With writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, as well as Marvel super producer Kevin Feige, directors Joe and Anthony Russo crafted one heck of a superhero movie in the form of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The Community and Arrested Development veterans were on fine form during their Empire Podcast spoiler special interview - and you can listen to it in full here - but if you're not into the whole audio thing, here are 15 particularly fascinating moments from it in text form (with plenty more still to be heard in the full podcast version).
Joe: “It’s great to have a film like this which has something so dramatic at the end of it, such a dramatic shift in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it creates a lot of energy around the movie.”
“It was in place before we got involved with the project. We did do a lot of work with the guys once we got on board, polishing the script, came up with a lot of action set pieces, brought a De Palma-esque influence to some of the action moments. It’s the way (Marvel producer) Kevin Feige operates: he has big ideas that he wants to see in the film, and he says, ‘Go crazy! Just make sure at the end that S.H.I.E.L.D. is over.’”
Joe: “It wasn’t our plan [to torpedo the TV show]. (Laughs) We were anxious about it when we showed it to [the TV team]. Marvel’s very secretive, everything’s on a need to know basis, so when the moment finally came, and the cast and writers of the show needed to see what was happening with the movie, and they saw an edit, it had an… ashen effect on everybody in the screening. (Laughs) Maybe they’re thinking about their futures!”
Joe: “Is she alive? Yes, she’s alive. It’s very funny because we talked about that. We were thinking, ‘Is the audience going to think that they killed her and Scarlett carved her face off…? What are they going to think happened here?’ But clearly we set her up earlier as being vaguely benevolent – as benevolent as somebody on the World Security Council could be, so that maybe that was the inroad into her character. We probably should have included her somewhere at the end so people knew…”
Anthony: “We had talked about putting her in the scene with Scarlett and the joint chiefs of staff, part of the testimony, so you knew.”
Joe: “That was Joss. That was exclusively Joss – he wrote it, he shot it. Those are characters that are in The Avengers, basically it’s the very beginning of that narrative. And they were all in London… but honestly that’s what we love about working with Marvel. This interconnectedness. Joss was very complimentary when he saw the movie, very supportive. I think he loved the 2:35 aspect ratio, and I think they’re going to use that on Avengers 2."
Anthony: “Our jumping off point for this movie was: ‘What is special about Captain America?’ He doesn’t fly across the sky like Iron Man, he’s not a big green monster like The Hulk, he doesn’t come from another world like Thor, he’s a guy – only maybe a little more so. So we wanted to come up with a style that suited him and celebrated him, so we wanted to do a realism approach to a superhero movie, to the degree that you can.”
“Part of our creative process is combining incongruous ideas. You see that in Arrested Development with an absurdist world shot in a mockumentary style, so what does it mean to shoot a realistic superhero movie? So here’s how we never crossed paths with Red Skull on this movie: because we were trying to do a more grounded approach, we took as many the sci-fi elements off the table as we could.”
Joe: “Which is why we put Zola in a computer. (Laughs) No sci-fi in that!"
Joe: “That scene was a big problem actually, we spent months on that. We probably only finished that scene two weeks ago. That final draft of what Zola said… it maybe changed 30 or 40 times. You’re in this grounded espionage paranoid thriller – all handheld cameras, Cap feels more ‘real world’ – and then suddenly the movie screeches to a halt and you switch gears really quickly with this ghost in the machine. A character in a computer, in a basement.”
Anthony: “But it’s a very grounded guy in a computer.”
Joe: “But I think Zola takes a leap of faith on the audience’s part – ‘Wait a minute, we’re shifting genres here, what’s going on?’ – but if it had been Red Skull at the end, we might have jumped the rails a little bit.”
Joe: “Yes, that is a War Games reference.”
Anthony: “That wasn’t in the original script.”
Joe: “I think we wrote that joke five minutes before we shot it. Sometimes you’re shooting a scene and you get the sense that it’s playing a little dry or a little straight. We thought, ‘Let’s invite the audience in on what this is. They’ll get a War Games reference, then they’re understand that this scene has a talking computer. That we’ve seen this before in movies. So if we’re ironic or self-referential, maybe it’s a way we can earn trust from them.’”
Joe: “The NSA stuff went down after we started rolling cameras on the movie, but we wanted to rip stuff from the headlines, and these are the things we obsess about every day. I’m always reading the news. What are we doing when it comes to protecting ourselves? How do we draw a line in the sand with respect to our civil liberties? Is there a way to protect ourselves humanely? So it was important to us that you could relate to Pierce’s point of view. What’s he is saying, for us, is a philosophical extrapolation of where we’re headed. We wanted you to go, ‘Holy shit! In a hundred years, that’s maybe not so far-fetched…’”
Joe: “That was in an early draft.”
Anthony: “It was in then it was out then it was in.”
Joe: “Don’t you remember? He didn’t originally have that speech, Sitwell. We wrote that scene when we were trying to figure out a scene… Well, we didn’t want Zola to give them everything. We are comic book geeks, and I remember trying to stick references into that speech, and one of them was Stephen Strange. I love Doctor Strange. And it sat there forever, and it was in the edit forever, and I kept thinking that Kevin was going to come in one day and go, ‘You can’t put Stephen Strange in there. We haven’t even introduced him yet.’ So I remember sitting on the mix stage and I said to Kevin, ‘Are you sure about the Stephen Strange reference in the movie?’ He said, ‘Fuck yeah, why not? People don’t know when on the timeline he gets introduced. He could have been introduced already. The movie could take place a year or two before this!’”
Anthony: “If he were to be introduced…”
Joe: “The Bruce Banner pulse-slowing idea was in the script. That was Markus and McFeely idea. It’s so hard, there were so many iterations of the script, it’s hard to remember when stuff came in, but that was definitely a Markus and McFeely idea. That’s something that came up after a couple of rewrites. The Tony Stark [repulsor engine reference] was there from the beginning."
Anthony: “That was there when we arrived. I never heard the history of how they got there.”
Empire: Surely someone has to actually die in the next few movies?
Joe: “Yes, eventually! Contracts are going to be up soon, right? (Laughs) There might be a LOT of dead characters coming up because of that.”
Joe: “We’ve had a lot of discussions with Markus and McFeely, as they would come up on set now and then. Everyone has a general sense of the direction we’re going with the next movie. The most we can say about it at this point is that Bucky’s story is not finished. This is an introduction to Bucky’s story. So if you want to guess at what this movie could be about… you could assume there would be a continuation of Bucky’s story."
Anthony: “Did Danny beg us to be in the movie? I think we begged him! We love Easter Eggs. When Redford opens the fridge, there’s a Newman’s Own dressing in there. Then there's the gravestone at the end of the movie… We like layers. So [casting Community star Danny Pudi] was a nod to all the Community fans. You know Abed loves cameos, so we figured [we’d put him in]. We hadn’t officially decided [whether that was Abed], but knowing (Community creator) Dan Harmon, he’ll find a way to use it.”
Anthony: “We definitely spent a lot of time talking about the possibilities in the relationship between Cap and Black Widow. We went through months and months of playing with different ideas. But at the end of the day, it seemed like this was where we were all led. It felt the right way this people would connect to each other.”
Joe: “It’s more of a work-wife, work-husband relationship. Of course there’s sexual tension between them, but I think she’s more interested in pulling him into the modern world and trying to help him try that identity he’s looking for."
Joe: “Honestly, [the arrow necklace] was a choice that Scarlett herself made as her character. Her relationship with Hawkeye will become very clear in Avengers 2.”