When I first heard that Joe and Anthony Russo would be directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I wasn’t sure what to think. My eyebrows were raised at the notion of the Arrested Development and Community directing duo tackling a ’70s-style political thriller that would take Captain America into darker territory than ever before. Thankfully, my fears were wildly unfounded and the Russo Brothers delivered one of my favorite Marvel films to date, delivering bone-crunching action, high drama, and, at long last, some much needed character development for Black Widow. Now, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is making its way to Blu-ray and DVD, and I had the chance to once again catch up with the Russos in order to pick their brains about the directing process, what to expect from Captain America 3, and how their experiences informed their approach for Cap’s forthcoming third solo outing.
N: Now that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is finally coming to home video, I have to ask if there are any deleted scenes that you are happy people will finally be able to see?
Joe Russo: Yeah, a couple of them. We really like those scenes, and it really is a function of watching the movie as a whole and thinking, “Oh, we could speed up here a little bit, maybe – maybe this point isn’t absolutely necessary.” But there is a scene between Sam Jackson and Scarlett that we said at the time is a master class of acting, where they have just two or three lines of dialogue, but it’s really fraught with baggage and back story. We think that’s a great scene, so we’re glad people get to see that.
There’s a great scene between Maria Hill and Jasper Sitwell that didn’t make it in the film, and also I thought it was really excellent acting between those characters – really grounded them. It showed a different side of them. For those two scenes, I think, we’re the happiest that people will finally get a chance to see.
N: One of my favorite parts of the film was how much we got to see Black Widow come into her own. She was more than just an ass-kicking accessory. She felt like a fully-realized character, so I’m excited that we’ll get even more of her back story.
Anthony Russo: Yeah, and she does an amazing job with that character. She really does.
N: So taken as a whole, what was your favorite part of the Captain America 2 filming experience?
AR: Favorite part of the filming experience?
JR: Oh, boy. I think it was just getting to work with everyone that we got to work with on this film, from the cast to our crew to everybody at Marvel. It was by far the most enjoyable experience we’ve had in the business. Everybody was great. So many talented people. We had a blast with the cast. We got very close to a lot of them – most of, or almost all of our crew is coming back for Captain America 3. And we get to spend another two years with our friends at Marvel.
N: That’s awesome. So I really enjoyed the sort of political-thriller tone to Winter Soldier. Are we going to be continuing that same sort of tonal tack? Is that something that you guys are trying to go for again with Captain America 3?
AR: There is part of that that is so natural to the character, because he wears a flag on his costume, and he was sort invented in the beginning for a very political purpose, in terms of America’s involvement in World War II. So this is something – the character lends himself to that genre, in a way. And I think it’s one way to distinguish him from the rest of the Marvel universe. You know, the rest of the Marvel characters, that dimension is kind of – in some ways it’s unique to him.
But at the same time, as we move forward, we want to keep finding ways to surprise ourselves and audiences. So while we are kind of still nominally in that zone, we are bringing some new elements to the table that kind of give us a new twist. We had a great crutch when we were making Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the fact that The First Avenger was set during World War II, which is such a different time period that just simply by us bringing him into a modern day, and putting him in a modern day political thriller, was sort of a radical departure from what had been done before.
Now we don’t have that same kind of crutch moving forward into the next Captain America movie, so we’ve got to really challenge ourselves to think of ways – subtler ways – to sort of surprise audiences, in terms of where the story can go and where the character can go.
N: He does lend himself well to that genre. And I think with the relationship you’ve set up between him and Black Widow, and the rumblings we’ve heard about potentially seeing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye in Captain America 3, it definitely lays the ground work of a Secret Avengers-style team up, which I would be very excited to see.
AR: Yeah, it’s so funny with that character. It’s interesting – our creative process is we try a lot of different ideas. We like to do that. And also, Kevin Feige likes to do that as well at Marvel. So you try a lot of different things, but the character is very interesting. He has a great weight to him. He ends up pulling the narrative where it is supposed to be. It’s really cool.
N: Nice! Obviously, I imagine you guys have been working pretty closely with Kevin Feige and all of the other Marvel directorial talent to sort of plot this out, because this is going to be happening in the wake of Age of Ultron. How frequently do you collaborate with the other talent in the Marvel production pool?
AR: Pretty regularly. We don’t speak every day, but we definitely consistently intersect with people. Both specifically because we want to check in, in terms of where certain things are at, and then also just kind of casually, you know. It’s kind of like a nice little extended family here. Everybody’s very supportive of one another, and it’s kind of a nice support system here.
So again, it’s just like a huge creative collective here, and everybody’s intersecting. But at the same time, every movie is given its own space. That’s the one thing that I will say that I think Kevin does in a very smart way. He does carve out space for every movie to have its own – it cannot be too encumbered by what is happening around it, what’s happening in the other films, in the other development, et cetera. He wants every movie to find its own way and be its own thing, and not be over-burdened by the issues in the universe as a whole. It’s an interesting balance, and Kevin really helps maintain it in a great way.
N: That’s important as well. That’s been an issue with the comics from time to time; they’re so burdened with back story and continuity that it can become inaccessible to the average viewer. I think they obviously need to be able to stand on their own, but that connective tissue is much appreciated.
AR: Yeah, that analogy is perfect. Very much that same thing.
N: So going into Captain America 3, what are some lessons that you learned from The Winter Soldier that are helping you in your approach?
AR: That’s an interesting question. What did we learn? It’s interesting, because these movies have such a long and thorough development process that you really go through a huge system of trial-and-error before you even get to executing the movie. So in terms of figuring out – we had very specific ideas about how we wanted the Captain to fight. His fighting style, we wanted him to have learned since he’s woken up in the modern world. He studied modern fighting techniques and warfare techniques.
That kind of stuff we worked out very thoroughly in prep, and you think about how that’s going to translate visually. How are we going to shoot it? What parts of it are going to be shot with practical effects on sight? Where are we going to sweeten things with visual effects, digital effects, in post? You go through a huge experimental process, in terms of figuring out how this thing works, so by the time you get to execution, everything is working like it’s supposed to.
So I think we’re just beginning a whole new process. I feel like Captain America 2 worked, and we’re happy with it, and now we want Captain America 3 – we want to build it on the shoulders of Captain America 2, but we want to do something new and different and surprising with it. So we’re very much in that new process of trial-and-error and experimentation, both with the writers, Markus and McFeely, and with the visual development team and the producers, et cetera. So we’re kind of beginning a whole new process of trial-and-error.
N: Well, speaking of Markus and McFeely – I was reading an interview with them, and they said that sadly there would likely be no MODOK in Captain America 3, which broke my heart a little bit. That being said, are there any Captain America villains in particular you’d be excited to work with in future installments?
JR: Well, it was MODOK, until they said that! [laughter] The title of the film was actually Captain America: MODOK’s Dominion. [laughter] I guess that’s out the window now. Cap Wolf isn’t necessarily a villain, but that’s something I knew you’d ask. That’s an incarnation of the character that we’d love to play with at some point.
I don’t know. It’s a tricky one. Cap’s got a great rogue’s gallery, you know? What’s interesting is there’s some great characters and villains from the historical gallery, and there’s also some great new villains that came out of the [Ed] Brubaker material. So, look – it’s hard for us to comment, because anything we say will be used against us in a court of law. And we don’t want to ruin the story for anybody, so I think we’ll just have to plead the fifth on that one.
N: Well, how about this one – it was pretty incredible seeing Robert Redford in a Marvel film. That must have been an amazing experience. What actor are you guys going to pull in unexpectedly for Captain America 3?
AR: Oh man! You’re asking very tough questions! Look – we’re still early. We’ve been working with Markus and McFeely and the producers since February on what Captain America 3 can be. We just got our first draft of the script a few days ago. So we are still very early in the process, and we’re definitely talking about it. It’s just too early to talk about.
N: Yeah, I figured as much, but I’ll start my wish list now!
AR: Good. Run it by us so it’s in our heads.
N: Will do, will do. Now back to Captain America 2 for a second. Are there any favorite or as-yet-undiscovered Easter eggs that you guys are particular fans of?
JR: It’s crazy – it’s so hard to hide Easter eggs anymore. I think everything has been discovered in the movie. We keep saying people need to freeze the DVD and look at the bookshelf in Cap’s apartment. There’s one or two Easter eggs in the bookshelf. I think those might be the only ones people haven’t pointed out yet.
AR: Yeah, I’ve sort of seen Redford’s refrigerator highlighted – have you seen that one?
N: No, I haven’t seen that yet.
AR: There’s a special jar of pasta sauce in his refrigerator – it has Paul Newman’s face on it.
N: That’s awesome! [laughing] Fantastic. Well, guys, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really appreciated it, and I’m really looking forward to what’s coming down the line.
JR: Thank you.
AR: We appreciate it.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits store shelves on Tuesday, September 9.