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Before there were multiverses and superheroes galore, the original band of heroes seen in 2012’s The Avengers were a small yet powerful team. Captain America is a super soldier; Hulk has brute strength; Iron Man is a technical whizz with powered armour, Thor is the god of thunder; and Black Widow is a super spy. And then there’s Clint Barton aka Hawkeye played by Jeremy Renner who can, er, shoot an arrow.
His superhero powers were so questionable, Saturday Night Live made an entire comedy sketch (now at 22 million views on YouTube) about how useless he was – and Renner was in on the joke.
Since his debut in the universe, the character has appeared in five Marvel films where he is often overpowered (sometimes literally) by the caped crusaders around him. Every member of the original Avengers team has had a standalone film, bar Hawkeye.
Now, though, the bow-and-arrow wielding hero has his time to shine – a six-part series titled Hawkeye is set to hit Disney+ with the first two episodes debuting on November 24.
Even the actor can’t believe it. “I would never have anticipated it going this far,” says Renner, dressed for the endless round of media interviews that comes with a show of this scale in a simple black polo shirt.
“I don’t really look too far into the future and I certainly don’t look back into the past,” he adds. “I just live in the present, and each day I wonder can I still fit into these tights? And then the next day, I ask myself can I still fit in these tights today?”
The decade-long delay in getting to this point is peculiar though for such an established actor. He is after all a double Oscar nominee – the first for his career-changing performance as the head of a bomb-tech unit in Katherine Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, the second for playing a robber in The Town. And he’s a blockbuster star with spells in the Bourne series and the Mission Impossible franchise.
Whatever the reason behind the wait, Disney+ came at a good time for the superhero bowman. Disney’s explosion onto television has afforded space to develop much-loved supporting Marvel characters: first Wanda and Vision, then Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and most recently, the mischievous Loki. And now the streaming service will transform Hawkeye from the ‘guy with arrows’ into the ‘guy with the arrows and a TV show’ - overseen by head writer and executive producer Jonathan Igla (a producer of Netflix’s Bridgerton).
How will Hawkeye compare to the other shows? “They’re all very different flavours, aren’t they?” Renner says. “What we’ve been dealing with so far is Thanos, intergalactic stuff, and people flying around with lightning coming out of their orifices. But with Hawkeye, it’s a very accessible world. That’s what I think will separate it from the others. There’s a human element and a lot of emotion.”
The series is set in the immediate aftermath of Avengers: Endgame and will bring the action back to New York City. Snow is falling, Christmas trees are everywhere and Santa Claus is coming to town. And, for some reason, the hottest show on Broadway is Rogers: The Musical – a retelling of the Battle of New York seen in 2012’s The Avengers. It has a number produced by March Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the songwriting duo behind Hairspray, Smash and Mary Poppins Returns.
After the Blip (the resurrection of the victims of Thanos’ Snap which wiped out half of all life), Clint wants to rebuild his life by reconnecting with his reappeared wife and kids (Linda Cardellini returns as Laura Barton).
Family is central to Barton’s character. “That’s what makes him superhero-like. It stems from the principles of family. It’s a forever fortitude. It does not change through the good and bad, the thick and thin. It is always there and there’s something beautiful about that,” says Renner, who has an eight-year-old daughter of his own.
But, inevitably, there’s a threat - Barton’s family reunion might be spoiled by figures from his dark period in Endgame. After he lost his loved ones in the Snap, Clint became a cold-blooded killer under the moniker Ronin – a mask-wearing vigilante who annihilated villains. The criminals he terrorised now want revenge.
If that’s not enough, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a deadly assassin, believes that Clint is responsible for the death of her adoptive sister Natasha Romanova aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). In fact, Black Widow and Barton were very close and she sacrificed herself to save him (and all of humanity for that matter) in Endgame, but Yelena doesn’t know that.
“There are giant reminders of Natasha in this series,” explains Renner. “Reminders of things that tie into losing somebody and reminders of all that beautiful things that come with a lot of pain as well.”
Even still, Yelena is out to get Barton. Luckily he will be joined by Kate Bishop, a Hawkeye-obsessed archer – played by Hailee Steinfeld.
At 24, the actress has already had quite a career: an Oscar nomination for her breakthrough role in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, a Golden Globe nomination for the coming-of-age film The Edge of Seventeen and acclaim for her roles in the Pitch Perfect film series and Dickinson. What’s more, she’s a singer who has racked up over 11 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
For years, Steinfeld was a fan favourite to take on the role. There must be a pressure that comes with that? “I’m aware this is a character that people have wanted to see brought to life for a very long time,” she replies, confidently. “I don’t think I’m worried necessarily. This show will meet their already high expectations.” Fighting talk.
It helps that the series is crammed with a stellar cast that includes British thesp Simon Callow and Better Call Saul star Tony Dalton. It will also introduce Alaqua Cox, a deaf Native American actor, as Echo (a new superhero who can copy the physical feats of others) – who will get a spin-off series sometime in the Disney+ future. There’s also a fluffy companion named Lucky the Pizza Dog and Vera Farmiga stars as Kate’s mother which Steinfeld says was “a completely different dynamic to play with and explore”.
But what can we expect in the dynamic between Barton and Bishop? “I think there’s a lot of blurred lines for Clint. It’s like she’s his daughter, and like a splinter or an annoying boil,” explains Renner. “A boil, really? Thanks,” interjects Steinfeld. “Look it’s jetlag, I couldn’t think of the words,” smirks Renner.
This is Steinfeld’s first step in the Marvel universe - is there more to come? “I just hope that people enjoy this show for now,” she replies, diplomatically. Who would she like to partner up with, though? There’s an awkward pause. “Godzilla,” says Renner, breaking the silence with some professionally spoiler-free twaddle.
Rumours have been swirling that Kate Bishop is the future of the MCU. It is possible she will spearhead the Young Avengers, a new group of superheroes with link to the older guard. Hints have been teased in WandaVision (the twins Billy and Tommy), Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Eli Bradley, grandson of the mistreated African-American super-soldier Isaiah) and Loki (the petulant and unpredictable Kid Loki).
In the comics, Bishop assumes Hawkeye’s name after Barton’s death. The television series will likely follow the same route by showing Barton passing the mantle onto Bishop. So is this Renner’s final act as Hawkeye? “I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m certainly not a soothsayer, but you’ll have to kill me to stop me I suppose.” Thanos couldn’t kill him. “Yeah, I didn’t die then. He couldn’t take me down.”
It’s a surprising answer – this series was tipped as Hawkeye’s swansong. More spoiler-less drivel? Is this his last hurrah and Renner is glossing over the character’s imminent death? Or maybe’s there’s more life in the superpower-less superhero yet.
When is Hawkeye coming to Disney+?
Hawkeye debuts with two episodes on Disney+ on November 24, then releases the remaining four on consecutive Wednesdays