Press Conference: ‘Black Widow’ Finally Gets Her Solo Adventure, With Family In Tow
Marvel’s Black Widow is finally upon us, and after a long wait for a solo Black Widow adventure. Although this is a concluding chapter for Natasha Romanoff, Marvel’s spy thriller opens the door for whole new possibilities.
Geeks of Color was kindly invited to attend the virtual press conference for Black Widow, hosted by Sarah Spain from ESPN. Spain is joined by director Cate Shortland, producer Kevin Feige, and actors Florence Pugh, Scarlett Johansson, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour.
What was Cate Shortland’s approach for the action-heavy and deeply emotional Black Widow?
Shortland: From the beginning when we spoke about the film, we knew that it had to speak to two things, which was Natasha as an individual and then what had happened to her.
And then we knew as well that it-I wanted it to be really fun and to have this incredible, like, I kinda thought it should be like a fairground ride, so really exhilarating. I suppose we just thought we wanted it to be both, but we wanted it to be raw and that those things would seamlessly mesh together.
It was always like putting her at the center of it, but making sure that we didn’t let the trauma of her past drag it down, that rather that we came up to answer it. And we often did that with humour.
How did Natasha’s ultimate sacrifice figure into how the story of Black Widow was told?
Fiege: We very specifically knew there was a large period of her life that we didn’t know about. Not just her childhood, but this period of time between, Civil War and Infinity War. And that period we felt was ripe to creatively focus on, to be able to discover more about her past and more about her present.
What aspects of Natasha’s personality does Scarlett Johansson feel she was able to showcase in the film that were not strongly highlighted in previous MCU films?
Johansson: Cate had mentioned that Natasha at the beginning of this film is really alone for the first time. She’s always been a part of something, starting out with, really not participating at all and being a victim of the Red Room.
And then you know, obviously joining with, joining Shield and then subsequently the Avengers. I mean she’s always been a part of something that was part of a greater whole. Then suddenly she finds herself sort of floating in this weird in-between space and she’s off her game. She realizes that she’s got all this possibility in front of her and it’s really suffocating.
Then she’s blindsided by this person who comes from her past who is just on fire and is a liability and is, like, got this crazy energy and is dangerous, and is full of life, and isn’t needy, but needs her. It’s just she’s so thrown off her game in this. It’s great to see her like that. We never get to see her like that.
She’s just full of doubt.
Scarlett has commented about the complexity and fullness of Black Widow that we haven’t gotten before, and the idea of Natasha being sexualized, was Yelena’s joke about Natasha’s pose a nod to that?
Johansson: You’ll have to ask Florence about that, because I spent 10 years building up this iconic pose with such weight to it, and she just… In a second she ripped it out, took it, tore it, and shredded it up and stomped on it.
What was Florence Pugh’s approach to playing Yelena and understanding the connection to Natasha?
Pugh: From the get-go, in the script, it was very obvious that they have this connection and they have this relationship. And ultimately despite, you know, her skillset she is that wonderfully, annoying young assistant that says all the right things in all the wrong times.
So that wasn’t hard at all for me to get into that. I think something that I really appreciated was Cate was so welcoming of me to figure out how she thinks and how she moves and what she wears. And I think for me that was such a fun part of figuring out this character because she really comes out of the Red Room and can live.
She can buy her own clothes, and she can buy a vest that has lots of pockets and she’s really excited by it. I think Cate really encouraged me to find, you know the oddities of her and kinda lean on that. So much so that, you know, in the end, you can see that she’s flourishing; she’s becoming her own being. I think also being welcomed into it with Scarlett equally being as giving as she was. I really found it such a wonderful and creative space.
What was the first sequence you filmed and how did you get to know each other?
Pugh: The first sequence that we shot was the Budapest fight scene in a safe house. So that was my first week of shooting. And that was Scarlett’s second week of shooting.
So literally on my first day, I was throwing Scarlett up against a wall, and she was smashing my face in the sink. I just remember, like, there was no greater way than to just break the ice than really wrestling Scarlett Johansson to the floor. Trying to choke each other. It was great that it was done. We got to know each other and we were friends.
How meaningful was it for Rachel Weisz to star in a movie with complex characters like Melina?
Weisz: I love stories about women, directed by women. I love playing opposite women. But I really loved playing opposite, the Red Guardian, Alexei as well, so I don’t wanna leave him out.
I mean I like stories about people, but it was wonderful to tell a story with three compilated, strong women. Just on the page I just thought she was a really unusual character.
People are just many, many, many things. And what the writers got onto the page and what Cate directed was just highly complex people that are very contradictory.
How did David Harbour balance the comedic and serious elements of the Red Guardian, who is constantly intentionally and unintentionally humorous?
Harbour: Thank you very much for laughing at me, not with me.
I mean the funny thing about him is that it’s sort of built out of the same-or it hatches from the same egg, the humour of his character because he is filled with grief and remorse about the choices that he’s made like, emotionally, spiritually, nutritionally. Right? But like, I’ve used that one before. But he definitely… You know, the comedy itself comes out of the ego that is built to defend against the feelings of that remorse.
So in other words, he has to be some bombastic because he can’t stop and feel these things, you know, the failures that he made. So he has to build around him a world of, a confabulatory, psychotic reality where he is the hero. And that’s inherently silly. I mean that’s inherently funny. Also, the family dynamics themselves are just so fun.
‘Cause what I found developing that was, you know, there’s almost a traditional shot, which I feel like is the perfect image for this movie, is all of us around a table in these very, you know, specific positions, which I remember talking about that day that we shot it. We’re all in super suits. Right? But you have this almost Norman Rockwell thing of like dad coming in last to sit at the head of the table while the eldest child sits here and mother and babysit over here. I found us all sort of falling into these traditional cliche roles. And then, riffing off of that.
That was like really fun and satisfying as well.
Lupe Haas from CineMovie asked: The fight styles all mimic Natasha’s skillset, did you and the stunt coordinator go back and study her moves from the Avenger movies?
Shortland: I would say that what we tried to do was… Different fights had different hats to ’em almost.
Say we’re looking at a fight on the bridge with Task Master. She’s trying to use her skillset, but that character that she’s fighting is an… he can… or she… The character can do what she can do basically. So she can’t, Scarlett can’t use those skills. And then what we tried to do in other fights was to really mess it up, and that it became like a street fight.
So say with her sister, again, she’s up against a formidable opponent, those fights became messy and raw, and that was really fun, and we had that from the beginning. When I talked about the film with the choreography was about creating… it was watching humans fight, not superheroes. And then they’d have to really scramble. And Kevin spoke about that he always wanted it to have stakes. So it wasn’t like the fights could just be perfectly choreographed. There had to be little moments of accidents and mess-ups and things that you weren’t expecting, and that was really fun.
Jessica Lancaster from The Hashtag Show asked David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, and Florence Pugh which MCU heroes that would like their characters to team up with.
Harbour: Team up with? Oh god. Who’d I like to team up with? I mean, oh god none of them. I consider myself so extraordinary, so above all their mere pedestrian powers. I mean I don’t know if it’s team up with, but I really love the Falcon character. I love Anthony Mackie just as an actor too. And now that he’s wearing the Cap suit and everything and the amount of complexity…that Alexei has with Cap in general whoever wears the suit. Like, he hates that guy, and he hates who he represents. But also there was in the film… I mean some of the funniest stuff to me is where he’s like, you know, he actually was a colleague of mine. I mean, we had a lot of respect for each other. I just think that dynamic would be really fun to see those guys, have some stuff together.
Weisz: The Hulk.
Pugh: Oh on, I was gonna say The Hulk
Pugh: Will you share?
Weisz: Yeah. Imagine if you could control him, you’d have like the ultimate weapon.
Pugh: Yeah. I think Melina could control him. Right?
Eric Italiano from BroBible asks Scarlett Johansson, what do you hope is the defining memory or character trait of Natasha Romanoff that sticks with Marvel fans?
Johansson: I think Natasha has a lot of integrity. She is is a big character. She’s not afraid to admit when she’s wrong. She’s kind of endearing that way. And I think she is curious about herself and curious about other people. I think it makes her stand out.
Red Guardian vs Captain America – is that something David Harbour wants to bring to life in the MCU.
Harbour: Yeah, of course, I mean what’s funny about, Alexei is like, you have this big 25-year gap that we don’t know about. Right? Like, we see him in Ohio and then we see him in the prison. And, even before the prison, there was a time when he was the Red Guardian. He wants to put the suit back on. Right? So there is this period of time where he talks about… he has all these stories about his life and about what went on. And there are questionable… whether or not they’re real.
I like the exploration of what is real and what isn’t real, and how hard he had to construct these realities for himself and how durable those realities are. But you know, I do think that the classic Cold War thing is a really fun and funny dynamic between these two guys and the fact that they basically came up as nuclear warheads, like in an arms race together. I think it’s just a really great concept that could be explored further.
What’s it like inhabiting Natasha/Black Widow?
Johansson: I spent such a long chunk of my adulthood playing this character, I certainly am less afraid of things now than I was 10 years ago, which is good. I feel like that’s a positive progression in life. I mean, not physically, physically I’m more terrified of stuff than I used to be. I’m definitely more comfortable taking risks, and I’m more comfortable with jumping into things, jumping into the unknown with stuff and taking risks and seeing how stuff plays out.
What was Cate Shortland’s process of creating a film that fits into the larger MCU and how does that compare to prior films.
Shortland: In some ways, it was really similar because when we were on set, you forget the infrastructure because you’re so fixated on what Rachel’s doing or Florence or David or Scarlett. So you try and just be in that moment. You have to walk 20 minutes to get to that moment through 500 trucks and 400 people.
So there’s a lot of meetings, very big meetings with people, and I had to get used to that. And Kevin sort of gave me advice very early on, which helped me. Because I’m quite a shy person, I like to talk to a few people, but you have to get used to being in these big groups. I think what was beautiful about it–and I learned a lot–was leaning on people and being open and trusting. And when you come into Marvel, you think it’s gonna be like this big studio, but actually, it was just really exciting, decent people that wanted to make a good movie with me.
Tim Lammers from Looper.com asked Scarlett Johansson, since production on Black Widow began, after Avengers: Endgame, did knowing that Natasha’s eventual demise play on your psyche and affect the way you approached the character in the solo film?
Johansson: Yes, it did. It was important I think because- Well, we started talking about this film as, you know, a serious possibility when we were doing, I think Infinity War. We shot Infinity War and then Endgame, you know, kind of back-to-back. We already knew what Endgame was for Natasha.
And we wanted to make sure that was a choice that she made actively, that she felt like she has to resolve then. We had to kind of work backwards so that she could get to a place where that was possible.
We knew that in this film she had to evolve into a place where she was moving forward in her life and had resolved the trauma from her past that she felt that that was something that she felt like a different person moving forward. If that makes any sense. It was a very weird way of working.
It was interesting to be working on something you know, presently that also played into what you would be doing in the future that was reflective of the past. It was crazy.
This press conference was edited for length and clarity.