The directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier make no bones about it: Their new movie is every bit as much a political thriller as it is a comic book adventure.
Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo seemingly come to the world of action and intrigue from left field—they’re best known as directors of TV comedies, notably Arrested Development and Community.
But they’re dead serious about Winter Soldier. Many elements of the story seem “ripped from today’s headlines,” and the Russos are interested to see what audiences find in the movie, and what it says to them about America.
And when discussing America, why not start with the founding fathers? Newsarama came to a sit-down Anthony and Joe Russo prepared with a famous Ben Franklin quote printed off on a piece of paper for the brothers to read…
Newsarama: So Joe, Anthony, what do you have planned for Captain America 4?
Anthony Russo: Well, that’s not quite where we are yet. We need this movie to come out, and we need to see what audiences think of it. We are talking about Cap 3, but very lightly, just broad strokes. It’s just too early to lock into a specific idea before this movie comes out.
Nrama: Do me a favor. Read this, and react.
Joe Russo: “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” That’s interesting. Well, that’s the heart of this movie.
Anthony: Look — we’re making a political thriller. And all of our favorite political thrillers growing up were very topical, very prescient. If you think back to [the 1975 film] Three Days of the Condor, the villains’ motivation was oil, the control of oil. And they predict, basically, a war over oil, which manifests itself later in the Gulf War in 1991. We’re politically minded. We read a lot. We’re voracious readers. So we kept pushing the movie in the direction of what we felt was topical so that when an audience went to see the movie, they’d feel an immediacy while watching.
Reading that brings me back to when we started this movie, again as a political thriller and what that means in this place in time. Look, we have a president — and he’s a Democrat, not even a Republican —who has a kill list. We make pre-emptive strikes against people in foreign countries and kill members of their family who are in close proximity to them when we attack. That’s where we’re at at this point in time, and that issue, the irreconcilable nature of that is at the heart of what we’re searching for in this movie.
Nrama: Like you say, it’s at the heart of the movie, and it’s very much “in the moment.” But how much of this is an absolute and direct commentary on drone strikes, the NSA, things like that?
Joe: For us, it’s less a commentary and more a pooling of strong ideas into a film. Sure, based on the narrative you could extrapolate a specific point of view. But we’d prefer that people watch the film and take away what they want to tale away from it rather than dictate an agenda.
Anthony: Because it is a fantasy expression of those ideas. We want to be truthful to the underlying anxieties there, but at the end of the day, our lead characters was born in 1917 and still looks 30 years old.
You know, it’s interesting brining in Ben Franklin, because Thomas Paine was the one who coined the term “the Winter Soldier.”
Nrama: Really? What’s the context there?
Anthony: He was writing an essay trying to rally people to the cause of the American Revolution. And they had a problem at the time because people would fight for the cause during the summer, but then they’d go back home in the fall to take in their crops and stay home for the winter. So he had this notion that “summer soldiers” weren’t really committed soldiers; that the truly committed soldier was the winter soldier.
Joe: Amazing how everything comes back around, huh?
Nrama: How did your relationship start with Marvel?
Joe: [Marvel President of Production] Kevin Feige is a real radical thinker and loves to think outside the box. He loves to create a real combustible situation where he can really get something different. He was a big fan of Community, and he loved these episodes, these paintball episodes, that were a spoof of action movies that we did at the end of season 2. So our agent got the call, with Marvel wondering if we would like to come in and talk about Captain America. And right from the first time we sat down with him, Kevin said, “You guys really should be directing action movies.” What we can glean from that is that he thinks we accurately spoofed action films in Community, so we must understand the tenants of action. And he was really excited about that and said, “Okay, so let’s now let’s do it on a sincere level.”
Anthony: And also Marvel has this philosophy of, “Don’t worry about the special effects. We got that. We got the team. You just be the storyteller.” It’s nice to be solicited as a director like that.
Nrama: You have spoken about how even though you came from a comedic background, comedy is choreography. You need to get the timing right, and that’s what an action movie is. Great analogy. But how much of a bridge was it for you, or perhaps a leap of faith by Marvel, to have you guys go full-bore into this world?
Joe: Again, Kevin just loves radical ideas. He’s always trolling for ideas. The initial conversation wasn’t a big commitment. But it quickly turned into a two, three-month process over about four meetings where we were essentially auditioning for the job. And I think what they discovered over that process was that we had been planning to move into action for years. It was something that was on our agenda when we started as filmmakers. So we have an enormous depth of thought about what we like about action, how we would execute action, and so on. So they got the benefit of learning that actually, we had a very big and very specific agenda in action as filmmakers. We had produced storyboards for them in these meetings when we were essentially auditioning for the job, and some of those scenes are actually in this film. Certain beats are verbatim, 1-for-1, in what we pitched them. So I think when they saw that we knew how to execute the stuff in storyboards and heard our other ideas, the leap of faith was pretty short.
Nrama: So what are in your storyboards for Captain America 3?
Anthony: Nothing yet! That’s a tough idea! We just started breaking story. It’s really, really hard to go to work on another movie before the previous one has even come out! We have no idea how people are going to react to this film yet. We just want to let the movie play, and see what people respond to, and maybe that becomes the story. Or maybe we play against that, go against their expectations.
Nrama: The Winter Solider became Captain America for a while in the comics. Is that a possibility for a next movie?
Joe: Chris is under contract for a few more movies, so until his contract is up, Chris Evans is going to be Captain America. But there’s a nod in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to that history where the Winter Soldier is holding Cap’s shield. That’s our little wink to the comics, and the future that character will have from the comics.