After roles in films like Ghost World (2001), Lost in Translation (2003) and The Prestige (2006), Scarlett Johansson was already one of the industry’s most in-demand young actresses when she landed the career-altering role of Natasha Romanoff in 2010’s Iron Man 2.
In the 12 years since, Johansson has played the fan-favorite Black Widow in eight Marvel Cinematic Universe entries.
The last few years, however, have proven particularly eventful — and emotional — for Johansson and her assassin-turned-Avenger alter ego.
First there Black Widow’s death in 2019’s saga-capping Avengers: Endgame, which, as Johansson admitted to us afterwards, she felt “overwhelmingly sad about.”
Now comes her long-awaited standalone film Black Widow (a prequel, naturally) — by all accounts Johansson’s Marvel swan song — one of the most high-profile releases delayed by the coronavirus, finally hitting theaters this week after 14 months of date shifts.
“It’s strangely a good time for the movie to come out,” Johansson told Yahoo Entertainment in a recent virtual chat, where she was joined by co-stars Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz (watch full interview above). “This year we’ve had so much time collectively to think about where our priorities lie and sort of regroup and think about how we want to live our lives. A lot of people have spent a lot of time away from others that they’re normally very close to, and this film is about family. And it’s about the family you choose, and people lifting one another up through this shared, traumatic experience and coming out the other side. … In a weird coincidental sort of fated way, it’s oddly reflective of some of the things that we’ve all been experiencing. It feels like it’s a good time for it to come out.
“So it doesn’t make it too bittersweet, I think it’s mostly sweet. And I’ve also had a lot of time to process the anticipation of this movie coming out. … The circumstances were incredibly unfortunate but it did give us time to work on it some more and really fine-tune it so we had the time we really needed to make decisions and refine. So, yeah, I feel really great about it, going out on a high note.”
Directed by Cate Shortland and set following the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War in the MCU timeline, Black Widow finds Natasha on the run from the U.S. government after siding with Team Cap in his dispute with Iron Man over the Sokovia Accords. She’s drawn into another conflict, though, when her estranged “sister” Yelena Belova (Pugh) convinces her to confront her past in Russia’s nefarious Red Room operation that forces girls and young women into military training to become deadly Widows. They team with Alexei Shostakov, aka Red Guardian (Harbour), and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) — once their parents in a stateside sleeper cell — to try to take down the Red Room and its devious operator (Ray Winstone).
It’s not a spoiler to say the film marks a clear torch-passing from Johansson to Pugh (who has had a similar career trajectory after acclaimed roles in such films as Little Women and Midsommar) when it comes to the MCU’s Black Widow mantle post-Endgame.
Pugh says she learned “everything” from Johansson in the process.
“I could praise Scarlett all evening, and I will do,” she told us, noting it wasn’t necessarily evident to her while filming that she could be Black Widow-in-waiting. “Obviously it’s incredibly daunting joining a big family like that. But Scarlett was so unbelievably welcoming, and only wanted me to feel as safe and as welcomed as possible.
“So for the potential for me to learn and take in what that world was like, and what it’s like to make a movie like that, was all there for it to be easy. … And watching the Black Widow do her stunts was definitely a ‘pinch-me’ moment every day.”
Meanwhile, Habour says he loved getting out of shape for his role as the past-his-prime Red Guardian. His workout regimen required downing plenty of carbs (“I’m a big fan of cakes and doughnuts,” he admits) to eventually tip the scales at 280 pounds and develop a belly that, as one friend described to him, looks like a “bag of ferrets” when he’s running.
Harbour also joked about how, between Black Widow and the upcoming Season 4 of Stranger Things, “I've spent a lot of time in Russian prisons and Russian gulags,” and that he is looking for an opportunity to bring together the Marvel and Stranger Things universes in a cheeky way: “I still got another thing to shoot on Stranger Things and I was like, ‘I got to go back and there’s got to be some scene in that prison that I can throw in some kind of cross[over], like some guy in red suit or some guy with a shield or something.’” And thus was born the MCUpside Down.
Black Widow opens (finally) July 9 and on Disney+ Premier Access.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jimmie Rhee
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