Linda Cardellini is getting great at keeping secrets.
She earned an Emmy nomination for her surprise recurring character in Mad Men and is a key player in a big reveal in the blockbuster Marvel sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron, which just grossed $187 million this past weekend.
“I’m very good at it,” Cardellini says of keeping gigantic career boosts under wraps. “And I love it. My mother’s like, ‘Am I going to have to find about your life on the Internet all the time?’ It’s frustrating to my family that I’m able to keep a secret. But now they’re used to it.”
So while the Cardellini clan buys tickets to every film and TiVos every TV show on the off-chance that their beloved Linda might have a surprise appearance in it, here’s what we can finally reveal about her top-secret Avengers gig. (Stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers.)
Avengers: Age of Ultron pulls the curtain back to reveal the backstory of one of its most underused, and, as The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato writes, underappreciated superheroes: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. As it turns out, Clint Barton has a home to go back to when he’s not saving the world, and at the home is a pregnant wife named Susan, played by Cardellini, and a son and daughter.
The big reveal calms the storm that is the action-packed Avengers sequel, providing what Joss Whedon does best: a human element and emotional stakes to what can often be a superhuman CGI cacophony. Don’t we all just want to go home after a hard day’s work and be happy? Superheroes, they’re just like us.
Hawkeye’s backstory is the most pleasant surprise of a film and a genre that subsists on shocks and twists, and part of its success lies in how secret the plot point has managed to be.
“I was not even sure I was going to get to go to the premiere,” Cardellini says when asked just how sworn to secrecy she was about her role. “We joked around that I would try to go as somebody’s friend so that it wouldn’t get discovered what I played. Which I was fine with!”
She even swears that she was never bothered by sitting on such a big secret—who wouldn’t want to brag about being cast in the biggest film of the year? “I’d rather people enjoy it and be pleasantly surprised,” she says. “I think it’s exciting to be a secret. Especially in something that big where there are so many spoilers.”
Word of Cardellini's involvement in the film did leak online weeks before the Age of Ultron premiere, when a red carpet tip sheet was circulated to journalists by Marvel Studios that included Cardellini as one of the red carpet attendees “From the Film.” When blogs began reporting her casting and speculating about who she might play, she was moved to the “Special Guest” category on an updated red carpet invite.
“When it leaked that I was just in the film, I found out about it on the Internet,” Cardellini says. “I was really disappointed because I had been really keeping that a secret. None of my family knew. I didn’t tell anyone.”
A lot of what makes Hawkeye’s secret family a surprise is that many Marvel fans predicted that Age of Ultron would explore a relationship between Renner’s character and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, given the flirtation between the characters in the previous film.
“I thought that, too!” Cardellini says.
Cardellini is coy when asked if she’d been approached to play any other characters in the Marvel franchise before. “I’m trying to think,” she says, before adding, “Not in the same way. Which I’m glad about. Because then I wouldn’t have been in this one.”
It’s a busy weekend in Cardellini’s career. She’s the biggest talking point about the year’s biggest movie, and she’s also starring in a very small, but very special indie, the Kristen Wiig starrer Welcome to Me. Wiig plays a woman named Alice who has borderline personality disorder and an obsession with Oprah. When Alice wins the lottery, she uses the money to finance a public access talk show, with no premise beyond Alice talking about her own life—a turn of events that concerns Cardellini’s character, Gina, Alice’s best friend.
“No one is more excited for Alice when she wins the money and I think no one is as scared for her as Gina when she wins the money,” Cardellini says. “Because that means so many things and it gives Alice this autonomy that she’s scared for Alice to have.”
The film is an unrivaled showcase for Kristen Wiig, who delivers her best performance yet in the film. And Cardellini is responsible for its most touching arc, playing Gina as a woman strong enough to support Alice through her darkest days, but whose spirit is breaking as Alice’s tunnel vision narcissism leaves little room for her.
“It’s almost a platonic love story between the two of them,” Cardellini says. “There are these beats of them of their friendship coming together, falling apart.”
As for her Marvel future, towards the end of Age of Ultron, Hawkeye is making plans to renovate the house he shares with Susan. A remodel certainly suggests more Susan in future Marvel Cinematic Universe entries. So is Cardellini set to appear in more superhero films?
“I don’t know if I can talk about that,” she says. “They have contracts in place if things end up happening. But there are no plans.”