The “Madame Web ”cast on suiting up, superhero training, and that Britney Spears dance scene

Stars Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, and Isabela Merced chat with EW about Sony’s latest superhero movie.

Dakota Johnson may play the titular heroine in Madame Web, but the film also introduces a whole squad of new superheroes. Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, and Isabela Merced star in Sony’s latest superhero flick, playing a trio of teenagers who are destined to develop spider powers of their own. In time, the shy Julia Cornwall (Sweeney), rebellious Mattie Franklin (O’Connor), and brilliant Anya Corazon (Merced) will each grow to become a version of Spider-Woman, but when the film begins, they’re just ordinary teenagers — teenagers being hunted by a mysterious enemy named Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim).

Ahead of Madame Web’s Valentine’s Day release, EW sat down with Sweeney, O’Connor, and Merced, who explained how they prepared to play a new generation of Spider-Women. The three actresses aren’t exactly strangers to big blockbusters: Sweeney, 26, just starred in the rom-com hit Anyone But You; O’Connor, 25, will reprise her Ghostbusters role in this year’s sequel Frozen Empire; and Merced, 22, is prepping for high-profile projects including Superman: Legacy, Alien: Romulus, and The Last of Us season 2. But all three agree that Madame Web presented a different kind of challenge — one that literally turned their lives upside down.

Here, Sweeney, O’Connor, and Merced talk suiting up for Madame Web.

<p>Columbia Pictures</p> Celeste O'Connor, Dakota Johnson, Isabela Merced, and Sydney Sweeney in 'Madame Web'

Columbia Pictures

Celeste O'Connor, Dakota Johnson, Isabela Merced, and Sydney Sweeney in 'Madame Web'

ENTERTAINMENT WEELY: What do you remember the most about trying on your superhero costumes for the first time?

CELESTE O’CONNOR: I remember running down the hallway in my suit, knocking on their doors, like, “Bela, is yours on? Sydney, is yours on?” I really just wanted to take a selfie!

SYDNEY SWEENEY: We took a lot of photos.

ISABELA MERCED: I think they told us we couldn’t, but we did anyway. [Laughs] I will say, I felt incredible, but the most exciting part for me was seeing these two in their suits for the first time. You guys looked amazing.

Did you do any superhero training together?

SWEENEY: We did. We had a boot camp. We woke up very early, every morning. They had us working on our endurance, our fighting skills, our wire work, and moving like a spider. We also trained outside of that, too. I brought them to some workouts.

O’CONNOR: Sydney was our training outside of stunt rehearsal. She would send us a schedule of all the Pilates classes that she had reserved for the week, and she was like, “Alright, girls! This is what we’re doing!” I have her to thank for this bod.

MERCED: Me too. Because now I haven’t stopped! I’ve kept going with the Pilates.

SWEENEY: I’m so proud of you girls. [Laughs]

MERCED: I liked the spider movements. It felt like I was really focusing on isolating my body parts. But Sydney’s extremely athletic and flexible, so the Julia stuff was not hard for her to handle at all. And then Celeste got into boxing.

O’CONNOR: I was practicing for punching Ezekiel.

MERCED: Who were you picturing when you were practicing punching him? Who were you mad about?

O’CONNOR: We’ll bleep that out. [Laughs]

How was working with Dakota Johnson? What was the vibe like on set when it was just the four of you?

MERCED: It worked really well. We really do have that sort of dynamic amongst us in real life, so it wasn’t hard translating. You also see us actually in real-time getting to know each other throughout the movie. We were filming somewhat in chronological order, so you’re literally watching our relationship grow. That’s why I can’t wait for a sequel because we’re already so much closer now.

I spoke to Dakota a few weeks ago, and she said she had the best time working with the three of you, but there were times when you made her feel really old.

O’CONNOR: We didn’t mean to! [Laughs] We weren’t like, “You’re so old.”

MERCED: It didn’t help when we were running around making TikToks.

SWEENEY: We did make a bunch. I don’t think we ever posted them though?

MERCED: Yeah, and I don’t think we ever will.

O’CONNOR: Those are staying in the drafts. They are embarrassing.

<p>Stewart Cook/Getty Images</p> Celeste O'Connor, Sydney Sweeney, and Isabela Merced at Los Angeles premiere of 'Madame Web'

Stewart Cook/Getty Images

Celeste O'Connor, Sydney Sweeney, and Isabela Merced at Los Angeles premiere of 'Madame Web'

Tell me about working with SJ Clarkson as your director.

SWEENEY: We had just such an amazing group of females. We were really lucky to be led by a female who had such a very strong vision for the film and brought all these characters to life.

O’CONNOR: SJ is my girl. I was so annoying to her. [Laughs] From the beginning, I was like, “SJ, I have this idea for Mattie. I made a little journal and a diary as Mattie. Do you think this would happen in her backstory?” And she was so collaborative and so open. It was really impactful for me, like you’re saying, to have a woman in a position of power who’s open to collaboration and open to being held accountable and telling a story together.

SWEENEY: We really felt having all these women on set. And it helped that we had each other.

MERCED: I think having each other was another important part. Sometimes you’re with these actors, and they kind of force you to be in a position of hanging out all the time and being best friends, and maybe it’s not natural. But I loved actually being friends with you guys. Whenever we would have a tough scene, we would just go back to the tent and get in a little circle with our chairs and just debrief. Those were my favorite parts of the day, when we would just debrief about everything we felt.

O’CONNOR: It would be the tiniest circle, our knees touching, whispering, like, “Okay, girls. How are we feeling?”

SWEENEY: We still debrief!

There’s a great scene where the three of you are in a diner, dancing to Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” What do you remember most about filming that scene together?

SWEENEY: We had a whole dance choreographed.

O’CONNOR: Do you guys remember the boys? The boys at the table were very confused on what we were doing. They were like, “What movie is this?” They had no idea what they were doing. We were like, “I have no idea either!”

SWEENEY: “It’s a short film.”

Was there anything about joining the superhero world that surprised you or that you weren’t expecting?

MERCED: I think how grounded it feels.

SWEENEY: Yeah, this one’s different.

O’CONNOR: I wasn’t expecting the process to be so character-based. I went into it with this idea that it would be a lot of action, a lot of running, a lot of stunts. And while that was true, it was also really character-driven and based off of our relationships. Each of us had a really rich backstory that was really fun to dive into as an actor.

SWEENEY: I think we have to thank SJ for that. She really wanted to ground the origin stories of these amazing superheroes.

O’CONNOR: It was rewarding to understand and build our characters’ backstories, and then see the moment where they do feel like a family, finally. They do rise to the occasion and discover their power. That arc was so satisfying to me.

SWEENEY: It was also really beautiful to see that they’re just girls. They didn’t need to become superheroes to find themselves and empower themselves.

For each of you, what was your biggest challenge on this movie?

MERCED: I will say, when you’re working with a comic book character, you have to bring them to life and humanize them in the proper way, with respect to the comic books. These fan bases are huge. And I’m representing my community as well. That was not necessarily a huge challenge, but something I was concerned about for sure.

O’CONNOR: My biggest challenge personally was advocating for my character and the things I wanted to change about the dialogue or the story — or details like the costume. That piece of it was really empowering and rewarding to me because I got to develop this character and bring my ideas to SJ and Ngila [Dickson], the costume designer. I brought them with enthusiasm, and they received that, so it ended up being a really collaborative process. But I think it was a challenge for me to take that first step to advocate for my own ideas. And once I did that, I was really happy.

Were there any particular things you wanted to advocate for?

O’CONNOR: I think the costume. Working with Ngila, the costume designer, was great because Mattie’s costume as a teenager was so important to me. So, I made a mood board of references. My inspiration for Mattie’s costume was Avril Lavigne in 2002, 2003, so I found the studded belt, the chain, the boxers coming out of the pants, the T-shirt from that era. I wanted to represent her rebelliousness and her personality and perspective.

SWEENEY: I remember you doing that, too. I remember you were texting us, and you were like, “This is what I want.” And we were like, “Go for it.”

O’CONNOR: This is what Sydney always does. I’ll say that I’m unsure, or I don’t know if I should say something. And her response is always: “Advocate for yourself. Do it. Speak up, and do it now.” And I love you for that.

SWEENEY: I’m so proud of you because all those details really brought out who your character is. No one else could have come up with your ideas.

O’CONNOR: Aww. Love you guys.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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