The Russo Brothers Talk 'Avengers: Infinity War' [Set Visit Interview]

In June of 2017, we visited the set of Avengers: Infinity War and talked with the cast and crew of the epic Marvel film. Today, we are publishing our full roundtable interview with directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who have been on this journey since Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The Russo Brothers tell us what the story is about, how the world has changed since Civil War, sorting timelines, cinematic inspirations, filming on IMAX cameras, balancing tone, the troubles with shooting the biggest ensemble movie of all time, crafting character-based action, James Gunn's role in the production, their Fantastic Four dreams, collaborating with the other Marvel filmmakers, what to expect from Captain Marvel, how Infinity War will connect to Avengers 4, the possibility of death in this film, comic book inspirations, the evolution of the Guardians of the Galaxy, how the other marvel films connect to Infinity War and the importance of the Infinity Stones. Let's dive in.

Captain America Civil War Credits Scenes

So, aside from the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what is this movie about?

Joe Russo: We can't really tell you.

Anthony Russo: Endurance. ... For us, since we entered the MCU as storytellers, and we picked up the story with Winter Soldier, we've been carrying a thread forward from that point, a narrative thread. And for us this movie is very much about, how do we move forward from Civil War in a big way, and what happens to that division between the Avengers and how does that affect them. What does that mean when the greatest threat they'll ever face comes to them, in that kind of a condition, in that kind of divided condition.

Joe Russo: It's been a personal journey I think, for us as filmmakers from Winter Soldier, of a theme set in that movie that I think we then tried to expand upon in Civil War, that then led to Infinity War. It's how we feel about the characters, as comic book fans, the story that we want to see. Re-imagining these characters to a very personal point of view. So it's not only a culmination of the last ten years of Marvel storytelling, but for us, it's a culmination of our journey as directors to the Marvel universe, and I think having at our disposal all of those characters and allowing ourselves to refilter them through the way that we see the universe, the way that we feel about the characters, the themes that we really want to bring to the forefront, that's what these two movies are for us.

What can you say about the state of the world? Are the Sokovia accords still a thing, what's Captain up to? I mean, he's been growing that beard, did he get highlights?

Anthony Russo: It's a direct corollary to the end of Civil War, you're going into this film with the ramifications of that film at the forefront of this film.

How long later in the timeline is this one? 

Anthony Russo: We always do everything based on when the last movie came out.

Joe Russo: It'll be roughly two years.

So Winter Soldier was more of an espionage thriller, Civil War was a psychological thriller, what will we expect to see in terms of genre and tone in Infinity War?

Anthony Russo: There's a lot of characters in this movie that have tones that they're bringing from their own franchises. I think it's a very unique film, I don't think there are a lot of movies that have the kind of tone that this movie has, because it's a combination of franchises and I don't think we've ever seen that before on this scale. So I think it's got a really unique tone to it, and I think it's impulsive, I would say it's an adventure film, but it has elements of ... we were inspired by '90s crime films when we were working on the script. So it's got an energy to it, a bit of a smash and grab energy.

Joe Russo: Like the heist genre.

What would be some of those titles specifically, in the '90s?

Anthony Russo: The movies that we looked at, Two Days in the Valley, Out of Sight. We always look to movies for an inspiration for the energy that we're looking for, or a narrative construct that we want to be inspired by, and those two films in particular-

Joe Russo: And again, for us it helps when you are dealing with all these different types of characters and all these different tones that have been established in the various films and storylines, it becomes our organizing principle for tone. In terms of what the world is that we're creating, what rules are we playing by, how does that filter and every character, no matter where they're coming from, has to intersect with the sort of reality of that tone.

I think sometimes people have misinterpreted in the past when I'm talking about movies, how we're using them. Really as inspiration for narrative imagery. These movies are so complex you need a unifying peace, or a sense of cohesion, and that cohesion can come from a narrative construct that you can apply all the characters to. It's hard to find movies with this many characters; you can look at Altman films, which have a tendency to be more veritè. Where we found Two Days In The Valley, which really had a narrative thrust to it, and had an energy that we were looking for. Again, just purely something inspires us in the room when we're working on the script.

Anthony Russo: Yeah, I would say that comes from those many, many months that we spent with writers Marcus and Mcfeely in the room, exploring the possibilities of where we can go with the storytelling, where we can take the characters, and finding ideas that most excited us and starting to shape things around that.

russo brothers scarlett infinity war

Can you guys talk about filming the whole movie with the IMAX cameras? That whole process?

Anthony Russo: Amazing.

Joe Russo: They're beautiful cameras, the chip is unbelievable, it's stunning. We have a lot of characters who ... are tall, unnaturally tall. So it really helps with the frame, because that IMAX aspect ratio works for those types of characters, and the landscapes are stunning. There are some really exotic landscapes in the film, and to be able to put those on an IMAX screen, it's an incredible tool to have as a filmmaker to be able to exploit that scale of aspect ratio.

What's it like doing the quieter scenes with these gigantic cameras?

Anthony Russo: The good news is, we've been working with IMAX very closely on this, and the technology of the cameras continues to evolve. So there's a new iteration of the cameras that is much more user friendly than they have been. Because we, in our style, we like a very active, aggressive camera, so it's always been important to try to convert their system into something that is a little more mobile, and something that camera people can actually move in a way that's not gonna just drag them to the ground. So we have a brand new camera that we're using that's called the Arri 65 which is finally completely synced up with the IMAX needs as well and it gives us a lot more latitude, in terms of what we can do with the cameras.

Joe Russo: IMAX branded Arri 65.

Each of these movies have their own tone in the MCU, but the one that really stands out as the most distinct is the Guardians, and you guys are bringing them in. What is the approach with getting them to mix together? Are they going to bring their own music?

Anthony Russo: Everybody does.

Joe Russo: [Doctor] Strange brings his own energy, Ant Man brings his own energy, Thor has a whole different ... Taika has a new approach to Thor, as you've seen in the trailer. So all that energy is combined. Specific to the Guardians, we have to find a way to bring those tones and honor them, but also make them work with what we're doing with the movie. Again, I think the way that we find the best way to do that is to filter these things through our very personal expression of them as characters. It's not dissimilar to what we did with Captain America: Winter Soldier. There is a movement of the characters towards a more "Russo brothers" execution.

What kind of role would you say they have in this film?

Anthony Russo: They have a great role in this film. Everyone is interwoven in this plot in a way where they have an emotional connection to the story, and are emotionally affected by the stakes of the movie. You can't tell a movie with this many characters and not have each of those characters show up and honor them from the different franchises if they are not motivated to be there, if they are not in life or death circumstances, if they are not fighting to save their belief system or their way of life.

Civil War Film Influences

Can you talk about the challenges of the big cast for things like choreography and all the things you rehearse, especially in a movie like this? Are they all in the scene together and how does that work, practically, for you guys?

Joe Russo: You're seeing a scene today, it's a high character count in this scene, it's not a very complex scene on an action level, but even a scene where you're just talking becomes massively complex when you have a lot of characters.

Anthony Russo: And a lot of movie stars,

Joe Russo: Yeah. Because you have to shoot every one of them, they're all special, they're all special characters, they're all important to the story line-

Anthony Russo: They're all somebody's favorite character.

Joe Russo: Exactly. Basically, this movie is only achievable with this amazing team that we've been working with, now over several movies. We've gotten an amazing shorthand with one another, we're tuned into one another very specifically on a creative level. We have a really strong team, we've spent many, many months preparing. That's really the trick, you have to ... one thing I love about our process here at Marvel is we have the opportunity, with the technology and the budgets that we work with, we get to make the movie several times before we make the movie, through previews, through extensive storyboarding, through editing it all together. There's a lot of experimentation and that is very helpful, especially when you're dealing with such a complex number of characters, and action, etc. So basically, the way we work our way Through it is a lot, a lot of prep work.

Anthony Russo: And we've had the good fortune to have worked with a lot of the same collaborators on the last three films. The effects supervisor Dan Deleeuw, our editor Jeff Ford, our DP Trent Opaloch, our stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave. There is a core group of individuals that we've done a Vulcan mind-meld with over the last three movies that they know how we like to work, they understand the style that we like to employ. They think about the characters the same way that we think about the characters, we're all in unison in terms of the storytelling. Having that support system has made it a lot easier with each successive movie. Certainly that airport sequence in Civil War was exceedingly difficult, but all of those people were there with us going thought it. And in this movie I think we have multiple sequences that that even more difficult and thank God that we have this great unit of really talented people.

Joe Russo: It does really feel like we are working at even another level now with these movies, which is very exciting.

Captain America: Winter Soldier behind the scenes

Can you talk a little bit about the action, because with Winter Soldier we were seeing the evolution of you guys as action directors in Civil War was another notch up. What is the action in this film going to be? Because that was more character-based.

Anthony Russo: Everything's always got to be character based, we know we can't, if we're sitting in the editing room, watch the sequence for more than 20 seconds without a character having a point of view or moving the action forward, my brain just shuts down or I start thinking about my laundry. The action for us, it's always character based-

Joe Russo: In Winter Soldier, in terms of character-based, Winter Soldier was so specifically for us, everything in that movie was designed around that version of Captain America that we wanted to see, that we wanted to explore. Everything in that film, all of the stylistic choices just flow from that. Civil War was a bit of an evolution, because even though it was a Captain America movie, we were bringing so many other characters into it, characters that had powers, that were different from the range of characters that we were using in Winter Soldier and now it's even more so. So it's like, as the characters change, as their particular powers change the meter of who they are-

Anthony Russo: The chemistry changes-

Joe Russo: The chemistry, the style of our action evolves with that, because again it has to be specific to character.

Anthony Russo: It's dictated by who's in the sequence, what is the sequence about, what do the characters want in the sequence. Are we trying to create a sense of urgency, are we trying to slow it down, is it about tension, is it about ... aggression. So I think you'll see several different styles employed in the movie, because the chemistry is different in each sequence and the needs of each sequence are different.

Despite being a follow up of the Captain America story that you guys have been working on, you're also now on the third and fourth Avengers movies. How much do you have to look at Joss Whedon's work and do you have to escalate that, or how do you look at this as a part of the Avengers trilogy?

Joe Russo: We look at it the way people would look at writers in comic books. People pick up different runs and they go with it, and if there are things from the mythology that you are inspired by, or you find thematic relevancy you go with that. If there are things in the mythology that you want to see differently, then you explore ways to execute it differently.

So I think of course there's a list of movies that have preceded this, but those movies have been directed by a lot of different directors with a lot of different styles and a lot of different things to say. Anthony and I have found repeatedly that the best and only way for us to move forward is to receive that information, and keep what we like, and explore what we like, and exploit what we like, and tell the story that we want to tell, and I think the audience goes with you when you make those changes or there are things that you discard, the same way you do in a comic run when you're reading it, you go "I want to see someone else's point of view on that, that was an awesome point of view, I had a lot of fun with that. Now, I want to see something else." And that's, I think what Marvel's done really well, bringing in a lot of different voices to execute the films.

Starsky and Hutch reboot

I understand that James Gunn is working on this film, so can you tell us a little bit, outside of Thor and Guardians stuff, what other aspects of the story is he collaborating with you guys on and what's your experience been like?

Joe Russo: It's been very similar. I think again it's very much a piece of how we've interacted with all the voices in the MCU. Whether it be Taika or James-

Anthony Russo: Peyton or Scott. I would say collectively, everyone in the Marvel universe has been involved in this movie. We're very close with all the directors, we love them all. We have a lot of conversations with people constantly, we have a lot of talks with Taika, because that movie isn't finished and he had executed things on set that we needed real information, about tonally, about the direction it was going in. The two Guardians movies existed in the same world, so we had an understanding of how those characters behaved. I think James has functioned the same way that everyone has been functioning. I think it's a nod to James, the EP credit, that he really helped create those characters. But as far as how we're working, we're working in a real collaborative united artists approach to the movie. In respect to hearing people's ... where people are taking their characters. Ant-Man 2 is just about to start shooting, so we need to keep in communication with Peyton constantly about story elements in that that may affect this. Coogler. Sorry, we didn't mention him. Ryan was in the middle of shooting Black Panther and he was here and we had several conversations, met with him many times, met with the crew many times with him, his production design department, we looked at fight vids from the story. We had a lot of interaction with Nate Moore, the producer, many text messages back and forth with Ryan. It's really just trying to do the job of managing the universe as it's progressing.

Joe Russo: And I think here's really where it becomes most relevant, if a movie has been completed there's really nothing else to talk about, right? The movie exists, everything you need to know about that movie is in the movie, is on the screen. That's the expression, that's the story, that's the experience that we all had of it, and that's what you need to know to carry that story forward and those characters forward. For the movies that haven't been completed, that's where it gets into a tricky spot for us, because we want to make sure we're being sensitive to what's happening during the execution of those films, the process of discovery that they will go through in the execution that different from what was on the page in the scripts, because of course we read all the scripts. So that's really where it becomes critical that we communicate with other people, just to understand how things are evolving while we're executing, while they're executing-

Anthony Russo: And what we need from their storytelling to help move us forward. I think in particular on this one that was Ryan. Because he was shooting while we were shooting, and there was a lot of cross-collaboration there. He's done an amazing job with the level of detail that he has brought to the Wakandan universe. Incredible. You see it in the trailer, it's mind-blowing.

Joe Russo: James and Taika, because they were both executing and finishing while we were developing-

Anthony Russo: And Peyton, who's about to get going-

Joe Russo: Peyton's ramping up, so yeah-

Anthony Russo: There's story elements shared. It's part of the fun with us!

Captain Marvel Details

I'm curious, have the directors of Captain Marvel come by?

Anthony Russo: Not yet,

Joe Russo: No, they're newer to the-

Anthony Russo: I'm sure they'll be by soon, but I think they're just getting their feet wet. They're figuring out the story that they want to tell. That's where Marvel is, respectful, everybody gets to-

Joe Russo: Have their space-

Anthony Russo: Have their space to come up with their individual visions for what they want to do, and then there's a point where it makes sense for us to intersect with them and talk about the storytelling. I'm assuming we'll be meeting with them in the next month or so.

I wanted to ask about Thanos, because we've only seen him a couple of times and he's sitting down and talking to people or he's just putting on his gloves. But you guys are really bringing him to the screen where he'll be, assumably, doing things, so if you could talk about the process of bringing that character to life, and working with Josh.

Joe Russo: Josh is an amazing actor, obviously. One of the things about Thanos that we're most excited about is, one of the great things about these movies, the visual effects technology is always evolving. Every couple of years, you're able to make a leap forward in some respect, and bring something to the screen on an execution that you haven't quite seen before, that's what's so exciting about it. Whether it be something like skinny Steve, or whatever the case may be. As that technology evolves, we are able to bring more and more of what Josh Brolin can do as a performer into the fabric and the texture of what Thanos is in a way that we are extremely excited about, and I know that he is as an actor, our visual effects teams are pretty excited about it. That's, I think, one thing ... just figuring out, again, having such a cursory view of the character in the past, it's almost like now we get to do the flip side of that, where you're going to see every little vein on his face, and every little twitch that Josh does. It's a very, very intimate portrayal and performance.

He's now shooting Deadpool 2. Are you finished with him, is he coming back? How is that working schedule wise?

Anthony Russo: We're sharing a lot of actors with a lot of movies.

Joe Russo: Because our production is so long, and because we have so many characters we don't need them all the time.

Anthony Russo: If we locked everybody up for the time that we were shooting, we would shut down Hollywood.

Josh Brolin Thanos

You're doing something that no one in the MCU has done before and that's shooting two movies essentially at the same time, but there's been a lot of miscommunication about how they interact. Just talk about how you're approaching that now, and why you're shooting back to back and just really the schedule-

Joe Russo: Our approach has always been ... we look at the process, as with Marcus and McFeely, it's simply the same thing in the way that the Winter Soldier relates to Civil War, and the way that Civil War relates to Infinity War. These two movies will also relate, there's a narrative thread that is connecting these films, but at the same time, there's an independence in terms of what the experience is or where the story goes. It isn't a true two-parter, and I think the two-parter concept came back when Marvel decided they were going to culminate the MCU, it was going to be a two-movie deal. But as we developed the movie, in execution, it ended up being more of two singular expressions. And I think that just what happened-

You were saying earlier that every character is someone's favorite character. Is there anyone in particular that you guys are excited for the audience to react to?

Anthony Russo: It's always tough because we're going to walk back on set and somebody's going to be really disappointed we didn't say them-

Joe Russo: Anthony Mackie!

Is there a specific arc, or a specific character, or even a pairing-

Joe Russo: I think between Ragnarok and this film, I think Thor has a really compelling arc. I think he's a pretty fascinating character and I think he's going to jump to the forefront of people's minds as a pivotal marvel character after Ragnarok.

Spider-Man Appearing in Venom

We've heard for Ragnarok that the way that Taika's doing it, he gets to show off his sense of humor a lot more, which is obviously something that we're excited to see, but is that tone for his character something that you're trying to incorporate here?

Joe Russo: We grew up executing projects that were in a similar vein as Taika's sensibility; Arrested Development, Community. So, we jive very well with Taika, and the direction he's taking that character in. I think that we always want, and desire, as filmmaker, pathos as well out of our characters, and we find that humor and pathos in combination create a more profound experience for you, and I think that Taika has done that very well in Ragnarok, and we now get to take Thor on a really compelling journey.

You guys fought to make sure that Spider-Man was going to be in Civil War. Are there any characters you guys had to really, "We want these guys"? 

Anthony Russo: Everybody. Every character. All the deals are hard, everybody's expensive. It's very complicated to put together a movie of this scale. Sometimes it's easier to just say maybe we should just not do it with these guys-

Joe Russo: These movies are a producing wonder, there are very few producing entities and producers like Kevin Feige, who can pull together something like this.

Anthony Russo: Kevin and Lou have out done themselves on this, the jenga puzzle of actor schedules that we're juggling is staggering. And daunting.

Fantastic Four reboot

Have there been any conversations about Fantastic Four?

Joe Russo: I'm sure we've sat around at dinners, and after a few drinks we've all laughed and said "Hey, it'd be great to go after this person or that person," but we know how the business is structured. I'm sure Marvel would love to work with all those characters.

You've been speaking extensively about the idea of getting together the different tones and the different stories and all the different genres, and we were talking to the screenwriters about the idea that the superhero genre is traditionally shat on by the Academy to put it frankly, but they were saying they believe there could be a tipping point, like at the end of Lord of the Rings that was finally the movie where they caught up and were like "Okay, we're going to give fantasy it's due." I'm curious what you guys' thoughts are on the Academy and their opinion of superheros and when you think that tipping point for superhero movies might be?

Joe Russo: It's a hard question because we're filmmakers. So all we do, we think these stories are very important. We love them. We find them as exciting and as complex and inspiring and heartbreaking, and we believe that there are real stakes in them, real emotional stakes. So for us, this is exactly the kind of movies we aspire to and exactly the kind of movies we look for as filmgoers in a movie theater. I think that you find that in the vast majority of the audiences. The Academy ... sometimes plays a role in protecting films that need more support. The Academy has been very effective in promoting movies, and getting eyeballs, on movies that don't necessarily get large audiences, and I think that's been one mission of the Academy, and one very effective mission that they play in terms of pulling attention to movies that could use it. And stories that could use it.

Joe Russo: These movies are so highly visible, I think there's less of a-

Anthony Russo: An urgency-

Joe Russo: Yeah, less of an inclination to say "Hey, we need to pay attention." Everybody's already paying attention, so I don't know, it's an interesting question but from our point of view, we take this as seriously as we take anything.

Because Avengers 3 and 4 are now more separate entities, is there a shift in focus on who the main characters might be, or a shift in style even, in the two?

Joe Russo: We always try to make each film different so they don't get repetitive. This kind of serialized storytelling, outside of the Bond franchise or Harry Potter, which was a distinctive story that was told, Harry Potter was a distinctive story that was told over that seven movies, you have to keep evolving. You have to keep evolving who's at the forefront, how you're laying the story out, because I think rigor mortis will set in very quickly. So for us, we absolutely are very, very particular about who carried the ball on this movie, and who will carry it on this movie. Because each character represents a different theme, each character has different wants, and that can shape and color and re-tone an entire film depending on who you're following. Especially in stories this big.

I know there's a ton of comic books with Thanos and the infinity gems, but were there any particular ones that were influential to you guys while making this?

Joe Russo: Certainly the Starlin book was our jumping off point. It's a brilliant comic, and the ideas behind it are so large, it's what pushed us to go for the scale that we're going for on these movies. But we also draw from ... Anthony and I love the postmodern comics, so we're also drawing from newer stuff, and we're kind of combining it all into, again, what's our favorite stuff and how do we see elements from each helping our story and the story that we want to tell.

You talked a little bit about timeline and how this film is very based on what happened at the end of Civil War, but this film takes place, by my count, five, six years after Guardians 2. Because Guardians 2 is set right after Guardians 1. So how have the Guardians changed when we come to them here, because they've now been a team for a long time, Groot must be ... bigger. Right?

Anthony Russo: There are some changes-

Joe Russo: Groot has grown.

Anthony Russo: But I think changes are about chemistry and about camaraderie and the fact that they're closer, and they're tighter, and they've been doing it for a while. That's, if there's any change, it's in that when they may or may not intersect with the Avengers in this movie, they have cemented their chemistry as a team-

Joe Russo: The relationships have deepened.

Anthony Russo: And they would stand in contrast with the other teams. Potentially.

You mentioned that you guys read a bunch of the scripts for the other Marvel movies. Is there one before Infinity War that has the biggest lead-in that we can be expecting?

Joe Russo: They all lead in in their own way, I think. As far as plot elements that actually drive towards the story, again, I think Marvel does a great job of segmenting the movies so that you can have your own experience in each film. I think from a plot standpoint, if there's any corollary, Ant-Man 2 probably has some elements that stitch in.

Anthony Russo: But we can't talk about that.

Who would you say has the best costume in this movie?

Joe Russo: Is it ...? Where's Pisani? I can't remember if we – Captain Marvel on set, is that official? If it's not, it's official now. I think Captain Marvel had a great outfit.

She has a mailbox that we saw earlier. 

Joe Russo: I just don't need my phone filling up with 42 text messages-

[This interview took place months before Comic-Con, where the Russos said that Captain Marvel does not appear in Infinity War. Disney says that things change during production, so don't take the above comments as a confirmation of an appearance, as things may have changed.]

black panther reviews

You guys introduced Black Panther before his movie was signed, Captain Marvel before her movie. What is the different approach between those two characters, how do guys you go about that and have you met with the director-

Joe Russo: Again, just how we feel about those characters and how we want their expression to be and then when the next writer, if I'm using this analogy between comic books, [the] director picks it up, they pick it up where they want to pick it up, and they take it where they want to go with it. I haven't seen a lot of blowback from the way that people reach out, I think people get excited. I mean look at the fucking views for the Ragnarok trailer. Taika's point of view is really clear in that movie, and people went crazy. I don't think you're looking at it going "Jeez, that's not a hand off from the Dark World tone, or from the first Thor tone," I think you're responding to the fact that it's a reinvention of it.

Can you talk about the Infinity Stones? At one point these objects were just passed from one person to another, but now they're very personal; there's on from Vision, there's one from Doctor Strange. How does that come into play?

Joe Russo: In a very complicated manner. I think that traditionally in movies there's a MacGuffin, sometimes the MacGuffin is a person, sometimes it's a thing. I tend to find that it's much more emotional when a person is involved. So we have quite a few Macguffins in this movie that have different relationships with two different people; Doctor Strange is a bearer of an Infinity Stone, he has been charged with protecting that Infinity Stone. So there are a lot of characters that will come into direct conflict with Thanos.

How much would you say the stones serve the structure of this movie? Thanos getting all the stones, how much does that-

Anthony Russo: It's very important to the structure of-

Joe Russo: It's the bedrock of the film. A key driver of the film.

One of the key criticisms of the MCU is the fact that we love these characters, but they're becoming increasingly invincible because nobody wants to kill any of them off. Are any major characters going to die in this movie? 

Anthony Russo: You asked for it.

Joe Russo: I'm sorry.

Anthony Russo: We'll say this. We like mature storytelling. We like dramatic storytelling. We like intense storytelling. I think we appreciate conflict, and we appreciate stakes. And without stakes, there really isn't a lot of value to the story. And I think if you look at the Marvel Universe as a whole as a story that's been told for ten years, you can look at this as the climax. And the stakes will be higher in this movie than they've ever been, times ten.