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Kathryn Newton is having the opposite of a quarter-life crisis. Never one to shy away from setting ambitious goals, she told herself that “if you don’t get to be a Marvel superhero by the age of 25, get something else going—don’t quit acting, but find something else, go back to college.” So what a birthday gift it is to hit that career milestone right under the wire: The actress, who has been working in Hollywood almost her entire life, will turn 26 while jetting between premieres for Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, out Feb. 17.
Even though she’ll be boarding a red-eye to Toronto instead of blowing out candles, Newton feels very lucky to combine these personal and professional achievements. “If I’m promoting a movie or on a movie on my birthday, it’s gonna be a great year,” she tells Den of Geek magazine over Zoom from her Los Angeles home—from the same room, in fact, where she first spoke with director Peyton Reed about the possibility of playing teenage superhero Cassandra Lang: “I remember finishing the Zoom and telling him, ‘This is going to be a really great movie, and whoever plays Cassie Lang is gonna have the time of her life.’”
While joining the MCU is undoubtedly a career highlight (she describes it as “one of those dreams that was so big, you don’t think it’ll ever really happen”), it’s not the first for Newton. She has appeared in everything from buzzy television dramas (HBO’s Big Little Lies) to Oscar-winning films (Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and helmed her own teen mystery series (Netflix’s The Society). Her momentum has only been picking up in the past few years, starring in the time loop romance The Map of Tiny Perfect Things and body-swapping with Vince Vaughn’s serial killer in Freaky. Newton has harnessed an energy that matches how driven she is off-camera—golfing and picking up college courses in her spare time—pursuing parts that place ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
The latter two roles especially have allowed Newton to tap into the power of playing characters who are initially discounted, only to calculate their way out of a never-ending day or reveal how deadly a teenage girl can be if she’s underestimated. This will serve her well in what she describes as the very “grounded” story of Quantumania, in which Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) makes a deal with Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) to get more time with his daughter Cassie after the Blip stole five years from them, rendering them near-strangers. The fact that Cassie was recast for this film and that Newton will be joining the Ant-Man and The Wasp ensemble (Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfeiffer), who have already worked together, will amplify that emotional distance between the characters.
While she played it cool with Reed over Zoom, Newton confesses that on set, she was consistently surprised to see just how much it felt as though this iteration of Cassie had been written specifically for her. She’s the third actress to embody Cassie (after Abby Ryder Fortson and Emma Fuhrmann), and was drawn to how this long-established MCU character is still very much in flux: “Everyone can relate to Cassie; I relate to her—she’s impatient, she wants to be a good person, but she doesn’t understand how to do it; she doesn’t understand her power, just as a human. Like, I don’t understand my power as a human, I’m super impatient, and she’s kind of a mess, just like me.”
By the time Newton saw her first Marvel movie in theaters—she thinks it was Iron Man when she was about 11—she knew her way around television sets from her work on the soap opera All My Children, which she joined when she was just four years old. The sets she likened to a playground, with the props like oversized toys, and her co-stars and the crew were like teammates. “When you’re on a team,” she says, “you want your teammates to play their best and be their best. So on a set, I got a lot of confidence because people wanted me to shine; they wanted me to do a good job; if they were winning, I was winning, and if I was winning, they were winning. I’ve always loved that; I’ve always treated acting as a sport.”
No surprise, as Newton is an avid golfer who advocates for girls to explore the sport, crediting the confidence it gave her at a young age. It also gave her the strength and stamina to handle her own stunts on films like Detective Pikachu (“they were calling me a young Tom Cruise”) and to augment the typical Marvel workout she underwent for Quantumania. “Golf is way harder!” she laughs.
That supportive team energy crackled on set, where Rudd and Reed both encouraged Newton to ad-lib and try different things on each take, a level of generosity she hadn’t expected. “Even on the biggest job of my life,” she says, “that I thought was going to be so specific with no room to play, I got to try so many things and take risks because there was a trust between our director and Paul and me; the trust to fly and fall and get picked up by the other person.”
Like her MCU forebears, Newton is careful not to give too much away about the bigger picture, especially within Phases 5 and 6, parts of the Multiverse Saga, which began with 2021’s WandaVision and will conclude with Avengers: Secret Wars in 2026. Despite what IMDb users and other fans would speculate, Newton demurs as to which MCU projects, if any, Cassie would appear in beyond Quantumania. However, she is very excited about Avengers: The Kang Dynasty in 2025, “and the legacy of Kang that’s coming. As a fan and as a newcomer, I can’t wait to watch his dynasty unfold.”
She has even more praise for Majors himself: “He’s an incredible actor, and I think he brings a gravitas to the role that demands attention. I was enthralled by working with him; he made me better; he made me grounded. We were in scenes that lasted for a week; for me, it was the first time I ever did that, where you’re in the same scene over and over for literally seven days. Every time he played his music [Majors used specific music as his way into the character]—he was method—that helped me stay in it. That kept it fresh, that kept it alive, that kept it really important. It’s going to be different than any kind of villain we’ve ever seen before, just because Jonathan is so special.”
And while she cannot comment either way on the online chatter about whether the MCU Cassie will take on the mantle of her comics alter ego, Stature, Newton loves the fans’ excitement and how, in her experience, it has driven the forward momentum of a character: “When a fan loves a character, you see more of them,” she says, citing her recurring role on The CW’s Supernatural starting in 2014, which snowballed into her character Claire Novak starring in the attempted spinoff Wayward Sisters. Even though the series didn’t get picked up, the experience sent her to conventions, where she got to hear how her characters became a key part of people’s lives, which she hopes will be the case with Cassie: “I don’t know what the fans want to see [but] I hope that they want to see more of Cassie after this movie.”
While we wait to see if Cassie will join the rumored Young Avengers, Newton will be all over movie screens, continuing to stretch herself for new roles. She just wrapped the 1989-set horror-comedy Lisa Frankenstein, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Zelda Williams, in which she plays a teenage girl who accidentally reanimates a handsome Victorian corpse (Cole Sprouse) in her tanning bed during a lightning storm. Newton raves about the campy, colorful “elevated reality” of this nostalgia fest made with the benefit of hindsight: “It’s almost like one of those ‘80s movies that you saw years ago that you loved, but we made it today,” she says, referencing INXS, Tears for Fears, and Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” as her own personal soundtrack while shooting: “These are the vibes of the movie.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Winner, the biopic from director Susanna Fogel, in which Emilia Jones portrays NSA whistleblower Reality Winner. Newton will play her younger sister Brittany, which brings the unprecedented challenge for her career of playing a real person, and the incredible responsibility of not letting down someone who lived through her older sister’s one “human decision” that changed all their lives. “I’m worried enough about not letting fans down,” Newton says wryly with an edge of self-deprecation, “now I have a real person that I’m trying to make proud, too.”
When asked if she has future dream collaborators after working with these two female directors, Newton’s response is firmly rooted in the now: “I’d love to work with some of these directors again,” she says, adding that one dream scenario would be joining McDonagh’s company of actors who recur in his films. “When you find something that works,” she says, “I just want to repeat it.” It’s a fitting turn of phrase, as Newton shares that there might be a sequel in the works to her 2021 time loop romantic drama The Map of Tiny Perfect Things; screenwriter Lev Grossman, who adapted his own short story, is working on something.
But when it comes to Hollywood’s current love of time loop films (see Palm Springs and Happy Death Day), Newton really brightens up: “I want to do a Happy Death Day/Freaky crossover!” she says. Freaky, of course, having already updated the body swap comedy—think Freaky Friday but with Vince Vaughn as serial killer the Blissfield Butcher—in 2020. Playing the Butcher-as-Millie, Newton aptly communicated the killer’s slow-dawning realization of how much he could get away with as an underestimated nerd. Similarly, Jessica Rothe’s protagonist in both Happy Death Day films starts out as the college co-ed who gets killed infinite times until she takes control of her own narrative. It would be fantastic to see these two killer blondes swap notes on how a little out-of-body experience taught them to tap into their best selves.
Even though it’s just a fun thought experiment at the moment, Newton says, “I have full faith in writer Chris Landon and [producer] Jason Blum to come up with something even better than the last,” putting them at the top of her list for future repeat collaborators: “It just seems like two fun worlds to bring together.”
The same goes for her fellow actresses, especially her former on-screen moms Julia Roberts (Ben Is Back) and Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies). Witherspoon, in particular, actively developing projects from her tastemaking Reese’s Book Club (including recent releases From Scratch and Daisy Jones & The Six), has passed on book recommendations like Cheryl Strayed’s collection Tiny Beautiful Things as part of her overall invaluable advice as an actor to always be reading. But it was Rudd who suggested Newton’s current read: Haruki Murakami’s bizarrely imaginative The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
These are the stories that Newton will share when asked what she’s reading; others she’s keeping closer to the chest and will say only that she’s “cultivating my own voice and stories I want to tell and starting to create things on my own” or with past collaborators. For instance, she and producer Ashley Fox, who worked together on The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, are developing something that Newton can’t talk about yet but which she describes as “a dream project.”
What compels her about these stories and ideas can be distilled down to the specific characters who she describes as “people who are misunderstood or challenging the status quo.” Just like for Cassie Lang, it’s a new phase for Kathryn Newton. She’s been thrilled to discover that many of these opportunities are only a coffee date away. And what’s the best way to keep in touch with her favorite people she’s worked with between projects? Newton finds it’s as easy as texting a “happy birthday.”
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens in theaters February 17.