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From Assassin to Avenger: An Inside Look at ‘Black Widow’

July 6, 2021Ben MK

When you think of the larger-than-life heroes that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you probably think of characters imbued with superhuman strength, speed or agility. And while Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff may not possess any of those traits, that certainly hasn't prevented her from holding her own against the likes of such opponents as Loki, Ultron, and even her fellow Avengers.

Now, in director Cate Shortland's Black Widow, the superspy-turned-superhero is going up against an adversary unlike any that she's ever faced before. On the run, on a mission of vengeance, and without faithful allies like Captain America or Iron Man to back her up, Natasha must turn to the only other people in her life that she trusts enough to be able to call family — fellow assassin Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Russian super soldier Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) and scientist Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) — as she sets out to right the terrible wrongs of her past while fighting for the future of those unable to fight for themselves.

"We started talking about this film as a more serious possibility when we were doing Infinity War," states Johansson. "We shot Infinity War and then Endgame back-to-back, and so we already knew what the endgame was for Natasha. And we knew that in this film she had to evolve into a place where she was moving forward in her life and had resolved the trauma from her past. That she felt like a different person moving forward."

"We very specifically knew there was a large period of [Natasha's] life that we didn't know about," adds Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, speaking more about the timeframe during which Black Widow is set. "Not just her childhood, but this period of time between Civil War and Infinity War. That period felt ripe to creatively focus on, to be able to discover more about her past and more about her present."

"From the beginning, we knew that [this movie] had to speak to two things," explains Shortland about the film's tonal balance. "I wanted it to be really fun and to be really exhilarating. So I wanted it to be both [action-packed and emotional], but I wanted it to be raw and [have] those things seamlessly mesh together."

But what about Natasha herself? How does her character's role in this standalone outing differ from the parts she's played in the MCU projects that have come before? "She's always been a part of a greater whole," remarks Johansson, describing Natasha's mindset this time around. "And then suddenly she finds herself off her game. She realizes that she's got all this possibility in front of her, and then she's blindsided by this person from her past who [has] got this crazy energy and is dangerous and full of life."

"From the get-go, it was very obvious that [Natasha and Yelena] have this connection and they have this relationship," adds Pugh, whose character debuts in Black Widow and can next be seen in Marvel's Hawkeye series for Disney Plus. "And with Scarlett being as giving as she was, I really found it such a wonderful and creative space to have fun. These two have so much fun together, amongst all of the pain they've shared."

"It was wonderful to tell a story with three complicated, strong women," observes Weisz, speaking about her character, Melina, and her experience making the movie. "Shooting that scene where the family gets back together in Russia after twenty years was completely delightful. And I had to steel myself most days to stop laughing at David Harbour, because he's one of the most eccentric, original, funny people on this planet."

Luckily, Harbour has no problem playing the film's comic relief. "The funny thing about [Alexei] is that the humor of his character [comes from the fact that] he is filled with grief and remorse about the choices that he's made," adds the Stranger Things and Hellboy actor. "In other words, he has to be so bombastic because he can't stop and feel these things. So he has to build around him a world of psychotic reality. And that’s inherently funny."

As for what makes her character so special? "Natasha has a lot of integrity," notes Johansson. "She is a big character, and she's not afraid to admit when she's wrong. She's endearing that way. And she's curious about herself and curious about other people. And I think it makes her stand out."

Black Widow will be released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9th.

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