On Friday afternoon, the cast, director, and producer of Marvel's Black Widow movie assembled from all around the world for a press conference hosted over Zoom. On hand to discuss the release of the first Marvel Studios movie since Avengers: Endgame in May of 2019 and Spider-Man: Far From Home in July of 2019 were star and executive producer Scarlett Johansson, director Kate Shortland, cast members Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. It was hosted by ESPN's Sarah Spain.
The first question: how did Shortland want to establish the tone of the film and its characters?
"From the beginning when we first spoke about the film, we knew it had to speak to two things which was Natasha as an individual and what happened to her and who she was at the beginning of the film, which was completely alone," Shortland explained. "And then I wanted it to be really fun. I kind of wanted it to be like a fairground ride, really exhilarating...we wanted it to be raw and that those things would seamlessly mesh together. It was always putting her at the center of it but making sure that we didn't get the trauma of her past drag it down."
What does the time period say and why was it picked as the setting for Black Widow?
"It meant we very specifically knew there was a large period of her life we didn't know about, not just her childhood but this period of time between Civil War and Infinity War," Feige said. "That period we thought was incredibly ripe to discover more about her past, more about her present, and give a hint at the legacy in the future... All at the same time thanks to Cate Shortland." Feige credits people's interest in th character to Johansson's performances and the seeds planted in previous films.
What did Johansson get to do with Natasha that she didn't get to do in previous films?
"Cate, she had mentioned Natasha in the beginning of this film is really alone for the first time," Johansson said. "She's always been a part of something that was a part of a greater whole...she's off her game and 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 has got this crazy energy and is dangerous and is full of life and isn't needy but needs her. She's so thrown off hr game in this. It's great to see her like that. We never get to see her like that."
There was also the pose Johansson built, starting with Iron Man 2, which becomes part of a joke in Black Widow. "I spent 10 years building up this iconic pose with such weight to it and in seconds she ripped it out!" Johansson joked.
"You laughed occasionally," Pugh added.prevnext
How did Pugh get into the character of Yelena and develop her?
"From the get go it was very obvious that they have this connection and they have this relationship and ultimately despite her skill set she is that wonderfully annoying younger sister that says all the tight things and all the right times," Pugh said. "Something I really appreciated was Cate was so welcoming of me to figure out how she thinks and how she moves and what she wears. I think, for me, that was such a fun part of this character. She really comes out of the Red Room and can start life and she can buy clothes and she can buy the vest that has lots of pockets...so much so that we can see in th end tag scene that she's flourishing, she's becoming her own." She also compliments Johansson for welcoming her in and making it such a comfortable space.
The first thing Pugh shot was very intense. "The first sequence that we shot was the Budapest fight scene in the safe house," Pugh said. It was Pugh's first week, Johansson's second on set. Shortland explained that set was "like a microwave oven" because it was shot during a heat wave.
Weisz is asked about being involved with a film involving so many powerful female characters. "I love stories about women directed by women. I love playing opposite women but I really like playing opposite the Reed Guardian, Alexei, as well," she said. "I had to just steal myself some days to stop laughing at David Harbour!..It was really lovely. What I liked about Melina is that she had absolutely no sense of humor, like, none...It makes her quite funny sometimes. Unusual characters."prevnext
David Harbour is asked about Red Guardian being humorous and serious, all in one. "It hatches from the same egg, the pathos and also the humor of this character. He is filled with grief over the choices that he's made," Harbour said. "The comedy itself comes out of the go that is built to defend the remorse...that's inherently silly, that's inherently funny. Also, the family dynamics themselves are just so fun....There's almost a traditional shot of us all around a table...where we're all in super suits...I found us all falling into this cliché roles and then riffing off of them. That was really fun and satisfying, as well."
Johnasson, who may be exiting the Marvel world, is asked how it feels to welcome to new people to the Marvel family through the Black Widow cast.
"It's exciting because, I'm partial, I love our Marvel family and I know how special it is and how special experiences are making these films, so I'm just excited or other actors to come in, because I know, I hope, they ill feel similarly. It's wonderful to see people come into things excited and wide-eyes and get to experience the incredible world of Marvel and making these huge productions...We all have been a part of big productions before but I think because Marvel feels so familial, it's just a unique, warm, inviting place...It's just a fun thing to share."
Shortland discusses crafting fight scenes after being asked if previous MCU movies influenced the style. "Different fights had different hearts to them," she said. "Say we're looking at the fight on the bridge with Taskmaster, she's trying to use her skill set but that character she's fighting, he can, or she, can do what she can do, basically. Scarlett can't use those skills. What we tried to do in other fights was to really mess it up and it became like a street fight. With her sister, she up against a formidable opponent so those fights became messy and raw and that was really fun. We had that from the beginning...It was watching humans fight, not super heroes, and then they'd have to really scramble...Kevin always wanted it to have stakes. It wasn't like the fights could just be perfectly choreographed, there had to be moments of mistakes and mess ups."
Which other Marvel heroes would Harbour and Weisz like to team up with? Harbour wants to see Red Guardian with Captain America and Weisz wants to see Melina team up with the Hulk. "You have this big 25 year gap that we don't know," Harbour said of his character. "He has all these stories about his life and what went on. They are questionable about what's real...I do think the classic Cold War thing is a really fun and funny dynamic between these two guys and the fact they basically came up as nuclear warheads in an arms race, together."prevnext
Feige is asked if MCU fans can expect more prequels. "This film and this story is a particular case for Natasha but the notion of exploring the past, present, and future of the MCU is certainly in the cards for all of our characters."
He is then asked about animated opening credits of Black Widow. "The unique visuals? Are you referring to the screaming, crying children? We needed to set the stage for what all of these women had gone through in their past and what Ray Winestone, the villain of our film, had done and what made him so evil in his dealings," Feige explained. "This idea came about...to showcase the moment they were pulled apart. What happened after they were pulled apart?...It was tremendous and it was a rare opening title sequences that helped set the tone and backstory for Natasha's character."
How did this story come about for Johansson? "We started talking about this film as more of a serious possibility when we were doing Infinity War," Johansson said. "We already knew what the endgame was for Natasha. We wanted to make sure that was a choice she made actively, that it felt like she had resolve then. So, knowing that, we had to work backwards so she could get to a place where that was possible. We knew that in this film, she had to evolve to a place where she was moving forward in her life and had resolved the trauma from her past...that she felt like a different person moving forward, if that makes sense. It was a very weird way of working...maybe that is always the case with a prequel, I've never done anything like that."
What trait does Johansson want people to remember about Natasha?
"I was gonna say the pose but then Florence poo-pooed on that," Johansson joked. "I think, Natasha has a lot of integrity. She's a big character. She's not afraid to admit when she's wrong. She's endearing that way. She's curious about herself and curious about other people. I think it makes her stand out."prev