With Black Widow set to have a bigger profile in not only C aptain America: The Winter Soldier but Avengers: Age of Ultron , there's no better time to hear about Widow-y plans from the star behind the ass-kicking catsuit, one Scarlett Johansson.
Have a read over the Q&A below for a host of comic book tidbits on the popularity of the character, what you can expect from the Cap sequel, the costume and much more!
Looking back to when you were first cast, did you ever see your character becoming this infused in pop culture?
Johannson: 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. 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. I never put all my eggs in one basket as far as whether I’m going to continue with these franchises, but it’s exciting for me.
Do you pay attention to the fan base and to the kids that now look up to you as an action hero?
One of the great things about playing this character is that she has such a specific look on screen. 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, which is never anything I intended to be. I certainly don’t promise to be.
It comes with the territory, though, doesn’t it?
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. But I can hide behind the cat suit and I don’t have to take on the responsibility of any of that.
Catch us up to where Natasha is in this movie.
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. 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.
This movie takes it in a different direction. Can you talk about that?
This film takes the audience into a darker place. 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. That is shocking, especially for Cap, because everything that he believes in—and I think also for Natasha—and everything that they’ve been fighting for suddenly becomes dust. It’s everything that we knew to be trusted—as much as Black Widow can trust anything—is a complete facade. The rug has been pulled out from under us and when you find us at the end of this film, we are much older and wiser than four days earlier when the film starts.
Do you think that the behind-the-curtain mystery seems to make it more accessible to the audience given the reality of conspiracy and corruption in politics?
Absolutely. There is much more of a palpable bad guy here that people can wrap their heads around. 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.
When I met with the Russo brothers about what the next phase of my character was, a big part of the conversation was just maintaining continuity. 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. 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.
Is it nice to be able to continue that growth of character throughout a film series?
Yes. There is so much to explore with Black Widow, certainly her past, which is always something that’s been shrouded in mystery. 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. 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. But because she’s seen the darkest depths of humanity, there’s really such a full spectrum as to where this character could go. It’s been fun to explore that because it’s colorful and it’s not just putting on a cat suit and doing all kinds of smoldering poses. We have a lot of really meaty scenes in this film and very existential questions we’re asking ourselves.
Do you think your uniform is a little less on the nose in this film?
Definitely. In this film, I spend the least amount of time in my suit. A lot of it is just the grittiness that people maybe aren’t expecting, but I think fans will notice it in the previews and respond to it. It’s definitely dirty and I think it’s gotten that way over the course of the films. Working with Jon Favreau, it was very much about creating that iconic first look. Then Joss Whedon wanted the punches to hurt and he wanted to see the sweat and he wanted to see the battle. He wanted to see The Avengers all torn up and ready to come back for more. In this film, we really see Black Widow as a very functional character who is fighting to survive. That gets you out of that posey world to begin with because there’s no time to stop and strike a pose.
Are you more badass due to the increasing level of action you’re doing?
Yes, thanks to Heidi Moneymaker, my stunt double. The two of us have now fused into one person and finish each other’s sentences. We try to push the envelope with each film but there already are established moves that people recognize and are really into, so we get to play with that a little bit. For me, just having done three films so far with Marvel with the same stunt crew I know the ins and outs; I feel way more comfortable in my body and I feel way more comfortable fighting. I even feel way more comfortable hanging 60-feet in the air. I trust these guys with my life and that trust is something I think you establish over time.
Your hair has been different in each film. Is that something you think about, or is that someone else’s decision?
I've been fortunate to be able to do my own looks for the character. I’ve got a really great beauty team, of course, that helps, make it all happen and helps to fully realize the idea. 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. 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.
So much of the character’s looks and poses and landings are all about the movement of the hair and the definition of the face and that’s just a fun thing for us to play with.
How has your suit changed for this film? You’ve had a different costume designer on every movie.
Yes, we have had different costume designers, but the suit has stayed 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. 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.
You’re mostly wearing it during night scenes, so does it have a stealth element too?
Yes, it is stealthier and sharper. But what was interesting to me was to be able to create the look that Black Widow has as Natasha. Like, who is Natasha outside of her costumes, her disguises, her suit, what does she look like regularly? It’s certainly not this. This is a disguise. What does she look like day to day? We decided she definitely drives a black Corvette and she definitely wears tailored leather jackets, with very sleek no muss, no fuss, no fancy anything. Everything’s just badass and simple.
Talk about the undercover work your character does in this film.
The idea is that Natasha can blend in anywhere as long as she doesn’t drive it like she owns it. She can just throw on a cap. I found that in my real life actually just going to any public place crowded with thousands of people if I just kind of go with the flow, I can remain relatively under the radar. People just look because they’re expecting something; they’re expecting to see Captain America and Black Widow in their whole getup. They’re expecting to see Chris Evans and me in our movie-star look or whatever that is. But if you’re dressed like everybody else and with that same casual attitude, you can blend right in, and that’s what Natasha is teaching Cap as they make their way around the mall. She has that line, “If you’re on the run, walk, don’t run,” and that’s the idea. They can just kind of breeze through and get what they need and get out of there.
Talk about working with Chris Evans in this film. There seems to be a hint at a romance, but it’s not necessarily written.
More than anything, I think that the relationship between Cap and Widow is one that becomes a friendship and that is way more interesting than a romantic relationship. We don’t really know yet if she’s really even capable of that. Black Widow has so many trust issues that the last thing on her mind is like, “Man, I wish I had a boyfriend.” Steve Rogers is an attractive guy but I think she’s learning how to be herself —whoever herself is. This friendship is the catalyst that helps her to understand other events with Fury and helps her to understand what she wants because she’s probably never really asked herself that. That’s what we see more of developing; between the two of them is a friendship that allows her to be self-reflective.
Do you think about those inner-character traits in terms of how you perform?
I hope so. That’s what acting is to me, understanding where my character is emotionally. I’ve always taken a naturalistic approach, but if I can understand what it means to me as Scarlett—and I hate to talk in the third person—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.
You haven’t been typecast, so do you think your approach works?
I’ve grown a lot over these past 20 years of working, and my goal is to just work at a deeper and deeper emotional level and understanding as a person and also to be able to apply that to my job. That is the art of the “craft” but it’s true. The goal is to become truer and truer and more natural where you’re able to just be a vessel for emotion. With each job, it becomes clearer and I have a better understanding of all the possibilities.
Over to the characters... Nick Fury’s arc through the movies matches Black Widow’s in a way. Will that relationship be explored further?
Absolutely. Who knows what the future of that relationship holds? We’ve had this major incident that challenges our relationship, and that relationship is probably the closest thing to what Natasha knows as a friendship. She shares a platonic almost paternal relationship with him. In this movie, you see these characters way more vulnerable than we’ve ever seen them before, and that in itself is a huge piece of the puzzle and it is the arc that gets us to the other side.
Are you pleased to be part of a franchise that people enjoy?
For sure. That’s what going to the movies is all about. It’s 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. It’s like reading a great book and getting the new one coming out; you’re just so excited to see what are these characters are going to give you this time. It’s fun to be a part of that.
Captain America is in UK cinemas from 28 March 2014 .