Most brothers grow up playing superheroes in their basement. The action figures, the secret headquarters and all those classic fight scenes. Joe and Anthony Russo go one better. They get to play with real superheroes.
The tag-team directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier have the best toy box in the entire universe. Captain America. Black Widow. The Falcon. Nick Fury. With toys like these, who needs a PlayStation?
The Russo Brothers made a name for themselves directing a number of popular TV shows including Arrested Development and Community. And now, they’ve found themselves at the helm of directing the best superhero movie ever, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Anthony and Joe were relaxed, playful and honestly appreciative of the opportunities they’ve had. Here are some highlights from the interview:
What do you find challenging about working together and do you work off of each other’s strengths?
Anthony Russo: Without question, there wouldn’t be a great partnership unless we compensated for each other’s weaknesses and complemented each other’s strengths. We’ve been doing it for a long time now, about 15 years, so there’s a real shorthand that we have. It’s not a very formal relationship like the Cohen Brothers have where they divvy up producing and directing. It’s very specific.
Ours is less defined than that. We always say that if you’ve asked one of us a question and you get an answer then you got an answer from both of us. We share a lot of the same influences, obviously. We grew up together, we’ve read the same comics, we read the same books, we watched the same movies, watched the same television shows, so all of our influences are very similar. So when we look at material we tend to look at it in the same way and it seems to make it very easy for everybody.
You two are primarily known for comedies. What was it about this film, did you want to start something new or are you just really interested in Marvel comics?
Anthony Russo: We always used to say, if you had asked us before we got started if we would ever be known as comedy directors we would have never guessed that. We started down that road because we wrote a comedy called “Welcome to Collinwood” that we ended up directing. But our tastes run everywhere. I mean, we shoot all kinds of things. We shoot TV, we shoot films, we shoot commercials, we shoot TV pilots, episodes. Our tastes kind of run all over the map. The action genre is something that’s been on our agenda for a long, long time.
Joe Russo: Well, it was a double whammy for us. When Marvel came to us and said, “Listen, are you interested in making Captain America – The Winter Soldier?” I started collected comic books when I was 10 years old and one of the first books I ever got was a Captain America Falcon Team-Up, so that’s like a 30-year dream come true for me to be able to make a comic book movie.
Two, when we grew up with our father in the ’70s we used to watch ’70s thrillers. We’ve seen The French Connection 100 times. So when they said, you know, “it’s a comic book movie inspired by ’70s thrillers” we went out of our minds with excitement. [LAUGHS]
What were your favorite scenes to work on, and the hardest scenes to work on?
Joe Russo: I love the relationship between Chris and Scarlett in the movie, I think that’s the real heart of the film. They wrote some of their own dialogue. You know, they’ve been working together for so long, I think this is their fourth film together and they’ve been really good friends for years. And so they brought all that energy and chemistry to the movie and I think it really is the spark of life in this film. So those are the easiest and funnest scenes to work on, where it was anytime we had the two of them together.
Anthony Russo: I would also add the scene with Robert Redford when he, Chris Evans are in Nick Fury’s office. I just love that. Number one, working with Robert Redford was certainly a career high. And second, that’s such a great scene to just watch those two play chess with each other through that scene and watch Captain America be put in a position where he has to lie to somebody who’s basically his commanding officer.
Joe Russo: And the hardest scenes are the action scenes, obviously. There was a scene near the end of the second act where Winter Soldier attacks Cap and Natasha and Sam in a car on the freeway. We had to shut down a freeway in Cleveland for two weeks to shoot that scene. If you could imagine in your own town if a filmmaker came in and said, “Hey we’re gonna shut down one of your major freeways for two weeks, what do you guys think?” Have fun getting to work, right? [LAUGHS] There was a lot of pressure on us because there was no room for error. It was a very complicated sequence.
In most of the Marvel films there is heavy CGI. But in Winter Soldier, it felt much more grounded.
Anthony Russo: Basically the movie breaks down like this. The first two acts are largely shot practically. And then the third act when, you get into the Helicarriers that’s, you know, for obvious reasons…
Joe Russo: Obviously it had to go to CGI.
Anthony Russo: Even though we tried to get them to build us a Helicarrier.
Joe Russo: Right. [LAUGHS] It was a very specific reason that we did that. It’s a thriller and political thrillers need to be grounded because they have to be topical and there have to be real stakes for the characters. If you don’t feel the stakes for the characters there’s no excitement in the movie. Sometimes CGI can take you out of a film. And it puts you into a fantasy or a science fiction genre. For those first two acts it was really important to us to execute as much of the stunts as we could practically.
Anthony Russo: Especially because we thought that was something fresh we could bring to the table. The thing we love about Captain America is, he doesn’t fly across the sky like Iron Man. He doesn’t turn into a green monster. He doesn’t come from another world like Thor. He’s just a guy, only more so, you know. And that’s the way we shot him in this movie with a handheld camera, trying to get very intimate with him. And that’s how we shot the action as well.
Was there any certain amount of pressure knowing that, you know, Captain America’s Marvel film, was there any pressure with the fan base and make sure you got it right?
Joe Russo: There’s always pressure with the fan base, it’s an intense fan base. But something we’ve learned in our career that’s very important to us is that you cannot predict what people are going to like. You can only make a movie based on how you feel and what you feel you would want to see. And then you hope everybody else likes it too.
Because we’re comic book fans, our approach to the movie was, “What do I want to see in a comic book movie?” And then we put all of that into the film. And like I said, you just keep your fingers crossed. But you’re never going to make everybody happy. I know when we came out with the stealth suit, the blue suit with the white stripe on it, the Internet exploded. “How could they not have him in the red, white and blue suit?” It’s a very thematic use of the costume, and the movie is supposed to represent his work for the government, his work for shield and then, you know, he embraces the symbol of his old suit at the end of the movie in order to fightt the bad guys. So, you kinda have to tune that out a little bit.
Anthony Russo: Yeah and it’s like Joe mentioned a little bit, it’s important to remember, the fan base does not speak with a single voice. You find the entire spectrum of opinion. There’s people who are fans of the Golden Age sort of version of the character and then everything that came after.
When you said you were a huge comic book fan and you’ve been reading since Captain Falcon Team in the 1970s, what was your reaction in the comic books when Bucky came back as a Winter Soldier?
Anthony Russo: We thought it was genius. We told [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige on our first meeting, “You know, you have Star Wars on your hands. It’s so rare that you get a villain who has such an emotional connection to the hero. That’s a gift as a storyteller, because there’s an old adage that the hero is only as good as the villain and it’s so true.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier in theaters NOW!