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‘It’s a standalone world of its own’: Dakota Johnson on Marvel flick ‘Madame Web’

Rappler.com

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‘It’s a standalone world of its own’: Dakota Johnson on Marvel flick ‘Madame Web’

Columbia Pictures

'It's a new world with new characters, and it's all from the female perspective,' Johnson shares

The following interview is courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

In a switch from the typical genre, Madame Web tells the standalone origin story of one of Marvel publishing’s most enigmatic heroines. The suspense-driven thriller stars Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb, a paramedic in Manhattan who develops the power to see the future and realizes she can use that insight to change it. Forced to confront revelations about her past, she forges a relationship with three young women bound for powerful destinies – if they can all survive a deadly present.

Johnson, a BAFTA-nominated and award-winning actress and producer, burst onto the scene with her performance in David Fincher’s critically acclaimed The Social Network written by Aaron Sorkin. She went on to appear in the feature comedies The Five-Year Engagement and 21 Jump Street. Johnson then starred as Anastasia Steele in Universal’s billion-dollar Fifty Shades of Grey franchise. Most recently, she was seen in the TeaTime production Daddio, producing and starring opposite Sean Penn with Christy Hall writing and directing.

In the following interview, Johnson talks about the making of Madame Web, her collaboration with director SJ Clarkson and fellow actors, and the great lengths she went to embody everyday-hero-turned-superhero Cassandra Webb.

Can you describe your character, Cassandra Webb, as we meet her in the beginning of the film?

When you first meet Cassie, she is a paramedic in New York City. She doesn’t have any family, she has one or two friends who are fellow paramedics, but she is icy and keeps to herself. 

How does Cassie’s paramedic partner, Ben, break through her barriers? 

I think Ben knows that Cassie really is actually very soft in her heart and that all of her walls are a protection mechanism. I think she feels safe with him so she does let her guard down a bit.

What was it like working with Adam Scott, who plays Ben?   

It’s so fun when you get to work with somebody who can improvise and has a wonderful sense of humor. He’s just so lovely to be around and so professional and grounded.

How is your film character different than the Madame Web in Marvel Comics?

When you meet Madame Web in this movie, it’s her origin story. It’s how Cassie became Madame Web. So we start when she’s a young woman. Ultimately in the comics she ends up being an old woman who develops a neurodegenerative disease. But since we are starting way back when, she’s a paramedic; she’s kind of an everyday hero, she is an independent and complex woman.  

How is Madame Web unique within the superhero film genre, and how does it feel to star in a female-driven film?

You know, it’s really exciting to be a part of a superhero movie that is not really connected to any other worlds. It’s a new world with new characters, and it’s all from the female perspective. I just thought going into it that that was so different and something that I would be interested in seeing. I love that I don’t really have to know anything about these characters going into it. It’s a standalone world of its own. So, Madame Web’s world looks a lot different than other Marvel worlds. And it’s so wonderful to work with a bunch of women. It’s just very smooth. It was a great time and SJ [Clarkson], as a director, was incredible.

FEMALE-LED. Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced), Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson), Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor) in ‘Madame Web.’ Columbia Pictures

Naturally, fans will be curious — will Madame Web feature Spider-Man or other characters from previous films within the Spider-Man universe?

Spider-Man is not in this film. Of course, there are names that are connected to other universes that I think people will recognize. And who knows what will happen in the future.

What was it like to play a hero whose powers exist within her mind?

Well, that was pretty much why I wanted to do this movie. I never really saw myself playing a superhero, but when I learned that Madame Web’s superhero power is her mind — and that she’s a young woman — I just thought that was the most interesting super power to have. Rather than having to learn loads of physical skills, I think for her mind to be spectacular was really interesting. There is a lot of outward catastrophe and the villain has crazy powers and there’s a lot of bigness surrounding it which is great, but the film is grounded in reality because it exists inside this woman’s mind.

How did you wrap your mind around playing a clairvoyant and shape your character?

I think that Madame Web’s abilities, her powers, are really specific to her. She’s clairvoyant and she can astral project. I think she traverses different realms. I think she lives in an energetic state and is kind of like in the fifth dimension. She can go in and out of reality and can transcend space and time.

How did you physically prepare for the role?

For a few months before we started filming, I was training. I had two different trainers. I worked with Megan Roup from The Sculpt Society.  Before we started shooting, we did a lot of hand-to-hand combat training. I really didn’t want Cassie to look like she was some kind of skilled fighter. I think having grown up in the foster system, she would have been quite scrappy and would know how to defend herself in a sort of primal way. So, I wanted her fighting to be really wild and kind of messy, using whatever was around that she could get her hands on like a piece of metal or a bottle. 

Can you describe how you trained for the driving and water stunts in the film?

Yes, I did most of the driving in the movie. I did a day of stunt driving training, which was so fun. And we did a lot of underwater work so I had to do breathwork training. So, we did a few different sessions in a tank where you’d build up holding your breath. I ended up holding my breath for like three-and-a-half minutes, which was nuts. 

How did director SJ Clarkson support and inspire your performance — particularly as a female director with experience in the superhero genre?

She was so incredibly well-versed in what this movie was about, and all of the beats we needed to hit. There’s so much backwards and forwards and seeing the future and what is real and what is the past. It’s so complex that shooting out of sequence can sometimes get really confusing, especially if you’re on a blue screen and there’s nothing real around you. So, I just felt like I could really trust her. She’s an incredible filmmaker. She really knows how to do everything that she wants to do, and it’s powerful to watch her work. She was really graceful and calm, and she was really an amazing director to work with.

Can you describe your experience on set with Sydney Sweeney (Julia Cornwall), Isabela Merced (Anya Corazon) and Celeste O’Connor (Mattie Franklin)?

It was fun to work with three young people who are so vibrant and have such big personalities. They were just really entertaining and talented. So, it was nice to be around them.

Head, Person, Face
VILLAIN. Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim) in ‘Madame Web.’ Columbia Pictures

What was it like playing opposite Tahar Rahim, and how is his character Ezekiel Sims a particularly frightening foe?  

He’s such a lovely person. I remember seeing him first in The Mauritanian. He’s a great actor and he’s a very scary villain for sure.

What do you hope audiences will take away from Madame Web?
I hope that it feels like a refreshing take on a superhero movie and I hope that it feels grounded. I hope young women connect to wanting to discover the most powerful version of themselves. – Rappler.com

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