It's marvel-ous what can happen in a decade. Ten years ago, Mary Livanos was an additional set P.A. on Short Term 12, the prized indie drama that provided Brie Larson with her breakout role. Cut to today, and Larson is an Oscar-winning movie star toplining her own franchise within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Livanos serving as an executive producer on the newest entry, The Marvels.
"That was such a crazy coincidence and happy accident," Livanos reflects. (Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton has also been brought into the Marvel fold, helming 2021's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.) "It's incredible how synchronicities tend to work out."
Livanos was Marvel Studios' production and development executive on 2019's Captain Marvel, which introduced Larson in the super-powered title role (also known as Carol Danvers). She also co-executive produced the Emmy Award-winning Disney+ streaming series WandaVision, in which Teyonah Parris made her debut as Carol's erstwhile ally, Captain Monica Rambeau. The Marvels brings the two together on-screen for the first time, alongside Iman Vellani's Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, the unlikely Jersey City superhero and Captain Marvel super-fan.
"I'm really, really, really excited for the movie to finally come out," Livanos tells A.frame. "At Marvel, it really is just a bunch of big nerds who get to do what they love, and The Marvels is really a story created by people who have a deep, deep love of this world and these characters. I'm just excited for people to share in the experience that the crew has been able to experience for the past several years making it. It was a wonderful time making this movie, and I'm excited for people to see it."
A.frame: The ladies of the MCU, Brie included, have been vocal about wanting to do a team-up movie. How did the idea arise to do Captain Marvel 2 not as a traditional sequel, but as a team-up led by these three women?
This team-up has actually been in the works for a very long time. From the very first days developing the first Captain Marvel movie, which I was a part of, it was very intentional to make Monica Rambeau the age that she was in that installment, because we always knew we wanted to team up an adult Monica Rambeau with Carol Danvers and reunite them. And it's great that we get to explore themes surrounding reconnection with the two of them.
When the opportunity of Ms. Marvel came up and that show was being created, it was a no-brainer. She's the perfect lens through which to talk about Captain Marvel, to deconstruct the idea of Captain Marvel, and get to know Carol Danvers for the person who she really is, and really drill down on the fact that no one person can shoulder the burden of the universe on their own.
When you think back to director Nia DaCosta's pitch, what were some of her ideas that most excited you?
When Nia first came in, it was very clear she was a huge nerd who knew a ton about these characters. She's not just awesome, and cool, and skilled, and wonderful at her craft, but she too is a huge fan of these comics and of these characters. What I think is really special, which was always Nia's vision, is the feeling that these three women sort of feel like sisters. Carol feeling like the oldest, the most strongheaded, who makes her own way. Kamala being the youngest, the most enthusiastic, tagging along for a journey she might not be invited on. And Monica is really the mediating middle child, who has an unproportionate amount of wisdom. The chemistry between the three of them and the portrayal of these characters by Brie, Iman, and Teyonah is just a really authentic, wonderful thing.
Do you remember the first time that you were able to get Brie, Teyonah, and Iman in the same room?
I think it was during prep for the movie that we were finally able to get the three Marvels in the room together. It was 2021, and we would've all liked to have done it earlier, but Covid was still happening. So, it was especially exciting when they were finally able to unite and meet each other.
Fans have an idea of how the dynamics between those three characters would play out. But were there ways in which the dynamics as written on the page, or once these actresses inhabited the roles, surprised you or evolved in unexpected ways?
The most surprising thing about the character dynamics and these amazing actresses portraying these amazing characters is that they're sort of like their characters. In some ways, art really imitates life. Brie is so powerful and trains so hard. She's confident, and she's seen it all, especially in the MCU. Iman is Ms. Marvel. You could never ask for more perfect casting than Iman as Ms. Marvel. She has every fact about the MCU and the comics at her fingertips at all times and totally schooled us day after day. And Teyonah is incredibly contemplative, so smart, so well researched. She is a master of continuity herself and has a really lovely, grounding take on Monica Rambeau.
Since Iman stepped into this universe, it's as much of a joy to see what she does with Kamala on-screen as it's been to see her experience behind the scenes. Do you have a favorite Iman story from making The Marvels?
Hands down, my favorite Iman story is we were on the set of Carol's ship, which was amazing — our VFX crew had LED screens running the whole ship, it really felt like you were working in the stars the entire time — and we were between setups, and Brie had some questions as to how old Carol Danvers really was, because we were addressing it in the film. Iman was just like, "Ugh, she's..." Because of course she knows every fact! She schooled us there. Also, I remember when she called us all a bunch of 30 year olds, and that hurt. [Laughs]
This is the 33rd movie in the MCU, and you want to do new things, you want to keep pushing the limits. With this movie, what felt new and challenging and like you hadn't done it before? What felt like the biggest swing on The Marvels?
There's two big swings. One, the idea of entanglement. That was always something from the comics that was so cool — Captain Marvel would switch places with a human character [Rick Jones] who he knew — and we loved that idea, but really struggled to figure out how to bring that to the screen. It was our brilliant writer, Megan McDonnell, who came to the table and theorized that perhaps our three Marvels with their light-based powers could become entangled. After that, it took an incredible amount of work on Nia's part and all of the department heads to strategize and figure out how that would work in reality. There's so much to track, and I think the result is an action-packed, fun, fast-paced story that's just really enjoyable to watch.
And then the other big swing is the Marvels, bringing these three characters from three totally different spaces together and featuring relationships between three women that feel authentic and wonderful. It's been great working on this film, but sometimes it feels like we take for granted seeing these women on-screen. And then you realize, I didn't get to see movies like this when I was growing up, so I'm so thrilled that others get to share in the experience — finally.
By John Boone