Interview: Anthony and Joe Russo on The Winter Soldier, Captain America 3 and Agent Carter

It came as quite a surprise to fans two years ago when Marvel Studios hired directors Anthony and Joe Russo to direct the highly-anticipated “Captain America” sequel. Sporting a resume that included the feature films Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me and Dupree as well as television series like “Arrested Development,” “Community” and “Happy Endings,” it was a choice that may not have seemed ideal to many, but following the reception to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s hard to imagine a different team bringing that story to life. We spoke with both Anthony and Joe recently to discuss “The Winter Soldier,” as well as the upcoming Captain America 3, and Marvel’s next TV effort “Agent Carter,” of which they will helm two episodes.

SuperHeroHype: We spoke to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely earlier this year and they were hired to write Cap 2 even before Cap 1 came out, so I’m curious what kind of shape was the screenplay in when you guys came on board?

Joe: It was in great shape, it was an excellent script. It was part of the reason we were so excited to do the movie is that the script was very, very good. I think we played with a lot of concepts and refining ideas and the level of detail for a while after we came on board, but it was a great script. A lot of the biggest ideas were all in place.

SHH: Had a lot of the decisions already been made about which characters would be in supporting roles? Such as bringing in Fury, Black Widow and have it focus on SHIELD vs. Hydra?

Anthony: Many of the decisions, but not all of them.

Joe: Yeah, there’s a little bit of a process of, you can say you want certain characters in a movie but then you have to close a deal with the actor. So based on whether deals are going to close or not, things would change and there are some characters who were originally in the film when we came on who are no longer in it. Some of the supporting characters, you pitch on an idea. I think we pitched on the Crossbones idea, doing an origin story for Crossbones.

SHH: I know that one of those characters that was supposed to be in it or was written in at least was Hawkeye, because you guys mention it on the Blu-ray. What was the particular reason that he ended up not making it into the movie or was it maybe his presence just seemed a little too forced?

Joe: We had great stuff for him actually in the film. He had a couple of really cool scenes in the movie. It’s a big movie as it is, so it certainly helped that it’s not in there. I think it would increase the running time by about 10 or 15 minutes if they were in the movie, just because you want the right amount of time to actually treat those scenes properly. I think it was a scheduling issue.

SHH: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but he (Renner) actually just revealed that, as he says, there are “rumblings” he could be in Captain America 3. Is that something you can talk about at all?

Anthony: Unfortunately we can’t. It’s too specific to what the movie may be.

Joe: There are certainly characters that Cap is close to or has a strong relationship with that would make sense appearing in his films.

SHH: One thing I love about “Winter Soldier” is that it’s very tight in terms of pacing, it doesn’t play very loose. Can you talk about the process of getting it down to that quick pace in both scripting and editing?

Joe: We love compulsive pacing. You know, we’ve seen “Goodfellas” a hundred times and we probably picked up from that film. We like dynamic energy in storytelling, but also coming from television, working on “Arrested Development,” “Community,” “Happy Endings,” we look at all those shows as sort of a compulsive pace to those shows. A lot of people that worked on those shows used to joke that they would call “The Russo Edit,” because we would just come in and suck the air out of everything. We always felt like that it plays so quickly that people miss things so that they feel like they have to go back and watch it again, or it’s playing so fast that you never feel like you are ahead of what’s happening. We had a great prep process on this movie where we were able to sit in a room with Markus and McFeely and refine and refine and refine the script to the point where, and again this comes from having cut hundreds of hours in television over the last 15 years and understanding what you actually think you’re actually going to use and what you aren’t, and we came pretty close. I think there’s probably three deleted scenes that we knew at the time were debatable as to whether they would make the movie but wanted to shoot and then see how the film felt. There were a lot of things that we cut that were like, ‘This is never going to be in the final edit so lets just get rid of it now and lets maximize our resources for the things that are going to be in the movie.’

SHH: I’m curious what your initial cut of the movie was, how much longer it might have been than it is now. I get the feeling there probably wasn’t that much cut in terms of big chunks.

Joe: No, not at all, it’s pretty close to the running time now. Actually, very close. I think we had cut a couple of those things even before we had showed the movie to Marvel.

Anthony: Yeah.

Joe: So I think the running time was within two or three minutes of the director’s cut.

SHH: Were all of the twists that ended up in the movie present in the initial drafts or were there any that came about as you went into production?

Anthony: As far as the twists go, most of them were already there. They had already crafted a really taut thriller that had some great surprising elements to it. I’m sure we added a couple, again I’d have to go back and think about the process, but those guys had really studied the classic thrillers and really caught the rhythem of a great thriller that really excited us.

SHH: Since you guys are involved with Cap 3 from the start of development, how different is that process now that you’re there form the initial ideas into the scripting as opposed to coming in when there are a couple of drafts done?

Joe: Not very different, only in that our process is almost identical. Something that we’ve taken from our work in television is what we call working in a room, which is basically where you take the creative braintrust, and in this case it’s us and Marcus and McFeely and Nate Moore, our producer at Marvel, and we literally sit in a room for weeks on end and discuss the storytelling and the narrative, discuss execution, discuss tone. Then once we have a script, read the script out loud, and stop and go as we read out loud and talk about how we can polish things or how we can make things better, if anybody has a stronger idea if we have something that’s not really working. So that process has been almost identical, other than the inception phase, because we’re all so close with each other now and have worked together and all have a short hand it doesn’t really feel any different.

SHH: I’m curious if a first draft for the third film has been completed at this point or is it super close?

Joe: Yeah, it has, and we just got our hands on it last week and it’s fantastic. We’re really excited about it. Marcus and McFeely are two of the absolute best in the business. We’re really, really fortunate to have them working on the script. I think people are going to freak out when they find out what we’re up to.

SHH: Do you guys already have an idea of what the title will be? Not that I’m asking what the title is, but do you have an idea of what it will be?

Anthony: Yes, we do.

Joe: We do, and hopefully we’ll be announcing that soon.

SHH: A lot of what happened at the end of Winter Soldier greatly affected “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” but it was also left open-ended for the sequel, but between Captain America 2 and 3 you’ll have at least another season of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is there anything that’s going to tie into the third film at all or do you even know about that at this point?

Joe: We don’t know about that at this point only because it is an evolving process, you know? I’m sure if there’s anything relevant that comes from the show we’ll find out about, but as it stands now Cap 2 is a very SHIELD-centric movie and now that SHIELD is dissolved it’s not as big of a component in Cap 3.

SHH: Can you talk about working hand in hand with the TV side. I’m not sure what kind of relationship there was in making sure things meshed between your film and their TV show.

Joe: Well, everything is under one roof so there’s synergy there, but Kevin (Feige) doesn’t run the TV side AND the feature side. They don’t have that nexus point that you traditionally do, but Kevin is the nexus point for all the features. Basically what it was is that when we had a very early rough cut of the film, we brought in the executive producers from the show, who were still very early into their season on the show, and they watched the movie and I think assessed it and talked about it with their creative team and said “All right, if this is where the universe is going, these are the adjustments we’re going to need to make.” I think it was exciting for them because they knew it was going to shake up their whole universe.

SHH: Another thing I was curious about in Cap 3 is if there’s going to be any kind of hints that maybe people stood in for Steve Rogers in the role of Captain America throughout the years, because it’s been done some in the comics, so I’m curious if it’s something you might touch on.

Anthony: Mhm. Yeah, it’s hard for us to comment on what we might do on Cap 3.

SHH: I was thinking about it earlier when I was writing these questions that it might be a good addition for the Smithsonian Exhibit that we see in Cap 2. That these people wore the name Captain America.

Joe: [Laughs] That’s a good idea actually.

SHH: What’s the time frame like on your “Agent Carter” episodes? Are you shooting those in September/October?

Joe: I think it’s October.

Anthony: October, yeah.

SHH: It’s been mentioned that Carter deals with the Rise of Zodiac as we saw in the One-Shot, and that name has had ties to a lot of different teams or characters in the Marvel comics, so is it safe to say it’s an original take on that name for the series or is it an amalgamation of some of everything that that name means?

Joe: Well I think it’s always safe to say that things are going to be an amalgamation, because the Marvel Cinematic Universe and television universe is not the publishing universe. Publishing is a very different medium where you have weeks and weeks and months and months and years upon years to execute storylines. We’re just doing it in a more compressed time frame, so we take liberties. We take the core concepts and the things that are valuable about the core concepts but we can’t always execute every detail. So I think you’ll find they’re playing around with it.

SHH: We’ve heard rumors there will be some WWII scenes in Avengers: Age of Ultron, will these have ties to “Agent Carter” or do you think those will be kind of separate?

Joe: That’s one we can’t talk about at all.

Anthony: Sorry.

No worries. I know you guys are big comic book fans, so I was wondering what are you reading now?

Joe: You know what’s so funny as you mention that is I literally opened up, I have a safe that I keep a lot of my old issues in and I was going backwards and I just hadn’t looked at anything in 10 or 15 years and I was just going backwards and I have the original run of the Eastman and Laird “Ninja Turtles” run. One of the key pieces of my collection is I own multiple copies of issue 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, I own the one shots. So I was just going back because the movie came out and it was in my head and going back and re-reading those and remembering what it was I loved about them as a kid.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is available now digitally and will debut on DVD and Blu-ray September 9. Captain America 3 is set for release on May 6, 2016.