We know all about Iron Man. We know all about Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and even a bit about Hawkeye. But until now, that fifth founding member of the Avengers, Black Widow, has remained mostly a mystery — until next month. That’s when, after being introduced to fans 11 years ago, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) will finally get her Marvel Studios origin story. Only it’s not exactly an origin story, plus, she’s already dead in the current MCU timeline.
Black Widow opens in theatres on July 9 and it tells a story that takes place between the events in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. At the end of Civil War, Natasha was on the run, hunted by her own government for disobeying the Sokovia Accords. The next time we saw her, she had a new haircut, a new attitude, and was on a crash course with destiny in the form of Thanos. Now, the story of Black Widow will turn to Natasha’s past, her family, and so much more — basically any question you have about her will probably be answered along with many new revelations. The person in charge of delving into those depths was director Cate Shortland. Gizmodo spoke with her about the nuance of telling a story in this specific window, and a few of the things that make Black Widow unique to the MCU. (The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Germain Lussier, Gizmodo: So, obviously, we saw Natasha die in Avengers: Endgame. Knowing that, why is it important to tell her story now at this point in the MCU?
Cate Shortland: I think fans deserve this movie. I think the character deserves this movie and I think people really want to see more of her. I think that was the message that Marvel had after she left the universe was “Noooo!” So I feel really lucky that I was part of the circus.
Gizmodo: I really enjoyed the movie, but I think my favourite thing is Florence Pugh’s performance as Yelena. It’s just so great. She comes off as kind of aloof and innocent at times, even though she’s a total badass. What were your conversations with her like regarding that character? How did that develop?
Shortland: We knew she had to be a free spirit and she had to be really different to Natasha. So Eric [Pearson], who is the screenwriter, has put a lot of himself into that character. He’s really goofy and politically incorrect and he’s smart and he’s put a lot of himself in her. And I think it’s really a great mixture, this kind of goofy male inside this female head. You know? It’s quite funny. And then you’ve got all of Florence’s stuff where she’s improvising. And then I was also adding stuff especially when she’s really rude. That would often be Florence and I.
Gizmodo: The other thing I loved is [cut minor spoiler about Red Guardian, played by David Harbour]. How did that develop?
Shortland: Again, I think that’s Eric, the screenwriter, he had all this beautiful sort of human fallibility stuff that he would just put into the characters. And I think that’s what makes them really endearing, is they’re so flawed and so funny. And, yeah, it’s beautiful watching these kind of broken-down superheroes.
Gizmodo: What about the scene when he, Natasha, and Yelena reunite? Watching it, it seems like there was probably a lot of laughing while filming that.
Shortland: You know what? We shot that so fast because we were losing light.
Gizmodo: Oh, wow. OK.
Shortland: So we were running. But initially, I think the first part, yeah we were laughing a lot, but we laughed all the time on that set. We had a lot of fun.
Gizmodo: [Cut spoiler question about the film’s post-credit scene].
Shortland: I’m really glad you enjoyed that. But we’re just going to keep that for the fans so they can enjoy that themselves.
Gizmodo: OK, no problem, so we’ll flip that. That’s the end of the movie and this is the beginning of the movie; I don’t remember the last time a Marvel film had opening credits. Tell me about that decision.
Shortland: We wanted to map out more of what had happened to the Black Widows and the Widow program. So we created more of a framework so that people could, in a very short amount of time, get what the widow program is.
Gizmodo: I think what’s cool about the film being on Disney+ is people will be able to go through it frame by frame unlike in the theatre. Are there Easter Eggs people should look for in that sequence?
Shortland: Yeah, there are. There are some really great little scenes in that title sequence that come back later.
Gizmodo: Excellent. I think the other challenge with this movie is we know Natasha. We don’t know these new characters, but we do know Natasha. So what steps did you have to take to make her dynamic, but also fitting into what we’ve seen before and what we know we’re going to see after?
Shortland: We knew where she was coming from. We knew she was kind of broken and kind of alone and we knew that she was going into this epic battle towards the end. So it was like our film is starting off as nothing. She’s broken, she’s raw and she has to go through this journey where she kind of self interrogates because otherwise, what you’re getting in Endgame is a character that’s not fully realised when she makes that choice. And what we wanted to do was say this is why she could make that choice, because she totally knows who she is and she’s come to terms with it.
Gizmodo: Yeah, absolutely. Now, as far as I know and read, this film was almost done if not done when the pandemic hit. So what has been the hardest part of waiting to release the movie?
Shortland: You know what? To tell you the truth, it hasn’t been difficult. What’s been difficult for me is, I felt for the journalists and the magazines that kept putting us in those magazines. But when you looked at footage of what was happening across the world, I’m not being a martyr, I’m just saying what happened to us was nothing.
Gizmodo: Of course. Now last thing is we already loved Natasha and, through this movie, we’ll fall in love with these new characters too. I assume we’ll see more of them in the future, hopefully, so are there any in particular that you feel a connection to and that you’d love to help craft their journey?
Shortland: I think all of them were great. I think…I can’t say because it’s like choosing a favourite child. So I’m going to zip it.
Black Widow opens in theatres on July 8, and on Disney+ with Premier Access, July 9.