Marvel’s Avengers Behind the Performance: Jolene Andersen / Monica Rappaccini

As the lead scientist for AIM, Jolene Andersen brings power and subtly to the character of Monica Rappaccini, but what’s behind her performance?
By Duncan Heaney

Halloween season is a time for monsters, but not all of them go bump in the night. Sometimes the monsters walk among us.

Which brings us to Monica Rappaccini in Marvel’s Avengers. This gifted scientist may not be a Super Villain, but she still wears many masks - from trusted partner to compassionate researcher. But in reality, Monica is cold, calculating and utterly ruthless.

She’s brilliantly brought to life in the game by actor Jolene Andersen - every movement and facial expression you see in the game was based on her performance capture.

We spoke to Andersen about her role in the game, and how she found the humanity in such an unsettling character.

Hi Jolene. Let’s start with an easy one: who is Monica Rappaccini to you?

Hmm… well that’s a loaded question. When I think Monica, I see her as a brilliant scientist - sort of a sociopathic genius and I really love her (laughs).

I genuinely admire her vision and her laser focus on experimentation. We can talk about whether she’s truly evil or diabolical…

And we will…

Right, but when you get to the nuts and bolts of it, she’s basically this amazing scientist with really incredible perspective. She sees what she wants to achieve and just goes ahead to make it happen.

I think it’s fair to say that Monica isn’t the most famous character that Marvel has. Did you have to research the character before you got the role?

Well, Marvel gave us all kinds of material to work with. They kind of gave us access to the entire world (laughs). To be honest, most of my characterization for Monica came from the script - how she was written and the conversations I had with Shaun Escayg (Creative Director for the game).

Once you go into rehearsals and we’re all on set, you start building the character more. It’s in that environment that Monica really came from.

As a rule, I don't really like to rehash old stories or things that have already been done - I’m a little bit afraid as an actor that it’ll get a little foggy in my head. It’s not satisfying for me if I don’t feel like I’m playing a real person right now, for this story.

So I did dive into the world of Marvel, because it’s so much fun - and so cool. But I was careful not to put too much of that in my head. I figured that they wouldn't have given me the role if there wasn't something they liked about the way I approached it.

As one of the highest profile depictions of the character to date, did you feel any sense of responsibility in how you portrayed her?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how big of a character she was in the world of the comics. I try to protect myself from that and not pay too much attention to it because there’s a lot of pressure there. I just put my trust in the director and the team.

That said, it’s a little scary when you play a role that people are attached to, so it is a little bit more comfortable playing a lesser-known character.

At the same time, you know that you’re bringing her to the forefront and there’s that pressure that you don’t want to disappoint people. You also want them to love the character as much as you do - and to help make her story a success.

You feel pressure either way so you just have to let it go and have fun.

You must feel some sense of ownership over the character now though.

Oh yeah of course - absolutely! I wish I didn’t, because if people didn’t like her, I’d feel awful - like, ‘Oh no!’ (laughs).

But I also share that ownership with Shaun and everyone else that brought this character to life so we’re all in this together - sink or swim!

One thing that should be clear to anyone who’s played the game is that Monica can be a pretty despicable character…

Yes, but I don’t really see her as simply ‘evil’ - she’s not that one-dimensional. With every villain - even real life ones - no matter what they’ve done, no matter how many people they’ve murdered, there’s always this human element. You always have this compassion for them when it comes down to it.

That’s definitely the case with Monica, and it’s one of the reasons I really love her as a character. She’s someone who’s so smart, so driven, so passionate, and such a powerful woman. She’s multi-dimensional and that makes her really compelling.

Also fun to play!

So how did you bring out the humanity in her?

Well fortunately, I was given a character that was well rounded from the start - she was already written as a real person. She wasn’t given to me as a one dimensional character - that depth was already inherently in her.

There’s a powerful through line with her. She has to put on this sort of public face to build and manipulate the world around her in order to get what she wants. That’s not difficult to imagine as an actor. As you can imagine (laughs).

The other thing about her is that she is, to an extent, me. I’ve played a lot of villainous characters and even if you’re given all these diabolical words to say and actions that make you think, ‘well, that’s evil,’ there’s always some of the actor in there too. You’re still a person with a soul, and that comes out when you’re playing these characters.

To answer your question, I think it’s a combination of writing and performance. If you’re lucky enough not to be given a one-dimensional character, then it’s all there. You just have to bring it to life.

What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of playing Monica?

Hmm… well, first of all, it’s really exciting to me being part of the Marvel world. Working with Sean and the Marvel team - that whole family is really great. Having such a rich character to play within that world has been a truly great experience.

In a broader sense, I’ve been lucky lately that I’ve been given these really strong female characters to play. What’s interesting about that is that they’re even there to start with.

I don’t know whose idea it was to bring Monica up to the forefront, but you’re like ‘yay!’ Why not make the villain a woman? Why can’t she be evil? It means you don’t have to play a mom, or some other stereotypical female character - I really appreciate that in games.

I wish it would happen more often, because while I feel very lucky that I’ve been given these roles, there’s usually just one of us. One think I love about Marvel’s Avengers is how inclusive it is and I hope that’s the way the whole industry will continue to move.

Many thanks to Jolene for taking the time to talk to us. You can see her fascinating performance as Monica Rappaccini in Marvel’s Avengers - out now on PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, and Steam.

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