Hawkeye Actress Yssa Mei Panganiban on Florence Pugh, Marvel Representation & More (Exclusive)

By Aeron Mer Eclarinal Updated:
Yssa Mei Panganiban Hawkeye

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is going all out in terms of increasing its diverse representation in Phase 4. After an impressive Infinity Saga, the superhero franchise is currently in the age of expansion as it welcomes new heroes and villains into the mix. Marvel Studios took it up a notch by showcasing a diverse lineup in its new slate, featuring Asian characters (Shang-Chi), an LGBTQ+ cosmic hero in the form of Phastos from Eternals, and deaf newcomers such as Makkari and Maya Lopez (Hawkeye). 

Marvel's representation push seems poised to continue as shows like Ms. Marvel and Moon Knight are expected to arrive. Many would agree that this is a good sign for the MCU since it presents the opportunity to expand the franchise's reach by giving different countries, identities, and religions a chance to shine in the superhero realm. 

The Philippines is one of the countries that has been given a chance to showcase its talent to the MCU. Dave Bautista, who plays Drax (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Jacob Batalon, who portrays Ned Leeds (Spider-Man: No Way Home), are good examples of Filipino actors who have taken the spotlight and represent the Philippines in the larger MCU. 

Aside from the country's notable actors on the big screen, the Philippines is slowly making waves on the small screen as well. For example, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier featured a Filipina diplomat named Ayla Perez, who is portrayed by Asian-American actress Jane Rumbaua, in the series finale, helping the new Captain America to stop the kidnappers by using her skills to take control of a chopper.

Now, another Filipina actress, Yssa Mei Panganiban, has been added to the MCU, and The Direct sat down with her to talk about her impressive debut in Hawkeye

Yssa Mei Panganiban Opens Up About Hawkeye Role 

Yssa Mei Panganiban as Sonya, Hawkeye
Marvel Studios

"Oh, It feels like a blessing, really," Panganiban told The Direct when asked about what her debut means for representing the Philippines in the MCU: 

"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."

Hawkeye Episode 5 didn't waste time in featuring Panganiban's MCU debut, showcasing her as a Black Widow agent alongside Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova in the installment's intense opening sequence. 

Florence Pugh as Yelena, Yssa Mei Panganiban as Sonya, Hawkeye
Marvel Studios

The up-and-coming actress admitted that she didn't know that she was not aware that her debut will involve fight scenes, but she pointed out that it was "exciting" due to her love for the craft:

"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 as Sonya
Marvel Studios

Upon learning that she was cast to portray a role in Hawkeye, Panganiban openly revealed that she cried since it was her first project that she'd ever booked: 

"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."

Fighting alongside Pugh is a notable achievement, but the Filipina actress revealed that she wasn't aware that her co-star would be the Black Widow actress. Panganiban confirmed that she only knew Pugh was involved "a day before" filming Episode 5's opening scene. 

Florence Pugh as Yelena, Yssa Mei Panganiban as Sonya
Marvel Studios

This tidbit further cements Marvel's secrecy even to its actors on set. 

The Direct previously shared an exclusive that Pugh would return as Yelena in Hawkeye, and Black Widow's post-credits scene essentially confirmed this scoop. It's totally different for Panganiban since she already knew that Pugh will be in Hawkeye even before the rumors and the Scarlett Johansson-led prequel. 

Keeping that major secret for so long would've been hard for any actress, but Panganiban pointed out otherwise, saying that the pandemic helped in preserving the surprise:

"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."

Yssa Mei Panganiban as Sonya
Marvel Studios

Many would assume that it would be intimidating to work alongside an Oscar-winning actress like Pugh. For Panganiban, it wasn't the case since she shared that the Black Widow star was "just so kind from the very beginning:"

"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."

It is unknown if Sonya will be back to the MCU down the line after her brief yet significant role in Hawkeye. Still, Panganiban has some ideas about potential projects that her character could pop up next such as the already-confirmed Shang-Chi sequel:

"I'd love to be brought back. I would love [it] if Sonia 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 Sonia to be. I think it'd be amazing to be in a movie that's so representative of Asian actors and to have Sonia there too, would be crazy."

Florence Pugh as Yelena, Yssa Mei Panganiban as Sonya
Marvel Studios

Lastly, when asked which MCU character she wants to play aside from Sonya, Panganiban boldly proclaimed that she would portray Pearl Pangan a.k.a. Wave, Marvel's first Filipina superhero who has elemental water powers. 

Hawkeye And MCU Representation 

Thor: Love and Thunder actress Tessa Thompson previously shared that the MCU's Phase 4 will push for more on-screen representation, and Panganiban's debut is a solid example of that promise.

The Filipinx actress might have a minor role in the series, but the impact of her representation for the Philippines is insurmountable since it gives a sense of pride to the country. From intense fight scenes to lending a helping hand to Yelena, many fans, especially Filipinos, would agree that Panganiban had a memorable performance. 

It will be interesting to find out if Panganiban's Sonya would indeed return in a future MCU project. In a way, the character's comeback is a welcome sight since it could strengthen the franchise's interconnected approach. 

Sonya's return in Shang-Chi 2 is plausible, especially after the reveal that Xialing is training former Red Room agents under the Ten Rings. After all, it would be fitting to see a Filipinx actress within a massive Asian ensemble in the MCU. 

All in all, Panganiban's inclusion is a positive step for Marvel's diverse approach, and this could serve as a launchpad for more Filipinx actors and actresses that could make their mark in the superhero realm. 

All episodes of Hawkeye are now streaming on Disney+.

- About The Author: Aeron Mer Eclarinal
Aeron is a news/features writer and Content Lead for The Direct who has been working for the site since March 2020. From writing about the inter-connectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to having an extended knowledge about DC TV's Arrowverse, Aeron's expertise has since expanded into the realm of reality TV, K-drama, animated, and live-action shows from Netflix,  Disney+, Prime Video, MGM+, Peacock, Paramount+, and Max. When he isn't writing and watching all things MCU, Aeron is heavily invested with the NBA (go Celtics!) and occasionally watches thrilling matches in the WWE.