Scarlett Johansson on Black Widow’s Character Evolution, Solo Movie Chances, and Kicking Ass in The Winter Soldier

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When The Avengers hit theaters almost two years ago, a lot of people made fun of Hawkeye and Black Widow because they were regular human beings teamed up with a super-soldier, a man in a flying metal fighting suit, a giant green monster with unimaginable strength, and a god. And it’s true that Hawkeye seemed like he existed primarily as a plot point, but Black Widow, now, she kicked ass and showed some serious depth as a character.

If you’re still skeptical, try thinking of Black Widow this way: She’s an human being without super powers. She’s an amazing athlete with serious expertise in several martial arts. She dresses in black, and wears a belt. She sometimes uses gadgets. She’s incredibly stealthy. Some seriously bad things have happened to her in the past. She doesn’t always exactly follow the law. Sound familiar?

I’m not saying that the Widow is precisely a female version of Batman – there are many obvious differences, most prominently her use of guns and willingness to kill. But I’d be willing to bet that most of the people who scoffed at the Widow’s presence in The Avengers would never dream of saying anything of that sort about Batman. The fact is that Black Widow, as portrayed by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a terrific character who absolutely belongs with the more conventional superheroes.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Black Widow has a much bigger role in this film than she’s had before, and you get to see just how multifaceted her character really is, as well as see her kick some more very serious ass. In movies, she’s the best argument there has been so far that calling characters like her “female superheroes” or “superheroines” is just silly: she, and they, are superheroes; the fact that they’re female really isn’t relevant.

So, anyhow, on my trip to Los Angeles last month I, along with a group of other bloggers, had the privilege of sitting down with Johansson to talk about Black Widow and the new movie. She was very down-to-earth and really provided a lot of insight into her experience making the films the Widow has appeared in and where she’d like to see the character go in the future.

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson

Here are some of the highlights from the interview:

QUESTION: So when are we going to see the Black Widow movie?

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: The thing about working with Marvel is that how loud the audience voice is. Marvel, and particularly Kevin Feige, is such a fan of the source material himself that he understands the fans are kind of what drive this train. If people want a Black Widow film, I’m sure that we can get something together.

Q: If Ant-Man’s getting a movie, Black Widow should get one.

SJ: Yeah, I agree. It would be wonderful to have the challenge of doing a female superhero movie where the protagonist didn’t kind of rest on her feminine wiles and use every opportunity to strike a sexy pose in order to get the job done.

She uses her brain, wit and feminine wiles to get the job done. She’s a very playful character and also a character that has a really compelling story. She has kind of a gray moral code. She’s not black and white. And I think it could be really a fun opportunity to have. So, we’ll see.

Johansson as Black Widow
Johansson as Black Widow

Q: In The Winter Soldier, the Black Widow’s like Cupid, talking all about love and relationships with Captain America. Why the transition?

SJ: That’s interesting. First of all, when the character is talking to Loki [in The Avengers], she’s kind of putting up this front. She’s not, as we come to realize, being completely honest with him. It’s partly for her Widow face that she wears. And in this film, we really get to see a lot more of Natasha. I like to think that Natasha has a romantic side.

You know, she’s been really damaged. I think that she very early on in the past probably learned to not care too much about people because they could be easily taken away from her and used against her. And she probably didn’t want to hurt the people that she loved the most. So she never needs them or never invested too much in them, knowing that it would probably put them in danger.

But I think she hopes that for someone like Cap, I think she sees someone who could have his life enriched by sharing it with somebody. She sees someone that kind of yearns for that, but, you know, is also scarred by the series of events that have changed his life. Maybe she kind of sees in Steve [Rogers] a little bit of herself and wants something more for him.

Q: Do you enjoy helping your character mature over the movies?

SJ: Yeah, it’s been interesting. When I went in to do Avengers, after having done Iron Man 2 which, you know, you kind of don’t know a lot about the character, you sort of see her Widow mode. And I met with Joss [Whedon, of course, who directed The Avengers] and we started talking. At this point it was like, all right, we’re invested in this character. I didn’t know if the character would work, or the audience would like her, like my version of her.

Once it became clear they did and I got the opportunity to explore more of her back story in Avengers, it really started to carve out what my version of Natasha could be. She’s got this vast library of source material and has had many incarnations and many different people have their hand in her stories.

She’s made all kinds of connections and love interests and failures, and she’s been good and bad in everything. We wanted to make sure that the story felt contemporary. I wouldn’t have a Cold War back story. We had to kind of tailor it to my agent side, like what my experience would be. It’s been great to be able to reveal little pieces of that.

Q: Tell us about the stunts you did.

SJ: Well first of all, my stunt girlfriend [LAUGHS] is this wonderful, wonderful stunt woman by the name of Heidi Moneymaker. That’s her real name. And yeah, she’s awesome. She’s played the Widow every time along with me. So we have really worked together from the beginning to develop this fighting style that you see. It’s such a fun, playful kind of fighting style.

You know, it’s bad-ass, but it’s kind of sexy. It’s a little bit flirtatious, I guess: the style. And it’s balletic giving a kind of a little nod to her past gymnastics. And of course the Muay Thai and whatever else she would have learned with her kind of global experience.

In Iron Man [2], the fight sequences were really pretty fantastic, you know. A lot of gimmicky things that were just really fun to watch. In Avengers, there was a lot more gun play and stuff like that.

But this time around, a lot of the fighting was pretty gritty. A lot of it is kind of handheld weapons. It actually made it a lot easier for me because, you know, first of all the crazy acrobatic stuff that you see I start and finish, and then Heidi does ridiculous things with her body that I could never do – even if it was my job. She’s amazing, and deserves most of the credit. I just basically wound myself trying to emulate whatever she does.

Johannson as Black Widow
Johannson as Black Widow

Q: Tell us about the Black Widow costume.

SJ: The Widow costume is probably the most comfortable of the superhero suits because it doesn’t require a built-in air conditioning unit, like [Chris “Thor”] Hemsworth’s does. I don’t have under-armor. I don’t have a huge leather cape, headdress, whatever. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s kind of like a wet suit actually: sort of this one piece. And I’m always amazed when it goes on and zips up. I’m like, “Wow, it’s on.”

It’s totally empowering because once you get on the belt and the gloves and the bracelets and your guns and the boots, it looks great. It’s bad-ass! And when I have my legs wrapped around some giant stunt guy’s head, and feel totally ridiculous hanging on for dear lifeā€¦ it sells it. [The costume] totally sells things that would otherwise look absolutely absurd. It changes the way you stand; it changes your posture. You’re more aware of your body, obviously. I think when you walk on the set everybody’s like, yeah, it’s the Widow: looks good. I’ve grown to love it. First, I was terrified of it; and now I embrace it because it embraces me, actually.

I work hard to get into it and I’m proud to wear it. It’s fun. And then, of course, kids love it which is great because, really, it looks very superhero-esque – my friends’ kids that are girls love the way that it looks. And that it’s actually kind of utilitarian, but it’s got the feminine thing going [for] it. It’s fun for them to have that to put on as opposed to [a] tiny little skirt – a little cover-up with a tutu, stuff like that.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens in theaters tomorrow: Friday, April 4. I’ll be publishing more interviews for the movie over the next week right here on GeekDad, and of course my review / things parents should know tomorrow morning!

Scarlett Johansson with the group of bloggers
Scarlett Johansson with the group of bloggers. Note that I’m standing four people away from her (on the far left) to avoid making my wife jealous.

Note: Interviewing Scarlett Johansson was part of a press junket I attended that was paid for by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.

All images copyright by, and courtesy of, Disney.

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