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Interview: Joe and Anthony Russo (The Russo Brothers) for Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Marvel has done it again. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of their best movies to date, not only being accepted by diehard comic fans, but critics too! As I’m writing this, it stands at 90% on the Tomatometer! Not only is this film a superhero, action flick, it is also a paranoid thriller modeled after the classic movies of the 1970s. I am incredibly happy to report that Captain America: The Winter Soldier far exceeds its predecessor The First Avenger. Finally, a Cap movie left me wanting more (especially after the AMAZING credit scene that teased Avengers: The Age of Ultron).

Set after the events of The Avengers, and with some tie-ins to the TV show S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is working with S.H.I.E.L.D. in Washington, D.C. Now that Steve is more familiar with modern day technology, he can focus on solving the world’s problems, and potentially scoring some dates; well, that is if the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has anything to say about it.

After tragedy rocks the very foundation of S.H.I.E.L.D.,  loyalties are questioned and Captain America must find out what is going on behind the agency’s closed doors. He teams up with the Black Widow and superhero newcomer, The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), to get to the bottom of the issue, even if the secrets lie under the Potomac (hey, at least it isn’t under the Anacostia).

I had the incredible opportunity to interview the directors of the film, Joe and Anthony Russo! It was so interesting to hear them talk about making such a huge film! We discussed the problems of filming in DC, their favorite Marvel superheroes besides the Captain, the audition process for becoming the directors of the film, the end credit scenes (we especially talk about whether The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are mutants or lab projects), and much more!

Make sure you check out Captain America: The Winter Soldier in theaters now!

Russo Brothers Comic Con

Lauren: Welcome back to DC! I know you guys filmed [Captain America: The Winter Soldier] here for a little bit.

Joe: Thank you! Yes, we shot for three days here but we also scouted here for a week. We love it here!

Anthony: We did a lot of research too. Beyond scouting for locations, we were thinking about how to design the Triskelion, the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters…

Lauren: …and under the Potomac.

Joe and Anthony: Yeah, yeah.

Lauren: So on that topic, was it really hard to film in DC based on the security concerns…

Joe: Yes, it is very difficult to shoot here. I think that’s why there isn’t more shooting done here. There are a lot of agencies involved in getting permission to shoot in certain areas. And obviously there is an incredible amount of tourism, so it’s impossible to shut down monuments. Basically, you get very limited windows where you can execute stuff.

Anthony: Most places it’s ‘oh hey we get to make a movie!’ It’s an interesting diversion from what you normally do, but the business that is normal here is important business. [everyone laughs] Also, you know what is increasingly important today, around the world and across the country, is tax abatements for film productions. It’s critical, especially on a movie like this that ends up adding up to a lot of money. The fact that the District doesn’t have a tax abatement is a big penalty. Our money goes further in Cleveland than it does here.

Lauren: Right, I totally understand why you would want to shoot there. What was the most challenging aspect of creating a believable narrative for a comic book character? Did you ever have to restrain yourselves from going too over-the-top?

Joe: That’s a really good question. You know, our tastes go toward realism, as silly as that sounds with a superhero movie. I started collecting comic books when I was ten years old; it was in the 80s. Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight series in the 80s and he deconstructed Batman. He took a Golden Age/Silver Age superhero, who had been very two-dimensional ‘til that point, and humanized him. He deconstructed his whole mythology. So that’s where our taste goes. Fortunately, the material, which Captain America: The Winter Soldier is based on (written by Ed Brubaker in 2005), is very similar. It’s probably… you can call it The Dark Knight of Captain America. So, it lent itself to realism. Also, for us, the way that we approached the movie… from the costumes to the tech in the film… we were trying to find a way that everything felt like it had a foot in our world somewhere. We redesigned his costume to make sure that it looked like Kevlar. It’s a uniform, it’s not a costume. It’s functional. Its purpose is to stop bullets from killing him. We took that approach with everything. If there was something that wasn’t functional on the outfit, we said, “Take it off.” It was sort of a hardcore approach.

Anthony: Also, there’s something in the nature of… all of our thinking really flowed from, ‘What do we really love about Captain America? Why is he special? Why is he unique among The Avengers? What’s the most amount of fun we can have with him?’ The thing that makes him unique is, in many ways, he’s the most human-like of all of those characters. He doesn’t have a CG body like The Hulk. He doesn’t fly across the sky like Iron Man. He doesn’t come from another world like Thor. He’s a man, only a little more so. So that very much led us to some naturalism in how we were exploring the character.

Russo directing Captain America

Lauren: [To Joe] You said you had comic books growing up as a kid. [To Anthony] I assume you were into comic books as well?

Anthony: I was. He was a bigger comic book fan than I was but I would look at his collection a lot. I was more of a fan of comic book art. I liked the pictures a lot. I didn’t like reading them so much. I was more into fantasy literature. That was sort of my thing, but I definitely was exposed to them.

Lauren: That’s cool. So I’m sure there were a lot of little Easter Eggs you put into the movie. I’m not a big comic book reader, so I couldn’t pick up on everything, but what was your favorite Easter Egg that you included in the movie?

Joe: Well, without giving it away, there’s a very funny Easter Egg… there’s a scene where Robert Redford opens a refrigerator. You’re going to have to pause it on your DVD player to see what’s in there, but it’s a very funny joke.

Lauren: [laughs] Okay! I’ll make sure to do that. Who is your favorite Marvel superhero besides Captain America?

Joe: You know, I think Spider-Man was my favorite growing up… and Wolverine… but they’re everyone’s favorites.

Anthony: You know, I like a lot of them. For me, my favorite… what Marvel has done with the movies is so exciting to me. I remember when I saw the first Iron Man movie, I was like, ‘Damn, I wish we had done that.’ But anyway, that was that one moment when I really felt the most excited.

Lauren: Can you talk a little bit about your audition process for becoming directors on this film? Is it an audition?

Joe: It is! Certainly, it’s very competitive. Obviously, these movies are extremely successful and a lot of people want to be involved with them. Marvel is a great company. We got a call from Kevin [Feige]. He was a big fan of Community, these paintball episodes we shot on Community. I remember at our first meeting he said, “You guys should be directing action movies.” We were ecstatic that we were invited to participate in the process because I’m a comic book junkie and they also said they wanted this movie to feel inspired by ‘70s thrillers. We grew up on ‘70s thrillers. We used to watch them with our father every night. He was a big fan of The French Connection, The Parallax View, The Marathon Man, The Day of the Jackal, so it was a double whammy for us. We were extremely passionate about winning the job and we did a lot of work. We pitched script ideas, story notes, character ideas… I think we had eighteen pages, in a binder, of thoughts that we put together. I think our last meeting with them probably lasted three hours, where we went through story boards, pulled videos off the internet that represented Cap’s fighting style…

Anthony: It was a very bold process, but the great thing about it was that it allowed… over that two months, we figured out exactly what we wanted to do with the movie, so by the time we got the job, it was off to the races. It was great.

Scarlett Johansson Chris Evans Captain America Black Widow
Courtesy of Marvel

Lauren: Is there a lot of Marvel looking over your shoulder? What you’re doing affects the entire Marvel Universe… the T.V. show S.H.I.E.L.D. and the following movies. Did they kind of let you have free reign as to what you were going to do?

Anthony: Yeah, the way they’ve created these interconnected stories is amazing, but they’re incredibly smart about not overwhelming any individual project with…

Lauren: Things that you need to cover?

Anthony: Yeah. That is one thing that we were super grateful for. One, they want you to come in and they want you to surprise them. They don’t want to hear what they were thinking, they want to hear ideas that are like, ‘Oh my gosh, can we do that? I don’t know.’ They get excited when you sort of push them into territory they weren’t expecting and they try to give you a lot of freedom to do that. I think they know the vitality of the franchise is dependent on each movie becoming what it wants to be on its own, not tethered by too other many requirements.  Certainly, this movie had one big beat we had to hit at the end of the movie, which is the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., but other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot of groundwork that we needed to lay.

Lauren: I think that your film has the two best credit scenes of any Marvel film. They’re my favorite. Can you talk about how they came about?

Joe: Well, Joss [Whedon] directed the first credit scene because that’s a direct lead-in to Avengers: The Age of Ultron. We loved that. We are like you; we are fans. He shot that in England, because that’s where they’re prepping. Then we got to see a cut three or four days later and just as a fan, I was ecstatic. I was like, ‘Oh great! This is what I am going to get to see in The Avengers.’ Then that last credit sequence with Bucky, that was originally slated to be at the very end of the movie, not a tag. But, we discovered an ending that was very Friedkin-esque, where we just cut out in the middle of dialogue, and we felt that was better than to button the very end of the credit sequence with that.

Anthony: But it’s kind of fun symmetry in the sense that the first one speaks to what we’re going to have coming in Avengers 2 and the second one speaks to Cap 3.

Lauren: So, I don’t know if you’ll be able to divulge anything, but two of my friends, Mike and Stephanie, who are huge comic book fans, were telling me that it looked like the twins were lab experiments as opposed to mutants.

Joe: Well, it’s implied certainly in that [scene]. We aren’t giving anything away…

Anthony: We can’t comment on anything else from that clip. [Everyone laughs]

Lauren:  Right, I understand.

Joe: Right, I think Fox owns the copyright to “mutants” with X-Men so I think there is a new mythology in place for The Avengers in regards to those characters.

Lauren: Awesome! Back to Captain America, was it daunting to direct an individual character movie after the huge success of The Avengers?

Anthony: No doubt. It was daunting, but it’s very exciting to us, as filmmakers, at the same time. We’re like, ‘Oh man, Marvel has set the bar so high!’ Coming in, you have to deliver, but I think the good news is, because this movie played to our passions so specifically in terms of the comic book history, the character, and the political thriller genre, it was such our sweet spot. Our passion for the project carried us through the whole process. The thing is, everything you do… we’ve learned through our careers, you just have to do it for yourself first. You have to do things that will excite, surprise, and stimulate you. That’s sort of how we’ve done our T.V. work up ‘til this point and all of that. This movie was kind of nice because we are sort of the target audience for this movie, so making this movie for ourselves was easy because everything was kind of lined up on it.

Lauren: Again, I’m not familiar with the comic books, but I always wonder, where is the DoD in the movie? Were there any talks about adding military elements at all?

Anthony: There was. It’s hard how you integrate these organizations, but our idea was that this was an internal S.H.I.E.L.D. problem that couldn’t be sorted out…

Joe: In the rest of the world, S.H.I.E.L.D. is the key organization. The rest of the world doesn’t know that there is a problem.

Anthony: Certainly there are people over at the Pentagon, etc… talking about what the hell was going on…

Joe: Picking up the phone to people at S.H.I.E.L.D.

Anthony: We could have cut to those people, but the point is… they never got to the point of acting on it.

Chris Evans Robert Redford Captain America
Courtesy of Marvel

Lauren: You guys are signed up to direct Captain America 3, do you have to start pre-production right now? Do you have time to do any other directorial projects, like an episode of Community?

Joe: We can certainly, probably, squeeze in a couple episodes of Community but we are definitely already back in prep.

Anthony: We aren’t technically full-time until September, but we are essentially full time.

Lauren: Scouting locations?

Anthony: We have been meeting with the writers, Markus and McFeely, a lot. There’s a lot of story work going on right now.

Lauren: Do you get any input in the scripts?

Anthony: Oh yeah. We work very closely with them. It’s always been our process. We love collaboration; it’s the essence of how we work, so we’ve always worked very closely with writers. We have a great working relationship with them.

Lauren: When you guys direct, do you direct together or does one break off and specialize in something? What is your process?

Anthony: One of us naps. [everyone laughs]

Lauren: Yeah, you direct in 12 hour cycles.

Anthony: No, I think probably every directing team has a different process. I think it’s in the same way that every director has a different process.  It’s always very specific to your personality that somehow ends up turning into a process.  But for us, we just have a very loose process with each other. We have a nonstop dialogue between ourselves. We don’t have any formal divisions; we both kind of like doing everything, so it just sorts itself out. We try to make it very easy for others to collaborate with us… in the sense of, we always tell them they don’t have to double cover us. If you get the answer out of one of us, it’s the answer from both of us. It’s on us to always keep on the same page. But we’ve been doing this for so long, it has become second nature.

Lauren: It’s pretty organic?

Anthony: Yes, exactly.

Lauren: Okay, well it was great meeting you both. I absolutely loved the movie. Thanks so much!

Joe and Anthony: It was great to meet you too! Thank you!

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