Scarlett Johansson digs deep, goes all out for Black Widow
Set after Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow sees Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) separated from the now-fractured Avengers and confronting the dark path she took to becoming a spy and an assassin, as well as events that followed.
She reluctantly reunites with an unlikely group of spies from her past who share a critical part of her history, as well as a desire to stop a lethal force from being unleashed.
But Natasha’s efforts are threatened by a deadly assassin whose unique skill set is unlike anything she has ever faced.
Black Widow opens in cinemas here on July 8 and streams on Disney+ with Premier Access from July 9.
“When you see Natasha in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she’s often this kind of impenetrable force,” said US actress Johansson, 36, who reprises her role as the titular heroine.
“She’s reckless and out of control but still has this amazing intellect. What are her secrets? Her vulnerabilities? I am excited to share her fragility and her strength. She is in a male world, and she projects a certain way of being in that world. What we wanted to do is find out who is the real Black Widow.”
Producer Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios’ president and chief creative officer, said Natasha has sparked intrigue since her big-screen debut in 2010’s Iron Man 2.
She went on to appear in six Marvel films, including The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and the exciting and emotional Avengers: Endgame.
“She has such a rich backstory,” said Feige. “We’ve hinted at it throughout all the other films. But we approach it in a completely unexpected way. She’s been up to a lot all along — in between when we see her in the other movies — some of which will be surprising to people.”
How long has Black Widow been a possibility?
Johansson: This movie has always been on the table - we just never knew what it would be. This movie would have been so different if we made it 10 years ago. I’m actually very thankful that it’s happening now because we can actually make a movie that’s about real stuff. And audiences want that.
How did you feel about digging into Natasha’s past and uncovering the mysteries that surround her?
Johansson: I think from the very beginning when we first started talking about doing this standalone film, there was no reason to do it unless we could really dig deep and be brave and go there. Having played this character for a decade, I wanted to make sure that it would feel artistically and creatively rewarding for me as well as the fans.
I know a lot about this character, because she’s in me. But I haven’t really had the opportunity to access all the parts of her. Cate Shortland, our director, loves the idea of going inside this character. I’ve been able to make a lot of discoveries about her — to find different strengths and different flaws. It’s been pretty therapeutic. I can’t imagine that many actors have the opportunity to do that with a character they’ve played for 10 years.
Is it difficult to revisit this character considering her fate in Avengers: Endgame?
Johansson: I really feel like we have the opportunity for some healing and to understand why Natasha decides to make the ultimate sacrifice in Endgame, and where that comes from. We may be able to believe that she’s at peace with some of the unfinished business that she’s had to struggle with.
How did Black Widow end up being Marvel Studios’ version of a family drama?
Johansson: I think part of Kevin Feige’s genius is that he always thinks about what fans expect out of these films and then gives them something that they never could’ve dreamed of. The idea of Natasha Romanoff in a family drama is the least expected thing, and I had to wrap my head around what that was going to be because there’s such a big tonal shift.
As Kevin put it, it’s like another film T-bones the movie that you thought you were going to see. If it’s not handled well, it could feel really jarring. But we left that in Cate Shortland’s very capable hands to strike the balance. Her stuff is so deep and so character driven. Just knowing that I had her, knowing that she and I would be able to build this character together, I knew that we were cooking with gas.
Describe the action in this movie.
Johansson: I’m probably biased, but I think there are some of the best fights we’ve had in the MCU. They come from the place of character. It’s an important part of the storytelling to understand where Natasha is mentally in each fight.
She has no superpowers, so it’s all coming from her. I’ve had all this time to build this physical vocabulary and I’m finally able to use all of it in this film. It was really exciting and I’m so happy with how it all came out.
It was striking how many stuntwomen we had on set at any given time. The power of these women in one room together was something I’d never experienced before. It was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by all these badass women and be able to get down and dirty with them. It was great.
How did you prepare for the physical aspects of the role?
Johansson: I’ve done a lot of different kinds of training for these films. But I didn’t realise that we would actually be practically shooting the skydiving sequences, which allowed us a much greater, precise ability to capture motion, camera performance and emotional performance with more precision. So, it was very helpful to know what it would feel like to be skydiving because I needed to use all that. And it was much harder than I thought it would be. It’s challenging.
As far as training in general, I luckily was at a place where I felt like I was stronger than ever and that my body had this kind of physical or muscle memory. And I feel like in the 10 years I’ve been playing this character, I’ve been working up to this point. I’m older now, and things hurt a little bit more and longer. But I definitely feel like I’m in a much more capable place than I was in 2009.