The Captain's Table - Tales from the CIVIL WAR Press Launch

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

You might not be aware – although we think it’s highly unlikely – that there’s a new Marvel movie in town. The incendiary Captain America: Civil War is about to explode onto the nation’s multiplexes and superhero cinema may never be quite the same again. The film’s directors Joe and Anthony Russo and a selection of key cast members – Chris Evans (Steve Rogers, Captain America), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson, The Falcon), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang, Ant Man), Paul Bettany (The Vision), Elisabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton, Hawkeye), and  Emily VanCamp  (Sharon Carter, Agent 13) are in the UK to promote Marvel’s biggest, boldest and best comic book action movie yet. Starburst Magazine elbowed its way to the film’s London roundtable interview junket earlier this week to find out more about the movie which launches Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe...

Here are some highlights...and beware potential minor spoilers...

First up for interrogation are brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors of Captain America: Civil War, who previously helmed the Captain’s second big screen outing, 2014’s acclaimed Winter Soldier and who are already at work on the upcoming Avengers two-parter Infinity War. Joe Russo began by explaining how physically demanding working on a film of this scale can be.

Somebody asked Spielberg once if he’d give them some advice on how to shoot a big movie and his response was ‘Get yourself a trainer and start getting in shape because it’s gonna beat the Hell out of you.’ It’s very physically demanding because, especially on a movie like this, we’re shooting for five to six months, averaging 16 hours a day, sleeping about four hours a night so I think the physical demands of the job are probably the most complex.


How important was it to ensure that this was very much a Captain America movie rather than, as it has been occasionally described, Avengers 2.5?  “We use Cap as our guide through the story,” says Anthony. “We kept very focused on him as a character and all of our major turning points are based on his arc in the movie so we very much relied upon him as our story spine and the way we used the other characters in the film was how they intersected with that.

Civil War introduces some new and familiar faces to Captain America’s story as Black Panther joins the ever-growing roster of Marvel screen heroes, Ant-Man makes a reappearance following his debut in his own movie last year and Spider-Man, now played by new boy Tom Holland, spins his webs for the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  “When we were working on the movie we came up with the concept of the Civil War and it felt binary in that there were two opposing factions and that felt very predictable – of course, there’s gonna be a fight and where’s the movie gonna go from there?” says Joe Russo. “So we thought that introducing characters who didn’t have the same level of stakes in the main plot would help complicate the storytelling – which is why we put Black Panther in, he’s a free radical, he’s got a very passionate motive but it has nothing to do with what the rest of the Avengers want. Spider-Man and Ant-Man both served to help alter the tone as the movie progressed because we knew that the content would become very heavy. It’s very difficult for characters who are dealing with an emotional issue to start cracking jokes because then it makes it feel like the movie has no stakes and that the issue isn’t really that important so we had to bring in characters like Spider-Man and Ant-Man to balance out the tone and storytelling because we couldn’t use the characters who are invested in the main plotline to do that.

Unsurprisingly, the film relies heavily on CGI to bring its extraordinary visuals to the screen – especially in the key show-stopping airport slug-out sequence. “I think this movie has more CGI shots than any Marvel movie to date,” says Anthony. “We like basing things in the real world and we like grounding in a real-world texture and we look for every opportunity we can to stage things in the real world but I think where we do a lot of our work is in thinking ‘How do we make the CG look like it’s real world?’ We work very closely  with our visual FX department to really understand how exactly we move the camera when there’s an actual cameraman holding the camera in a scene, how we like the camera to respond to action. We spent a lot of time ageing and texturing in the CGI environment and we do a lot of work to make the CGI look real and that creates an impression that we do more practical shooting than we do. 95% of the backgrounds in the airport battle are CG – you obviously can’t destroy an airport and I think we probably did 25 days shooting against a green screen and maybe 2 -3 days at an actual airport.

Joe Russo points out how much freedom they have in working in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and describes the creative process involved in bringing a film like Civil War to the screen. “The great thing about Marvel is that they really just hand us the sandbox and we’re almost like our own sub-studio with Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely (writers) and they let us do our own thing which is fantastic  which is why we’re doing four movies with them. It’s all predicated upon storytelling so Ant and I sit in a room with Markus and McFeely for a couple of months and producer Nate Moore from Marvel, and we talk about what story we want to happen next and what themes we want in the film, what we want to say to audiences, where we want to see the characters go and it slowly evolves into a conversation about Civil War. Once we started talking about Civil War it evolved into a conversation about which characters would be involved and then Kevin Feige [President of Marvel Studios] pops his head in the room and we say ‘Can we get Spider-Man?’, so really that’s how it starts.

But what is it about Captain America which brings the Russo brothers back to continue his screen adventures? “Captain America goes on a journey and that’s why we were interested in doing a third film,” says Joe Russo. “In these three movies he goes from being a patriot to an insurgent. I think it’s compelling to look at a character named Captain America who travels that distance - and really what does it mean that he’s called Captain America? Is it a title? What is his core identity? Is he Captain America anymore after this movie, after having made a choice for himself? The movie puts him in position where he has to make an emotional and individual choice; he’s always the guy who serves the greater good so we thought it would be compelling to watch that guy put into a position where he had to make an individual choice over the greater good. He did learn in Winter Soldier that he can’t trust power structures and that’s another thing we thought might be compelling, if he and Tony Stark  switched places so Cap is questioning power structures as a guy who grew up under the chain of command and Tony who told the Government to ‘screw off’ in Iron Man 2 is now in a position, having felt great guilt about the events of Ultron which were all his fault, to be ready for compromise and to be managed because he can’t trust his own personality.


STARBURST was keen to find out more about the thinking behind the film’s climax which doesn’t go quite where audiences might expect from the genre. “That was almost our strongest motivation for doing this story,” enthuses Anthony. “Throughout our careers we’ve been very much into subverting genre expectations, we play with that a lot in our work and we like to manipulate what your expectations are with genre and find ways to twist and turn that in unexpected ways. So for us, we felt like the superhero genre had matured to the point now where you have the expectation of superhero defeating villain in act three and that’s the big climax. The idea of telling a superhero movie where the story became very personal between two friends at the end in the most complex and disturbing way was very exciting to us and that we could trick the audience into thinking that they’re headed towards what they expect an act three in a superhero movie seemed exciting on a storytelling level.

Next up for the Russo Brothers, of course, is the two-part Avengers epic Infinity War – and work is already underway. “We wrapped Civil War back in the Fall,” says Joe Russo, “and I would say by September, we’d moved into the edit room and we’d spend half our days in a room editing and half our days in a room with Marcus and McFeely and we spent many months like that, developing the story and they’ve been off writing drafts now for the last couple of months and we’re about to get our first draft from them in a few days which we’re excited about.

Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen take to the hot seats to share some of their experiences from the set of Civil War. Elizabeth Olsen told STARBURST where we find her character Scarlet Witch as the film opens.  SPOILER ALERT! “The first moment of the film is Scarlet Witch being part of the team and she’s now not on her own. She’s still in a situation which is different from the others but she’s now part of this team and she’s probably been dealing with a lot of mourning and trying to figure out what her role is in the world and she’s sort of repurposing herself for the first time. But she ends up making a huge mistake but also saves someone’s life whilst doing it which was a very important thing to do and she’s trying to figure out when and how to use her abilities and she’s scared of herself and unaware. But it’s a nice journey to have in this movie.

We asked Jeremy if it’s still a challenge working in a film which involves so much CGI in its storytelling. “I don’t think so at this stage. They have this thing called pre-viz now where we get to see an animated version of what it looks like so we don’t have to completely make it up in our heads so we usually get some sort of visual reference even if it’s just a tennis ball! I remember in the first Avengers film Joss said ‘There’s this big wormy thing flying in the air and all these guys are flying out of it and you shoot arrows at them’ and I was like ‘What?? A worm?’ and he said ‘Yeah, there’s a worm up there and there are aliens coming out of it and you shoot them!’ and I just had no real visual reference for that! Elizabeth agreed that she’s becoming more accustomed to the process of working in a high-FX movie. “I was overwhelmed by the first film but it’s so nice coming back and understanding more how things work and what they end up looking like, especially what I do which involves no contact and it’s all in my head. I felt like such an idiot in the first one because I didn’t know what it was going to look like with the special effects but now I have an idea of how the costume is, certain movements which make the costume look cooler so it’s fun.

Both actors are full of praise for the Russo brothers. “I just think they’re good directors and they care about character and story and you have to earn these sequences if you’re going to be invested and audiences have to care and they can only care if they’re connected to the stories and the characters and I think they do a great job with that,” says Elizabeth. Jeremy is happy to carry on wielding Hawkeye’s bow-and-arrow and isn’t too bothered about being given his moment to shine in the movies. “Who needs to shine when you’ve got the Russo Brothers writing for you? They don’t put you in the movie unless you’re needed or critical to some point. We’re both cameos in the movie but there’s some critical moment that requires us to be in it, they don’t just put Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch in for the sake of it.


Chris Evans and Paul Rudd – both extremely bushy of beard – are enthusiastic about both Civil War and their characters. Chris was asked about his initial reaction to the scale of the film’s massively-populated script. “We’d talked about it during the filming of Age of Ultron where Kevin Feige said  ‘We’re gonna to do this and it all depends on whether we can get Downey’ and then it was just exciting to think that this could actually work and if anyone can pull it off it’s Marvel, they seem to have this winning formula. I don’t know how they do it. You think it’s like this plot machine with an algorithm that just spits out good movies with the way Marvel seem to make everything they do work. It’s never about whether it’s good or bad, it’s just a matter of how good. It really is just a few guys in a room cranking out ideas and making it come to life so with this one my expectations were pretty high and they met them all.

Civil War sees the ranks of the Avengers split in half when the Government decides their activities need to be reigned in with Tony Stark agreeing to the initiative but Steve convinced that enhanced humans should be allowed free movement. We asked Chris why Steve is so determined to remain independent. “Well he’s thinking with his heart, he’s coming off seeing the Government fail,” he tells us. “He’s always been the company man, he believes in the hierarchy, he’s a military-minded guy and he’s coming off two films where he’s seen the powers-that-be, even at the highest level, become corrupt so he’s thinking that the safest hands are his own and then when you add into the mix the fact that the team he’s at odds with wants to capture a piece of his past then I think it’s the spark that lights the fire.

It’s no secret that Scott Lang’s Ant-Man is recruited – briefly – to the ranks when battle is joined. But why is he fighting for Team Captain America rather than Team Iron Man? “It makes sense for me to be on Cap’s team because the only one who even knows I exist is Falcon so that’s how I’m brought into it,” explains Paul Rudd. “But nothing’s black and white. I think these are great movies because they focus on character more than anything and all the fights and CGI and everything else really enhance very human stories because at the end of the day that’s what everyone is really interested in but they treat them really well and in a story like this I understand both sides of the argument. I think that when you’re working on something it’s important to take a step out of it and say ‘What would happen in real life, even in something as fantastical as this, what would the reaction be of each person and how would they deal with the situation?’ I feel this is a reflection of how people would react in real life in this situation.

Chris talks of the huge commitment involved in making movies for the Marvel Cinematic universe – and how long he might be sticking around for. “It felt like a huge commitment at the beginning and one of my initial apprehensions was that it was a daunting and overwhelming responsibility but it feels as if we were doing our first movie yesterday and it’s really flown by and in no way do I feel that it’s limited or restricted any other creative endeavours I’ve wanted to do. I have two more Avengers movies to do – 3 and 4 – and after that I’m a free man. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m in chains, I just mean I’m no longer under contract! If this is a prison it’s the best one I’ve ever been in. I love doing these movies and would probably keep on doing them if they’ll have me!

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan take over for an unruly and hilarious roundtable chat – much of which is unrepeatable, much less unprintable. Anthony explains some of the practical difficulties of playing the Falcon on screen. “Flying isn’t difficult – the hard part is landing because there’s nothing in our life that prepares us to land so you have to figure it out over and over and over again. I’m dope at the wire work now. The first three movies it was problematic, I had to eat a lot of dirt but I made it.

Sebastian Stan tells STARBURST that he had no idea what was to be in store for his character when he made his debut appearance in Captain America: First Avenger. “They didn’t know where it was going to lead. Kevin always used to tell me things but it never sounded as if they were sure and they weren’t. It was only a few years ago - around 2009-10 - that he was thinking how great it would be to have all these characters fighting so they’re learning about what they want to do as they go along. But for us it’s like Christmas; you know something’s coming and you just have to wait.

Anthony admits he knew nothing about the Falcon – or, indeed, comic books – from his childhood. “I didn’t grow up reading comic books at all,” he says. “I read Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, I collected baseball cards, I was a sports kid, I used to beat up the comic kids! Once I got cast I went back and read all the comic books and read all the Falcon history and got up to speed on where we were in the Universe. The character’s evolved as our Universe has changed; it really makes you feel good. We all know how lucky we are to be in the MCU and that’s why there are no egos, nobody running around saying they can’t wait to be out of the MCU or ‘I’m only doing one more movie!’ and all that stuff. We know how lucky we are and we’re all enjoying it.

Anthony and Sebastian both clearly enjoy working for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and are huge fans of the company’s work ethic. “They make good movies and people appreciate them and they come and see them,” says Anthony. “People like Marvel movies because they’re about characters, story and exposition – it’s not about blowing shit up although we happen to blow shit up really well. But it’s all about the characters, we’re all invested in these characters and we all have one character that we look up to and identify with and I think that’s 100% because of Marcus and McFeely and their writing and the Russos and their ability to make these characters real and human.” Says Sebastian: “We feel good going to set, we feel like we’ve been embraced in that if we suggest something they’ll go ‘Okay, that’s good, let’s do it and see where it goes’; they trust us at this point so just to have that freedom is really nice. They’re gaining ideas from us as we go along and they’re writing for us.

Finally, it’s the turn of Paul Bettany and Emily VanCamp to tell us about the practicalities of playing Vision and Sharon Carter/Agent 13 – which for Paul, involves the rigours of becoming the most outlandish and inhuman of all the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. STARBURST asked him how difficult it is to get to grips with the reality of such an extreme character. “Well, I am a human so I guess this guy is trying to become more human and the bit that I have to focus on is trying to sound really clever which is tricky for me - I left school at sixteen but my English accent has helped me significantly  in fooling people into thinking I have some sort of further education. Frankly, the costume really helps; not in the way you might think but in that it is so claustrophobic, there’s a balaclava basically glued to my head so I can’t hear properly, they put a cooling vest into the costume which pumps cold water around you to keep you calm. The first day’s okay, the second day is okay, the third day you’re getting a little bit like ‘Woah” and the fourth day you put your head down on the pillow to go to sleep and you wake up and there’s a second where you go ‘I can’t believe it, I’ve got to go back into the suit!’ So what you discover is that you get to this really zen place where you focus on the thousands of actors that would kill to be in this position and how lucky and fortunate you are but staying really calm and really focussed and zen about the whole experience which has led to this rather serene being you see on screen. I think I tripped over an obstacle and fell into the character really! It’s all about balance. You’re being handsomely paid to be uncomfortable and I can think of a myriad ways for me to get underpaid and be uncomfortable so I’m not complaining but it really helps with the character because it part of the job is not ripping the thing off your face!

Not surprisingly, Emily VanCamp isn’t too disappointed to playing Sharon Carter/Agent 13 as a normal human being unencumbered by prosthetics and heavy costuming. “I did not envy these guys,” she tells us, “especially as it’s very hot in Atlanta where we were filming. It was pretty fascinating to watch them operate. I remember the first day I got there Chris came into my trailer to say ‘hi’ and he was drenched, in the whole Captain America costume and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so happy to be in human clothes!’ She’s also not fazed by playing a more down-to-earth character. “I kind of really appreciate that about her, she’s super-tough. She’s definitely, especially in this film, off doing her own thing, she has her own agenda. It’ll be interesting to see if she does continue in the Universe what that means. Black Widow doesn’t have any superpowers and she’s constantly kicking ass and doing a really good job of it too so I’m sort of fine with it, she just uses her female power I guess! I’d done a lot of training for Revenge [US TV soap/drama series, 2011-2015], so I was partway there; I was doing a lot of physical stuff and technical fighting but I think when you’re entering into this Universe you want to show up feeling very strong and very prepared and you want to keep up because everyone is bringing their ‘A’ Game, so I started training right before I finished Revenge and before I started shooting the movie.

Despite the tribulations of playing Vision, Paul’s ready for the upcoming Infinity Wars project. “I’m looking forward to Infinity Wars. The Russo Brothers are involved so that’s really exciting, it’s going to be great and I really don’t know how they do it. That’s the interesting thing, it’s not just the effects it’s the ideas which are huge so I’m really excited about what’s still to come.

Captain America: Civil War is in cinemas from Friday, April 29th.

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