspective as a comic nerd,” she tells EW. “Obviously there are differences between the comics and the movies, and sometimes I’m like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa!’ Sometimes [Marvel head] Kevin [Feige] would say, ‘You’re too much of a nerd.’ Please stop.'”
DaCosta is best known as the director of the acclaimed 2018 indie film Small forest and that 2021 Candy man start anew, But she has long been fascinated by superhero stories. When she was only 30, she pitched her idea to Marvel Captain Marvel Sequel depicting an ambitious adventure that unites three diverse heroines across time and space: Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). After her hiring, she made history as the youngest and first Black female director ever to direct an MCU film.
With the film hitting theaters soon, DaCosta admits she’s “relieved” to have arrived at her destination, especially after the pandemic pushed back the film’s release date several times. “It was originally supposed to come out a year ago,” she explains. “Now that it’s finally out in the world, it’s really beautiful.”
DaCosta tells EW about her forays into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from working with cat actors to the advice she’s received from her fellow Marvel filmmakers.
WEEKLY ENTERTAINMENT: You’ve talked about growing up as a huge Marvel nerd. Was there a point in this process where you geeked out the most?
Just being able to text Kevin Feige was a big deal for me. Every time we ate dinner I would ask him a million questions like, “What’s next?” Tell me more! What will you do?” The? I have ideas!” I just really admire him. But the first time you walk onto a huge set that was built based on what you came up with with the production designer, it’s a big pinching moment.
Was there a particular set that you liked the most?
My production designer, Cara Brower, who was there Candy man, took a big step forward with this film, especially with SABER and Carol’s ship. Those were two that I really loved. With Carol’s ship, we really wanted to show who she was when she wasn’t punching Thanos in the face. When I first presented the project, I was kind of obsessed with the idea: Who is she really? She didn’t have her memory in the first film and Endgame. She surfaces, crashes into some ships, hits Thanos, and then dives back down. Creating this ship was a way to answer that question.
As a child, you were excited about Marvel because your uncle collected comics. What did young Nia like most about these early superhero stories?
On the one hand, I think it was a kind of escapism. On the other hand, I have a deep connection to the X-Men. Thematically they are really fascinating. The idea of what sets you apart from others is actually your superpower, which is truly powerful.
In the film, Kamala Khan is such an escapist. Did you connect with this character?
Yes, it’s that fandom part of her. She really loves superheroes. She writes fan fiction. I’m from New York City and she’s from Jersey City, which are very different but still from the Tri-State area. I’m not Pakistani-American, but as a child of immigrants, I could really relate to all of this.
Tell me about working with the stunts and action elements of a film like this. There isn’t much of that in your filmography.
As a viewer, I love great stunts and I love great fight scenes. There were a few things that really inspired me and it was great to be able to draw from things that I loved to create our own unique look for this film.
What things did you find inspiring?
In my pitch I talked a lot about Carol in this film compared to the first one [Captain Marvel]. I compared it to Casino Royale And Die Another Day. You have a completely different Bond and a completely different actor playing him, but the energy is also different. I was interested in the 30 years we didn’t see [Carol]. We can almost see her as a new character. At the beginning of Casino Royale, There’s this really great chase sequence where we see the raw power of Bond as he chases after this parkour genius. It’s like Carol and Kamala and shows how different they are physically. I also liked the fight scene in the bathroom Stand out [the sixth Mission: Impossible movie]. The fight coordinator we had was the fight coordinator for that scene. I was really inspired to do something so down to earth and brutal.
I also have to ask about the feline actors. What was it like seeing all those cats running around on set?
So wonderful and fun! It slows things down, but it was great. They are cats. They hit marks, push buttons, and jump on people’s shoulders when asked! Cats shouldn’t be able to do that! It was really cool for all of us on set to see that. I held kittens all day. I’m allergic to cats, but I just thought, “I can’t help it!” They’re so cute!”
Did any of the cats have diva behavior?
One of the cats that plays Goose was scratching Iman, so we said, “Okay, you can’t hold this cat. Good to know.” One of the kittens scratched Sam Jackson and I thought: [gasp] “National Treasure Sam Jackson! Please!” But honestly, considering they are cats, they were exemplary.
With cats you never really know what you’re going to get.
One hundred percent. Sometimes they just say, “We’re not doing that today. Give me my chicken and get out of here.”
What is it like to start a project like your first film? Small forest, to something like this where you’re working with so many different departments and literally hundreds of people?
The great thing is that it’s the same when working with department heads. You work very closely with them because ultimately they want to bring your vision to the screen as best as possible. This collaboration is so special and that’s why I love directing in the first place. Obviously it’s a very VFX-heavy film, so I have department heads that I’ve never worked with before or I’ve never worked with on this scale before. Everything was new there.
You said you spoke to a few other Marvel directors before production began. Did they give you any advice that you found particularly helpful?
I probably spoke to [Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings director] Destin Daniel Cretton the most. He’s just really great. I love him. But James Gunn [Guardians of the Galaxy]Ryan Coogler [Black Panther]Taika Waititi [Thor: Ragnarok] were all wonderful. The biggest thing I found interesting was that we all had different experiences. Of course there are similarities, but everyone can contribute to the process as a filmmaker. This is probably the best advice I’ve gotten: bring everything you have and leave everything on the floor.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
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