The Russo Brothers Talk 'Avengers: Endgame', Stan Lee, Lasting Stakes And More [Spoiler-Free Interview]

A few weeks back, I sat down with the Joe and Anthony Russo, the brother filmmaker team behind Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming conclusion to the Infinity Saga, Avengers: Endgame. Unlike the usual Hollywood junket, we were not shown the movie. And the directing duo would not entertain any questions about plot, so this interview is completely spoiler-free.

In my conversation with the Russo Brothers, we discuss Stan Lee's final MCU cameo, the movies they watched before making Endgame, the change of tone and point of view, Captain Marvel's changing look, the challenge to create lasting stakes and impact, the tightrope walk of being honest with the press when it comes to spoilers, and the unprecedented marketing campaign for this film, which somehow avoids revealing any of the major action scenes.

Peter: So this is one of the toughest interviews of my career because I have seen almost nothing.Joe Russo: Want to talk about bass fishing?Can we talk about the song that starts off the footage we saw?Joe Russo: Well, you know, we don't want to give any context any of the footage because what we don't want to do is like...Okay.Joe Russo: Sorry.Final Stan Lee CameosWe know Stan Lee has a cameo in this movie. Did his death affect that at all?Joe Russo: It did not affect it because we already shoot his cameo prior to his death, but this is the last filmed cameo for Stan.On the previous film you guys were saying that Thanos is the main character. And I know this is an ensemble movie, but if you had a gun to your head and I was like, who's the main character of this movie, who would you say?Anthony Russo: No, we won't tell you what specifics, but we will say this, that the trap with two movies that are part of a series like this is that they ultimately can feel like the same film. The way to differentiate those movies is through tone and point of view. So we will say that Endgame has a different tone than Infinity War and it certainly is told from a different point of view.russo brothers avengers regretI love talking to you guys because you guys are huge film fans and... even on like Winter Soldier you gushed about all these films you watched in prep for that. And let's be clear, I'm not trying to dig for plot spoilers. I know you watch stuff for tone and even like action scenes. Is there anything you could talk about?Joe Russo: Interestingly enough, Endgame was the one movie that we didn't.... We'll use references, we'll use references for common language for the crew and the actors for them to understand what it is that we're trying to accomplish. And I think because we were bringing a different, more unique tone to the stuff we were doing in the MCU, it was important for us to point to the movies. But as people started to understand what our requirements were, we want an edge psychological realism, surprises, subversiveness, we needed less references for people. And so by the time we got to the fourth film, we weren't using it at that point. Everybody just understood what the aesthetic was.Anthony Russo: I also think this is another reason why... and this is a good interesting question because this kind of's rare when Joe and I get to an area that we haven't even talked about yet. But I also think it might be because those other movies were all about moving the MCU forward, you know, and this movie, we weren't moving the MCU anywhere. This movie was supposed to and the 22 movie run. So the movies that we were looking at for this movie where the 21 movies that had proceeded it. You know, that was really what was informing this movie were the Marvel movies themselves.franchise remake pollYeah. Totally not related to this movie, but if I had to ask you what your favorite time travel movie is of all time, what would you say?Anthony Russo: (laughs) Well, it's hard not to pick Back to the Future.Joe Russo: Yeah, I think Alan Silvestri would be really upset if we didn't say Back to the Future.Avengers Endgame ClipYeah, that's my favorite as well. I know a lot of people, when the trailers featuring Captain Marvel came out, there was some reactions from female fans of her look being different. So I'm wondering if you guys could address that....Joe Russo: Yeah. This was, I mean, first of all, we give all the actors ownership over their look, that's not something that frankly we have a lot of, uh, um, you know...Anthony Russo: We set the parameters certainly in terms of what we need.Joe Russo: But I mean, you know, every hairstyle that Scarlet Johansson has had and every movie that we've done has come from Scarlet Johannson. I mean it's not like... They know these characters better than we do. So we empower them to have ownership over it. I don't sit and makeup trailers and talk to people about, you know, how much or how little makeup. This was Brie's first time playing the character.She filmed this before she film Captain Marvel?Joe Russo: Yeah, she did before she filmed Captain Marvel, and I think she was experimenting with what the character was. And those were the choices that she and her hair and makeup team had made. And I think as she started to gain a deeper understanding of the character, especially as she approached her own movie. She started to make different choices and as an artist she should be afforded that right to make whatever choice that she wants to make.Avengers Infinity WarI think one thing I'm anticipating with this movie is since you guys subverted expectations so hugely with the the end of the last film, I'm expecting when the status quo kind of goes back towards normal-ish that people are going to complain about not having a lasting consequences and in the MCU.Anthony Russo: Well, we've always said from the beginning, we've always said you need real stakes. We have a firm belief that stories and characters have value because there's a real risk and a real jeopardy to what they are. So we have that that principal is fully at work and Endgame.Joe Russo: And it's called Endgame for a reason. And we only stuck around to do these two movies because they wanted to tell an ending story and we feel like nothing has value unless it has an ending. And we were excited by that. We were excited by the fact that like, you know, for a commercial movie, probably the most risky thing down in the history of commercial movies is most expensive movie ever made and we kill half the characters at the end of the movie, you know, that's, it's crazy.It's insane.Joe Russo: But they allowed us to do it and then we're going to make equally challenging choices in an Endgame. But I think that's why we're here. And that's why we stuck around.Anthony Russo: And I would just say, the analogy would be, Civil War was about breaking up the Avengers and destroying the relationship between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. And they stayed broken up in Infinity War. Arguably that's their downfall in Infinity War. You know, we showed you a whole movie where the Avengers never fought together as a team. You know, it's carrying forward those stories...Joe Russo: The ramifications and using disruption and subversive ideas and then making sure that those ideas stick.Avengers EndgameI know when Infinity War came out, someone asked you if the name of the title was in that movie and there was the word "Endgame" in that movie. So I'm wondering, did you lie to the press?Anthony Russo: (joking) No one ever said "Avengers: Endgame" [in the movie.]Joe Russo: That was a year before movie gets released, and we are constantly changing things and these are iterative and creative processes. It is impossible to commit to anything with any kind of clarity a year before you're about to release some content. Because who knows, your DP could accidentally put the title on his resume and then we throw it out. You know, like there's a million reasons why that may or may not be a title for the movie. And until we sit in a room and we watch a trailer with the title on it, then we all look at each other and say, we're running with this title. That's usually when the title sticks to a movie. So when people are asking us questions a year before release... And look, they have the right and that's their job and you know, but we also have the right and it's our job to protect the creative integrity of our choices. And you don't want to be trapped into, and pressured into choices in the same way that a writer wants to feel like they're getting accurate answers out of us. There are no accurate answers a year out!avengers endgame tv spotMy last question is about the marketing for this movie. I don't think there's been a blockbuster movie that I've ever seen the marketing for that never show me any of the tentpole action scenes from the movie, at all. How did this come about? Was Disney on board from that from the beginning or did you guys pitch it like...Anthony Russo: There's nobody better at marketing than Disney, they are amazing right there. They're brilliant at it.But this is unprecedented.Anthony Russo: It is, you're totally right. And we talked about it early on, we're like, guys, there's just, there's very little that you can draw from, from this movie. Like this is going to be a huge challenge for you. And they're like, all right, we'll take that challenge. You know? And they're very creative about how they approached it. But I think that they believe you'd get probably have to ask them this question directly to get a better answer and more thorough answer, but at the end of the day, they were okay with that. They said they felt like this movie was in the kind of place where they could, they could limit themselves in that way and not blow the blow up their release. As to why or how, that's the mad science movie distribution.Joe Russo: It was everybody collectively, it's like we want to be as restrained as possible to preserve the integrity or the storytelling and preserve that experience for people to see it, a culture that wants everything yesterday? And you know, wants to know your title at maybe a year before it's released. We provide a secure and safe space for this to be screened by people who've committed 11 years of their heart and soul and emotion. We've heard a lot of like beautiful stories about people and the way that they connect to tomorrow and want see to help him with depression or through someone's death and their life or help them connect as a family or with their friends. Or those people do not want to have the experience of seeing that movie theater ruined because we have a culture driven by monetization of spoiling information.I totally get it. Are we ever going to get a cameo from [Anthony] in the movies?Anthony Russo: Nah, I'm not an actor. Thank you.Joe Russo: Great group of questions, I really appreciate it!