Captain America: The Winter Soldier Russo brother interview

When Marvel announced Joe and Anthony Russo would be directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, reactions were mixed. Sure the pair had worked on some awesome TV shows like Arrested Development and Community, but movie-wise Welcome to Colinwood and You, Me and Dupree didn’t exactly scream “superhero.” Then we saw the new movie.

Instantly it was obvious the Russos were not only right for the job, but we want them back for Captain America 3. (And we’re likely having that wish granted.) In our full Russo Brothers interview, we talked about the intimidating nature of jumping into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Easter Eggs, and using Captain America’s shield more, as well as all of the movies and filmmakers that influenced their work from DePalma to Frankenheimer. Also, did you notice the final shot of the movie is different in the trailer and the film? We talked about all of that and more our full interview with the total film geek directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Major spoilers follow for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Russo Brothers Interview
russo brothers interview

/Film: When you first read the script, what was the most intimidating thing you were gonna have to pull this off?

Joe Russo: That would be Zola.

Anthony Russo: Oh that’s a great question.

Joe: I mean, that by far was the hardest thing to execute in this film. And, honestly, we didn’t even, we locked that scene maybe a week ago. ‘Cause it’s been changing.

The scene…?

Anthony: The Zola, yeah, the scene down in the bunker, yeah.

Joe: It’s just ’cause the movie, up till that point, is an extremely grounded political thriller and then suddenly it becomes a science fiction movie. So it’s a hard shift in tone and you gotta make sure you don’t lose the audience. So we always knew that that would be a tough scene.

Anthony: But we didn’t wanna get rid of it. We really loved the idea of the scene and it was just getting it right was the trick.

Yeah, you can’t really get rid of it ’cause it’s sort of what influences the rest of the movie.

Joe: Exactly. Yeah, it’s woven into it.

Now you guys have some pretty innovative action here. Is that something that was always in you, but you never got to do it because you were doing so much comedy?

Joe: It’s a film geek approach and a pop culture geek approach to making movies. You know, we started collecting comics when I was 10. We love films. We love action films. So this was something we always wanted the opportunity to do. And then we just went to all of the great influences on us and we would show them to the crew and talk about, you know, “How do we get this feeling like the bank heist in Heat?” To me, it’s like eight minutes of the most intense filmmaking I’ve ever seen. So for the causeway sequence in this movie where Winter Soldier attacks Cap and Natasha and Sam in the car, we want the feeling of the heist from Heat. We want that camerawork and that energy. Or the car chase with Nick Fury. You know, that’s a combination of DePalma, that tension where you’re putting a character in an impossible situation and the audience is going “How the hell is he gonna get out of this?”

And what we liked about borrowing from DePalma is the first Mission: Impossible was the last time anybody had done sort of this protracted DePalma kind of sequence with this tension. And then the second half of that chase is Ronin, you know. It’s influenced by Frankenheimer’s work in Ronin and all the intensity and visceral quality of the car chases in that movie. So it’s just us as geeks drawing on our favorite experiences over the years and trying to put them all into one movie.

I love especially Cap uses his shield so much more in this.

Joe: Yes.

What that a mandate?

Joe: It was a big thing for us.

Anthony: Big mandate of ours. We were just like “Yeah, we have got to figure out all the cool things Cap could do with his shield.”

Joe: The shield is him.

Anthony: Yeah.

Joe: It’s an extension of him as a character.

Anthony: We put that mandate to our stunt team and it was amazing. We were like, “Guys, figure out everything we can do with this shield. Think about Eastern techniques of fighting with, you know–”

Joe: Or he’ll grab one strap which he does in the fight with Bucky later in the movie, but he actually is holding one strap and he uses it almost like a nunchuck, like three times in a row. And you’re like there’s so many ways you could use that shield as either a defensive or offensive weapon. Figure out what those are and let’s find ways to express them as a character in the movie through the shield.

It was so Cap. Now, how aware, if at all, are you about the fact that The Dark World and Iron Man 3 are sort of happening at the same time or are around the same time. Because I kept thinking “This would be a huge news story.” But so would those movies.

Joe: Right, exactly.

Anthony: You have to make the buy. Look, you cannot rationalize it on a narrative level. You have to simply buy the same way you do in a comic book.

Joe: When you read a comic book.

Anthony: Right. That there’s a certain number of characters available to you in this version of the narrative. And that’s it. So once you get there, which I think audiences instinctually do, ultimately. Because certainly comic people that are patterned from comic books go there. But even people that aren’t, they seem to just make the buy quickly. We don’t get a lot of like “Oh, why didn’t anybody call Iron Man?” You know.

Of course. Now I noticed the final shot of the movie’s in the trailer. It’s in the commercials. But you guys cut it down in the movie. Talk a little bit about when you found out the final shot of the movie was in the marketing and then how you made it different.

Joe: Listen, they always say you make the movie three times, right? You write it, you shoot it, and then you edit it. And it’s true.

Anthony: And each time is different.

Joe: And they’re very different movies every time. And I think we made that decision maybe a month ago. We were toying with alternate ending to the movie where Bucky at [the Smithsonian] was actually the end of the movie. And it wasn’t a tag at the end of the film. But, you know, there was something about it that just felt more like a tag to everybody. And our editor, Jeff Ford, who’s a genius, we came in one day and he goes, “I think I found a very sort of Friedkinesque way to end the movie. If I just up cut the ending right in the middle of this conversation, it’s very much the end of Three Days of the Condor where Redford’s walking away and just glances over his shoulder and they freeze frame on him. It’s sort of, you know, in the midst of the action, an interrupted moment that you cut on.” And we loved it. He showed it to us and we loved it.

Even though we know that the next line is…

Joe: Exactly.

It’s like the last frame of a comic. There’s more coming, we know that.

Joe: Exactly, there’s more coming.

So what’s something in the movie that people not pay attention to but they should? I know like the when they target people, we see Tony Stark and they mention Stephen Strange. But is there anything else in there?

Joe: Like Easter Egg wise?

Yeah.

Joe: Yeah, there’s a bunch of Easter Eggs in the movie. I will say this, like when Cap crawls into – people won’t be able to get this Easter Egg until it’s out on DVD – but when Cap crawls into his apartment, when he hears the music playing, people should look at the title of the books that are on the bookshelf in the foreground. They’re very dark though,  you’d have to freeze your DVD.

Was the list at the beginning of the movie in the script? How did you come up with the things on the list?

Joe: That was in the script. I think it was Kevin’s idea or Marcus and McFeely’s idea, but the things on the list were fought about for months. Everybody had their idea of what they wanted on the list.

Anthony: And they kept changing.

Joe: And, you know, we even had friends of ours like, you know, guys from Community, writers from Community, we would call them and say “Hey, if Cap had a list, what do you think would be on it?” And everybody was just throwing ideas at us. And then I remember the day that we just took all the ideas and went “Okay, let’s write it out here” and the most popular ones bubbled to the surface. And then we tried to put little jokes into each one like Rocky 1 and 2, with a little question mark after 2 or…

The Star Wars, Star Trek is funny.

Joe: Yeah, Star Wars, Trek, you know.

And then I guess in the same vein, whose idea was the tombstone?

Anthony: That came up very late in the process.

Joe: That’s probably two weeks ago.

Wow.

Anthony: Well yeah, we just kept trying to figure out what his tombstone should look like and we couldn’t settle on anything like–

Joe: Like what would his epitaph be and, you know, we went through like maybe 10 iterations of his tombstone. And I remember was it–?

Anthony: We were just sitting in visual effects one day.

Joe: Dan Deleeuw, our effects supervisor, came up with the idea to do that.

Anthony: I don’t remember.

Joe: I think it was. But again, you know, because we’re geeks and we love that kind of stuff, when we make movies, we’re always trying to put it our movies, our TV shows. So it’s better to put something in there that is a wink and a smile and excites people than just something bland, you know?

Oh yeah, I mean, it gets a huge laugh.

Joe: Right.

At what point, did you guys start having discussions about coming back for the next one? Because obviously you just said you were working still on the film just two weeks ago.

Joe: Yeah.

Anthony: You know, here’s the thing. All the way through the process, we’ve had an amazing relationship with Marvel. We’ve been thrilled with them as partners and they’ve been very happy with us as partners. So it’s sort of, once it became clear to us that the movie works, we just started informally talking about it. And we still haven’t really even totally formalized yet, but yeah.

Right. And, you know, this movie ends on a series of cliffhangers, some of which are to be addressed in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but would it be safe to say the ideas that you’re looking at for the third Cap center on the Bucky search?

Joe: In the Marvel cone of secrecy, we won’t divulge too much, but I will say this. The movie is clearly written as a two-parter. The next movie would seem to require a continuation of the journey of the Winter Soldier.

Anthony: Both on Cap’s part and Winter Soldier’s part. They both sort of are just–

Joe: And that’s not giving anything away. I think you can just glean that from watching the movie and seeing how the movie ends.

Oh yeah, absolutely. A few more things here. What was it like coming into this machine? I mean, you guys had made movies, you made TV, but now you’re coming into Marvel where there’s pressure, there’s scrutiny, how did you deal with that? 

Joe: Well there’s two things here. One is probably the greatest experience we’ve ever had making a film is with the folks at Marvel. Some of the smartest, most talented people we’ve ever worked with, the most collaborative. So–

Anthony: And very like, very focused on the work, you know what I mean? And there’s not really personality issues.

Joe: Yeah, coming into the Marvel machine was probably the best experience of our careers. The other issue is yeah, there’s a lot of scrutiny, but something we’ve learned over our careers is you can never anticipate or try to anticipate how an audience is gonna react to something. You can only make the movie based on how you feel and what you wanna see. And then you hope everybody else likes your vision or your point of view. So we didn’t pay a lot of attention to the scrutiny, we just made what we wanted as a comic book geek and a kid who’s, you know, this is a 30 year dream come true for me. I just put everything I wanted to see into a comic book movie in this movie, you know.

Anthony: Also I would add this too. We’ve been running television shows for almost 10 years, from Arrested and onward and it’s like our position in TV is we put a show together, we hire everybody, we bring in guest directors, we have a writing staff, we have guest actors. You know, it’s like we’re almost kind of like Marvel, you know what I mean? In that sort of microcosm. So I think we sort of really understand where they’re coming from, with us coming in to their system. So I think it’s that was part of it too.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is now playing. Captain America 3 will be out May 6, 2016.

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