Fil-Am Actress, Yssa Mei Panganiban, talks about her time working on Hawkeye and representing her Filipino-American Heritage.
Hawkeye has become one of Marvel Studios’ most popular and game-changing tv shows. The popular series, starring Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, became an instant favorite and help further develop the iconic Avenger. The series also introduced/re-introduced audiences to some incredible characters. One of the best introductions is Kate Bishop, played by award-winning actress Hailee Steinfeld, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One of the biggest, and most jaw-dropping, introductions in Hawkeye was the reintroduction of Vincent Denofrio’s Kingpin. Denofrio’s Kingpin was originally introduced in the live-action Daredevil series on Netflix. This is ground-breaking because it points to the Marvel Netflix shows being in the same canon or continuity of the films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. However, as big as Kingpin is, in any sense of the word, Hawkeye‘s biggest reintroduction was the return of Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova.
Yelena was first introduced in this year’s Black Widow which starred Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. In the film, they are adopted sisters that were separated and forced into the Black Widow program. While Natasha became an Avenger, Yelena became a trained brainwashed assassin. However, Yelena was eventually freed from her brainwashing and joined her sister in defeating the film’s villains.
At the end of the film, Natasha and Yelena go their separate ways but promise to reunite. But in Avengers: Endgame, Natasha sacrificed herself so Clint could obtain the Soul Stone. Her heroic sacrifice was essential to the Avengers bringing back the people who were snapped out of existence by Thanos. And in Hawkeye Episode Five, it is revealed that Yelena was one of the individuals that got snapped.
At the beginning of Episode 5, Yelena and another widow are attempting to free a former widow of her brainwashing, after which, Yelena is snapped out of existence and returns 5-years later thanks in part to Natasha’s sacrifice. But now the audience knows what happened to Yelena prior to her meeting with the mysterious character Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as well as the job that involved Clint Barton. This all leads to her appearance in Hawkeye.
Without giving too much away, Pugh’s performance as Yelena in Hawkeye was met with high praise especially in her first scene with Hailee Steinfield in Episode 5. What fans may not have noticed was the introduction of another widow who accompanied Yelena in her rescue mission at the beginning of Episode 5. The other widow is Sonya, played by Yssa Mei Panganiban. For those who do not know, Panganiban is Filipino-American. and the actress herself talked about the significance of representing the Asian American Pacific Islander Community.
A little-known fact about the Philippines is that it is one of the biggest markets, and countries, that contribute to Marvel Studios’ box office success. Additionally, the Philippines was showcased in Avengers: Infinity War as the farm-like planet Thanos resides on after completing his plan. That farm-like planet was filmed in the Rice Terraces found in Luzon, Philippines, in the province of Ifugao. This means the Philippines also provides locations for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
On top of that, there have been many amazing talented Filipino-Americans, or performers of some Filipino descent, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Performers like Dave Bautista (Drax The Destroyer), Jacob Batalon (Ned Leeds), Mary Rivera (Ned’s Grandmother), Hailee Steinfeld (Kate Bishop), Ayla Perez (The diplomat in Falcon and The Winter Soldier series finale who helped Sam Wilson’s Captain America stop the kidnappers on a chopper), and now Yssa Mei Panganiban as Sonya.
Yssa Mei Panganiban on playing Sonya
During an interview with The Direct, Panganiban explained what it meant to her to be able to represent the Philippines in Hawkeye and the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
“Oh, It feels like a blessing, really. I like to say that we’re in a Renaissance right now for, um, AAPI representation, but particularly Filipina representation. I mean, it’s evident in the Marvel universe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now. We’re really making our way in and to be one of the people that’s kind of spearheading that it feels really, really, really good.”Yssa Mei Panganiban, The Direct Interview
Marvel also didn’t waste their time as they immediately showcased Paganiban’s Sonya in an epic action sequence during the opening scene of Hawkeye Episode 5. Here’s what Panganiban had to say about her action sequence explaining:
“I didn’t know what I was going to do up until really the day I was on set and knowing that I was going to do a fight scene was so exciting because I love fighting. I love fighting so much. And to be able to do that was really, really fun.”Yssa Mei Panganiban, The Direct Interview
Panganiban also revealed that she was very emotional and honored to be cast in Hawkeye as it was her first big project.
“I think I cried. Yeah. ‘Cause, it was actually my first, it was the first project I’d ever booked actually, so yeah. And to be in for it to be Marvel, it was just so overwhelming. It was really overwhelming because I’ve been in love with Marvel since about 2012. So when the first Avengers came out and then like about 10 years later, I’m in it. It was really overwhelming. I definitely cried.”Yssa Mei Panganiban, The Direct Interview
Panganiban shared what it was like working with Florence Pugh and that she only found out she would be working with her the day before shooting.
“You know, it was during the pandemic. And so it actually wasn’t, it actually, wasn’t too hard ’cause I wasn’t really talking to anybody. With my family, I like to keep things under wraps too, up until it’s released so that they have something tangible to be proud of. So it wasn’t actually that difficult at the time because you know, the pandemic was so hard and we weren’t seeing anybody…
She just made me feel so comfortable. She was so kind to me from the moment I met her. We met at about five in the morning when we were at the hair and makeup trailer. And she was just so kind from the very beginning. But I think that was my favorite moment was for her to recognize me. “Yssa Mei Panganiban, The Direct Interview
It seems like Panganiban enjoyed her time on set with Pugh, which was evident in their chemistry even if it was only for one scene. Panganiban shares her thoughts on being in more Marvel projects:
“I’d love to be brought back. I would love [it] if Sonya was in the Shang-Chi sequel. That’s what I, that’s what I think in my head that would be a wonderful place for Sonya to be. I think it’d be amazing to be in a movie that’s so representative of Asian actors and to have Sonya there too, would be crazy.Yssa Mei Panganiban, The Direct Interview
Lastly, Panganiban was asked if there was a Marvel Superhero she would like to portray or be adapted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she said she would love to play or portray Pearl Pangan AKA Wave, Marvel Comics’ first Filipina Superhero with Elemental Water Powers. So far, Marvel Studios’ Phase 4 has been setting the Diversity bar high with more on-screen representation, and Panganiban is one of the many examples. Hopefully, Marvel Studios will continue to raise the bar with their amazing new direction geared towards heroes and characters with diverse ethnicities.
All episodes of Hawkeye Season 1 are now available on Disney+. What did you think of Yssa Mei Panganiban as Sonya? Would you want to see her team up with other Widows on their own adventure? Or would you want to see her again as Wave? Let us know what you think in the comments below and share all your Hawkeye and MCU thoughts and theories with us on Twitter.
Source: The Direct