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He may be a well-established stage actor, but Fra Fee's introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't onstage in Rogers: The Musical. Instead, he's been lurking in the shadows as Kazi, the mysterious gangster, antagonist to Hawkeye's Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), and right-hand man to Maya Lopez, aka Echo, played by Alaqua Cox.
"Their relationship is an extremely intriguing one, and was one of the most exciting things to explore whenever we started to piece this story together," Fee told ET in a recent interview. "It's complex and messy and often quite painful, but beautiful. All of those sort of wonderful things that make it wonderful to play and to explore with Alaqua."
The Irish actor's first appearance onscreen in Disney+'s Hawkeyeseriescame as the Tracksuit Mafia, a group of boisterous gangster "bros," chased Kate out of an underground auction turned robbery. But in the ensuing episodes, it's become clear that Kazi and Maya hold themselves a bit separate from the Tracksuits, though they may have certain goals -- and sinister bosses -- in common.
"They've known each other for a long time, and are part of this world that has become their family," he shared of the pair's longtime bond. "Particularly with the death of Maya's father, she latched herself on to the Tracksuit Mafia in a way that she may or may not have decided to do so beforehand. They have become her family."
Similarly, for Kazi, though he and Maya certainly have their own tight bond -- he notes in an episode that he's the only one of the henchman who knows sign language -- the Tracksuits have been "very much the foundation of his life."
"He doesn't really know any other world and it's extremely important for him to get as far up that echelon as possible," Fee said, noting that Kazi's desire for power and a leadership role may present an internal conflict when he finds himself subordinate to Maya. "I think it's obvious that he cares for her very, very deeply. So there's those sort of dual loyalties between the organization and her, and hopefully that's something that will unfold in the ensuing episodes."
While their characters have a complicated past, Fee said that working alongside Cox, who makes her acting debut on the series, and learning ASL in order to communicate with her both on and offscreen, has been nothing but a joy for him as a performer.
"To be honest, the most exciting and wonderful privilege of this whole job has been the sign language," he shared. "I had no experience with sign language before, regretfully. So, although I was very daunted initially by the prospect, because I wanted to make sure I was at a proficient level... I absolutely loved learning it."
"Getting the chance to work with Alaqua for so long that our scenes felt familiar, and we actually had this sense of history and an actual friendship, as Alaqua and Fra, that was a real, real blessing," he added. "I feel very privileged to have been invited into her world."
The most recent episodes of Hawkeye have dropped some sinister hints as to what Marvel Big Bads might be looming in the shadows. Viewers learned that Kate's future stepfather, Jack Duquense (Tony Dalton), is listed as the head of the Tracksuit Mafia's dummy corporation, meaning that he's at least partly mixed up in New York City's criminal underworld.
"Tony's delivering such a wonderful performance, and Jack's already such a fun character," Fee raved. "We'll just have to see how the story unfolds. The next two episodes, it's leading up to quite a wonderful climax just in time for Christmas. You're going to love it."
And as for the as-yet-unseen "uncle" that Kazi warned Maya about when it comes to her relentless pursuit of Ronin? "Kazi seemed a bit worried," Fee joked. "So, I reckon you guys should be."
In the comics, the character of Kazimierz Kazimierczak is known as "The Clown," an orphan raised by mobsters who become a killer for hire. In the Matt Fraction Hawkeye run, which partly inspired the series, Kazi has a brief flirtation with Kate Bishop before waging war on her and Clint Barton's apartment building.
It's that flirtation that had some fans raising eyebrows in Hawkeye's second episode, when Kate referred to Kazi as "that hot guy" when recapping her and Clint's run-in with the Tracksuits. So, might something be brewing there?
"The 'hot guy' thing was extremely embarrassing," Fee recalled with a laugh. "It's all over my family's WhatsApp group."
And while he couldn't give away any answers about what's to come, he admitted that Kazi might "see something of an equal" when it comes to Kate.
"I would suspect that Kazi is extremely impressed by this young woman that has been throttled into this world completely unexpectedly and is managing to hold herself together and sticking up for herself," he noted. "Those are qualities that, again, I would suspect Kazi has had to learn himself."
As for how much more of the comics-Kazi fans might get to see in the Hawkeye series, Fee kept mum about face paint, but admitted, "I'm definitely excited about what is to come."
"My favorite thing about the character... is this sort of brimming, quiet intensity that he has. He doesn't reveal all. He doesn't give all away," he explained. "There's so many secrets under there, and it's just constantly simmering. And I mean, that's a wonderful thing for an actor to be able to play, just not giving it all away."
"In that way, he differs greatly from his current counterparts in the Mafia who are wonderfully fun, big, bold characters," he added. "There's a real sense of intrigue and mystery with Kazi that I've loved to play. And I think the viewers will get a clearer sense of his motivations and his passions further down the line."
"I would love to explore this character as long as I can, as long as I'm around," Fee marveled. "I really have fallen in love with him. And similar to you guys, I'm watching all of this unfold. I figured out what I thought I knew whenever we were shooting it, but, you know, things change, things evolve, and so, I'm sort of with this story.
"If there's further things to explore, which there always is, I would absolutely love to do that," he added. "I've got my phone on, just in case."
New episodes of Hawkeye are streaming every Wednesday on Disney+.