“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” directed by Anthony and Joe Russo from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, continues the big screen adventures of Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans). Based on the popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, the film picks up after the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers and finds Steve Rogers living quietly in Washington, D.C., trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue and mystery that threatens to put the world at risk.
Joining forces with Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off assailants sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable new enemy, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). The film also stars Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury and Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a senior leader within the global defense organization.
At the recent Los Angeles press day, Evans, Johansson, Jackson, Mackie, Stan, the Russo brothers, and producer Kevin Feige talked about Marvel’s commitment to making quality films, why Evans was excited to pick up the shield again, the film’s winning script and well developed characters and how they’ve grown and evolved, the decision to enlist a new ally known as the Falcon, how Stan built the backstory for his mysterious character, the gravitas Redford brought to his role, Johansson’s preparation for her physically demanding role, plans for a Black Widow spin-off of her Marvel character, and how the Russo’s adapted their directing style for a big budget action movie and brought the story into the 21st century.
Here’s what they had to say:
QUESTION: Chris and Scarlett, this film is full of people wondering who they can trust, and I wondered in both of your lives, what does somebody have to do if they really want to be your friend? What are the trust issues that you might have?
CHRIS EVANS: Oh man!
Q: You don’t have to go too deep and psychological, just…
CHRIS EVANS: They always offer money. No, well, it takes time and experience. You need to earn trust and that’s not something that happens overnight. I really don’t have that complex of an answer besides that.
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: I trust no one. No, I only trust whoever Sam Jackson trusts. That’s my barometer right there.
Q: Do they have to prove themselves?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: I don’t think people have to prove themselves in order for me to trust them. I think I’m pretty trusting by nature, and usually I would say I guess I wait for people to prove me wrong, and then I don’t trust them I would say after that.
CHRIS EVANS: You start with an A.
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: And you never get it back. Yeah, once I don’t trust you, you’re out of the circle.
Q: Scarlett, this is the third time you’re playing this character and it was very interesting to see a more humorous side of Black Widow emerge this time. What do you think of how your character has evolved and grown, and also by playing her, do you think you have also changed or grown in a way?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Well, other than being in physical therapy for the rest of my life, I think this is the first time that we’ve really gotten to see Natasha. We saw a little bit of her in “The Avengers” and we saw a bit of her back story, and we’ll see more of that in “Avengers 2,” but in this film, we really get to see Natasha as a person who gets up, gets ready for work in the morning, and has a life outside of her job once she’s out of the suit. I mean she’s a woman and she has her own kind of reality outside of this, even though who knows how far that structure is. But, it’s not until I think through the series of circumstances, as the plot unfolds, that we find both Steve and Natasha questioning their own identity, realizing that they thought that they were pretty strong people that had their beliefs or whatever, kind of twisted morals they might have, or whatever they are, maybe the widow more than Caps. At the end of it, they realize wait, I actually don’t know who I – I’ve actually been told kind of – I’ve been this sort of hired hand for this my entire professional career and young adult life, and who am I and what do I want and what do I need from someone? Both of these characters are kind of left… In some ways, there’s a cliffhanger at the end, because you really see that they’re cresting the wave of having this huge moment of self-discovery. Hopefully, I think we’ll be able to track where that goes in the next installments.
Q: Kevin, playing off of what Scarlett was saying, one element from the film that I loved was how you treat your female characters with respect and admiration, and the film is almost as much about Natasha’s journey as it is Steve’s. Will we be seeing a standalone Black Widow film sometime in the future?
KEVIN FEIGE: I think it could be great. We’ve got various outlines and ideas of where to take that. As Scarlett has already said, there’s a big element that explores her back story in an upcoming Marvel feature. So the question really is when would we want to take her out of that ensemble to go and do her own thing? In fact, as you saw in this movie, as you’ll see in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” she is key to so much of the broader world.
Q: Scarlett, you’re such a strong female character in the movie. What do you think about being a role model for girls out there who want a female onscreen who helps out her co-star who’s a guy?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: I think Natasha is a bit of a reluctant superhero. She doesn’t necessarily have this really kind of strong golden moral compass. Let’s not forget, she started out her career as essentially a mercenary, so I don’t know if that makes her role model material. I think one of the things that’s very attractive to me about the character is that Natasha uses her feminine wiles as a part of her job, but she doesn’t rely on her sexuality or physical appeal to get the job done. She’s extremely smart. She thinks on her feet. She’s a leader and she has a lot of foresight. Those are all qualities that I think it’s wonderful to celebrate for young women, and of course, it’s really rad for me to have my friends’ kids look up to that character and dress up like her at Halloween and play with the boys and be rough. I always say, “The widow always wins.” And it’s true. And that’s a nice sentiment.
CHRIS EVANS: That’s not an easy Halloween costume.
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Well, for you maybe. (Laughter)
Q: Chris, you spoke to us three years ago when the first film came out and you were very candid about concerns you had – not about the role itself, but about its impact on you, a loss of anonymity, concerns about typecasting, and now this is the third time through with the Captain and more to come. How do you feel that process has evolved?
CHRIS EVANS: Had I not done the movies, it would’ve been the biggest mistake of my life. It really would’ve been the biggest regret to date and there are plenty. It’s changed everything for me. I mean not just what it’s enabled me to do outside of these movies, but it’s so comforting knowing that you’re making good movies. It would be a nightmare to be trapped in this contract and be making films that you’re not proud of, but Marvel has the Midas touch, so every time you suit up, you know that you’re making something of quality. It’s rewarding on every level, so thank God I had the right people in my life pushing me to make the right decision.
Q: Anthony (Mackie) and Chris, I love you two guys together and the camaraderie between you in this film. Could you comment about working together and also having The Falcon as a nice addition in this series?
ANTHONY MACKIE: Well, we just got cast in the remake of “Lethal Weapon,” so we’re excited about that.
CHRIS EVANS: I’m Danny Glover
ANTHONY MACKIE: It’s pretty cool. That’s working out well. Wait. What was the question? I was holding that joke – you go ahead – so I wasn’t listening. Sorry.
CHRIS EVANS: It didn’t matter what you asked. (Laughs)
ANTHONY MACKIE: Damn! I was like, “Oh, this is going to be good!” Go ahead. My bad.
CHRIS EVANS: Well, I’ve known Anthony for a while now. This is our third movie together. It’s funny. Everyone that I’ve worked with up here, it’s familiar and it’s old relationships. When I first met Anthony, it actually wasn’t on a movie set. We got along very well. We’re very similar people. So we hit it off very well off set and then this is like I said…
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Where did you meet, Chris?
CHRIS EVANS: A library.
ANTHONY MACKIE: Right.
CHRIS EVANS: We just got along, and so it was very easy having a repartee with him off set, and I think that translates on set. You can tell right now, the guy is life. He’s energy on set, in the press conference, and as a character. He just brings a certain type of spark that you need on film and you need off as well.
ANTHONY MACKIE: I agree.
Q: For Mr. Feige and for the Russos, in this film, there are great bits from the familiar Marvel canon and the sensibilities of that universe, but you also have Mr. Mackie doing the first four-letter expletive in a Marvel film, you have Cap pinning someone’s hand with a thrown knife, and you destroy a substantially large organization as part of the milieu of these films. Where do you decide to bend things or break them in the interest of moving these films forward as their own unique piece of entertainment?
KEVIN FEIGE: I believe he says “shit” and we’ve said “shit” in the movies before, lest you think it’s another four-letter expletive. The key to making these movies different and unique each time is to, I wouldn’t say, take chances necessarily, but to be able to move pieces around on the playing board and be able to subvert expectations. In terms of the big event that happens in the movie that changes everything, that was part of the plan for quite a while – to mix things up and for the world to be very different at the beginning of “Avengers II” than it was at the end of “Avengers I.” But also in terms of tone and action, when we met with Joe and Anthony Russo, they were very clear and had very lofty ambitions, saying things like, “We want to do the best car chase in any Marvel movie and maybe the best car chase of all time.” I said, “Well, that sounds good. Let’s try that.” And referencing the best choreographed fight scenes from the last 30 years as inspiration and damned if they didn’t pull it off.
ANTHONY RUSSO: For us, it was just a function of tone. I mean, the source material from (Ed) Brubaker is – it’s an espionage film.
Q: John le Carre, not Jack Kirby?
ANTHONY RUSSO: Exactly.
JOE RUSSO: That’s a better reference than I could have ever come up with.
ANTHONY MACKIE: Let me write that down.
Q: One of the lines that I love in the film is when you talk about the fact that Nick Fury is the only one who knows the big picture and you just get a little bit. I’m curious, is Kevin your Nick Fury? Is he the only one who knows the big picture of all the Marvel movies and the plans, and have any of you approached and tried to get a little more out of him?
CHRIS EVANS: (whispering) Totally.
ANTHONY RUSSO: I would say that Samuel L. Jackson always has been and always will be our Nick Fury. That’s all I know. That’s all I know.
CHRIS EVANS: That’s a very Nick Fury response.
ANTHONY RUSSO: That’s your answer, I guess.
KEVIN FEIGE: Exactly.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: No, we don’t ask for anything. We just ask not to be killed.
Q: For Chris and Sam, but any of the other actors or filmmakers who want to answer this, please go ahead. Tell me about working with the great Robert Redford.
CHRIS EVANS: He’s amazing. It was pretty intimidating that day, because he is a living legend, but it’s always such a treat when someone you look up to that much lives up to the expectation. I mean he very easily could’ve come on set and hijacked the film, not just as an actor, but given his past as a director and his experience. He very easily could’ve taken over. He showed up with the utmost professionalism. He knew his lines. I think the first day we filmed, we shot until 1:00 in the morning and he stuck around for my off camera stuff. I mean it was like it was his first movie. So he really is such an example of what it is to be great.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: For me, it was pretty much the same. I met Robert in a lot of different situations when I was going to Sundance when I was a younger actor, when he had a more active part in that process, and I missed an opportunity to do several films with him over the years. That morning when I got there to work with him for the first time, we sat down and we talked about a lot of different things. We talked about golf. We talked about life. We talked about movies. So, by the time we got on set, it did look like we spent time together or had some past and some darker and more medieval state of counter insurgency. It was a great experience. He is everything Chris said. He’s professional. He knew his lines. He wanted to do it. He wanted to try them different ways. He wanted to make things better and that’s part of coming into the Marvel universe. People come in and they see what we do and they kind of want to blend into it and make things better, and as we continue to do it, things do get better.
Q: This is for the Russo brothers. Traditionally, you’re comedic directors for episodes of “Community” as well as “Arrested Development”…
ANTHONY MACKIE: Is that true?
JOE RUSSO: Have you seen the show? (Laughter)
ANTHONY MACKIE: No, no, go ahead
Q: How did you adapt your styles that you’ve learned directing those episodes to a multimillion dollar action film with a budget in the nine digits?
JOE RUSSO: It was actually ten digits, but we’re not talking about that.
ANTHONY RUSSO: The processes are very different. You still go to set. You’re still directing actors. You’re still working with the crew. You have an infrastructure at Marvel that’s very different than anywhere else in the world, which is an incredible infrastructure, very talented, very intelligent people, who are there to help you get your vision across, but we always say comedy isn’t very different from action. It requires choreography. When you’re doing a good comedic bit, it’s all about the choreography and the timing of it, which isn’t very different than stunt work or a fight in a movie. It’s all a dance. So we didn’t feel like it was that big of a stretch for us. It felt like every day that we’ve been on set for the last 15 years.
Q: Scarlett, how did you prepare physically for the role? It seems to be pretty intense? How challenging was it to do those stunts?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Well, I think I had just come off of doing a Broadway run, which is pretty much the most physically challenging thing you can do, and I felt like if anything was going to prepare me to have stamina, it was that. So, everything seemed like a piece of cake after treading the boards for that long, and I think I was in pretty solid shape from that run. And then, it’s just maintaining it. Boring. Get up at 5:00, go to the gym, you know, all that stuff that’s horrible, not glamorous at all, and train like a dude, and then eat a bunch of lettuce and whatever. That’s how it goes. Nothing fancy.
Q: Kevin, there’s a “Spider-Man” and an “X-Men” movie coming out next month and you seem to be setting up so much within the Marvel-Marvel/Disney-Marvel universe here. I’m wondering if you can tell me how much of any influence you have on these other Marvel films that come out of different studios?
KEVIN FEIGE: It’s limited. It’s very limited with the other studios, mainly for two reasons. One because we’re quite busy building our own cinematic universe and also the contracts are very old and the approvals are very limited. I mean, it is what it is. Those contracts are very old with the other studios. I expect they’ll be making Spidey movies at Sony for a long time and X-Men movies at Fox for a long time, and I hope we keep making MCU movies for a long time at Marvel.
Q: There was a lot of source material you could’ve used from the first Captain America movie considering that it was 1940s. Can you tell us what other source materials were there and what made the Winter Soldier so distinct?
JOE RUSSO: Yeah. I’m not sure I understand the other source material reference, but – yeah.
ANTHONY RUSSO: Well, the source material for this is that Brubaker’s run about the Winter Soldier that came out, I think in 2005, and as we said, it’s tone is very different from the first film. So that was the source material we drew on obviously, and Joss has said this, it’s called the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it’s not a direct interpretation of that. It’s borrowing tone and it’s borrowing characters and it’s borrowing themes, but that was the strongest source material for this movie.
Q: Mr. Jackson, there’s a lot of monumental twists and turns in the script for this movie. Can you talk about the first time you received the script, what went through your mind when you first read it, and what excited you the most about the Winter Soldier?
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: Gee, that’s a lot of questions. Well, I’m always excited to do more, and Nick seems to grow with each film. I realized when I was reading it that it was a bit more than just a comic book feature, that it had intrigue. I’m sure a lot of young people are going to be surprised when they get in the movie and watch it that they actually have to think about something other than what’s going on. You have to figure out a plot. And that always excites me. It’s always a great, great joy to know that I’m going to be back in a space with all the people that I enjoy working with and being able to do the things that I did on a very small scale when I was a kid. I mean this is, you know, a dream come true. You sit there and you read comic books when you’re a kid and you wonder if there’s a world like that. You grow up as an actor and they start making movies like that and you wonder, “How can I get in that movie?” And then next thing you know, you’re inside it and you’re kind of like, “Yeah.” So, you know, they’re all pluses there.
Q: This is by far the most superlative script of any Marvel movie that we have seen and one of the great strengths is because you’ve moved it into the 21st Century out of fighting for freedom and into fighting for truth. How did you go about finding the balance of truth within your respective characters?
SEBASTIAN STAN: I’ll take this one, please.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: Speak for us all.
SEBASTIAN STAN: Well, I don’t know. For me, it was actually pretty simple, because the Winter Soldier’s truth is very direct. He follows on this very specific trajectory path which is pretty much automatic — receiving orders, carrying them out — and he doesn’t stop at anything until he achieves his goal. I feel it was probably more complex for the other characters honestly than what I had to do in the film.
Q: Sebastian, I know a lot of actors like to build a back story, but this character is a man of mystery. Did you do any research looking back at the source material, the comics, or anything like that?
SEBASTIAN STAN: Well, for me, of course. Most of the work, at least on the character, I had done before the first film, when I was first educated about it. And then, I tried to implement some of those things in the first film not knowing at the time really that we were going to be doing this film. And then, when it came to the role that I was going to play in this film, even though it was a very different version of a character that we sort of were introduced to in a certain way, I still at the end of the day was trying to walk away from it having left some type of mix of the new with some of the old aspects that you would sort of remember when you would see it in its entirety.
Scarlett, you’ve done a lot of interesting roles lately. Is this a fun character to come back to? Does it feel very comfortable returning to her again?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Yeah, I mean, I’ve never really had the opportunity to do something [like this]. It’s an interesting challenge to keep coming back to this character, and I have the good fortune of playing a character that’s evolving with each installment that you see her in. So, going in to the play the character, of course, I have to understand who this character is and where she comes from and have this sort of rich back story. I think the exciting thing is just scraping away at a little part of that each time to reveal a small part of the bigger picture of her. It’s a very complex character, which is wonderful for me, because over the period of time that I’ve played her, I’ve also grown. Obviously, it’s been six years on my own as you do in your career, your work, your life, so I feel that the character’s story is more enriched as my own experiences are.
Q: Chris, you’ve spent a lot of time in Cap’s suit now, and I want to know, when you first put it on when you come back for each outing, how that feels. Does it still feel as exciting when you pick up the shield?
CHRIS EVANS: It always feels like it gets tighter. It’s like I thought it was supposed to get more comfortable. I feel like this got worse. I’m not joking. That really happens. They always make improvements on it and this type of thing, once you get a good sweat going, it loosens up quite a bit. It’s exciting. Again, a lot of it has to do with the fact that you know you’re making good movies. If you were disappointed with the previous film, it’s going to be hard to mentally prepare yourself for living in that thing for four or five months, but since Marvel just can’t stop making quality movies, it’s exciting and it’s humbling and it’s an honor to jump back into it – no matter how uncomfortable it is.
Q: Scarlett, many actresses say that the producers or the industry change their view of them when they became moms. What are your thoughts on that?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, and so the roles that have become available to me change as I grow older and I transition through life. I’m sure that will continue as I grow older and transition through life. You hope to have a career that has longevity and reflects the experiences that you’ve had, I guess. It’s what we all hope for, men and women alike.
Q: You’re still a femme fatale.
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Thank you.
Q: Mr. Russo, by bringing this film into a modern setting, you have to deal with modern politics and America’s role in the world today. How did you thread the needle as it were to maybe avoid taking this film towards anything too recent?
ANTHONY RUSSO: You know, we’re making a political thriller and we might have done the opposite of what you’re asking about. We tried to run at what’s happening in the world today with the movie. So, we were thinking about what’s going on in the world with preemptive strikes and the President’s kill list, and then the whole Snowden thing came out after we were shooting. It was just reflective of what was sort of the tip of the iceberg of all of the other elements that were going on in the world that we were thinking about. I mean we tried to make the movie reflective of our real world condition and our real world stakes, even though it’s a fantasy expression of what that is.