9 Fascinating Things We Learned On The Set Of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

With each new film from Marvel Studios, the world of comic book movies becomes all the more interesting and complex. Building an impressive, fun cinematic universe, each title contributes all kinds of new characters, locations and other fantastical details to a larger picture all while succeeding in being individually fantastic stories surrounding terrific heroes.

In less than a month the studio plans to continue that pattern with the release of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We’ve already gotten some exciting looks at the new adventure thanks to a barrage of trailers, TV spots, posters, and stills, but last summer I got a very special inside look at the film, as I was invited along with a small group of other journalists to visit the set of the movie down in Manhattan Beach, California, where we had the opportunity to both watch the production in action and also sit down for interviews with the actors and filmmakers who made it all possible.

Based on a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Captain America: The Winter Soldier follows the events of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers and follows the titular hero as he continues to adjust to life in the modern world while working as a field agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. As his work continues, however, he begins to question whether or not he is actually still fighting for the right side, and things only get worse when a figure from his past long thought to be dead makes his returns.

Talking with the cast and crew of the movie I learned all kinds of fascinating details about the film, which I’m extremely excited to share with you now. What special and specific genre is the movie modeled after? What can we expect from the Captain America/Black Widow dynamic? What did Anthony Mackie say he’ll do if he gets cast in The Avengers: Age of Ultron? Read on to find out (and be sure to click on the three exclusive behind-the-scenes photos below)!

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Captain America’s Core Relationship In The Film Is Within Himself

There are more than a few interesting characters in Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the titular hero to create meaningful relationships with, from the returning Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to new faces like Sam Wilson a.k.a. The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and S.H.I.E.L.D. head Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), but ultimately the most important dynamic that he must deal with is the battle within himself. Cap’s world has changed to an incredible degree between World War II and the present, and his conflict with that element is going to play a role in just about every layer of the film.

While The Avengers didn’t feel like the right time to really dive into all of the extreme eternal conflicts going on in Cap’s mind, the character’s solo movie sequel will take a closer look not only at his day-to-day adjustment, but also what it’s like moving from a world of black and white morality to a shadier, more covert world. "It felt like this was absolutely the right time to deal with how he can come to terms with a past that is long gone and is seemingly never coming back, dealing with the shades of gray of the modern era and certainly of being a part of an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D." Kevin Feige explained. "And then just as he’s finding a niche for himself, his past comes back and lands like a ton of bricks on his head in the form of Winter Soldier."

In bringing Captain America to the future and having him be confused by the modern world there may be a temptation to make the character seem overly stupid and old for the sake of comedy, but that was something that the screenwriters of the film actually worked to avoid. Said co-screenwriter Christopher McFeely, "He’s the most adaptive man on the planet. His brain’s been juiced, so he’s not going to be baffled for very long by your iPhone. You have all those ideas first and then you’re like, ‘Those are stupid.’"

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Is Modeled To Be Like A ‘70s Conspiracy Thriller

Not only is Captain America: The Winter Soldier set a full 70 years after most of the events in Captain America: The First Avenger, but it’s also a completely different genre. While Joe Johnston’s film was largely inspired by Cap’s history as a propaganda-esque character and was a true-blue war film, the sequel will be changing things up quite a bit, and instead takes its inspiration more from 70s political/conspiracy thrillers.

In Captain America’s search to find his place in the modern world, one of the biggest conflicts that he keeps running up against is his affiliation with S.H.I.E.L.D., a clandestine organization that doesn’t always take out and neutralize threats in the most ethical fashion. The idea of making a movie about one man facing off against a powerful organization opened the door to the conspiracy thriller genre. Explained co-screenwriter Christopher McFeely, "The great thing about conspiracies is it’s usually not like 16 people versus a conspiracy - it’s one guy who becomes increasingly isolated. All of those movies do a great job of taking away the safety net until you’ve got one man who then has to decide whether he’s going to run in the opposite direction or will take them down."

So what movies were the directors, screenwriters and producers watching making the movie? John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man and Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View were both namedropped during the day on set, but the most often repeated title was Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor, partially because both it and Captain America: The Winter Soldier share a very special star…

Image title

Robert Redford Sounds Like A Pretty Awesome Guy

With titles like Three Days of the Condor, All The President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Ordinary People and seemingly hundreds of other amazing titles on his resume, Robert Redford is a true Hollywood legend – which makes it all the more amazing that he is about to star in a comic book movie. In the film, the actor plays Alexander Pierce, a key figure in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s organization that Cap may find himself running up against in his search for the truth. But while Pierce appears to be a somewhat shady character, the people behind the scenes of the film had nothing but nice things to say about working with him.

In addition to confirming that fans will be able to find a Three Days of the Condor Easter Egg hidden in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russos expressed an incredible amount of gratitude towards Redford, going as far as to say that they owed their careers to him because of how they first got exposure in Park City, Utah as part of the indie film circuit and the Sundance/Slamdance Film Festivals. Chris Evans noted that he was impressed that Redford would stick around set even for off-camera work after midnight. Even cooler, Kevin Feige said that Redford approached Marvel about being in one of their movies so that his grandkids could watch.

The best portrait painted of Redford, however, came from Anthony Mackie, who has known Redford for years due to his indie work. "He's always just been a great guy to me," Mackie said during our interview. "He's one of those guys you see him and he remembers you, and he talks to you, and finds out what's going on with you. He's just really personable. He's not like he has 50 people in his entourage in a limousine. He shows up in friendship bracelets and a baseball cap and a Buena Vista Social Club shirt and is like, ‘What's up?’ So he's a pretty hip, cool cat. "

Image title

Community’s Paintball Episode Opened The Door For The Russos To Direct The Captain America Sequel

When directors Joe and Anthony Russo came aboard to direct Captain America: The Winter Solider, the choice was a bit of a headscratcher. It wasn’t about questioning their talent, but rather instead about what Marvel Studios saw in the two filmmakers whose biggest claims to fame have been the comedy television shows Arrested Development and Community. While the genres don’t really seem to match up from an outsider’s perspective, it was actually because of the latter series that the duo ended up getting the job.

Immediately after first sitting down to chat on set, the Russos started discussing what really got their foot in the door was that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige saw the famous paintball episode of Community and understood from the show that the two filmmakers knew what they were doing in terms of how to approach an action sequence. "I think he had seen the paintball episode of Community," Joe Russo said. "[Kevin Feige] thinks outside of the box: ‘These guys get action. Clearly, they're skewering genre on the show, so they have an understanding of genre and its construction. They have a secret love for it,’ which we did. And he brought us in for a meeting and we talked about it."

Speaking with Feige earlier in the day, the executive explained that Marvel has been looking outside of the norm since the first Iron Man and that bringing the Russos on just continued a tradition that had started in 2008. "Elf, Favreau. Good TV for Joss. Good Shakespearean drama 15 years ago for Kenneth Branagh. And I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, but the TV that I was watching, that I found interesting, their name kept popping up."

Image title

Anthony Mackie Has A Very Special Celebration Planned If He Gets Invited To Join The Avengers: Age of Ultron

With new characters like Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) joining the heroic lineup of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s already very clear that the blockbuster sequel is going to be even bigger than its predecessor – and it may very well keep getting even bigger. One character who is most certainly a candidate to join the superhero team is Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, as the hero has a good deal of history with the group in the comics. And in case you were wondering, Mackie is more than enthusiastic to sign on.

Things have almost certainly evolved, developed and changed within the workings of Marvel Studios since last July when the Captain America: The Winter Soldier set visit was held, but when we talked to Mackie on that day he couldn’t have been more excited about the idea of potentially joining The Avengers. At the time of the interview the actor knew nothing about the possibilities for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but did stress that we will definitely know the moment when he gets cast.

"If I'm in Avengers 2, everyone will know it 'cause I'm gonna run through Times Square butt ass naked with Avengers 2 tattooed across my chest," Mackie said laughing. "It's a huge honor to be a part of the group of people they've put together. Because Marvel - they don't go for great looking people who could be superheroes, they go for good actors who can make superheroes come to life. So, to be a part of Avengers would be really cool."

Image title

Captain America vs. Black Widow

Captain America and Black Widow are two characters who see the world in very different ways. Cap is a guy who started life as a scrawny kid who wanted to fight the Nazis – a force defined as pure evil. Widow was an assassin at an early age and was raised as a Russian and S.H.I.E.L.D. spy, always serpentining back and forth along the morality line. It’s fascinating that these two heroes both fight for the same side, and it’s a dynamic that will be fully explored in The Winter Soldier.

"My favorite scenes are the scenes with Scarlett," Chris Evans told us, expressing how much he enjoyed the banter and between the characters as well as their polar opposite personalities. "Our characters both have issues in this movie," he continued. "It's just such an odd pairing. We're such different people. Her moral compass is for sale, and Steve is a boy scout. So it's interesting what they find in each other."

Added co-screenwriter Stephen Markus, "They rub against each other really well in terms of how they adapt to their surroundings, shifting value systems. Like we’ve always said, he’s our Gary Cooper and the world shifts to him. It’s his job to tell everybody, ‘Here’s how we ought to be doing this.’ She’s a lot more flexible in terms of loyalties and how we’re going to get these jobs done. We didn’t pick her out of thin air—she best represented the century and that grey morality."

Image title

Sebastian Stan Sees The Winter Soldier As A Tragic Shakespearean Character

There is definitely a lot of drama going on with Captain America in the upcoming sequel, but let’s just take a quick moment to look at events from The Winter Soldier’s perspective, shall we? When we last saw Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), he was falling to what we presumed what his death after being knocked out of a train car riding along the side of a mountain. While we don’t know exactly what happened to him after that in the movie continuity just yet, we do know that the sequel has him reemerging in the modern timeline as a non-literal ghost from Cap’s past with a metal arm and a really bad attitude. We can expect that a great deal of drama will come as a result of the conflict between hero and the villain, and according to Stan it operates at Shakespearian-esque levels.

Sporting long black hair and looking completely unrecognizable from his character in the first film, Stan sat with us on set and discussed what it was about the Winter Soldier storyline that spoke to him and the strange relationship that develops as a result of it. "He's sort of like this tragic character, like they find in Shakespeare or something - I'm not trying to get all actor-y and blah blah," the actor said laughing. "It's such an interesting, heavy, and rich kind of character, and it's just so exciting to me. It's never black or white with him, there's always these other things, there's so much more to the character."

As we have seen with many Marvel Studios movies in the past, the arc of the villain is being kept a bit hush-hush, but that only makes it more exciting to see it play out on the big screen.

Image title

Captain America Has Found A New Way To Fight

Smart phones and laptops may be big things to take in for Captain America, but adjusting to the modern world is about more than just using consumer electronics. In the years since World War II all kinds of different fighting styles have been crafted and honed, requiring the superhero to adjust the way he moves – and that’s exactly what we get to see happen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

As seen in the various trailers and TV spots for the film, a big part of Cap’s new fighting style involves more running and movement as opposed to just being a brawler with a shield. The character will be taking full advantage of his superhuman speed and jumping ability, and will use that talent and skill to just fly through enemies and get his mission done. "He's flipping off things and spinning and jumping and just using his environment," Evans told us about the new fighting style. "And it's not just punch, punch, kick, kick, you know what I mean? That's fine, but this has to be more than Bourne Supremacy."

So how does Cap pick all of this kind of stuff up in just the year/year-and-a-half after the events seen in The Avengers? It all goes back to the power of the serum. "He learns things quickly," Joe Russo told us. "Our approach was that he would absorb everything in that year, year and a half. All the training he could possibly get, and all the tools at his disposal would be affected by that training."

Image title

The Third Act Of Captain America: The Winter Soldier Is Going To Change Everything

The movies so far in Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have all left an important impact on the road to Joss Whedon’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 had Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) blowing up all of his suits and getting the arc reactor removed from his chest. Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World featured the God of Thunder giving up the throne of Asgard to be on Earth with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). As significant as those moves are, however, they will pale in comparison to what Captain America: The Winter Soldier has in store.

While nobody would go into any heavy detail for obvious reasons, one of the most interesting things promised on the set of the new Marvel movie is that the end of the Captain America sequel will completely change the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. According to Joe Russo, there is a four-and-a-half minute sequence in the movie that will end up being a total game changer and leave audiences saying, "Holy shit! What’s going to happen here?"

As for where the movie sits on the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, Kevin Feige explained that the Phase Two films have been coming out chronologically, so Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes place after the events of both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. Being positioned towards the end, however, means that the impact the film makes will end up being the greatest. "The ramifications at the end of this film go directly into Avengers 2," Feige said. "Much more so than the other films."

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.