A veteran of shows like Saturday Night Live, Documentary Now, and John Mulaney And The Sack Lunch Bunch, Rhys Thomas is no stranger to world-building. Perhaps that’s why he was such a natural choice for Hawkeye, the new Disney Plus series that helps transition the arrow-strewn mantle from Jeremy Renner to Hailee Steinfeld. (Or so we presume.)
Six episodes set over six days around Christmas in New York, Hawkeye finds Thomas tackling Hawkeye’s real life aches and pains and building a story around what he calls Jeremy Renner’s “grumpy” face. In the video interview and transcript below, we talk to the producer and director about what he thinks Hawkeye says about youth, age, and the passage of time.
The A.V. Club: How would you describe where Hawkeye is when we first encounter him in this series? It does seem in some ways that he’s just done with being an Avenger.
Rhys Thomas: I mean, I think part of him hopes he’s done with being an Avenger.
It’s a year after the events of Endgame, which obviously saw him lose his family and then get his family back. But the price of getting his family back was with Natasha [Romanov, Black Widow] sacrificing herself.
Over the years, we’ve seen Clint weather quite a lot of storms. But at this moment, he’s in New York with his family at Christmas time and trying to just be a dad. But of course, the world will never quite let go of Clint Barton, so he gets pulled back in.
AVC: It does seem like he doesn’t quite have the name and face recognition of some of the other Avengers, or at least that’s the joke in the show.
Speaking of, you have worked on SNL, Documentary Now, John Mulaney And The Sack Lunch Bunch, and other things we really love. How did you try to bring a sense of humor to the show, even considering some of the darker angles of what’s going on?
RT: Like you said, he is kind of the fifth Beatle of the Avengers, and that kind of amused me. It’s an odd dynamic in such a world saving group. So there are aspects of that that are fun to play with.
To me, with Clint’s existence, there’s something absurd about his life. Yes, we could sort of sit in the in the drama of it, but there’s an absurd quality to it. He is a real person and his superpower is really just who he is inside. I think getting to the heart of that and the messiness of being a real person and the price that he’s paid... You know, there are different ways you can go at it.
I don’t know. Jeremy has a grumpy face and it just felt like attacking it in a way that pulled on that absurdity of his existence felt fun. And, again, hats off to Marvel that that’s an approach that they wanted to take with it as well.
AVC: I would watch a Documentary Now style mockumentary on Rogers: The Musical. The casting! The choreo! I want to see all of it.
RT: We should do that.
I think I think Rogers: The Musical is essentially the Documentary Now version of Hamilton in the MCU.
AVC: So this is six episodes that take place over six days, supposedly around Christmas. Are you tired of Christmas?
RT: I honestly never got tired of Christmas. It was kind of this amusing thing to walk into in April, stepping onto set on some street somewhere where the sun’s blaring and watching our special effects guys desperately trying to keep the snow cold so it wouldn’t melt. It was always fun. Christmas decorations are a real quick fix if you want to try and lift the spirit of a set.
My kids may have grown tired of Christmas music in June, for sure. It’s a limited bag. But no, I didn’t grow tired of it.
AVC: This is totally unrelated to the show, but I was looking at pictures of Hallmark Christmas movies today, and it is amazing how much heavy lifting a string of lights and a fake tree can do in the background of a shot.
RT: It’s the collective consciousness of Christmas, or the art design of Christmas. It’s these triggers that we have.
String lights and romantic comedies, man, they kind of drive me nuts.
AVC: Florence Pugh’s character Yelena is also in Hawkeye, and in some ways, the series sort of feels like a real changing of the guard. You’re bringing in Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner is maybe a little tired of being an Avenger. It’s like that “tired/wired” game online. He’s tired, she’s wired.
What do you think Hawkeye says about the age, youth, and the passage of time?
RT: I mean, you kind of described it there with the “tired, wired” thing. You are kind of encapsulating it.
I think it is about the passage of time. Again, these are human characters, and so, Clint is someone that feels it. When he gets hit, it takes him a moment. The reality is that these days, it’s even harder for him to get up from these things.
Ultimately, my way in on this show was just looking at the price he’s paid and these people pay and maybe sometimes the idea of heroism versus the reality of heroism. I think that’s what we get to dive into.
I think coming at it from a low stakes point of view like letting the story kind of unravel rather than coming in with “we’ve got six days to save the universe,” I think it allows you to revel a little bit in that reality with them and get to know them and get to understand that place so that as things get worse, you understand the stakes.
Hopefully people understand and will feel Clint’s bad lower back when he has to get up quickly near the end of the show, which you don’t get with any other heroes.
AVC: It would take a toll, even with all that Stark technology. You can’t wipe your brain. You’ve seen some shit.
RT: Yes, exactly. That’s the thing. Clint’s hearing loss was an interesting way of physically seeing that.
I think it just brings the MCU back to a relatable place. There are universal characters in the MCU for sure that there are pieces of them that we can grab onto. But to me personally, what’s exciting about this show is that it is focusing on a truly relatable character.
Yes, they’re skilled and they weather some stuff, but they’re seeing it through sort of similar eyes to our own and and have similar concerns and fears and doubts. That’s really what the world of the show is.
AVC: Last question, real quick: Which SNL cast member would make the best Marvel lead?
RT: Oh! Well, I’m going to burn bridges.
I would like to see Bill Hader as a Marvel lead because we’ve seen one side of him in Barry, but I’d want to see the Stefon version of Bill weathering some world ending moment.