Springing into Action at the ‘Black Widow’ Press Conference

There’s honestly nothing in this world that makes me happier than Marvel Studios does. And naturally, we have not done a press conference for an MCU film since Endgame back in 2019. And I know we’ve had three shows to kick off Phase 4, of course; one of which I was lucky to attend a press conference for. But to be honest, there’s something different and special about the films that just represents everything we love about this universe. And to be able to say we’ll have the chance to return to theaters and see the MCU play out on the big screen again? That’s just incredibly exciting and wonderful!

So with the release of Black Widow, we found ourselves incredibly ecstatic to see what Marvel Studios was going to have in store for us at The Nerds of Color next. Luckily enough, we were able to attend the press conference for Black Widow recently; the first film of Phase 4. The conference was moderated by ESPN’s Sarah Spain, and in attendance were stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, director Cate Shortland, and producer extraordinaire, Kevin Feige. Together they assembled to spill secrets about the film and the secret origins of our favorite super spy, Natasha Romanoff!

The session kicked off with Shortland. She was asked about the challenge of achieving the balance between action and emotion in a film like this.

Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

“From the beginning when we spoke about the film we knew that it had to speak to two things which was Natasha as an individual. And then, what had happened to her, and who she was at the beginning of the film, which was she was completely alone. And then we knew as well that I wanted it to be really fun, and to have this incredible… like I kind of thought it should be like a fairground ride, so really exhilarating. So, I suppose we just thought we wanted it to both but we wanted it to be raw, and that those things would seamlessly mesh together. So it was always like, putting her at the center of it, but making sure that we didn’t let the trauma of her path drag it down. Rather that we came up to answer it. And we often did that with humor.”

Next Feige was asked about how the events and death of Natasha during Avengers Endgame affected the way the story in this film was told.

“Well, it meant we, you know, we very specifically knew there was a large period of her life that we didn’t know about. Not just her childhood, But this period of time between Civil War, and Infinity War. And that period, we felt, was right to creatively focus on to be able to discover more about our past, more about our present. And with many of the lovely people you see on the Zoom, give a hint at the end the legacy in the future, all at the same time… Scarlett Johansson is an amazing performer, And, with each and every appearance, you learn more, you saw more, and you wanted to know more. And the fact that we finally have an entire feature dedicated to that was very exciting for all of us. And now that it is coming out and people can see it is even more exciting for all of us.”

Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) Photo: Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2020

Johansson was then asked about what aspects about Natasha’s character and personality she was really able to explore in this film versus her previous appearances as Black Widow in prior MCU installments.

“You know I think Kate had mentioned that Natasha at the beginning of this film is really alone for the first time. She’s always been a part of something either, you know, by circumstance. She’s been a part of, you know, sort of starting out with really not participating at all and being a victim of the Red Room. And then, obviously, joining S.H.I.E.L.D. and then subsequently [the] Avengers. So a person that was a part of a greater whole, suddenly finds herself sort of floating in this weird in-between space and she’s off her game. And she realizes that she got all this possibility in front of her and it’s really suffocating. And then she’s blindsided by this person who comes from her past who is just on fire, is a liability and is like, got this crazy energy, is dangerous, and is full of life and isn’t needy, but needs her. And you know it’s just — she’s so thrown off her game in this. It’s great to see her like that never get to see her like that. And, you know, that’s, that was a fun place to start from. She’s just full of doubt, leaves a lot of openings for stuff to kind of creep in”

(L-R): Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

She was then asked about the fight scene with her co-star, Pugh.

“I very lucky because Florence is an athletic person. She has a background in dance and so she, you know, she nailed all the choreography… [and was] totally game to go at it. Which was great because…it’s such an emotional fight. It’s all driven by emotion, you know. There’s no real end goal there. It’s just two people expressing their frustration and also their power struggle and then their genuine surprise and also affection for one another. It’s like two lion cubs just like going at it and, you know, really it was such a unique way to bond with another actor. But, you know, it also felt like a very safe way to do it somehow. You know there was like no trepidation, we’re just like in the muck, and that was that was unique. It was unique, but it was good, specific scheduling part of our life.”

Pugh, herself, was asked about the introduction to Yelena, and her approach to the role, making the character unique but also connected to Natasha’s history.

Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Kevin Baker. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

“Well I think from the get go in the script, it was very obvious that they have this connection and they have this relationship and ultimately despite, you know her skill set, she is that wonderfully annoying younger sister that says all the right things and all the wrong times. And so that wasn’t hard at all for me to get into that, I think something that I really appreciated was Cate was so welcoming of me to figure out how she thinks and how she moves and what she wears. And I think for me, that was such a fun part of figuring out this character because she really comes out of the Red Room and can start life. And she can buy her own clothes, and she can buy a vest that has lots of pockets and she’s really excited by it. And I think Cate really encouraged me to find, you know the oddities in her, and kind of lean on that. So much so that, you know, in the end… you can see that she’s flourishing she’s becoming her own being. And I think being welcomed into it with Scarlett equally being as giving as she was was, I really found it such a wonderful creative space, and so fun. That was the overall thing of two sisters having so much fun together and amongst all of the pain that they’ve shared.”

Newcomer (and Oscar-winner) Rachel Weisz was then asked about how it felt to be in a film with such complex characters, like her own, Milena.

Melina (Rachel Weisz) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

“I love stories about women, directed by a woman. I love playing opposite women but I really love playing opposite the Red Guardian, Alexei, as well so I don’t want to leave him out. I like stories about people, but it was wonderful to tell a story with three complicated strong women. And yeah just on the page I just thought she was a really unusual character. I loved her relationship with her pigs. Shooting that family scene where the family gets back together in Russia after 20 years, was just completely a delightful thing. And we were upstaged by the pigs most days. That was really unlike anything I’ve ever done. It was incredibly intimate and emotional. I had to just like steal myself most days and stop laughing at David Harbour because he is one of the more eccentric original funny people [I’ve worked with]. So yeah it was it was it was really lovely. What I liked about Melina was that she had absolutely no sense of humor. Like none. Which makes it quite funny sometimes. Yeah just unusual characters. Like Scarlett just explaining Yelena — she just used 40 adjectives to describe what Yelena is like. And it’s really joyous to hear that, because that’s what people are like… What the writers got onto the page and what Cate directed was just highly complex people that are very contradictory. You know that we’re all three of us elite Black Widows but there’s a lot more to them than just that. So, yeah.”

David Harbour was then asked about his role as the Red Guardian and the comic relief that comes from the character.

Alexei (David Harbour) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

“Yes, thank you very much for laughing at me not with me,” Harbour joked. “Yes, you know, I mean the funny thing about him is that it’s sort of built out of the same where, it hatches from the same egg. They paint those and also the humor of this character because he is filled with grief and remorse about the choices that he’s made like emotionally spiritually nutritionally, right?… You know the comedy itself comes out of the ego that is built to defend against the feelings of remorse. In other words, he has to be so bombastic because he can’t stop and feel these things, you know the failures they made. So he has to build around him a world of like a confabulatory psychotic reality where he is the hero. And that’s inherently silly. I mean that’s inherently fun. And also the family dynamics themselves are just so fun. Because what I found developing too is like, you know, there’s almost a traditional shot, which is the perfect images in movies of all of us around the table in these very, you know specific positions which I remember talking about that day that we shot it… but you have this almost Norman Rockwell thing of like Dad coming in last to sit at the head of the table, while Elvis child sits here, and mother and baby sit over here. And I found us all sort of falling into these traditional cliche roles, and then like riffing off of that and that was like really fun and satisfying as well.”

The conference concluded with a question for Johansson. She was asked if the demise of Natasha in Endgame affected the psyche and approach to how she played the character in this solo film.

“Yes it did. It was important, I think, because… we started talking about this film as more like a serious possibility when we were doing Infinity War. We shot Infinity War and Endgame back to back… we wanted to make sure that that was a choice that she made actively. You know that she felt like she had resolve, then. And so knowing that we then had to kind of work backwards so that she could get to a place where that was possible. And we knew that in this film, she had to evolve into a place where she was moving forward in her life and had resolved, you know, the trauma from her past. That she felt that was something that she felt like a different person moving forward. If that makes any sense. It was a very weird way of working… Maybe that is always the case with a prequel. I’ve never done anything like that before. But I mean it was interesting to me working on something, you know, presently, that also played into what you would be doing in the future, that is reflective of the past. It was crazy.”

For Scarlett, I’m sure it must have been a crazy experience. But for us fans, we know for sure what we’re doing in the future! We’re all seeing Black Widow as soon as it hits theaters and Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9!

The MCU is back! And I for one, could not be more excited about it!