Vital Thrills got a chance to chat with the cast of Marvel’s Black Widow during a virtual press conference recently. Marvel’s Black Widow is an action-packed spy thriller that launches simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets on July 9, 2021.
Joining the press conference for Marvel’s Black Widow were director Cate Shortland, producer and president of Marvel Studios, and chief creative officer of Marvel Kevin Feige and stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz.
Director Cate Shortland spoke about the approach to balancing the action and emotional component of the film. “From the beginning when we spoke about the film, we knew that it had to speak to two things, which was Natasha as an individual and then what had happened to her, and who she was at the beginning of the film, which was, she was completely alone.
“We knew as well that – I wanted it to be really fun… I thought it would be like a fairground ride, so really exhilarating. It was always like putting her at the center of it, but making sure that we didn’t let the trauma of her past drag it down, rather that we came up with the answer to it, and we often did that with humor.”
We all know what happened to Natasha in Avengers: Endgame and Feige spoke about how that figures in to Marvel’s Black Widow. “We very specifically knew that there was a large period of her life that we didn’t know about. Not just her childhood, but this period of time between ‘Civil War’ and ‘Infinity War’ – and that period we felt was ripe to creatively focus on – to be able to discover more about her past and more about her present.”
Johansson talked about the parts of Natasha’s personality that she was able to showcase in the film. “I think Cate, you know, she mentioned that Natasha at the beginning of this film feels really alone for the first time. She’s always been a part of something, either by circumstance – she’s been part of starting out with really not participating at all, and being a victim of the Red Room.”
She added: “Joining Shield and subsequently Avengers – she’s always been part of something that was part of a greater whole, and then suddenly finds herself sort of floating in this weird in between space, and she’s off her game, and she realizes that she’s got all this possibility in front of her and it’s really suffocating.
“And 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, is dangerous and is full of life, and isn’t needy but needs her, and she’s so thrown off her game in this. It’s great to see her like that. We never get to see her like that, and that was a fun place to start from. She’s just full of doubt, and leaves a lot of openings for stuff to kind of creep in.”
Florence Pugh plays Yelena, and she spoke about her approach to the character. “I think from the get-go, in the script it was very obvious that they have this connection and they have this relationship. And ultimately despite her skillset, she is that wonderfully annoying young assistant that says all the right things at all the wrong times.”
She continued, “I think Cate really encouraged me to find the oddities of her and kind of lean on that. So much that, you know, in the end… you can see she’s flourishing, she’s becoming her own being. I think also being welcomed into it with Scarlett… being as giving as she was, I really found it such a wonderful and creative space – and just to have fun. I think that was the overall thing, you know, these two sisters have so much fun together, and amongst all of the pain they’ve shared.”
Pugh joked that the first scene they shot was the Budapest fight scene you see in the trailer. “So literally on my first day I was, like, throwing Scarlett up against a wall and she was smashing my face in the sink. And I just remember there was no greater way to just break the ice than really wrestling Scarlett Johansson to the floor,” she laughed. “I mean, it was great that it was done. We got to know each other and we were friends.”
Johansson agreed, calling Pugh “totally game” and praising her dance background. “It’s such an emotional fight. It’s all driven by emotion. There’s no real end goal there; it’s just two people expressing their frustration and also their power struggle and their genuine surprise, and also affection for one another – you know, it’s like lion cubs just going at it.”
Rachel Weisz, who plays Melina, said of the film, “I love stories about women, directed by woman. I love playing opposite women, but I really loved playing opposite the Red Guardian, Alexei (David Harbour) as well, so I don’t want to leave him out… it was wonderful to tell a story with three complicated, strong women. Just on the page, I just thought she was a really unusual character. I loved her relationship with her pigs.” We won’t explain what that means, but you’ll understand when you see the film.
She continued, “Shooting the scene where the family gets back together in Russia after 20 years, was just completely a delightful thing. And we were upstaged by the pigs most days… it was really unlike anything I’ve ever done. I felt incredibly intimate and incredibly emotional. I just had to steel myself most days to stop laughing at David Harbour because he’s one of the more eccentric, original funny people on this planet. And what I liked about Melina was that she has absolutely no sense of humor, like, none.”
David Harbour joked, “Thank you very much for laughing at me, not with me.” He said, “I mean, the funny thing about him is that it’s sort of built of the same — or it hatches from the same egg — the humor of his character, because he is filled with grief and remorse about the choices that he’s made emotionally, spiritually, nutritionally. Right? But… the comedy itself comes out of the ego that is built to defend against the feeling of that remorse.
“In other words, he has to be so bombastic because he can’t stop and feel these things, the failures that he made. So he has to build around him a world of a confabulatory, psychotic reality where he is the hero. And that’s inherently silly. I mean, that’s just inherently funny, and also the family dynamics themselves are just so fun.”
Harbour said that the shots of them around the table were “the perfect image for this movie, all of us around a table in these very specific positions, which I remember talking about the day we shot it. But we’re all in super suits, right? You have this almost Norman Rockwell thing of like dad coming in last to sit at the head of the table while the eldest child sits here and mother and baby sit over here. I found us all sort of falling into these traditional chiche roles, and then riffing off of that.”
He also laughed when he was asked about which other MCU hero he’d like to team up with. “Team up with?” he said. “Oh God… none of them. I consider myself so extraordinary, so above all of their mere pedestrian powers.”
He did add, “I mean, I don’t know if it’s a team up with, but I really love the Falcon character. I love Anthony Mackie just as an actor, and now that he’s wearing the Cap suit and everything, and the amount of complexity that Alexei has with Cap in general, whoever wears that suit – like, he hates that guy, and he hates who he represents, but also there was in the film – some of the funniest stuff to me is where he’s like, you know, he actually was a colleague of mine.”
He said the dynamic was fun and he’s like to see them do stuff together.
Jenna Busch has written and spoken about movies, TV, video games and comics all over the Internet for over 15 years, co-hosted a series with Stan Lee, appeared on multiple episodes of “Tabletop,” written comic books, and is a contributing author for the 13 books in the “PsychGeeks” series including “Star Wars Psychology.” She founded the site Legion of Leia and hosted the “Legion” podcast.