Joe & Anthony Russo Talk Making The Winter Soldier
With the blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier being released on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD this Tuesday, we catch up with the directing team of brothers Joe and Anthony Russo to find out about their experience on the iconic Marvel project…
What makes Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier stand out from other Marvel movies?
Joe: I think it is the level of realism and intensity that makes this movie stand out. Up to this point, I think Marvel films have really embraced the fantasy component, but we have tried to infuse it with intensity and edge. It’s aggressive. We wanted a movie that would grab you and wouldn’t let go until the end. Hopefully we’ve accomplished that and I think that’s what distinguishes it from other Marvel movies.
How did you accomplish this?
Joe: We talked to Marvel early on and said, “People will tell you that they love chocolate ice cream, but if all you give them is chocolate ice cream, sooner or later they’ll get sick of it.” We wanted to throw a curveball and add something to their toolbox going forward that they could use to diversify and dimensionalize the universe.
Why was it so important for you to ground the action in reality?
Anthony: The movie is set in the political genre and that world is exciting because it has stakes that feel real to you. We were trying to play on a lot of our contemporary anxieties in the storytelling and the realisms flowed from that. This movie has a darker tone and it needs real stakes. That’s what drove us.
How difficult was the challenge of adding more realism to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Joe: Well, I was ecstatic as any fan on the planet when I saw what Kevin Feige was doing with The Avengers. I’ve always thought in my own head, ‘How do you pull off an Avengers movie?’ How do you get past so many logistical and financial reasons that mean this movie shouldn’t exist? It’s a real feat, and he pulled it off. If you knew how complicated it is behind-the-scenes to make a movie like that, you’d be amazed. You want the comfort food of that idea, but I think that in order for these movies to keep growing and staying interesting, they have to shift; the tone has to shift. We have to experiment with different flavors…
Anthony: Like Pistachio!
Joe: …To keep it fresh. Hopefully, that’s what we’ve hopefully done with this movie.
What was your biggest challenging in directing the movie?
Joe: The choreography of the action is intense and it’s a very protracted process. It takes a lot of prep and you’re working with a lot of people. Thankfully, we were working with really talented people; from our stunt coordinators to our VFX department to our special effects guys – everybody was the best in the business. Marvel attracts the crème de la crème of talent in the business.
Was it easier to step into a film where most of the characters have been pre-established in earlier Marvel movies?
Joe: We come from television shows like Community and Arrested Development. We always say that after two episodes, the actor knows the character better than we ever will. In that sense, it’s easy to rely on the actor to bring truth to the character. It’s great for us because it’s like a short hand where they can show up with the characters already in place. We just worry about the arcs and the tone of the film. It takes a lot of burden off directing the performance and allows you to focus on the bigger picture of the movie.
How did you balance technology with real sets on Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier?
Anthony: We wanted to be very careful with that on this film. The level of realism was important to us and it was something that Marvel really embraced. It was a challenge to render the world and the effects in a way that felt very grounded and real world.
Joe: It’s an execution thing. We had a sequence on a freeway and we could have gone to a back-lot and built a little stretch of freeway and green-screened it. But, instead of that, we went to our hometown and got in a lot of trouble for shutting down the freeway for two weeks. We were able to shoot and execute a lot of those stunts practically and I think that enhances your experience because you can feel those things happening for real.
How did it feel to shoot in your hometown, Cleveland?
Joe: It was awesome to be able to go home and shoot. It’s a town that we love and know really well. Not only were we able to share this town with the crew, but also it was easier for us to find locations. We know where everything is, so we could quickly explain to the crew where certain locations could be shot. We understood how to shoot the town because it was the third movie that we had shot there. Also, it was fantastic to have our family around as a support system when you’re working on something of this scale.
Robert Redford was a stellar addition to the cast of Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. What was it like to direct such an iconic actor?
Joe: It was amazing.
Joe: We couldn’t say enough about him as an individual, and as an actor. He’s truly a renaissance man. He’s like a prince of a human being. And we’re children of the 1970s and of 1970s films, so we’ve seen everything he’s done. I’ve seen Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid a million times. To be able to work with him was the highlight of our career.
Robert Redford is a distinguished director, as well as an accomplished actor. Did he offer his directorial input into the movie?
Joe: He is so easy-going and balanced and his knowledge base is incredible. He will offer input or advice when he feels it’s necessary, but he’s never overbearing with it.
Anthony: He’s very respectful and he’s just a lovely man. It was really a privilege to work with him.
What makes the Winter Soldier the perfect villain for the movie?
Joe: It’s a gift to have The Winter Soldier in our movie; it’s a real gift. The genius of [Ed] Brubaker’s comic run is that he took Captain America’s best friend and turned him into the villain. They always say that your hero is only as good as your villain. And, when the hero has so much emotional turmoil in his relationship with the villain, you can’t ask for better storytelling. We were gifted with a great story arc between Captain America and the Winter Soldier. That’s another reason why I think the movie skews darker, too. It’s very rare that you find a villain who has such a strong emotional connection to the hero and where the stakes are so high.
Anthony: It’s very complicated.
Joe: We said to them that this is Star Wars. You know, it’s Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
In your opinion, can any woman replace Peggy Carter in Captain America’s life?
Joe: Hayley Atwell did a fantastic job with that role. She’s very charming and beautiful.
Anthony: And that was certainly an issue that Cap was dealing with in this movie.
Joe: And it’s how to reconcile that in his life.
Anthony: But the relationships are very important in the movie in general. His relationship with Natasha [Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson] is very important in this film. And his relationships with Fury [Samuel L. Jackson] and The Falcon [Anthony Mackie] are also important.
How challenging was it to come up with a new design for Captain America’s costume in the film?
Joe: The execution of the costumes is a critical and key component for us in the movies. It’s based on our style and our tone and what we like. Again, with everything based in realism, we wanted the costume to be Kevlar-based. We wanted to make sure that the costume had a very functional purpose. That way, when he wears it and you look at him in it, you say “Oh, that’s to stop bullets. I understand.”
Would you say that the costume is as true-to-life as possible?
Joe: Captain America is a stealth operative for S.H.I.E.L.D in this movie, which is another factor that pointed us in a direction for the design of the costume. If the character is working in darkness and in clandestine operations, he can’t wear a target on his chest. He needs to move around in the shadows. We drew upon the more recent versions of the outfit from the comics.
How did your knowledge of comic books inform your directing style?
Anthony: It was most important in terms of the approach to the character and in terms of the version of Captain America we wanted to show in the movie. We didn’t want to get caught up in the boy-scout version; we really wanted to butch up the character. We wanted to bring him into the modern day and make him a man’s man that we could relate to. His virtues are like Rocky Balboa’s in the sense that he has a very simple goal and very fixed virtues. However, he’s unbreakable too, and that’s what is fun about him. In this movie, it was our job to think, ‘Ok, how are we going to break him?’ That’s very much how we approached the film.