When you want to know what’s going on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you talk to Marvel Studios President of Production, Kevin Feige. Luckily, I got to sit down with Feige when a small group of journalists visited the set of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Feige told us everything that’s going to happen in Phase Two, Phase Three, and beyond (yeah right). He did, in actuality, tell us how the film came about, and how its events will have big ramifications for the MCU at large.
While on set, Kevin Feige commented on hiring directors Joe and Anthony Russo, choosing to go with the style of a 70s conspiracy thriller, and introducing the Winter Soldier. Hit the jump for the interview.
Question: So I guess to start, Joe and Anthony Russo, their careers have been – they’ve done nothing even close to like this. What was it about them that you guys felt made them the perfect directors for this project?
Kevin Feige: Well, you know, it’s worked out well for us when we’ve taken people that have done very, very good things. Very rarely are one of those good things a big giant blockbuster superhero movie.
Kevin Feige: You know. Elf for Favreau. Good TV for Joss. Good Shakespearean drama 15 years ago for Ken Branagh. And in the same way I was a big fan of – I don’t watch a whole lot of TV but the TV that I was watching that I found interesting – their name kept popping up on it. And then I knew they had also – they made that Soderbergh-produced movie with George Clooney. It was like, “Wait a minute.” So they’d done this interesting stuff in TV and then they’ve done that movie which was interesting in and of itself. They had been popping up in the trades for being attached to various features. I said, “So obviously they’re interested in features. Let’s bring them in.” And like all of our director choices, it starts with meetings. It starts with, are we connecting with a certain idea. And I’d pitched them our idea for Cap 2. And you’ve heard me describe it, which is a loose description, a broad description as a sort of 70s political thriller. But that’s what I pitched to them.
Kevin Feige: And they lost their minds. They just started coming back and coming back and coming back with great ideas and great ideas and great ideas. And I just believed they could pull it off. And now is where, you know, two-and-a-half weeks, three weeks from finishing I feel very, very good about what we have so far.
Why is the time right for something like that now as opposed to maybe a third entry dealing with the Winter Soldier.
Kevin Feige: Well, this sort of is a third entry. I mean, right – there’s Cap 1 with his origin in World War II and only the last two minutes – oh my God, he’s in the modern day. Avengers played a little bit with his feelings of what it’s like to be in the modern day but he didn’t have a whole lot of time in that film because he’s introduced to the team. He’s got to fight off the alien invasion. So it did feel like this was absolutely the right time to deal with how he can come to terms with a past that is long gone and is seemingly never coming back. Dealing with the shades of gray of the modern era and certainly of being a part of an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D. And then just as perhaps he’s finding a niche for himself, his past comes back and lands like a ton of bricks on his head in the form of Winter Soldier.
Kevin Feige: Well, we’ll see next year if it was the right template when it’s all finished and its working. But it’s – you know, we make a lot of superhero movies here at Marvel Studios and I believe the key is to make them all different and to make them all unique and to make them all stand apart while connecting together. And that’s what the comics do, you know. You can find Captain America stories that are as sort of two dimensional and red, white and blue as you would think from the costume. Then you’ve got great stories in the seventies and eighties and then you have the amazing Brubaker run which is sort of a, you know, dealing with, albeit 100% in the Marvel universe, with this notion of conspiracies and authority isn’t what it seems to be coinciding with when Cap returned in the early sixties and then suddenly ten years later there’s Watergate and he’s gone through the seventies. That’s interesting stuff to me. So we’re sort of pulling from all of those tales for this story. And like the first film was a Marvel superhero origin story masquerading as a World War II propaganda movie, this is a Marvel superhero sequel masquerading as a seventies political thriller. And then, frankly, all the stuff that’s happening now with the NSA and the news is just – is pretty amazing timing for us because that’s much of what Cap is – that’s the kind of thing Cap doesn’t particularly like – that our fake comic book organization and real life national security organization seem to be doing. Which again is always nice when you’re big entertaining fun competent movie can touch into some aspect of a grounded real world – no matter how crazy that real world may be.
Comic book readers are accustomed to tonal and stylistic shifts in a character’s new iteration. How are you going to help mainstream moviegoers adapt to the tonal and stylistic shifts in this movie from the first movie? It sounds like it’s gonna be pretty different with Cap still at the center.
Kevin Feige: It will. I mean, I’m betting that more people will have seen Avengers who are coming into Winter Soldier than saw Captain American 1. It certainly – it can be a direct sequel to that film. It can also be a direct – it is a direct sequel to The Avengers. And if you look at the whole Marvel cinematic universe, I think the audience has already been with us for that tonal shift. You know, they know when that Marvel flip logo comes it can be an Iron Man-Clancy-techno-thriller. It can be this fantastical, you know Thor film. It can be a World War II film. I mean, they’ve already stayed with us for all of these different genres under the umbrella of the cinematic universe that … it’s not about betting they’ll come with us. I think they’re demanding that we continue to evolve and grow and shift sort of our models.
Kevin Feige: Yeah.
With S.H.I.E.L.D. with Black Widow. Did that just sort of naturally feel like that would be the right thing – the Iron Man and Thor sequels do feel less connected.
Kevin Feige: Yeah. You know, we always wanted – as you’ve seen in Iron Man 3 now for Tony to go back to his world in Malibu and Stark Industries. Thor going back to Asgard. We weren’t gonna send Cap back in time. We weren’t gonna send him back to his home. He had nowhere else to go. That’s part of the story. That’s part of how we meet him at the beginning of the movie. And it just made sense that he was the one that stayed with, you know, what remains of the Avengers at the end of the movie.
We heard that this is like a year after The Avengers. How does this fit in the timeline with everything else – Iron Man 3, Thor 2.
Kevin Feige: It is, you know, smack dab between Avengers and Avengers 2. You know, the continuity between Thor and – it takes place after both Thor and Iron Man. So it’s sort of the continuity of the release of the film is the continuity of the film as well. Which was sort of the case with the first phase one films but it was a little trickier. But this very much, you know, the ramifications at the end of this film go directly into Avengers 2. Much more so than the other films.
How much continuity carries over, because at the end of Iron Man 3 with the Vice President getting arrested, is that something that fits in at all, or did it exist in the world of Captain America 2?
Kevin Feige: It exists – yeah, it exists in the world, you know. There just is – there were some elements of Avengers that were referenced in Iron Man 3 but we didn’t go into a whole lot of detail because we were following that particular story. You can – you’ll hear about some of those past events, but this is very much a S.H.I.E.L.D., a Steve Rogers focused storyline.
Getting to what you were talking about earlier, The Avengers was such a worldwide phenomenon, so I can imagine that it inspired a lot of people to go back that hadn’t seen the phase one films to go see that.
Kevin Feige: I think so. I think that’s true.
Kevin Feige: Well, we know that’s true, right, because the Blu-ray sales and the DVD sales of the other films started going up again when Avengers came out – when it came out again on home video. But frankly, I believe every movie should stand apart, right. If you hadn’t seen Star Wars, I think you’d probably watch Empire Strikes Back and get it.
Kevin Feige: The same way, you know. I really think – I think this movie should work. It needs to work for people who’ve not seen Avengers or Cap 1. It needs to work for the people who’ve seen all of them.
Kevin Feige: That’s important to me that the movies can play on multiple levels like that. So I guess it’s – you know, we’re always on alert for getting too inside baseball but at the same time sometimes you can be so inside baseball that it’ll just go over the heads of some. So as long as it’s not distractingly inside baseball.
Kevin Feige: So two characters are like, “Remember this? I do. Haha.” And some people in the audience are going, “What are they talking about?”
Kevin Feige: Unless it’s Hawkeye and Widow talking about, you know, Budapest in which you know, “Oh, maybe some people thought there was another movie where that happened?”, but it didn’t matter, right, because it was just about their backstory.
You talked about the big picture of phase III and then how this one sort of fits in with your grand plan.
Kevin Feige: I’ve no idea what the big picture of phase III is.
Phase II, sorry.
Kevin Feige: Right. Well, it is about, you know, part of it – talking about it from a filmmaker level as opposed to sort of a story level – it’s about – and you’ve all heard me say this before. Teaching the general movie going audience about the notion of the characters existing separately, coming together for specific events and going away and existing separately in their own worlds again. Just like comic readers have been doing for decades and decades. And part of my early, early goals was to get movie audience used to that – to that kind of thing. And knock on wood – so far with Iron Man 3 it’s worked. But people didn’t throw tomatoes at the screen going, “Where’s Nick Fury? How come Thor doesn’t help them take down Guy Pearce?” People sort of are accepting that there’s a time when they should be together and there’s a time when they’re not. So that was one of the first goals which is why we made the Iron Man 3 that we made, why we’re making the Thor movie we’re making and why Cap does sort of fold back into that a little bit more. And in terms of the – you know, it’s all about going deeper into the stories. The more moviegoers that see these movies and are participating in watching these movies with us, the more inside baseball you can be. And suddenly it’s not a small group of people, it’s a large group of people. And that’s what I like very much is that the continuity of the films now are becoming – it’s becoming known and accepted to, you know, like my friend’s mother was asking me about, “Is this character coming back?” It’s like, “How do you know that?” Because of the movies which is great.
Do you approach actors – these amazing actors now like Redford, Glenn Close in Guardians. Are they surprised when you approach them or at this point, you know, the movies have become so big that it’s…
Kevin Feige: I think it varies. I think it varies. I mean, sometimes they approach us. I mean, sometimes they – and Robert’s not shy. Mr. Redford is not shy about the fact that his grandkids are a fan of this and he wanted to do something that his grandkids would watch him in. So that works out very well in those cases. In some cases … like we approached Glenn Close. You don’t have to do quite the song and dance. They sort of – they know what we are already and I do think until we royally screw it up they think it’s a safe place to come and put on a costume and stand in front of a green screen and at the end of the day come off, you know, very well.
Now that you have Guardians on the way, is this the time to take risks? going out there on a limb. Is there any way that you feel the need to protect yourself, if there’s a safety net if this doesn’t catch on.
Kevin Feige: Well, I mean, I think we’ve always been rewarded for taking risks. I think when Fox hired Bryan Singer it was a risk back in the day. I think obviously Downey was a risk at the time and I had to twist a lot of arms to get that – to push that through. So – and by the way, when we were doing the first Iron Man film, the X-Men franchise had already been a giant hit. The Spider-Man franchise was already a giant hit. So you – the safety net becomes Marvel itself. It’s that red brick logo on top of the title – right now means something to people. The way the Pixar thing does. It’s not so much of a – people go, “Oh, I get kind of what this is will be.” So it did seem like now is the right time to do something like Guardians which is different. I don’t know how big the Iron Man fan base was. We all knew what it was. We all knew Thor. But general audiences were like, “Oh, is he a robot? Oh, is that the guy that has blonde hair, the helmet guy?” They didn’t know much more than that. It’s not like those were Spider-Man before the movies. Those were not well known. Guardians of the Galaxy is even less known than that. They had been in some cartoons. They’d been in video games. Guardians. Although now they’re popular because now, you know, the publishing side is raising their profile. But most importantly, you always just want to make a good movie. You always want to make it an interesting movie that plays for people whether they have a deep affinity or nostalgia for the characters or not. And with Guardians it’s sort of liberating because there are very few people that have the nostalgia for that. We’re still being true to the books. We’re still pulling all our favorite elements from those books to make the movies. But I like that most people will think and experience it as a brand new and fresh film.
How much was contingent on getting Rocket Raccoon’s voice?
Kevin Feige: You know, a lot. I mean, it’s – you know, just like it was getting our Peter Quill. You’ve all seen the photo that he tweeted the other day.
Kevin Feige: They’re all important. They’re all important. And I mean – and we’ll have the voice – I think soon. We want to get one soon so that – to inform the animators. But we’ve got a great design. We’ve got a great look. We’ve got a great digital effects company bringing him to life and now it’s all about that voice.
Are you past the arm-twisting phase of having to get things done? Are people more understanding your vision or at least letting your success get you past some things you might have had to push more?
Kevin Feige: I think so but to be fair it’s – I mean Marvel has always been unified. It’s sort of the reason we were gonna start doing movies ourselves was to tell the stories the way we wanted to. And I don’t know why it’s the case that the actual, you know, property owners are the ones that were willing to go take further risks with their material than the licensees studios were back in the day. But I’m glad that was the case. And it’s definitely the case. And I think frankly that’s because we just understood the characters more or believed in the characters more. But I don’t want to suggest that it’s like the me against the world. It’s not. And Marvel has been very unified in the way we want to proceed.
How did that meeting with Vin Diesel go?
Kevin Feige: It’s happening at three o’clock today. [laughter] It literally hasn’t happened yet. He’s coming in today. It’s just a general.
Are those meetings more to just to like kind of get – like figure out the interests on their part like where you possibly see them…
Kevin Feige: Yeah, there are lots of actors come in here all the time. Not all of them have 43 million Facebook followers and say, “I’m going into Marvel.” But sure, I mean that’s…
So it’s less so. You have a specific idea of what you want or just kind of a…
Kevin Feige: It varies.
Kevin Feige: In this specific case of Mr. Diesel there’s no specific idea. It’s just a meeting. And sometimes there’s – sometimes there is a specific idea. But usually – I mean sometimes we just go right into an audition into, you know. I didn’t meet Chris Pratt until we’d already decided. I’d watched six of his tests and we decided to meet him. Because sometimes I don’t want to be – it doesn’t matter how fun they are at dinner. It matters what they look like on that screen. But it is happening today.
It’s interesting, it’s already like an interesting complicated universe or like you said something might happen in one movie that will affect the other movies. Now that you have the TV show, too, S.H.I.E.L.D. will that be, I assuming taking a lot of planning, you know, to make S.H.I.E.L.D.’s a hit? It’s airing in April and Cap comes out – something happens in Cap that affects the world…
Kevin Feige: Yeah. Well, you know, the studio is not involved in the day-to-day of the show. Jeph Loeb and the TV division is overseeing that. But of course there’s crossover. I was just in a meeting with those guys and I’m about in two minutes to go back to a meeting with those guys to hear the overall picture and to, you know, to hear their ideas and how they deal with the events and Thor and the events of the Cap. Their ideas for season two, should there be one, to make sure they lead into Avengers and don’t … the key to that show, just like they key to all the movies is that, it has to stand alone. It has – if you stripped out all the connective tissue, is it worth watching? And it has to be – and then it’s all bonus and it’s all gravy when there’s that connective tissue. And that’s what they’re doing a very good job on so far is building in that fashion.
Captain America’s a very old-fashioned hero. And I was wondering how, when you saw DC sort of make Superman relevant by taking that good guy and turning him grittier and darker, but we haven’t done that with Cap, who at his core is a hero. I’m curious about how you go about making that relevant to the audience and ensuring that it doesn’t seem old fashioned or out of place in today’s world.
Kevin Feige: I don’t mind if it feels old fashioned. I don’t mind if he feels out of place. He is out of place and he is kind of old fashioned in the modern era. I care if he feels two dimensional. I care if he feels boring or if he feels in any way not like a fully formed character. But in this movie we’re embracing that side. That’s part of his conflict with Fury and with some of the other members of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the fact that he has a – he’s from a different place. He has a different set of values, I think. Or at least he thinks he does initially. And we want to play into that and run towards that which creates conflict, which creates drama, which creates character. You know, we’re careful not to make him a goofball fish out of water, you know. We don’t spend a lot of time with him trying to understand what an iPhone is. He’s, you know, if you took a 23-year-old – what do we calling Cap, I don’t know, 27? If you took a 27 year old and introduced him to something they’ve never seen before they’d probably figure it out. They wouldn’t be completely flummoxed. So we’re avoiding sort of the what is a cell phone. What is this magic glass that you type onto. We have some fun with it. And frankly Cap because he’s been around in the modern day for a little while post-Avengers, he sort of has fun with peoples’ expectations. He sometimes pretends not to understand something when he does. He goes, “Oh, I forget.” He goes, “I get it, I get it.” To, you know, again make him more than just a perfect two dimensional Boy Scout.
What are the sort of joys and pains of making movies the way that Marvel does with an eye on other movies and interconnectivity and an eye on secrecy – all of those elements that are pretty singular to the way Marvel does it. For you what’s great about it and what is challenging?
Kevin Feige: Well, it’s all pretty great. I mean it’s, you know, as we keep making them we – I want to keep an eye on not painting ourselves into a corner or not – you know. Because again, a lot of what we’re doing is modeled on the comics but there’s also pitfalls to look out for. There’s a reason, you know, comic universes have to reboot after ten or 15 years because they start to fold in on each other and it becomes very, very confusing. I think that’s less of a danger when you’re only doing, you know, four hours – four-and-a-half hours of entertainment a year – two movies a year. But that’s one thing that we want to be careful to avoid. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that yet. So it’s really all just sort of fun to be able to have access to all those characters and all those stories as we make them. The secrecy thing – I don’t know that it’s unique to us. I think every filmmaker wants to save the surprises for the screen. You know, we’ve got security guys walking around on every set and holding up “Don’t Take Pictures, Please” signs and things like that. And everyone’s taking pictures of it – you know that’s gonna happen. We sort of stopped chasing that frankly. I mean, I think people are savvy enough now to know that if a picture’s taken from behind a tree with a long lens, if the pictures look great, as most of Winter Soldier pictures looked pretty cool I thought, some of them look like professional – like really damn cool. You know, we used to try to get ahead of that and do our own photo shoot beforehand but the truth is we just spend all of our time getting ready for that day when he’s gonna be in front of the movie cameras for the first time. And sometimes, you know, a picture appears behind a tree with a long lens and they guy doesn’t look great or it’s a stuntman. I do think people are savvy enough to know, Oh that’s not the way it’s going to look in the movie.” So it’s just the way it is now. And I’ve always said the only thing worse than a photographer in a tree is no photographer in the tree because nobody cares. We’re filming a big street, there’s nobody here. I thought that happened to us once in Iron Man 2. We were filming in Randy’s Donuts on Iron Man 2 and he was in there, but was nobody there. We’re like, “What, there’s nobody there?” And I was like, “Because nobody cares!” And we go home and there’s this unbelievable shot of him in the – they were in a building…
Hiding in the bushes…
Kevin Feige: Yeah, there was somebody far away. Yeah.
With leaks, and other things that get out, are you guys actively playing now with expectations? Maybe putting out misinformation? Are you engaging in that sort of thing?
Kevin Feige: I’m wondering if there’s a clever answer to that. The answer is, “No,” but I don’t know. Maybe that gives away the game. No. I wouldn’t know how to do that. Sometimes we’ve talked about – talk about name and put something out there. I think a few years ago we tried that and they were like shut up, we don’t believe you. But, no, I mean it’s much of – you know, some of the information isn’t true sometimes when it comes to casting because their agents, because people know who’s coming in for meetings and things like that – rarely is information 100 percent private. And sometimes it’s completely off the mark. And that’s funny and that becomes its own business for me. Right? I mean people who thought that Tony was gonna go to space to meet the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of Iron Man 3. Okay. They can think that. So it almost creates – people are doing misinformation for us.
Thank you. Have a good meeting.
Kevin Feige: Thank you, I will. Bye bye.
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