STACK caught up with the stars of the new Marvel blockbuster Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh.
Ever since Scarlett Johansson’s 2010 debut as Black Widow in Iron Man 2, fans have longed to see her in her own film. Now they are finally granted their wish with Marvel’s action-packed spy thriller Black Widow, directed by Australia’s own Cate Shortland.
Set before Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow takes place on the heels of Captain America: Civil War as we see Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, forced to confront the darker parts of her past.
“We’re not used to seeing Natasha alone. She’s always been a part of something, either by circumstance or choice – from her early days as a victim of the Red Room on into SHIELD and then The Avengers,” says Scarlett Johansson, who has appeared in seven previous Marvel movies including The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
“But now she finds herself floating in this weird in-between space where she’s full of doubt. Then she’s blindsided by this person from her past who is just on fire and a liability and has this dangerous crazy energy who throws her off her game, something we never really get to see with Natasha,” she says in reference to Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, who delivers her performance with a deep and sexy Russian accent.
“I think from the get-go in the script, it was very obvious that they have this connection and, ultimately, despite her skill-set, she is that wonderfully annoying younger sister that says all the right things in all the wrong times. So it wasn’t hard at all for me to get into that,” says Pugh. “And I really appreciated how Cate welcomed me to figure out how she thinks and moves and what she wears. She really encouraged me to find the oddities in her and lean on that.”
As the sisters re-establish their childhood bond, Pugh praises Johansson for being so welcoming. “These two sisters have so much fun together in amongst all the pain they have shared,” says the Midsommar actress, who found a novel way to break the ice with her co-star.
“Literally on my very first day, I was throwing Scarlett up against a wall as she was smashing my face in a sink. There is no greater way to break the ice than really wrestling Scarlett to the floor and then try and choke each other. After that we were friends!”
Johansson agrees: “It’s such an emotionally-driven fight. There’s no real end goal; just two people expressing their frustration and also the power struggle, genuine surprise, and also affection for one another. It was like two lion cubs going at each other – and also such a unique way to bond with another actor.”
Throwing Black Widow’s story into perspective, co-producer Brian Chapek explains, “Natasha has broken the Sokovia Accords, betrayed Secretary Ross, and the Avengers find themselves disbanded. In the beginning of the movie, we establish Natasha desperate to evade Ross and leave US soil. When she gets an opportunity to start over again, she quickly finds that darker forces in the world compel her to return to the action.”
If Black Widow is arguably a girl-fest, also featuring Rachel Weisz and directed by Shortland, then David Harbour certainly represents the male contingent with his witty and loveable performance as the Red Guardian – the Soviet equivalent of Captain America.
His role is such a revelation, prompting his screen partner Weisz to note, “I had to steel myself most days to stop laughing at David, because he is one of the more eccentric and funny people on this planet.”
Determined that Black Widow stand out among all the other male-dominated Marvel stories, it was Johansson who initially reached out to Shortland.
“Cate came to Los Angeles and fell in love with the character and the possibilities. She realised she could tell a very personal story and do something extremely special on a big canvas,” says Marvel boss Kevin Feige.
Shortland certainly hopes she’s achieved her goals. “I think what’s exciting about the film is we’re playing with the audience’s expectations. We’re exploring parts of Natasha that the audience has absolutely no idea about. We explore her family, love and passion, and you get to see all these facets of her we have never seen before.
“I thought it should be like a fairground ride; really exhilarating but also raw and to have those things seamlessly mesh together. It was always about putting Natasha at the centre of it, but making sure that we didn’t let the trauma of her past drag her down. Rather, we came up to answer it and we often did that with humour,” she adds.
• Black Widow is in cinemas now