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How Kathryn Newton discovered her true powers as an actor in ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’

 Kathryn Newton poses with flowers behind her
Actress Kathryn Newton poses for a portrait at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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With “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” the 15-year-old Marvel Cinematic Universe ushers in its fifth phase and 31st film.

The third installment in the “Ant-Man” franchise, “Quantumania” is the first in which actor Kathryn Newton assumes the role of Ant-Man/Scott Lang’s daughter Cassie, formerly played by Abby Ryder Fortson in the first two standalone “Ant-Man” films and Emma Fuhrmann in “Avengers: Endgame.” Now 17, Cassie is an outspoken advocate and quantum mechanics whiz who is beginning to follow in her father’s footsteps in more ways than one.

But the way Newton talks about her character calls to mind a certain other bug-themed superhero. “She’s using her power for good,” said Newton of Cassie, whom she also describes as a “neighborhood hero.” “What she doesn’t realize [though] is that with great power comes great responsibility.”

Expanding on the groundwork laid in the Disney+ series “Loki,” the film fleshes out the sprawling multiverse’s latest Big Bad, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), a time-traveling entity with immeasurable power (and innumerable variants). Working alongside Majors was like a crash course in acting, Newton says. “He’s an incredible actor. He brought out so much in me that I didn’t even know was possible.”

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Rounding out the cast are Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, the elder Ant-Man, Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne and Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, who have both assumed the mantle of the Wasp. Most of the film takes place in the microscopic dimension known as the quantum realm, which means Newton spent a lot of time acting opposite thin air. “Everything’s happening really fast, and you feel ridiculous in the scenes,” she said. “You feel really out of your body acting with nothing [there].”

The Times caught up with Newton during the “Ant-Man” press tour to discuss dream MCU team-ups, Method acting and how Gen Z-ers in the MCU bide their time.

How are you?

I’m great. I’m in London right now getting ready to go to an event tonight. And my L.A. Times photo shoot turned out really great. I haven’t seen the pictures yet, but it was my birthday and my team brought me balloons. There was a junket at the hotel, and I had my dogs in my room [so] my dog made it in the photo.

Happy belated birthday!

Thank you! It’s been a very crazy birthday. I flew to Toronto that night [on a] red-eye then arrived to a premiere and the whole audience sang me happy birthday and they brought out a cake. It was overwhelming.

actor Kathryn Newton holds a dog

Kathryn Newton and a furry friend at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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What were some of the challenges in filming something almost entirely set in the quantum realm?

The biggest challenge was Paul Rudd making me laugh every day. It was just hard to get through a scene [without breaking character]. But other than that, it was probably the easiest project I’ve ever filmed. Peyton Reed, our director, was so trustworthy. He knew what he needed in every shot. I was always sure that when he said he was happy, he had [the shot].

Was it hard being a newcomer to a preestablished cast?

I was a little nervous because it’s my first Marvel movie and the cast are all legends, but I didn’t need to be because as soon as I walked on set, I felt like it was exactly where I belonged. Everyone wants you to shine, everyone wants you to do a great job. So I really felt empowered to try things, to take risks and make a fool of myself if I had to because they were there to catch me. They trusted me and I trusted them.

This is Cassie’s first time seeing real action. What was it like training and learning fight choreography?

My training was about being in shape so I could have stamina on set. I wanted to be able to do my own stunts and run around all day and really give it 100%. It also meant learning how to fall and not get hurt, learning how to take a fake punch and make it look real. But it was really important that Cassie felt like a normal kid put in a situation where she thinks she can be a hero but realizes she has no idea what she’s doing. It was really important to make sure she didn’t look cool at all.

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Cassie now calls Hank ‘grandpa.’ How did that relationship develop?

Scott was gone for a while so Cassie had time on her own to decide who she wanted to be. And having Hank Pym in your back pocket really would help you become a superhero, it might inspire you to get a supersuit. But I think before the supersuit, Cassie was on her way to just try to be a good person for herself and for others, like a neighborhood hero. She can’t help that she’s a genius and has superhero grandparents to help her out.

What was it like the first time you tried on your suit?

The first time I tried on my suit was after six months of them working on it and it fit perfectly. There were hardly any alterations [needed] at all. But I feel the camera test really solidified that I was Cassie Lang. We finally had the brown wig and the makeup right. And seeing the whole crew [react to] me, Paul and Evangeline all together was magical. It really felt like “Oh yeah, this is a superhero family.” People look at you differently. They were a little intimidated. They were moving out of my way.

If you hadn’t been cast as Cassie, what other Marvel character would you have liked to play?

That’s a really good question. I mean, I love Black Widow. “Iron Man 2,” [where the character was first introduced], was the first Marvel movie I saw. I was, I think, like 8 years old. I thought she was so cool. So probably Black Widow. If not, Iron Man.

What other MCU characters would you like to see Cassie interact with?

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Oh, there’s so many. As Kevin Feige would say, there is nothing impossible in Marvel, anything could happen. I’d love to see Cassie and Groot get together because Groot gets really big, and I think it’d be really funny if every time he got really big Cassie would get [bigger].

What does Gen Z do in the MCU? Do they make TikToks?

Oh my gosh. Xochitl [Gomez, who plays America Chavez in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”] does make a lot of TikToks. And she does this thing where she comes up with her camera really close to my face using the .5 filter, and I look like a walrus or an anteater depending on the angle. It makes me laugh. She has such a light and it brings me so much joy. I’m really happy that I can be her entertainment. [Laughs]

Did you ask her for any advice before joining the MCU?

No, I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody I was joining the MCU. I did talk to Evangeline Lilly before we started filming, and we spoke for like two hours on Zoom. We just wanted to get to know each other because when you start filming, you just go, go, go. And the best advice she gave me was to just stay really grounded and commit.

You’re an avid golfer. Did you get to play with any of your cast mates?

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We didn’t play golf together while filming. I was too busy, and I just didn’t want to play on my day off. My golf clubs sat in my bag for six months in London. Michael Douglas and I tried to play one day. We had a whole plan, a tee time and everything and then it started pouring all day so we didn’t make it.

A scene from "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."
Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, left, Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang and Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne/Wasp in a scene from “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
(Marvel Studios)

What was it like working alongside Jonathan Majors?

Working with Jonathan was such a game changer for me because he brings so much to the set and to the brief moments I had with him in this movie. We talked about our characters’ history together in the comics and where they could go [story-wise], not because we’re thinking about it in the scene, but because it’s fun to play with the encyclopedia of comics that Marvel has offered us.

What did you learn from him on an acting level?

He knew so much about Cassie, and I thought that was brilliant. So now whenever I do a project, I try to learn more about the other characters. Now I want to know every character in the scene’s wants and needs and history because that serves the whole movie. It makes so much sense.

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And I also learned that it’s OK to take up space if you do it gracefully. The first time I met him, he was so sweet. And then we went on set and I didn’t know he was a Method actor. I was talking to him as Kathryn like “Hey, what are you thinking?” And he just looked at me and laughed. And Paul was like, “He’s being Kang right now.” I had no idea. When someone does something like that, it changes the way you think about how you carry yourself. It always made me feel more grounded. We’d be in a scene for seven days, and when you’re doing a scene that long, you’ve got to keep it fresh somehow. So sometimes I think it might be easier to just be a Method actor than have to go into Cassie and Kathryn and then back to Cassie again. You get very lost.

So what’s your approach toward acting?

I’m a little more like Paul Rudd: I like to lean into what’s on the page, lean into my other actors. I like to listen and leave room for play. Paul taught me to not hold back, which seems so simple, but when you’re given an opportunity like a Marvel movie, you think a lot about the fans and about not failing, and things like that hold you back. It takes up too much space in your brain. So he gave me permission to have fun. And from that day forward, I tried many jokes and I failed many times, but we found a lot of greatness in those opportunities.

What was your favorite day on set?

It was a moment when it was just me on set. I didn’t have Paul to [advocate for me]. I would ask him “Do you think this is funny?” And he would look to our director and be like, “Let’s try one more.” But he wasn’t there [that day] and Kevin Feige was on set, so it was exciting. Peyton looked at me and like, “Do you want to try one?” And I was like, “No.” He’s like, “I can tell you want to do one more. Bring all the cameras back, Kathryn wants to try something.” So we did one more and it felt great. And he looked at me and he was like, “You’re my Cassie, I believe in you. I want you to try stuff. I want you to bring your ideas to the table, that’s why I hired you. Remember to always do a take for yourself. You don’t have to ask for another one but always make sure in your heart you do one for yourself.” And I was like, “Why didn’t I ever figure that out [before]?” I’ve been acting since I was 4 and I’m just now figuring out to do one for me.

What do you say to people who criticize Marvel films as being “not real cinema?”

I say you haven’t seen “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” My experience of making this movie was more like Shakespeare, improv ... It was more real acting than I’ve ever done in any other project. It required everything.

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I’ve never talked about character so much. I’ve never talked about story so much. And the audience and what the fans are going to think because they’re as much a part of influencing the story as the comics. So I don’t know. I’m not the one to say what cinema is. But I’ll tell you one thing: I love these movies. I always have and I probably always will. As an actor, I grew a lot and as a fan I really enjoyed this film.

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