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Hawkeye directors explain how they handled the show’s biggest MCU crossovers

Florence Pugh’s Yelena makes a splash, and so does the show’s other big known Marvel character

Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova standing on a rooftop in Hawkeye Photo: Marvel Studios
Tasha Robinson leads Polygon’s movie coverage. She’s covered film, TV, books, and more for 20 years, including at The A.V. Club, The Dissolve, and The Verge.

Like all the Marvel Cinematic Universe TV shows so far, Hawkeye has prompted fan speculation and theories, particularly about how exactly the story would fit into existing Marvel canon, and where it might overly cross over by bringing in familiar characters. The MCU faithful were primed to expect the arrival of Natasha Romanoff’s assassin sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), since Black Widow’s post-credits scene outright set up a conflict between her and series lead Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) over her sister’s death in Avengers: Endgame.

And more recently, the show’s audience started theorizing about the identity of a mysterious underworld boss, teased in recent episodes. Episode 5 of Hawkeye, “Ronin,” ends the speculation with a single cell-phone picture, confirming the identity of the boss who seems to be behind the story’s main action. British director team Bert & Bertie, who helmed Hawkeye episodes 3, 4, and 5, recently spoke to Polygon about getting the chance to bring that character in.

[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for Hawkeye episode 5.]

Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner sit side by side in Hawkeye Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

The image of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, aka underworld crime lord Kingpin, at the end of “Ronin” has big implications for the MCU going forward, since D’Onofrio played the character in the Netflix series Daredevil. Bertie says she and her directorial partner didn’t learn their episodes would be bringing Kingpin back until they were already in production.

“That was as exciting to us as it was to the fans, knowing what everyone else would feel,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, these worlds are now able to meld, and there’s this extra layer that can come into the the MCU that had previously been separate.’”

His brief appearance seems to finally confirm that Netflix’s Marvel shows — Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and the crossover miniseries The Defenders — are still canon to the current MCU. (In spite of what Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has said in the past.) That suggests Daredevil and Hawkeye take place in the same version of New York City. But Bertie says Marvel Studios didn’t tell the directors to look back at the older series for visual inspiration or design consistency.

“There was never any kind of requirement or need to meld Daredevil and Hawkeye in any way,” she says.

As far as portraying Kingpin goes, Bert says they made their directorial choices around Kingpin’s past reputation and presence. “I think you just respect the character, and where the character is in the universe,” she says.

“So when Kingpin comes in, he’s massive, you know? He’s huge. As the story goes, he’s later in a more difficult place, but he comes in as his big self, with his big hands. In that picture [at the end of “Ronin”], you see him in his iconic suit. So how to shoot him came from where the character is, rather than us trying to match our universe to anything in the past.”

As far as whether the shows are meant to feel similar, Bert says they do have roughly the same aesthetic. “But we deal with the character story more. Rather than dealing with the the universe they come from, they step into ours.”

Similarly, the duo didn’t look back to Black Widow to see how to frame or design Yelena — they took cues from Pugh instead. “In terms of consistency of character, Florence had a lot to say about what Yelena might wear to her first proper meeting with [Hailee Steinfeld’s] Kate Bishop as a human, rather than as an assassin character,” Bertie says. “So there’s a thread of character that runs through.”

She says that in setting up episode 5’s awkward, extended sit-down between Kate and Yelena over macaroni and cheese, they mostly wanted to respect how different the characters are. “Obviously, this incredibly off-the-wall character that Yelena is was super fresh to the MCU,” Bertie says. “That was something we celebrated. We wanted to see how Kate — naive, wide-eyed, super-smart, fierce, badass in her own way, but learning this whole world — and this very dangerous character, come together. In terms of directing, Marvel are brilliant about encouraging directors to be themselves, to set up the kind of shots we needed to tell this weird yet intimate yet funny story, this emotional girls’ night between two very kick-ass women, just being normal, and a bit insecure, and all of these things women in their 20s can be.”

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