'Captain Marvel' Writers: Script Nearly Included a Dinosaur-Punching Scene

Screenwriters Nicole Perlman and Geneva Robertson-Dworet weigh in on almost giving Nick Fury a Razr flip phone and the state of Hollywood for women screenwriters: "It's not like we're each the expert in the female experience."
Courtesy of Disney Enterprises; Adam Amengual/Courtesy of WME
'Captain Marvel' (Inset: Nicole Perlman and Geneva Robertson-Dworet)

The first full-length Captain Marvel trailer had many fans asking the same question: Did she just straight-up punch an old lady? But, as writers Nicole Perlman and Geneva Robertson-Dworet tell it, that wasn't the most shocking sparring partner they considered for Carol Danvers.

"I really wish we could have her punch a dinosaur like she does in one of Kelly [Sue DeConnick]'s comics," Perlman tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But then we would have had to put a dinosaur in this film." Robertson-Dworet adds, "But that was something regularly talked about!"

Coming off of her work on Guardians of the Galaxy, Perlman was brought on to Captain Marvel in 2014, breaking the story and working on early drafts with writer Meg LeFauve, while Robertson-Dworet was brought on later to assist directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck with the screenplay. Outside of Captain Marvel, the two have worked in multiple MCU writers rooms, brain trusts charged with helping the studio launch their next big properties. These experiences led Perlman, Robertson-Dworet and fellow writer Lindsey Beer to launch their own production company, Known Universe, with a focus on developing women-led films of the superhero, sci-fi and fantasy variety.

"It's not like we're each the expert in the female experience, which sometimes is how it feels like you're being seen,” says Perlman of being one of a handful of women writers regularly getting jobs on major tentpole films. “When you're talking about really big franchises, we all can bring our experiences and opinions in to inform how we are approaching the female characters."

While a Captain Marvel fisticuffs with a T. rex did not end up in the final draft of the movie, Perlman and Robertson-Dworet talked to THR about what did end up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe title, what excites them about launching their own banner and how Nick Fury's pager was almost a Razr flip phone.

When you began writing and going through all of Captain Marvel's comics, was there anything that you definitely wanted to see incorporated into the movie?

PERLMAN Well I definitely wanted to show her behind the throttle of an F-16. That was always something that was a huge part of her character. But Geneva what about you?

ROBERTSON-DWORET Her female friendships. Her relationships with other women [is something] that we had not seen that much in superhero movies before. I know that Nicole and I were both drawn to her voice and her confidence. She has a sort of Chuck Yeager quality in the comics that we all found appealing and very distinctive from a lot of other female characters that we've seen.

How did you balance writing an origin story that also must fit into the larger MCU that is now over 20 movies in?

PERLMAN It's what led pretty early on to the decision for us to place Captain Marvel's story in the '90s, before the rise of Iron Man, in order to create space for her to have her own journey. [Setting the movie in the '90s] handled that particular complication of having a world that is so built out and feels so detailed and textured with all of these incredible things that've been happening over the course of many, many movies. She's allowed to occupy her own space before she flies off to the other side of the universe.

ROBERTSON-DWORET Also, fitting it within the larger universe is fun because of Nick Fury. We know him from the movies we've already seen. And so, I thought a genius thing that Nicole and Meg put into their draft was her relationship with Nick. [Captain Marvel] becomes not quite an origin story for Nick, but certainly an exploration of who he was before he became the total badass that we know and love.

How early in the writing process did you realize that Nick Fury's pager would be a tie-in for the Avengers movies?

PERLMAN Very early. Actually, it was something that I pitched originally as a beeper or a Razr flip phone. It was only the two of them and Kevin [Feige] definitely responded to the beeper. It was very exciting to see the beeper show up at the end of the first Infinity War, because it's such an, "Oh my gosh it's finally happening!" moment.

I am not sure if you know this but Captain Marvel is Marvel's first stand-alone for a woman superhero.

PERLMAN What! 

As you wrote, did you feel an added pressure that you were making the “first” of something?

PERLMAN Meg [LeFauve] and I had a lot of conversations about that because we knew there'd be an extra level of scrutiny. For example, it was really important to us when we were talking about what was powering her, that it wasn't something like her powers were coming from her gauntlets, or, there are these articles with very powerful connotations that already exist in the comics. We wanted to be very careful because that could be seen as her power is coming from her accessories. Obviously, that's not something you have to worry about with someone like Iron Man. His power, in a sense, is coming from his suit. People don't worry about what that says about Iron Man, that he's getting so many powers from his suit. But, with a woman superhero, we wanted to be extra thoughtful about how we were going about it.

ROBERTSON-DWORET In terms of this movie, we had to say the same conversation which was: When there are so few — there is only one other female-led superhero movie recently in the marketplace — and you are the first one for Marvel, it really feels like what you are trying to say about this specific superhero, Carol Danvers, can be misinterpreted as being something you are saying about either all female superheroes or all women. As viewers and as a culture, there is a lot of pressure that we're putting on that movie. With male superheroes, there's so many of them that they can really take these huge risks in terms of what negative traits they can show in their characters because they need to differentiate from each other. Whereas with this one, negative traits, it felt like, could often be misinterpreted as us saying that female superheroes have this specific thing. Like Nicole, I'm looking forward to the day when it doesn't feel like we are speaking for all women or all female superheroes when we tried to say something specific about Carol Danvers.

Because Captain Marvel had such a long development process, did what was happening in Hollywood, like the Time's Up movement and beyond, influence your writing?

PERLMAN I think it's impossible not to be influenced by the world around you as a writer. As writers, we tend to be pretty porous, we tend to absorb the zeitgeist, and we absorb the emotions of the people around us. I'm not saying Captain Marvel is a direct reaction to anything, because I definitely don't think it was, especially seeing as how we started it so long ago, but I think any piece of art or writing right now is going to be infused with the cultural phenomena happening out there.

ROBERTSON-DWORET One of Carol's greatest superpowers was her ability to empathize. I think that's something, just looking around in the culture, that we felt like was important to get out there and celebrate in someone.

What excites you about working in the industry, at this moment specifically? Especially as you are launching Known Universe.

ROBERTSON-DWORET Black Panther and recent movies have — thank God — shown that worldwide audiences not wanting to see an African-American hero was a total lie. The same thing has been true of women.  I remember when I was a teenager a couple, very few, superhero movies and action movies came out with women, and often they didn't do well. The myth was created that audiences simply didn't want to see them when, in fact, it was often that they were quite bad movies and that is why they were underperforming.

We've seen now that these recent movies fronted by women about female superheroes have women, thankfully, behind the camera and writing the scripts and you can get a very different product. I don't want to speak in all cases because obviously a lot of incredible female characters have been created by men, but I do think you see a different eye for all of the female characters when you have women working on it. I think that having Brie and having a female director, Anna, and female writers all working on this really helped ensure that there's not just a woman on the poster and then an entire fleet of men behind her, but other interesting women in the movie as well.  

PERLMAN I would say also one of the things that I'm realizing as a writer, producer and a director, but also a just a human being, is that culturally there's always been this narrative of this one man who is special and better and chosen. Then the movie is just about people trying to get in his way and him overcoming those obstacles by himself and planting his flag. First of all, I'm kind of sick of those movies. I've seen a lot of them. Secondly, my experience has been that the things that I love doing, the projects I'm most passionate about, and frankly most of the experiences of life that are most worthwhile, tend to be done as part of a community. My experience working with Geneva and Lindsey has absolutely borne that out. Which is, having women partners, or partners in general, who are as dedicated to something exponentially makes something better. There are not enough narratives in Hollywood that showcase that.

I really think that Geneva did a wonderful job with Maria Rambeau [Lashana Lynch], showing how important that type of relationship is to a hero's journey. Frequently hero’s journeys are not just the result of one person scaling a mountain, but all of the people who are there supporting that person. The more that we can acknowledge that, the more people will realize they're not alone and that they don't have to be alone when they're going through things.

ROBERTSON-DWORET Maria and Carol find themselves drawn to each other in that environment because they are two of the very few women who would have been in the Air Force at that time. We were joking that it's a little like us as female genre writers in this industry where we are surrounded by men who are great, but we found ourselves bonded together because we shared a lot of experiences, whether it was being a little bit tokenized or whether it was the project we found ourselves drawn to. Instead of being competitive we immediately felt collaborative.

Recently, have you noticed an uptick in interest from Hollywood for women-fronted tentpole projects?

PERLMAN As a woman who writes genre films, I am always getting submitted projects that are women-led projects because they're like, "There's a woman in it and you're a woman. So, therefore …" I would say the more striking change, from my perspective, is that we're getting submitted projects that are both male- and women-led. It's no longer: "Oh, you're right for this because you're women." But, rather: "You're right for this because you're good writers and producers.”

ROBERTSON-DWORET For a long time, it felt like women were only considered for female-fronted projects. Or, even worse, the female dialog pass, which is sometimes still a practice where you get brought in simply to address the few scenes with minor female characters in it and do some script doctoring. You're like, "Well, I also have some opinions on the scenes with men!" Thank goodness that seems to be less and less of a thing. People see you as a good writer and not just a good female writer.

Nicole's career is a testament to that with Guardians of the Galaxy, which has a really strong female heroine in it, but it's a movie with a male lead and she knocked it out of the park. That might have been Nicole transforming how people saw female action writers. I was starting as a writer when Guardians came out and it blew my mind that a woman had written this huge Marvel movie that I loved. If you told me then that's going to be your business partner, I would've been beyond thrilled.

PERLMAN I'm like tearing up right now.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.