Scarlett Johansson gives us a personal account into her role as Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow, and why this Captain America movie will take a dark, thrilling turn.
As Scarlett Johansson returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe once again to reprise her role of Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, she reflects on how her portrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most dangerous assassin has become a perennial audience favorite. “It’s hard to have any kind of foresight as far as this Marvel Cinematic Universe goes because it’s really so audience-driven exactly to what people want to see and what characters they respond to,” comments Johansson. “But I’ve always found the character of Black Widow to be enigmatic enough to warrant exploration of her storyline and it’s a nice surprise, I have to say, to see that audiences want that too.”
Johansson adds, “It’s always a surprise for me to see how well loved these movies are. People are so excited about these characters. They so want these characters to keep working for them. They invest so much in these characters and that challenges us to not let them down and to continue to impress and inspire them.”
For Johansson to continue with her storyline, it had to make sense, and be entertaining. “You don’t all of a sudden want Black Widow to go ‘goo-goo, ga-ga’ over some guy or suddenly be interested in the personal details of her working partner’s life,” she says. “That stuff just wouldn’t work; it had to be consistent so that the audience who had already invested in Black Widow could trust that she’s true to herself. There are certain characteristics of that character that need to stay there in order for audiences to still buy it.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up after the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, finding Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off assailants sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.
“We continue to open up the story and give little tidbits and throw the bone out once in a while as to where she came from and what her background is,” Johansson says of diving more into Black Widow’s character. “There’s a lot to explore in the past but certainly where she’s going too. When you take a character who’s had the past that she’s had, who has seen the darkest places, over time she appreciates what the right thing is in her mind and starts to understand humanity.”
After 20 years in the industry, Johansson admits her goal now is to dive deeper and deeper emotionally into every character she takes on. “I’ve always taken a naturalistic approach,” explains the actress, “but if I can understand what it means to me as Scarlett and what this struggle means to better understand what the character’s story is and what her circumstances are and how that affects her, and be able to understand it from an emotionally intelligent view, then all of the little nuances that I’ve built for the character are just another layer to add to that informed piece.”
Of course, Johansson found out quickly that with great super power, and being a favourite within the Marvel Comic universe, comes with great responsibility. “One of the great things about playing this character is that she has such a specific look on screen,” says Johansson. “So when I’m in my plain clothes and I’m with my friends’ kids, they’re like, ‘You’re not the Black Widow. Where’s your red hair? Where are your guns? Where’s your suit?’ So luckily I don’t have to worry about all the pressure that comes with being a role model for young people. But I think that this character is a very strong-willed, independent, thoughtful, intelligent woman and that is, to me, a good role model for any child or young person.”
So what’s up with Natasha Romonoff in the sequel? “When we first find Natasha and Steve, it is in real time, so it’s been a couple years or so since the events with The Avengers and they have been tasked on many different missions together,” Johansson reveals. “They’re just doing their job. They’ve gotten to know each other a bit, so they have more of an easy conversation between them than in ‘Marvel’s The Avengers.’ So that’s where we find her. Everything’s pretty much business as usual until business as usual is not as usual as any of us think.”
Diving deeper into the Captain America story, Johansson says audience can expect a deeper and darker film. “We’re dealing with conspiracy theories and that Big Brother element; the idea that once we put it out there nothing belongs to us, that our identity is something that can be exploited and something that can be monitored, something that can easily removed if need be,” she says.
“There is much more of a palpable bad guy here that people can wrap their heads around,” Johansson continues. “The story doesn’t ask the audience to stretch their mind that far outside of him and I think that is what will draw the audience in and really connect them to this storyline. But of course, it still has those Marvel moments that people love; all of the gadgets are there, everything’s new and shiny, and everything gets an upgrade.”
Besides playing the Black Widow, working on Captain America Winter Soldier has other perks. Acting again with Robert Redford, who plays top S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce, was a highlight for Johansson, who last worked with him on The Horse Whisperer when she was 12 years old. “I was really just surprised that we were here working on this Marvel film with this different dynamic between us now. He’s such a class act and, of course, it was just like the old days. It brought me back 15 years. He was there in the trenches like the rest of us, working those long hours and delivering mouth-loads of dialogue, and he just plowed through it. It was as if Alexander Pierce was a character that he’d been playing for years.”
Fans can also expect a bit of a makeover for Natasha/Black Widow. Johansson went with a new look for her hair. “I think that the look should change as we change over a couple of years and certainly the last look was a bit more of that kind of ‘Ultimates’ look and this time around I wanted it to be a bit more contemporary and maybe have a little bit of a late ’90s reference that’s come back, which I feel is relevant to today’s trend,” says Johansson. “But the red is always fun to play with—to find the deeper tones and the things that flash and what’s going to look good for all that movement.”
Although there were different costume designers on the film, Johansson says the Black Widow’s famous suit remains relatively the same. “I get a couple of flashier panels on this one. Each costume designer wants to put their stamp on the suit, of course, but the suit above all things needs to be functional,” she says. “The seams have to be a specific way and the fabric has to move a specific way. I have probably the most comfortable suit of anybody; I can’t really complain. It’s kind of like a wetsuit. For this film, the costume designer went black and it’s got those real sleek leather panels. It’s a little bit sharper and a little bit more fashionable and not as utilitarian as the last suit.”
When asked about why fans will love the Captain America sequel Johansson says because it’s simply a fun ride. “Movies are about being able to escape your life or connect pieces of your life and enjoy the experience. I love the movie-going experience from the popcorn to the previews to the film itself. I like having it stay with me afterwards and thinking about it days later. I love that whole aspect of entertainment, so to be able to be a part of these films that do that consistently well and are a big event for people to look forward to is exciting.”
Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Opens April 4.