Black Widow's Loyalty And Howling Commandos: Joe And Anthony Russo Talk Captain America

There are a lot of reasons to be excited for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but one of the biggest is Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not only are we excited by the idea of the titular hero being stuck in the middle of a ‘70s-style political conspiracy thriller, the footage that was brought to San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend was outstanding, filled with incredible excitement and action.

But before all of the madness went down in Hall H, I had the chance to dig deep into the movie with the directors in a one-on-one interview a few hours before the big Marvel Studios panel. Check out our conversation below, in which the Russos talk about how the movie sets up the events in The Avengers 2, the intensity of Frank Grillo’s Crossbones, Black Widow’s ever changing morality, and the chance that we might see Cap’s old World War II buddies, the Howling Commandos, one more time.

You guys are coming from the world of television where you are building huge worlds just by constantly having new episodes, bringing in new stories. So, does that kind of make you more prepared for something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Joe Russo: To a certain extent, I think yes it does, because you know, there’s a certain mercurial quality to being in television where you have to think really quickly on your feet, things change minute by minute. You’re prepping on a Monday, shoot on a Monday. Working on a show like Community where every week we’re experimenting with a different tone and genre and style. Sometimes the camera would change and lighting would change and you have have five days to dream up all of that stuff. "Dungeons and Dragons" episodes wrapped in about 48 hours, so the whole opening we came up with on a tech scout where they’re all sort of in this netherworld and characters are flying by the camera, so it’s just sort of, it breeds a sort of experimentation and you know, a lightness on your feet as a director. So I think really that’s why you’re seeing guys like Joss and Judd Apatow and you know, Alan Taylor, you know, getting work in features. Obviously, J.J.[Abrams], because you turn into a little bit of a machine.

In the sense of that larger world, where exactly does this movie fall into the timeline? I got to see the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot and both that and Iron Man 3 are really reaction pieces to what happened in The Avengers. But this film’s release date is closer to Avengers 2 than it is to Avengers, so how much do we feel the effects of that? Do you still feel the effects of the first Avengers film or are you more leading into Avengers 2? [NOTE: I spoke with the Russos before the Marvel panel where they revealed that the Avengers sequel will be titled Age of Ultron]

Joe Russo: Yeah, politically they were feeling the effects of Avengers, but narratively it’s much closer to Avengers 2. And sets up a really big shift in the universe for Avengers 2. So, I think, story wise, about a year has passed.

To talk a bit about Captain America a bit more directly, how much sci-fi will we be getting to see in this film? I know that the movie has been described as a 70s political thriller, but with the arrival of Thor everything in this universe has changed.

Anthony Russo: There is some. I mean, it is, It’s weird. It’s like the movie is a little bit of a hybrid, we like to think of it. It’s sort of like, part superhero movie, part political thriller, so it’s sort of like you know, it’s like you’re smashing these two things into each other and we sort of, while certainly that doesn’t go away, it’s present there, but maybe it’s a little less present, but it has some really fun, there are a couple things that are really fun in the movie that do come from that sensibility.

Is Falcon part of that, just in the fact that he’s actually flying?

Anthony Russo: He is, but you know, we sort of grounded Falcon and sort of a real world kind of military sort of background and it was sort of our overall approach to the movie is sort of, how do you do a hardcore realistic version of a superhero movie, you know? And it’s never going to be hardcore realism, of course.

Joe Russo: But as much as we could pull things into the real world as possible, we absolutely. And also, I grew up on comics and I started collecting them when I was ten and one of the first books I ever bought was a Cap-Falcon book and I was always sort of upset by Falcon’s outfit. I always found it like an insult, you know, so we felt like this is a good opportunity to sort of draw from more post-modern elements to, you know, help pull the characters into the modern world.

To talk a bit more about this cast, it’s always cool when big name actors like Robert Redford sign on to comic book movies and big blockbusters, but I actually love it even more when I hear about great character actors, like Frank Grillo, get those kinds of parts. I’m curious, what was it about Frank Grillo that you felt was perfect for Crossbones and what can you tell me about his performance in this film?

Joe Russo: He’s an amazing actor with incredible intensity, if you’ve seen any of his work. He has that sort of, he also feels like a very classic presence on screen and for us, you know, Crossbones is, he’s most interesting when there’s a, you know, in the books, obviously he’s sort of an Oliver Stone kind of character, that’s what makes him exciting and interesting. We also like the character to have some semblance of threat because he’s also very smart and clever, so, you know, I think Frank really bridged that sort of tone really well and actors are really important thing to us, if you go look at Arrested or go look at the cast of Community. We really pay a lot of attention to how we cast things and what sort of, it’s like you’re a chef in the kitchen. All of the ingredients correctly put in place make the best meal and you know, he just has that verite quality. It just feels very real.

Anthony Russo: The other thing we loved about Frank is that, you know, in this movie, we wanted to really pay a lot of attention to the fighting, really deliver something, really intense level and Frank is a trained boxer. He’s a really good fighter and that was another dimension that was very appealing.

And you talk about Falcon’s physical change, is Crossbones similar to how he looks in the comics? Is it kind of different?

Joe Russo: You know, that’s something I’ll say you’ll have to go see the movie to find out [laughs].

I also want to ask about Black Widow, because I think one of the most exciting things about this project is the dynamic between Captain America and Black Widow. They’re such different characters with such different moralities. You can never tell where her loyalty lies, but in her relationship with Cap, does she tend to side more with him, or is she really a rep for S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Joe Russo: That’s kind of the big question of the movie for us with her character because she lies for a living. That’s her job. What happens now that she’s a member of a group, where her loyalty is going to lie. Is she part of the Avengers or is she, you know, the spy that stays true to the spy that she’s always been and, you know, stay loyal to subterfuge, you know, which is her trade. So, the movie really puts the spotlight on that and it’s like you said, Cap is a character with very strong morals and she’s a character with very flexible morals and that to me, and there’s some really strong plot points build around their points of view in a way which drives the movie.

To talk a bit about Cap’s costume, it’s gone through two big changes from what it looked like in The First Avenger to The Avengers. So how much is it changing in this film. Does it have a kind of natural evolution?

Joe Russo: Yeah, I mean I think it’s on the floor [see the picture above].

The new one? Oh, that’s awesome.

Joe Russo: So, it’s out there, but for us, it was, it’s thematic for the film, you know. You’ll see when you see the movie what he’s doing and who he’s working for in the beginning of the film, that costume is appropriate for what they’re asking him to do. It is a stealth outfit. It is for secret missions and I think that, you know, it’s thematic. You know, you read online, people get wrankled when you, you know, mess with the stars and the stripes, but there’s a very specific reason we did it in this film. We won’t talk about the other outfits that appear in the movie, which you’ll see in the movie, but again, I’ll just say, that the use of the costume in this film has a very thematic arc to it and hopefully a very rousing arc.

Speaking of the costumes on the convention floor, yesterday I saw there was the 40s costume alongside the costumes for The Howling Commandos [Cap’s team during World War II]. Are they all back?

Joe Russo: That’s... [laughs]

Awwwww, come on! [laughs]

Joe Russo: That’s one of those things where we’d spontaneously combust if we answered, you know, Marvel implants a microchip... [points to heart]

Anthony Russo: Yeah, but you know, that is a set piece from the movie. So, you know speculate on it what you will.

In addition to his look, do we also see a change in how Cap moves? Fight training has changed a lot over the last 60-70 years.

Joe Russo: Absolutely. That was really important to us going into the film. We felt like this is a year after the Avengers. Cap is a very sharp individual and part of the serum accelerates his learning ability and if he’s going to be working for who he’s working for at the beginning of the movie, then we felt that he would be the absolute best at every style of fighting that he could be and that he would train himself to be the best to fit into a modern society. The first film, it makes sense that he’s got that sort of John Sullivan approach to fighting because he was a kid off the street plucked to be a super soldier. Now, he’s trained. He’s trained exhaustively among some of the best people in the world. So, you see all sorts of movement out of him and we did a lot of intensive research with our stunt team, a lot of pre-fight videos and things that we’re really experimenting with how he would move in this movie, how he would fight. I think people will be really shocked when they see his style of fighting.

Anthony Russo: His new costume is also really closely related to that. It’s very much grounded in real military sort of functionality and purpose. He kicks a lot of ass in this film.

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.