‘Black Widow’ Stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, & O.T. Fagbenle Joined Director Cate Shortland to Discuss Their New MCU Movie
Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, and David Harbour talk about their stunt work, while O.T. Fagbenle admits to napping on set. And director Cate Shortland talks about finding new aspects of Natasha Romanov.
Eleven years after making her first appearance in 'Iron Man 2,' Natasha Romanov finally gets a solo adventure with 'Black Widow.' This latest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes place before the events of 'Avengers: Infinity War' and gives Scarlett Johansson at terrific set of co-stars, including Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O.T. Fagbenle, and Rachel Wiesz. A few of the cast members and director Cate Shortland spent some time talking to us about their new adventure.
First up, Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh share some of the processes behind their stunt work.
Moviefone: Am I interrupting a conversation right now?
Florence Pugh: I asked Scarlett if she ever did the Widow's throw, like how many hours she had spent learning the Widow throw down move and Scarlett apparently has done it many, many hours and it's obviously really hard.
MF: The first time right? How many hours did it take you the first time?
Scarlett Johansson: It's crazy how much time I've spent because that move, obviously there are many pieces to it, and so I can't tell you how many times I have spent strapped with my legs around some stunt person's throat just like, okay. Looking down at them like, “so what you, do you guys go to any great restaurants this weekend?” and them kind of like “yeah, we found a pizza place that's great” and it's just so weird.
MF: It's kind of awkward in person on set versus when we see it in the film, it's just totally bad-ass.
Johansson: Yeah, you see it, and it's like one quick movement. When we do it on set, it's like three days of work, but yeah. Three days spent like that.
MF: Are you able to not do it in one quick movement, or is it filmed in pieces to get different angles?
Johansson: All, every different version of it, it's done in one quick movement. It's done in like eight different pieces. It's all which way laid out. Yeah. It's a lot of coverage on that.
MF: Right. Florence, do you think that you will try to eventually learn that move yourself?
Pugh: I mean, potentially just to know how to do it because that would be really cool, but no, it's been, it's been interesting trying to figure out Yelena's fighting style and what does she do and what are her unique moves because that's such a Black Widow move. Yeah. She should be able to do it. I'll learn.
MF: Was there one move for Yelena in this film? Was there one like signature move that she does?
Pugh: Something that I really loved doing is that I ended up being quite good at it was I loved doing kicks like high kicks, and so we tried to get as many of those into my fights as possible. Well, just, lots of low to the ground and weird leggy things going on. I really liked that.
MF: Especially when she was making fun of Black Widow being a poser.
Pugh: Yes. Yes. (both laughing) Yelena loved that kind of fighting as well. She loved teasing.
MF: I loved it. Scarlett, I actually know that you have said that the director helped you see a different side to Natasha, which was impressive since you had done nine MCU films prior to this one. What was that new side to Natasha that you discovered?
Johansson: What is the new side of Natasha that we discover in this film? I think it's been an evolution for this decade of time and I think every 18 months or two years is the milestone when we come back in and have shot another Avengers film or Captain America movie and now finally coming into this solo film, the character I think has evolved similarly in a lot of ways to how I have evolved as a person. When we started making Iron Man 2, I was probably 24 years old, and I'm in my mid-thirties now. I'm a mom. I have put in a decade of time of work. I'm a different kind of actor. I'm a different, I'm a more evolved person, hopefully in some ways.
I think honestly the character really is a sum of all those parts and when you see her now, I think she's a very forgiving person and this process has kind of led her to a place of self forgiveness. She really learns that through Yelena, actually. It's really eye-opening for her. I also learn a lot of things about myself just working with Florence too. She's a very confident, very bright, very curious person.
Next, David Harbour talked about his character and his attempts at stuntwork.
Moviefone: Your character in this film, Alexi Shostakov is in a Russian prison. You have another role in another tiny little franchise, 'Stranger Things,' Jim Hopper, all of a sudden, a Russian prison, but you had to separate those two characters and make them very different. So, for your character in 'Black Widow,' what was your vision for him?
David Harbour: Well, I mean, in 'Stranger Things,' he's in a Russian prison, but he's called “The American.“ In this movie, he's in a Russian prison, but he is very, very Russian. So, that on the surface was very different. But, also we constructed completely different looks. I mean, like Alexi is covered in tattoos, he's huge and big. He eats very well in prison, Jim Hopper, less so, and you've got the big old beard, long disgusting, rutty hair. So yeah, we did a lot of work, I did a lot of work to physically differentiate them. And then, also you'll see just like Alexi’s neurosis and his neediness for attention, his neediness for people to like him, to think he's funny and also his remorse, and the failures that he's had. It's just very different from Jim, but yeah, we, I wanted to do a lot of work, because I knew that the projects would be coming out and people would probably be crossover audiences. So, I definitely wanted to differentiate them as much as I could.
MF: Yeah. On the action scale, what do you think... more or less work on the Marvel film?
Harbour: Far more. I mean, far more.
MF: A way bigger scale, right?
Harbour: Yeah. And ‘Stranger Things’ is amping up in various ways, unfortunately for my needs. But the thing about the Marvel guys, they're just nuts, I mean, the things that they're doing are nuts. I fear for their lives and safety every day we shot. I mean, the stunts are just so big, and they keep wanting to push the envelope. So, in this movie, yeah. And you know, they try to put me in as much as they can, but I'm terrible at it. So, I wind up just hurting myself constantly, but it is exhausting and time-consuming, and I'm very not good at it. But once you see it put together, and you occasionally see those flashes of your real face, you're like, oh, awesome.
MF: What was the worst injury you got? You said you kept hurting yourself.
Harbour: Yeah. I just had, I had a knee thing that was pretty bad. I mean, I was 270 pounds when we started shooting. So I was a big dude and big dudes and their knees are not very good, but I'm doing a lot of running and boxing and Sambo [a Soviet martial art] type moves, which are these flips and stuff. And I tweaked my knee a couple of times, pretty bad, and it was not fun.
MF: Speaking of being a bigger dude in this film, there's a moment in the Red Guardian suit. It's so hilarious. What were your thoughts when you first tried to zip that suit up?
Harbour: I mean, when I first put the suit on, the actual suit that fits me, I think we had a bit of a smaller one for that particular scene. The suit itself that fits me. I gotta say, it was the most enjoyable outfit I've ever worn in my whole life. When they dress you up for these fancy suits for premieres and everything... it's nothing compared to putting on a super suit, man. You just feel like a million bucks. You'd be like a million bucks. But, yeah.
MF: That's what you wear to the next premiere!
Harbour: I want to! To tell Disney to let me do it. Those suits are more expensive than me though, so I can't touch them, but trying to pull it over, my tightie whities in the bathroom was less enjoyable
MF: Yeah, you need some baby powder.
O.T. Fagbenle discussed his character Mason and his relationship to Natasha.
Moviefone: There is a lot of speculation surrounding your character, Mason, in the film. I know we can't give away too much, but how would you describe him?
O.T. Fagbenle: Well, I guess he's a kind of a fixer, someone who kind of assists Black Widow and getting all the accoutrements of superhero-ness. But there also is a kind of a connection between him and Natasha, which is somewhat mysterious.
MF: Yes, there is an interesting dynamic between them. Could you expand on that a little bit more?
Fagbenle: Well, I think you kind of get the idea that has been more that's gone on between them in the past. I can't unpack too much about it, but hopefully in due course, the Marvel universe will reveal more.
MF: Have you thought about if there is a sequel to this film, would Mason be a part of that journey for the next character?
Fagbenle: I think it would be somewhat tragic if it wasn't. But, I would certainly like to do more, I had such a good time working with them. I kind of thought at first that Marvel would be this kind of big behemoth, which was kind of... But actually they were, everybody was so personal. Everyone was so accessible from the executives to the director, to the writer. I had such a great time working on it.
MF: Yeah actually, I was curious for characters who maybe don't necessarily get to be in all of the action. What is it like being on set of a Marvel film?
Fagbenle: Well, I can only speak for my specific experience, which was lovely, very supportive, you felt very much part of the filmmaking process. And I think that's how they make these great films is that they aren't just trying to make blockbusters. They were really trying to make films that push the envelope a little.
MF: One of the funny parts of your character is the fact that he sleeps a lot.
Fagbenle: Yes, and getting upset. It's so important.
MF: Not too bad of a gig, right? Kind of just hang out, take a nap...
Fagbenle: Listen, I won't lie to you. I'm slightly method. I will take a nap on the set.
MF: Did you actually?
Fagbenle: (Laughing) Yeah. Because it's so long between set-ups. I just get myself comfy until the scene starts.
MF: So it is very real when she comes up and has to wake you up.
Fagbenle: Yeah, absolutely.
MF: A lot of people dream of being in an MCU film, what was it like when you got that call that you got this role?
Fagbenle: Obviously, it was thrilling. For me though, there was a “Sophie's Choice” involved because I was writing and directing my own TV show, which is called 'Maxxx,' which is out on Hulu at the moment. When I found out it looked like there was going to be a clash of whether I'd be able to do my dream project, which is the project I have written, and the dream job was working on a Marvel movie. Luckily, good old Marvel, they let me be able to do both. And so I was kind of moonlighting. One day I was shooting 'Maxxx,' the other day, I was shooting Marvel, so I managed to get both done.
Director Cate Shortland discussed her preparation for the production.
Moviefone: When you were brought on to this project in 2018, what were your thoughts, and what was your vision for Black Widow?
Cate Shortland: We wanted it to be both really epic and fun, but we also wanted it to be about relationships and community and families. So it was those two narrative threads we made sure that would coexist.
MF: Scarlett Johansson has said that you brought out different sides of Natasha Romanoff, which is impressive, because she had been in nine MCU films prior to 'Black Widow.' So what kind of research did you do for the character?
Shortland: I looked at, of course, Avengers films, but I also looked at comics. And then I really looked at what her life would have been like in Russia and worked with a Russian historian in London. And we created a backstory for her, what she would have been seeing on the street as a child in Russia, what she would have been eating, the sort of institution she would have been in, and then how that transition would have worked when she went to America. So it allowed us to build her up as a real person.
MF: The best part of this film, I think, is the fact that it has this female-driven cast. There are so many badass women in the film. So what was it like just being at the helm of a film like this within MCU?
Shortland: Inspiring. It was so great working with the actors. I mean, the female cast is outstanding, but then we also had OT, we had David Harbour. So it felt, I don't know, every day, I'd go on set, and I'd be inspired by them. And it was a really long shoot. It was four and a half months. But that, working with them, lifted you every day.
MF: Did you use a lot of green screen and visual effects? Or would you say that you also implemented a lot of practical effects and sets as well?
Shortland: We shot as much of the fight sequences as we could practically. And Natasha, Scarlett and Florence did so much. And then we created fantastic worlds with Jeff Bauman, who's our visual effects supervisor. So it was like the two were this beautiful tapestry. But we shot all through Europe, Norway, Hungary, and North Africa in Morocco, London. There's a lot of real locations.
MF: I was talking to David Harbour this morning, and he said, "I tried so hard to do as many stunts as I could, but they took me out of it," because he was injuring himself so much. He said, "I kept getting hurt. And so they made me sit out of all the stunts."
Shortland: Yeah. It's amazing talking to actors that have done it a lot because they've got a lot of injuries. Scarlett has injuries. And I was speaking to Charlize Theron, and she said she's also got an injury from stunts.