Leading ladies of the Spider-Verse: How Madame Web’s stars prepared for their Marvel debuts


Typically, Spider-Verse films revolve around the eponymous male superhero. The latest in the comic book series features a leading cast of four women. Here’s how Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, and Isabela Merced prepared for their arachnid roles.
Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) in Columbia Pictures’ MADAME WEB. Courtesy: Sony Pictures.

“Most superheroes’ powers come from strength and agility. With Madame Web, it’s all psychological,” says SJ Clarkson,  the director of the new Madame Web superhero film.

Clarkson’s Madam Web is oriented around characters from Marvel Comics Spider-Verse, untangling catastrophes in New York City.

“One of the lines in the movie is, ‘the power of your mind has infinite potential.’ And I thought that was so strong and so powerful – what an amazing thing to be able to explore in a film,” says Clarkson.

Dakota Johnson, who plays the lead character Cassandra Webb, was drawn to the unique superhero role for similar reasons.

“I was very intrigued by the prospect of a female superhero’s superpower being her mind,” says Johnson. “She experiences the future as if it’s the present. It’s similar to Spidey sense, but turned to the max – it’s actually seeing and hearing what is about to happen.” 

Source: Sony Pictures Entertainment. Instagram: @madameweb

From February 14, Australian audiences can see and hear the superhero film on the big screens. The Spider-Verse film is distributed in Australia by Sony Pictures Entertainment. It was shot on the east coast of the US, and produced by di Bonaventura Pictures.

In the film, Johnson leads and protects three women using her psychological powers.

The action film required that the actors had great agility and endurance. To prepare for her role, Johnson — who plays an ambulance driver in frantic New York City — took lessons at a driving school.

“Our second stunt coordinator Jeremy Fry took Dakota out to a driving school in Los Angeles and let her slide cars around, and she was really great. I think she enjoys it,” says Madame Web stunt coordinator Brycen Counts.

He calls Madame Web an “interesting mix of practical stunts, superhero versions of stunts, and driving stunts.”

Co-star Sydney Sweeney, who plays Spider-Woman, spent hours on wire training. Her first scene in the film has her dropping into frame from above, as a spider might.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 12: Sydney Sweeney at the Red-Carpet World Premiere of Columbia Pictures’ MADAME WEB at the Regency Village Westwood Theater on February 12, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

“In the comic books, Julia is very elongated in every single move; her feet were always pointed. So I worked on learning how to move more like an aerialist would,” says Sweeney.

“We had a lot of running, and about two months of stunt preparation. Before we even got to Boston to film, they tested our skills: grappling, running, fighting, endurance… our strengths and our weaknesses. From there, we could work on it and build our strengths into what we wanted to show for our character,” says Sweeney.

Getting the movement of a spider took training. Actor Isabela Merced has been a part of blockbuster action films before, starring in the Transformers series.

In Madame Web, however, she plays Spider-Girl and needed to move in an arachnid way.

“We trained on how to move like spiders,” says Merced. “We also trained on harnesses – flips and kicks. I’m not scared of heights and I’m an adrenaline junkie, so it worked out pretty well for me.”

The first screening of Madame Web is on Wednesday 14 February. There film is in wide distribution and can be watched in theatres and in Imax.

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