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In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, after the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, finds himself living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Johansson), Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off assailants sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.
In this interview, Johansson dishes on everything from the popularity of her character, her superhero suit, working with the cast and what it’s like to be part of the Marvel Comic Universe.
Did you ever see your character becoming this popular and infused in pop culture?
Johansson: It’s hard to have any kind of foresight as far as this Marvel Cinematic Universe goes because it’s really so audience-driven exactly to what people want to see and what characters they respond to. But I’ve always found the character of Black Widow to be enigmatic enough to warrant exploration of her storyline and it’s a nice surprise, I have to say, to see that audiences want that too. I never put all my eggs in one basket as far as whether I’m going to continue with these franchises, but it’s exciting for me.
What can we expect from Natasha this time around?
Johansson: When we first find Natasha and Steve, it is in real time, so it’s been a couple years or so since the events with The Avengers and they have been tasked on many different missions together. They’re just doing their job. They’ve gotten to know each other a bit, so they have more of an easy conversation between them than in ‘Marvel’s The Avengers.’ So that’s where we find her. Everything’s pretty much business as usual until business as usual is not as usual as any of us think.
Is it nice to be able to continue that growth of character throughout a film series?
Johansson: Yes. There is so much to explore with Black Widow, certainly her past, which is always something that’s been shrouded in mystery. We continue to open up the story and give little tidbits and throw the bone out once in a while as to where she came from and what her background is. There’s a lot to explore in the past but certainly where she’s going too. When you take a character who’s had the past that she’s had, who has seen the darkest places, over time she appreciates what the right thing is in her mind and starts to understand humanity. We have a lot of really meaty scenes in this film and very existential questions we’re asking ourselves.
Do you think your uniform is a little less on the nose in this film?
Johansson: Definitely. In this film, I spend the least amount of time in my suit. A lot of it is just the grittiness that people maybe aren’t expecting, but I think fans will notice it in the previews and respond to it. It’s definitely dirty and I think it’s gotten that way over the course of the films. Working with Jon Favreau, it was very much about creating that iconic first look. Then Joss Whedon wanted the punches to hurt and he wanted to see the sweat and he wanted to see the battle. He wanted to see The Avengers all torn up and ready to come back for more. In this film, we really see Black Widow as a very functional character who is fighting to survive. That gets you out of that posey world to begin with because there’s no time to stop and strike a pose.
Are you more badass due to the increasing level of action you’re doing?
Johansson: Yes! Thanks to Heidi Moneymaker, my stunt double. The two of us have now fused into one person and finish each other’s sentences. We try to push the envelope with each film but there already are established moves that people recognize and are really into, so we get to play with that a little bit. For me, just having done three films so far with Marvel with the same stunt crew I know the ins and outs; I feel way more comfortable in my body and I feel way more comfortable fighting. I even feel way more comfortable hanging 60-feet in the air. I trust these guys with my life and that trust is something I think you establish over time.
Is it surprising to see the way Heidi Moneymaker is cut with you in the finished products?
Johansson: Yes. It’s always a real surprise for me, and a pleasant surprise, because she’s the best. She’s at the top of her game and she just gets better each time and pushes herself even further. I see them rehearsing some of the stuff she does but then I don’t get to actually see it shot there on the day with the costume and the whole look with all the badass angles and explosions. So it’s always a treat for me to see the work that the stunt team puts in. They’re amazing.
Your hair has been different in each film. Is that something you think about, or is that someone else’s decision?
Johansson: I’ve been fortunate to be able to do my own looks for the character. I’ve got a really great beauty team, of course, that helps, make it all happen and helps to fully realize the idea. I think that the look should change as we change over a couple of years and certainly the last look was a bit more of that kind of “Ultimates” look and this time around I wanted it to be a bit more contemporary and maybe have a little bit of a late ’90s reference that’s come back, which I feel is relevant to today’s trend. But the red is always fun to play with—to find the deeper tones and the things that flash and what’s going to look good for all that movement.
How has your suit changed for this film? You’ve had a different costume designer on every movie.
Johansson: Yes, we have had different costume designers, but the suit has stayed relatively the same. I get a couple of flashier panels on this one. Each costume designer wants to put their stamp on the suit, of course, but the suit above all things needs to be functional. The seams have to be a specific way and the fabric has to move a specific way. I have probably the most comfortable suit of anybody; I can’t really complain. It’s kind of like a wetsuit. For this film, the costume designer went black and it’s got those real sleek leather panels. It’s a little bit sharper and a little bit more fashionable.
You’re mostly wearing your costume during night scenes. Did that effect the new design?
Johansson: Yes, it is stealthier and sharper. But what was interesting to me was to be able to create the look that Black Widow has as Natasha. Like, who is Natasha outside of her costumes, her disguises, her suit, what does she look like regularly? It’s certainly not this. This is a disguise. What does she look like day to day? We decided she definitely drives a black Corvette and she definitely wears tailored leather jackets, with very sleek no muss, no fuss, no fancy anything. Everything’s just badass and simple.
Will there be any romance between Captain America and Black Widow?
Johansson: More than anything, I think that the relationship between Cap and Widow is one that becomes a friendship and that is way more interesting than a romantic relationship. We don’t really know yet if she’s really even capable of that. Black Widow has so many trust issues that the last thing on her mind is like, “Man, I wish I had a boyfriend.” Steve Rogers is an attractive guy but I think she’s learning how to be herself —whoever herself is. This friendship is the catalyst that helps her to understand other events with Fury and helps her to understand what she wants because she’s probably never really asked herself that. That’s what we see more of developing; between the two of them is a friendship that allows her to be self-reflective.
What’s it working with Chris Evans?
Johansson: This is our fourth movie together; we’ve been working together since we were 17. I’ve known him for over 10 years and it’s old habit between us. We laugh a lot. When you’ve known somebody for so long, you’ve been in all kinds of crazy situations on set, off set. We know a lot about each other. Chris is such an intelligent guy; he’s witty and funny and he’s got a great spirit. We just enjoy each other very much. If it weren’t for Chris, this film would’ve been much more difficult for me because making these movies is hard, and it’s a lot of long days and intense scenes. Just being able to cut and share some ongoing stupid joke with him is such a relief for both of us. It’s a pleasure working with him, as always.
What was it like to reunite with Robert Redford?
Johansson: It’s funny because I actually worked with Bob when I was 12. I was really just surprised that we were here working on this Marvel film with this different dynamic between us now. He’s such a class act and, of course, it was just like the old days. He came in and said, “Hey kiddo,” and wanted to catch up but I was just looking at him because it was so surreal. It brought me back 15 years. He was there in the trenches like the rest of us, working those long hours and delivering mouth-loads of dialogue, and he just plowed through it. It was as if Alexander Pierce was a character that he’d been playing for years.
Are you surprised at the fan reaction when you’ve been to Comic Con?
Johansson: It’s always a surprise for me to see how well loved these movies are. People are so excited about these characters. They so want these characters to keep working for them. They invest so much in these characters and that challenges us to not let them down and to continue to impress and inspire them.
Is it exciting for you to be a part of something people are crazy about?
Johansson: That’s what going to the movies is all about. It’s about being able to escape your life or connect pieces of your life and enjoy the experience. I love the movie-going experience from the popcorn to the previews to the film itself. I like having it stay with me afterwards and thinking about it days later. I love that whole aspect of entertainment, so to be able to be a part of these films that do that consistently well and are a big event for people to look forward to is exciting. It’s like reading a great book and getting the new one coming out; you’re just so excited to see what are these characters are going to give you this time. It’s fun to be a part of that.
Based on the Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opens April 4 and stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.