by amy moeller | April 9, 2014 | People
Captain America: The Winter Soldier shattered records at the box office this weekend, raking in an estimated $96.2 million to become the highest grossing April opening in cinematic history. We catch up with Anthony and Joe Russo, two brothers from Cleveland who directed the film and are slated to work on the franchise’s third installment as well.
You made your first film, Pieces, while still in graduate school following undergraduate degrees in English. What got you into filmmaking?
Joe Russo: I was getting an MFA in acting, and Anthony was getting a law degree. We’d been writing together for a while, and we read a book by Robert Rodriguez on how to write a credit card film [How to Make a Film for $7,000]. We both are big cinephiles, had always loved movies, and we thought, “Why don’t we get some credit cards, make a movie, and see what happens.”
You then worked on Arrested Development, Community, and several other projects, eventually landing on Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Connect the dots for us.
Anthony Russo: When we started off, we never thought of ourselves as comedy directors. Our tastes are more eclectic, and we really love action. We could have gone in either of two directions from Pieces, but we went with comedy because it was easier and cheaper to produce. Then, things were going so well in TV comedy, it was hard to break away from. [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige doesn’t necessarily look for [filmmakers with action experience]–that would be a really small group. Instead, he looks for directors who have done exceptional things, and he was a big fan of Community.
Your latest movie is completely reliant on comics. Have you always been fans?
JR: I started collecting comics at the age of 10, and Captain America was literally one of my first. I loved all kinds of comics and superheroes. I collected for about 15 years, and still have the collection in my closet.
What do you think it is about comics and superheroes that make them so popular?
AR: It's our version of Greek mythology. Heroes are aspirational, also escapists. We're living in complicated times, and people see superheroes as an ideal or something to strive for. We all like to see people who fight for right, or a cause, who go up against great odds and win. It says something hopeful about our world.
Which superhero is your favorite?
JR: It depends. As a kid, my favorites were the typical Spider Man and X-Men. But as you grow up, you change. Some superheroes are darker than others. Also, there was a big independent comic scene happening. Frank Miller had written The Dark Knight, and it was the first time someone had really deconstructed a superhero. That was a huge revelation for me—that you could take a superhero and put them in a realistic environment and post-modernize them. Ed Brubaker's book was a similar deconstruction of a superhero. So, we jumped at it.
Speaking of Brubaker, who wrote Winter Soldier and several other Captain America books, did you consult him while working on the film?
AR: We were very eager to get together with him, just because we were such big fans of what he had done with the character. Early on, we had dinner with him, and he talked about [the book and the character] and where he was coming from with that. We were also very happy to have had him do a cameo in the film.
Fans seem excited to see this sort of dark tone in the film.
JR: That's what attracted us to the project—the darkness, the edge, and the deconstruction. It's an interesting time in this country. It's complicated; the world is complicated. With a guy who wears an American flag as a uniform, if you want to take him seriously, you have to embrace him on the thematic level. We drove really hard at the things we find complicated as Americans, and the anxieties we have with certain issues—drone strikes that involved collateral damage, NSA surveillance—we tried to dump those anxieties into the film. We have those anxieties and we think other people do too. When you make a political thriller, you want to make it as timely as you can.
Working on a sequel, did you feel compelled to take any particular direction?
JR: We were in a very unique place in this movie, because the second movie is really more of a hybrid of a sequel and a reboot. [The first movie is set in World War II,] and part of the fun of making this one was bringing him far away from WWII, and to really pull him in a hardcore way into a modern age. Sometimes Cap is straightforward in his point of view, and we prefer a more modern approach where he's more complicated and flawed. So we had to say, “How do you move Cap forward, and have the most fun with this character?” He's very vulnerable. He's lost everybody, and that's a very isolated, vulnerable place to start a character out in a movie.
You filmed here in D.C. What was that like?
AR: I used to work for a congressman in D.C. so I know the city very well and I love it, it's one of my favorite cities. Coming to D.C. was amazing. It’s the movie setting, and the iconography of D.C. is really priceless, and rubbing the iconography of Captain America against it. It’s very rich and thought provoking. Washington, D.C. doesn’t have tax abatement, though, so it’s very expensive to shoot there. Also, there is serious business happening in D.C. every day that is hard to bend toward movie making. The night we shot in DuPont was a really great night. We were shooting Cap’s apartment, and we had about 1,000 people come out to watch.
You signed on to direct the third installment of the Captain America franchise. Can you give us a sneak peek?
AR: One of the things we loved about this movie is Winter Soldier character. Rarely do you have a protagonist that has such a strong, emotional relationship with the antagonist. It’s reminiscent of Star Wars, with Darth Vader being Luke’s father. At the end of the film, the relationship between Cap and the Winter Soldier is strong, and the story is not over. [Now looking at the third movie,] we really wanted to wait for the movie to come out, and audiences to respond. We really like to listen to what fans say—it’s almost like a dialogue. We're still in the midst of doing that, so we have a little bit of time to soak in what the audience response is, and then move forward.
photography courtesy of disney