The Russo Brothers on What It Takes to Land a Marvel Directing Gig
When Marvel first recruited Joe and Anthony Russo to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the directorial duo had a resume almost entirely comprised of TV work, including standout episodes of Community and Arrested Development. Which is to say, they weren’t necessarily the most obvious pick to helm a tentpole superhero film in the vein of political thrillers. But boy was the studio on to something. Now, alongside Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the Russos at shepherding the MCUs biggest event films with Captain America: Civil War and both portions the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War.
With Civil War arriving in US theaters May 6, Steve recently sat down for a super-extended, wide-ranging interview with the Russo brothers. You can look forward to a lot more from their chat, including some deep-diving on Civil War itself, but first up the directors discussed the intensive pitch process they underwent to land The Winter Soldier, how creative freedom shapes the future of the MCU, and if they would still be willing to direct a Community movie. They also confirm it is, in fact, more difficult to direct Chevy Chase than a mammoth tentpole film, Watch the interview in the video above, or check out what they had to say in the transcript below.
Collider: What’s harder to manage, a movie on this scale or Chevy Chase?
JOE RUSSO: Chevy Chase. It’s a no-brainer.
So basically some of the stories we’ve all heard could be true.
JOE RUSSO: Could be vaguely true…they’re true.
So now that you’ve reached this pinnacle of big budget Hollywood movies, have the Community fans lost you for the Community movie? Or is this something that you would squeeze in if that came together?
ANTHONY RUSSO: We would always squeeze that in. The show is a great passion of ours.
JOE RUSSO: And we love the cast. We get along so well with all of them.
ANTHONY RUSSO: So we’ll see if it ever happens.
How did you sell Feige on getting Winter Soldier? What did you do to convince him you were the guys to do this?
JOE RUSSO: Well you know, we’re very passionate about our pitch. We’re passionate about the character, I’ve been collecting comics since I was a kid. We have very similar upbringing to Kevin. We’re comic book obsessed, we’re pop culture obsessed we have a lot of the same reference points, so very similar personality types.
ANTHONY RUSSO: But it was a very long process.
JOE RUSSO: It was. It was not easy.
ANTHONY RUSSO: We went through a series of four meetings with Marvel over the course of about two months where we kept getting more and more specific about what our vision was.
JOE RUSSO: Reference videos, storyboards, script pages, you name it. We did like a 30-page book that had everything that we’d do with the character, from the theme of the movie to the tone of the film to the fighting style to what we liked about the character and what we didn’t like about his characters — because frankly he was not one of my favorite characters growing up, I always found him a little square. So we wanted to add an element of deconstruction to the character and to examine him in a way that was different than the microscope Joe had used on the character. Because his was an homage to the Golden Age, and what we wanted to do was modernize Cap and to make him really flawed and human — or as flawed and human as we could.
ANTHONY RUSSO: Yeah, it was a tough process but we feel in love with the material, we fell in love the project, we really wanted it so basically it took over our lives for two months. We were doing almost nothing but developing the movie before we had the job, but the good news was we figured the movie out before we got hired, which was very cool. But I remember — my wife likes to remind me, toward the end of the process before we got the job, she said, “I remember you said to me, ‘I have to re-examine my entire career if we don’t get this job.’” Because it felt like we were meant to do the movie and Joe and I were really excited about it.
I think a lot of people are curious about the way Marvel works in terms of the development process in the MCU. With Winter Soldier or with Civil War or with Infinity War, how does the relationship work with Feige and Marvel in terms of handing you what they’d like versus the directors crafting it? What’s that balance like?
JOE RUSSO: Frankly, our experience has been that it’s pretty wide open. With Winter Soldier, they knew they wanted to make a political thriller, but the interpretation of the character was wide open, the story events. There was actually a very good script from Markus and McFeely, but we went in after we got the job and did a bunch of work on the script with them, brought in different characters, really worked to interpret it in the way that we wanted to interpret it.
Civil War was a wide open playing field. It was really just something that came up casually in conversations because we’re all comic book fans and [we talked about] what are the ambitious things we could do if we returned to do the third Captain America movie? And once we settled on the concept, I think we’ve done so many movies there now, we’re about to do four films for them, and we’ve worked Markus and McFeely, who have done more movies than we have done with them, we’re a little bit of a sub-studio where it’s easy for us as a group to come up with conceptually what we want to do and then we will ask questions about whether this would interfere with a storyline in another movie. Or, what’s going on in that film, can we pull some of that into this film? That’s where you start looking for the interconnectedness, but it’s very important early on that the concept be created in a bubble because you have to protect the idea, it has to be driven by storytelling. Kevin’s very good about just attacking each movie as they come and then figuring out what the movies are after that. Because if you get ahead of yourself two things can happen. One is you take your eye off the ball and you make a mess of a movie, and then the second thing that would happen is then you don’t get to make any more movies. So he’s always in the mindset of “let’s just make this movie now and worry about the next movie when it comes”.
ANTHONY RUSSO: The most simple way I could put it is Marvel doesn’t come to the filmmakers and say, “Here’s what the next movie is.” They come to the filmmakers and say, “What is the next movie?” That’s very much the process.
Look for a lot more from Joe and Anthony Russo all week. For more on Captain America: Civil War check out some recent links below:
- ‘Captain America: Civil War’: Over 50 New Images Tease Friendly Fire, Vision in Fancy Clothes
- ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Box Office Off to Strong International Start with $14.9 Million
- Watch: Chris Hemsworth Jokingly Calls ‘Captain America: Civil War’ “Pathetic” for Excluding “Strongest, Biggest Avengers”
- Anthony & Joe Russo on ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and How the ‘John Wick’ Directors Helped with the Action