Television

What the Hell Is Julia Louis-Dreyfus Doing in a Marvel Show?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s Valentina cameo, explained.

A figure in silhouette is in the center of the image, while a man with blondish hair faces toward it and away from the camera.
Photo illustration by Slate. Image via Marvel Studios.

As The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ambles along toward its sixth and final episode, the series has been fairly light on fun, surprises, or fun surprises. But lo and behold, in the show’s penultimate episode this week, the Disney–Marvel drama provided both. And it was one heckuva surprise, whether or not you’re a Marvel know-it-all.

Spoilers, obviously, follow.

A quarter of the way through episode five, “Truth,” comes a tense session in court: John Walker, the new Captain America, has been stripped of his position after killing someone while in costume. Not only must he relinquish that vaunted mantle, but he’s got to give up that fancy shield, too. A resistant Walker refuses to let this fully bruise his ego, but it’s hard to come back from being called such an embarrassment to your country that you can’t wear that fancy blue Spandex in public anymore.

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Cut to Walker sitting with his wife, Olivia, in the empty courtroom, contemplating what this bad news means for their future. Enter a snappily dressed woman who, somehow, has the answers: the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, played by none other than Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

A woman with brown hair and hoop earrings talks to a man with blondish hair who is facing away from the camera.
Valentina lets John (Wyatt Russell) know that she’s got him covered, baybee. Marvel Studios
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After getting past the initial shock of a Marvel character sharing my name (and even pronouncing it correctly!), I was transfixed by seeing the 11-time Emmy winner, Elaine Benes and Selina Meyer herself, standing in the middle of a Marvel show. Not even a movie; a show! Turns out that the Contessa—or Val, but don’t call her that out loud, only in your head—has a long comic book history as, among other things, the one-time villain Madame Hydra and a Russian sleeper agent within S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s like Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, but evil. Seems appropriate, then, that she’d be the one to show up out of nowhere to comfort the disgraced former Cap, as she comes from the inside but intends on using that inner knowledge for no-good.

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I’ll let the Marvel-heads do the work of explaining the Marvelese of Val and instead return to the oddity of seeing Louis-Dreyfus in a show like this one. True, she appears for just for one scene, and she does add some trademark comic levity that much of Falcon and the Winter Soldier has lacked over the preceding five hours. But the actress comes from a TV world of the slightly absurd but nonetheless very real, not the militarized, high-tech, big-budget fantasia that the MCU usually traffics in. We know and love her as Old Christine; forgive us for being shocked to see her with a sexy blue streak in her hair. Val must rank as the actress’ most unexpected role since, IDK, Planes—the Cars spinoff in which she voiced a French racing plane.

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That said, Louis-Dreyfus apparently hinted at her future Marvel partnership way back in 2019, so maybe we shouldn’t be so shocked. Vanity Fair reports that Veep showrunner David Mandel needled her in an interview back then, saying she should play a Marvel villain, which she sheepishly acknowledged: “Swinging around on wires and kicking people in the face … shooting fire out of whatever you shoot fire out of. I would dig that.” Alas, there’s no fire-shooting and face-kicking yet, but Vanity Fair goes on to quote sources that claim that the Contessa will also appear in Black Widow—a movie was meant to premiere last May, until the pandemic went and pandemic’d all over the place, so now it’s not out until this July. Should that rumor prove true, it would prove that we were meant to have met Louis-Dreyfus’ Marvel character on the big screen before the small one. In that timeline, we would have likely been less taken aback to see her here in Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It certainly would have been a fun reveal to have Louis-Dreyfus show up in an action movie by one of the biggest studios in the world all of a sudden in a theater with tons of other folks, but, alas.

Per Marvel lore, the Contessa is no minor role, even if the future of Louis-Dreyfus’ tenure in the franchise remains a big question mark. Maybe a 12th Emmy could be in the works for JLD, depending on how the finale goes? Either way, congrats to her, and thanks to Marvel, for expanding her range. Now make Val do the “Little Kicks” dance for us in the next ep, as a treat.

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