'The Falcon And The Winter Soldier': Amy Aquino On Bucky's Life Or Death Situation, Her Character's Backstory, And More [Interview]

Amy Aquino has pretty much seen it all.

Her latest gig involves trying to coax personal revelations out of a pair of superheroes as Dr. Raynor in Marvel's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but the actress and producer has had a remarkable career, appearing in films like Moonstruck and Working Girl and spending the past 30 years popping up on practically every popular show on television. She brings that veteran, nose-to-the-grindstone approach to her work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, playing a character who has witnessed some horrible things and who has made it her mission to save Bucky Barnes from himself.

We spoke with Aquino about Bucky's life or death situation, Dr. Raynor's backstory, her character's interaction with the new Captain America, and more.

Amy Aquino Interview

After looking back over your incredibly impressive career, I'm more convinced than ever that there should be a convention devoted solely to character actors. It'd be you, David Morse, Margo Martindale, maybe throw Bruce McGill into the mix. What do we have to do to get you guys in a room together?

[laughs] We used to have a great time when we would go to auditions in person. At least I got to see all the women, this great cohort of women in these audition rooms. We had the best time, and it was so much fun. Now it's all [virtual].

I was going to ask about that – if you're friends with any of your contemporaries in that space, or if you sort of keep a professional distance as you jostle for the same roles?

Oh my God. Those rooms were the best. We would try to out-do each other and compliment each other. "Oh my God, that outfit is perfect! I wore the totally wrong thing!" "Did you lose weight?" Everybody trying to help everybody else out. It's sad, I miss that. My friends are my friends whether we compete for stuff or not. We're not competing. Any time a woman who's not drop dead gorgeous gets a job? That's a win for women, a win for all of us.

You have such an amazing resumé spanning just about every type of genre. Since your scenes in this show have been relatively low key thus far in terms of big superhero action, did it feel noticeably different to step into the world of the MCU?

It did and it didn't. I was not knowledgable about the universe. I didn't even realize it was a universe – I thought it was a franchise. I didn't quite know what to expect there, so I didn't have any preconceived notions. I did some research and saw some of the movies, but it was not problematic. What I loved when I stepped in and saw the set that they had for the therapy, with the forest mural in the background, the room was filled with smoke. And I said, "Oh, OK. This is not Felicity. We are doing something very different here." And the camera's up here [gestures up and behind her left shoulder]. When I saw it cut, I was like, "Wow, that's right! That camera was there the whole time. That is such a weird angle! But it totally works." That's what made it different, if anything. The work itself – Sebastian was lovely and a tremendous actor and super generous, both of them, all that I played with. When you get down to it, my work as an actress is: who is this woman? What does she want? What is she trying to get from this guy? What's her background? And then I'm listening to him talking, and reacting. All your basic acting stuff is [the same], and there were no green screens or anything. But they did create this very different feel. That was intriguing. And it does kind of set you in a little bit of a different mind space, when your office is filled with smoke.

Speaking of backstory, your character, Dr. Raynor, says she was a former soldier and saw a lot of dead bodies in her time. How much information were you given about her backstory? 

That was what I was given, and that was enough to me. I approached her as a woman who was a soldier, she saw all those dead bodies, and she had her own very close call with PTSD. Because she was at that place where it was just that lonely. That's why she sees her work with Bucky as a life and death situation. Because this guy – if she thought her shit was bad, the things she saw were bad? Imagine, now you do it times a hundred. He's had that many more years, et cetera. She can interpret just how bad it would be for him, and if he doesn't connect, he could die. As so many veterans do. PTSD is a horrible, horrible thing. If left to your own devices, if you go inside, you're just going to [take your own life]. It's going to be drugs, it's going to be...whatever. So her job is to not let him. Because she got saved, she's going to save him.

When your character tells Sam that she'd done some field ops with John Walker before, you had sort of a raised eyebrow and a tone that played to me as, "I guess I have to deal with this guy again." What kind of direction did Kari Skogland give you on the day when it came to delivering that line?

I don't think she gave me direction, which tells me that – because she is a very, very specific and brilliant director – that I was on the right track. Because if I hadn't been, I would have heard from her. Clearly, he's a guy. He's a "guy guy." There's a reason they made him Captain America. I feel like Raynor knows that [Sam and Bucky] have some issues with him, so it's not something she wanted to publicize ahead of time. I think it's a very good thing that they didn't know ahead of time that she knew John Walker, because she would have had zero credibility with Bucky. Would have gotten absolutely nowhere. That's what I love about it, what I love about the script and the show: all these layers. Nobody's completely a bad guy – well, I guess there are some bad guys. But no! In this series, no one's completely bad, nobody's completely good. Even the super bad guys, it's like, "Oh no! But they're doing it for the right reasons? Wait a minute..."

You mentioned PTSD, and we've spoken with Malcolm and Kari a little before, and talking about how race is a huge part of this show and really built into the fabric of it. Is that something you were aware of when you were hired? Did you know they were going to be tackling themes that were as serious and grounded as that, even though it takes place in this universe where there are superheroes are flying around?

I had no idea. And to be fair, they hold these scripts – they are very closely held. To the point where I couldn't even print out my own words. I couldn't even have it in my hand until the morning that I shot, which is hard for me because I have an old brain. I had zero idea, and I was blown away when I watched the second episode about how far they went without making a big, fat deal of it. You could almost miss when the two guys are arguing in the street and the cops come up and they immediately assume that Anthony Mackie is the perpetrator, the aggressor there. You could almost miss that. They don't make a big deal out of it, and he doesn't make a big deal out of it, because he deals with it all the time. I don't have a Black friend in L.A. who's a man who hasn't been stopped for driving while Black. It's just that casual racism that they're used to dealing with. 

But I think it's fantastic. Because whatever Marvel does, because of its popularity, whatever it does, it's going to have an enormous impact. There are going to be repercussions that are going to go out. So if they start really dealing with race? Excellent. The kids who don't see it – especially the white kids who don't have any idea what the reality is – will get that information. And the same could be said for therapy and for mental health and getting help.

What was it like having a front row seat to that back-and-forth between Sebastian and Anthony in the interrogation room in episode 2?

I felt like the luckiest girl in the universe. [laughs] That I just got to sit there and be there. That I could, as Amy and as Dr. Raynor, be like, "Oh my God, are they doing this? Are they really doing this?" They were adorable. My biggest challenge was, they were not exactly going by the script because you wanted to have the two of them playing with each other, so my big challenge was not stopping them too soon. It was like, "We've gotta watch it and be able to enjoy this. The audience has to get it. If it's too much, they'll just edit it out." That was the balance: at what point was Dr. Raynor/Amy going to come in and say, "All right, enough already. Jesus."