In delivering the biggest movie of all-time in the form of Avengers: Endgame, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo had already lined up their next movie. The duo had been with Marvel Studios for more than half of a decade, beginning their journey with Captain America: The Winter Soldier before going on to Captain America: Civil War and eventually graduated with the massive two-part Avengers blowout. Rather than taking their talents to another studio when just about any would have likely offered a blank check for any pitch, the Russo Brothers bet on their own AGBO Films banner, a family business, and went all in on Cherry.
Cherry, though it stars the face of Spider-Man actor Tom Holland in a tremendously performed lead role, has very little in common with any Avengers flick. It's an R-rated, intimate tale focused on a young man's struggles in the opioid epidemic, set in a part of the country which is close to home for the Russo Brothers. These are merely two of the many reasons the story spoke to the directors. "We were dealing with a lot of relationships in our personal lives that had been really affected by the opioid epidemic," Anthony Russo explained to ComicBook.com in a virtual interview. "We had people, friends and family who had suffered, friends and family that were struggling with recovery, even some who had died from overdose."
The personal ties seem to have only influenced a bold showcase of such struggles. Holland's character, one who is not named in the film but referred to as Cherry by those involved, consistently spirals into a heroin addiction throughout the film, making his own situation worse and causing pain for those around him.
Furthering the personal efforts is the fact that the Russo Brothers directed Cherry on a script co-written by their sister Angela Russo-Ostot. Anthony Russo praised the "amazing" experience. "Angela is a bit younger than us," he says. "we've had the opportunity to collaborate with her in many ways over the years, but this was certainly the most intense, the most ambitious and the most special experience we've had yet with her."
In fact, these personal elements of filmmaking are what drive the directorial duo. Whether they are working under their own AGBO FIlms banner on Cherry or with Marvel Studios, the Russo Brothers claim to be driven by their own personal ideas, initiatives, and emotional roots. "Even though Marvel is a bigger endeavor and there's more people involved and it's sort of connected to more ideas and films outside of the ones that you're doing, we can't really function as directors, as storytellers, unless we're making it very personal for ourselves," Anthony Russo explained. "That's the only way we can sort of find meaning in what we're doing and find sort of the motivation to craft the story. So even though those movies were very big, they still were very personal to us, but that being said, you're right in that it's still different with Cherry in the sense that there is no guidelines."
Read ComicBook.com's full interview with Anthony Russo below!
ComicBook.com: After Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, you and Joe had an opportunity that almost never exists. You could make any movie you wanted. What was it about Cherry that made you and your family say, 'With the world at our fingertips, this is the story we want to tell."?
Anthony Russo: I mean, fortunately we didn't really have too long to dwell on that question because that book was suggested to us while we were still in post-production on Endgame. So before our brains were even really moving on much to thinking about life after Endgame, we read this book and it just hit us really hard when we read the book. We were dealing with a lot of relationships in our personal lives that had been really affected by the opioid epidemic. So we had people, friends and family who had suffered, friends and family that were struggling with recovery, even some who had died from overdose.
So because we were in that place on a personal level and because it had to do with our family history. Cleveland, Ohio, the industrial Midwest is kind of a bit of a ground zero for the opioid epidemic. It kind of hit there first, hit there hardest. And it's still raging. 2020 saw the highest number of overdose deaths from opioids yet.
So, we were kind of in a very specific place on it in our personal lives. So to come across a book that, one, spoke about drug addiction in a way that felt so current and unlike anything we'd ever seen before. Again, the opioid epidemic is not like previous drug waves. It's totally different. It's taken by different people. It's obtained in different ways than past ways. And it's had a different effect. So it seemed very current and very specific to the post 9/11 generation experience.
That's one thing that was very exciting about it to us. And also, again, the fact that at a personal level where we experienced it. The fact that on the social level, even though we become aware of it, we still haven't wrangled it. And the fact that we came across a book that spoke so powerfully and originally to it is sort of those three things lining up just made us feel compelled to do this next. And also by the way, we were certainly aware of the fact that it was a good time in our careers to get a very difficult movie made.prevnext
All in the Family
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ComicBook.com: This being a personal story is taken to another level as your not only co-directing with your brother Joe but also directing a script by your sister Angelo Russo-Otstot. What was that experience like to collaborate further into the family?
AR: It was amazing. I mean, it was one of the highlights of our careers, for sure. I mean, we grew up very close and Joe and I are only a little over a year apart. Angela is a bit younger than us. But we've had the opportunity to collaborate with her in many ways over the years, but this was certainly the most intense, the most ambitious and the most special experience we've had yet with her. And we're really grateful for the opportunity. And I think part of the reason that it lined up on this one for all of us was the fact that the motivation for telling this story and the story itself spoke so specifically to our family history and our roots in Cleveland and our sort of family and friends there. So it just ended up being the right thing and it was awesome.prevnext
The Big Swings
ComicBook.com: There are some really cool and creative directorial choices and one that comes to my mind is the long moving single shot on the battlefield in an intense and explosive sequence. Meanwhile, you also make other chapters of Cherry's life feel extremely claustrophobic. I just would love to hear about that, the technical side of such filmmaking swings.
AR: That shot you're mentioning there is a really complicated shot, and we did it for very specific reasons. I'll just describe the shot technically for a second. So we get into Iraq and there's a drone that's coming into a battle scene and we've got cameraman, two different cameraman sort of placed at different points in the battlefield so that when the camera comes in, there's a cameraman who was playing a dead body. And once the drone goes over him, he goes up and grabs the camera, and then actually hand operates it for a few moments, as you get the first piece of information from the soldiers on the field what's going on. And he lets go of the drone.
The drone continues to fly through the battlefield as the the Humvees that Cherry's in pull up. And as the soldiers are jumping out of the Humvees in front of Cherry, one of those soldiers is our Acom camera operator, Jeff Haley and he jumps out and he grabs the camera again and operates it into Cherry to introduce us to him in Iraq. It was a very complicated shot. We spent a long time prepping it.
But it was fun. I mean, look, part of the reason why we can pull off shot like that, especially through the MCU work, we've developed relationships with so many amazing people, craftspeople and collaborators, that we've got an amazing team together for things like that. On a creative level, the motivation for that shot was very much about Cherry goes through this sort of epic journey in this film. It's like this Odyssean journey where there's these big distinct sections of his journey, being an awkward kid, meeting a woman and falling in love, or signing up for the war and getting trained.
We had this sequence where he goes to basic training and because he's a sensitive soul, he might've joined the army for the wrong reasons. When he hits basic training, he has a really difficult time with it. There's a level of aggressive, toxic masculinity there that he doesn't know how to handle. And that whole sequence takes out a level of absurdism because he just can't connect to it. So that sequence we designed in a very specific absurdist way. We shrunk the aspect ratio of the movie there to sort of create this feeling that Cherry's life and Cherry's options have all of a sudden gotten very narrow and that the army is trying to really break him down and force him into a very specific place.
We shot the entire sequence on a single wide lens to heighten the sense of detachment that he had to the environment, because the fun of the wide lens is it sort of creates a little bit of distortion so that the spatial relationships between things becomes a little off, even faces could become a little distorted depending on where the lens is. And it just heightens the sense that it's not normal this environment. He doesn't know how to take it. And the reason why we went from that sequence, then when he goes to war, why we nearly opened the sequence with the shot you're talking about is we wanted it to be a hardcore contrast to the absurdity that he experienced in basic training.
Now, what he's doing is he's in life and death now. And life and death, there is no absurdity. There's nothing but the moment. So we tended to lean on in that sequence these longer takes where you were really trapped there with him, in these moments that he didn't understand what was going to happen next. He was trying to figure out how to function moment to moment. And we really wanted to sit with him there because that's the experience when you go to war. It's just very immediate. There's nothing beyond the moment. And that's the feeling we tried to create with that shot.prevnext
Compared to Marvel
ComicBook.com: How did the experience in making Cherry compare to working on Marvel Studios, in the sense of having complete control of everything from casting to the story not needing to fit into a sprawling franchise's narrative?
AR: It's interesting, I guess, because I guess there's two layers to that experience that you're talking about. On one layer, there's not a whole lot that's different. Because again, even though Marvel is a bigger endeavor and there's more people involved and it's sort of connected to more ideas and films outside of the ones that you're doing, we can't really function as directors, as storytellers, unless we're making it very personal for ourselves. Because that's the only way we can sort of find meaning in what we're doing and find sort of the motivation to craft the story. So even though those movies were very big, they still were very personal to us, but that being said, you're right in that it's still different with Cherry in the sense that there is no guidelines.
We know the movie was financed independently, there was nobody involved but us, and we had a lot of freedom. So I think that just allowed Joe and I... We knew we were dealing with difficult subject matter and it was really important to us to figure out a way to create a movie that people were going to want to see. Because again, we felt like it's a movie that should be seen because of the subject matter. And then maybe that the movie can play some small part in people's relationship to these difficult issues that the movie's about. So that was really our thing, was we could use every tool in the toolbox to sort of make a version of this movie that was most exciting and appealing to us without any concern about... Because there's no format for how you deliver a movie about opioid addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. There's not a pattern. There's not a set of expectations that covers what the movie is supposed to be.
I wasn't expecting that. So we had a lot of creative freedom and we really just indulged that and really tried to explore it. Again, with an amazing team of collaborators in terms what we could do with that.prevnext
ComicBook.com: Speaking of your Marvel work and fitting into the franchise, when you were crafting that grand finale to the Infinity Saga, did you have to keep future titles like WandaVision in mind? Was there collaboration with WandaVision director Matt Shakman or writer Jac Schaeffer or others as you were crafting the story and movie?
AR: No. One of the great things about Endgame was our job was to sort of bring a sense of closure to a journey that had been unfolding up until that moment. And the unique thing about Endgame for us was unlike Winter Soldier, unlike Civil War, unlike Infinity War is we did not have to think about what happened after Endgame. And in fact, that was a mutually agreed upon thing that we came to with Marvel, because that was what freed us up, and also I'm speaking for Markus and McFeely, what freed them up as well to think about closure, think about an end rather than think about where it goes next. And I think that was really a creative gift to us. And we used that.
I don't know that we could have done as well with Endgame as storytellers, if we were thinking about a future. So Endgame was about bringing it all to an end. And we knew in the back of our minds, we knew that somebody else was going to carry it forward. Kevin and the team and other filmmakers, there was going to be people that would find a way to pick up the threads and carry a narrative forward in wonderful ways like Wanda Vision. But no, we weren't thinking about it. And I think that was a great gift to us.
ComicBook.com: Well now I feel silly for throwing so many questions at you and Joe about the future during the Endgame and Infinity War interviews!prevnext
Super Heroic Return
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ComicBook.com: You recently revealed you and Joe have a new superhero project lined up. Listen, just today they announced the Superman movie is coming. Can you say anything about what that project might be?
AR: Not that.
ComicBook.com: It's not Superman. Okay. You guys were doing Quantum and Woody, right? Is that still happening?
AR: Yeah, I think that is held up right now. I can't remember what's going on with that, but I'm pretty sure it's held up right now for some reason.
ComicBook.com: Can you give me any sort of indication or tease of what this superhero project might be, whether it's Marvel, DC, or somewhere in between?
AR: I can't. I can't.0comments
ComicBook.com: Fair enough! Always appreciate the time and I'm looking forward to you guys finally getting the chance to share Cherry with more audiences!
AR: Thanks man. Appreciate that. It's really good to see you, as always.prev