Hawkeye head writer Jonathan Igla, it turns out, is uniquely suited to the role of telling the story of the least powerful, but perhaps most relatable Avenger. For one thing, the experienced writer/producer’s credits include the well-regarded series Mad Men, Bridgerton, Pitch, and Sorry for Your Loss. For another, he knows his way around a bow and arrow. And also, as he tells Consequence, “I read everything in the comic book world, I really grew up with Marvel Comics and I love all of the biggest and smallest stuff as a writer.”
One of those comics, the 2012 Hawkeye series written by Matt Fraction with art by David Aja, was a very clear inspiration point for the six-episode series which just debuted on Disney+. The latest TV adventure spotlighting a specific MCU player, Hawkeye features Jeremy Renner as the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who first appeared in Thor, then became an integral part of the Avengers framework.
Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, the new show features Clint Barton just wanting to celebrate a nice normal Christmas with his family — despite the complication of Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), a young woman who slams into his life and despite her own special set of skills, could definitely use some help dealing with the New York criminal underworld that she’s just pissed off.
In this phone interview, transcribed and edited for clarity, Igla talks about his initial approach to taking on the project, why details like Clint’s hearing loss felt important to him to include, and why Christmas plays such a big role in the series. Igla also discusses the origins of Rogers: The Musical, the recently confirmed spinoff Echo, featuring Hawkeye star Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez, and what telling a story about superheroes has in common with writing about ad execs and baseball players.
Tell me about how you came to the series — what was the process of getting on board?
Well, it started with me hearing that they were going to make a Hawkeye series and me saying, “Get me in that room.” I’m a really big fan of the character, especially from the Matt Fraction and David Aja run that heavily influences the show, and I said to my reps, “Tell them I’m an archer — don’t tell them I’m good, because I’m not, but tell them I’m an archer.” And I really think that wound up being a factor that got me into the room.
So what are your archery credentials?
I want to be really clear that I’m not good and at this point, to say “out of practice” would almost be too generous to my lack of skill, but I’ve had a series of injuries and surgeries that have really prevented me from getting back out there.
I’ve always had a fantasy interest in archery, and this is definitely something I was thinking about with the show. Why I was drawn to it? I didn’t do it as a kid but the fantasy of it, seeing Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when I was 7 or something and thinking that’s a sport I could do, that’s a sport that doesn’t rely entirely on physical strength…
I think because it is something that relies more on practice and discipline, I think it was something that felt more like a sport that you could get good at by being a good student. So, as a small child, that seemed like the sport for me.
That’s really interesting in light of Hawkeye’s role in the Avengers — how he is notably the only one without any true enhanced abilities.
Which is also what draws me to Hawkeye. Hawkeye being the superhero without superpowers is what is most interesting about him to me, because being a regular person without superpowers who ends up being a superhero is a fascinating journey and fascinating character story. I’m always drawn to the human moments and the human side of things, the small identifiable details, and the guy who doesn’t have superpowers or a suit of armor is the guy who is most like the audience, he’s the guy who gets hurt the most when he gets hit by a robot or hit by Thanos or a spaceship crashing into a building or something.
I think Hawkeye specifically is an interesting superhero because in addition to not having superpowers, he’s not someone who sought this out. I think Jeremy brings this in his performance — he has this sort of quiet, noble humility to him. He doesn’t think of himself as a hero, he doesn’t aim to be a hero that isn’t his goal at any point, and even now he doesn’t think of himself as a hero. I think that that is a really interesting quality to explore and try to capture.
To speak to the archery, some of what I was interested in specifically was the archery. I remember my first meeting with Marvel, I liked the idea that a bow and arrow requires more effort to fire than a gun. It requires some physical force, you have to put muscle into drawing the arrow, you have to put force into the bow strings so that the bow can launch the arrow. That felt like a part of [Clint’s] personality, that he is somebody who understands what he is doing in a more serious way.
The bow and arrow also force an extra millisecond of consideration, because it takes longer to draw and fire an arrow than it does to aim and shoot a gun, so I think that extra level of consideration is something I read into who Clint is as a SHIELD agent, as an Avenger, as a person.
The season breaks down as kind of an episode-per-day structure — was that part of your pitch for it?
It wasn’t part of the initial pitch, but I came to it relatively early on in the writer’s room. Pitching at Marvel was an interesting process, and different from any other pitch I’ve done because there is so little that you know going in. So it’s not like a typical pitch where studios and networks expect you to have everything figured out as if you’ve already written it.
At Marvel, in a way, it was a much more authentic pitch — I was able to just come in and say, “This is what I love about the character as he’s depicted in the movie. This is what I love about various comic book runs, in particular, the Matt Fraction and David Aja run that everyone loves. This is what I would be really interested in exploring in the show. This is what I would love to show about Kate. This is what I would really like to capture in their dynamic.” Certainly, New York was a part of the vision, but it was much more big themes, just the stuff that excited me.
The Christmas of it wasn’t a part of my initial idea, but it came up early on in the writer’s room, and once it became the principal [goal], to get home on time for Christmas, that necessitated the shorter time frame. I love it, I love the compressed time frame, and the seemingly simple goal — where at points it just gets more and more complicated and a mess that he’s trying to clean up that gets messier and messier as he tries, through little fault of his own.
When the Christmas element came up, did you know that you would be releasing around Christmas?
I hoped so. Once Kevin [Feige] and Marvel got excited about the Christmas of it, I figured that would be the case. But we did a Thanksgiving Mad Men almost every season, if not possibly every season, and we did Christmas a bunch of times on Mad Men, and they never aired it anywhere near the holidays. When we were making those episodes it felt a tiny bit weird, but it never felt weird watching them as a viewer. So I’m thrilled that the show is coming out in the holiday season like this, it’s perfect. But I didn’t worry too much about it. I think escaping to the fun and the coziness of the holiday season is fun any time of the year.
Yeah, I feel like Shane Black really cracked the formula on how adding Christmas to a project like this gives it a whole other feeling.
Yes, I would second that and he deserves that credit.
In terms of that, is there a moment where you feel like you would feel very sad if you hadn’t had the Christmas element?
Oh there’s a lot, and most of it I can’t speak to because you haven’t seen it yet, but it’s not just window dressing, I’ll tell you that. I think the window dressing is also delightful and fun and beautiful — especially New York at Christmas, I don’t think there is anything more beautiful.
There are a handful of things about it that hopefully resonate on a deeper level, and also aren’t the biggest plot mechanisms but certainly factor into the story. But for Clint, so much of the emotional core of Endgame for me was about Clint’s family. The movie opens up with him losing his family, you know that what they’re doing works when Laura calls and tells Clint and that’s how you know that people have been brought back.
So Christmas is a way to anchor the story for Clint in missing his family and not being with his family in this particular moment, and I thought it was a great way to make the story instantly relatable from both sides of the equation. Because I think probably everybody watching the show will have had some experience of either being the person who had something that made it so that they might not make it home for the holidays, or on the other end being the person waiting and hoping that somebody was going to be able to make it home for the holidays, and not knowing if they were going to be able to.
I’m always drawn to the things that are most relatable, especially in a superhero-type of story. I think the Christmas of it in a sort of bigger and pervasive way informed a lot of small things in the show that make it feel like, despite that he is a superhero and that they’re fighting bad guys, there is so much of their world that looks like our world and feels like our world.
Is this the first Christmas back since the Snap?
I don’t think that it’s explicitly mentioned during the episodes and I don’t know that there is an official Marvel position on it. I would say no. The thing that we discussed, and what I like as a writer, is that the same amount of time that has passed for the audience between when Endgame came out and when Hawkeye is coming out is the amount of time that has passed for Clint and his family.
[Timeline-wise], sometimes there are explicit clear cues that tell you exactly when something is and sometimes not. I think that because Marvel is ultimately making a gigantic quilt with many, many artisans putting together the different sections of it, that flexibility is beneficial to the quilt overall. That was the approach that I had. I think that it’s really important to take into account the emotional experience that the audience is having, and to think about how much time has passed for the audience since they digested all of the emotional information in Endgame.
One of the big highlights that people know about already is of course Rogers: The Musical — I would love to know at what point did that become a part of Episode 1, and what can you say about what went into the making of that element of the show?
I can tell you I love it. I’m so happy that it’s in the show. Every morning on my morning commute with my partner (who is also my valuable second-in-command on the show), we would drive by a Hamilton billboard while getting on the freeway to the Disney lot. And one morning on the drive, I just had this thought — Rogers: The Musical. And we started talking about it and joking about it.
One of the great things about Marvel, and about Kevin in particular, is that they are open to something surprising, whether it’s silly or really crazy that just tickles everybody, and they’re open to it becoming a bigger and bigger thing. It was always a little bit of a running joke, from the beginning, that built to something more impactful. Because Marvel embraced it, we got to do more with it, which is a lot of fun for me. I’m very excited about that.
It’s a great way to introduce Clint’s hearing loss, which I know was something that has been a part of the character’s history for a while, including the Fraction and Aja comics. What was important for you personally about making sure it was included here?
There were a number of different things that went into that choice, one thing, in particular, was getting back to the idea that Hawkeye is a superhero without superpowers. He’s been blown up a lot, hit in the head a lot, he’s gotten knocked unconscious, more times than hopefully any of us, and I liked the idea that there was some permanent defect of that on his life.
I also thought, as a practical choice, it felt much more authentic to me to make it something new that he was dealing with, rather than something that has always been a part of his character that the movies had for some reason left out, as a practical matter. We were already including it but Matt Fraction told me it was important to him, so once it sort of got that extra endorsement, I thought okay then we have to make sure it sticks in the show.
There’s an interesting thing that happened, I think right now, where in focusing on representation in a way that is long, long overdue, there becomes a tremendous amount of pressure to capture everyone’s experience in what is — if it’s well-written, well-directed, and well-acted — a singular character story. And I think Clint has a very different experience of it than Maya. I was glad to get to have a couple of different representations of that experience in the show.
Along those lines, at what point did the idea of an Echo spinoff come about, and are you involved in that?
I’m not involved in the Echo show, and I’m excited about it. As a fan, I knew that there was a possibility of anyone in the show having a longer life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If he really takes off, you’ll see Grills somewhere else. Maybe Pizza Dog ends up in Guardians of the Galaxy 5. You never know with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Certainly, I was very aware that if it went well, if they found somebody amazing to play her, there was a good chance that we were going to see her again.
As a fan of that character, I knew that there was certainly the potential for it with Maya, and she’s also been truly coincidentally featured prominently in the comic books in the last year or two in a way that I know predates us including her in the show. There is a tremendous responsibility in depicting these characters — I felt it as a fan, these characters, all of them, Clint, Kate, Maya, they’re really important to the fans and they’re important to me.
Maya certainly will have greater importance to some people because she represents some people on screen who we haven’t seen a lot in these movies. But as with everyone in the show, I and the writing staff, we all took the responsibility of making these characters spring to life fully formed and as three-dimensional as possible.
In general, how have you found the Marvel system? Since, in terms of the roles that they look to people to play behind the scenes, it’s pretty different from traditional TV production.
It’s quite different, yeah. It’s much more of a feature model, honestly. I think it would be fair to say that Marvel Studios is fairly new to TV and they were learning TV as I was learning Marvel, but I have a lot of trust in their system. They’ve made more than 20 movies and I’ve loved most of them and liked all of them, so I had a lot of trust in their system.
There’s a tremendous amount of comfort in knowing that the very best artisans and craftspeople were going to be working on every element of the show, that we were going to have access to a caliber of talent in every single department in front of the camera and behind it. That’s really exciting and a great privilege.
Your resume is so interesting in terms of the kinds of projects you’ve gotten to touch. When you were making the show, did you have a strong sense of, “I’m bringing in this thing that I got from working on Mad Men, or this thing that I got from working on Pitch”?
Yes, the thing that I’m interested in as a writer, no matter what I’m working on, is to find the small human moments that are revealing of who we are, whether you’re one of the Mad Men in the ’60s, having an existential crisis, or the first female professional baseball player, or an angsty Regency-era duke trying not to fall in love. It’s all about finding those small moments of adversity or humor or surprising moment of kinship, of recognizing somebody who understands you or someone you understand unexpectedly.
Those little moments emerge in all of the projects that I’ve gotten to work on and can emerge in anything, and I think they’re especially fun for me as a writer on a superhero show. Part of why I fell in love with the Matt Fraction and David Aja run on Hawkeye is because it is about what Hawkeye does in his days off from the Avengers. “What does Clint do on his off days?” is exactly the comic book that I would’ve wanted to write and to get to tackle that in a superhero show, to force Clint to talk about what it’s like to be a hero, to live that life — the impact of the challenges of it was really exciting to me.