Back in September of 2019, ComicBook.com jetted off to London to visit the set of Marvel’s. At the time, the movie was set to launch Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, speeding to a release in the following May. As the story goes, 2020 would not allow to hit theaters at any point. Several delays later, the movie is ready to hit theaters and the Disney+ streaming service simultaneously on July 9. Ahead of its release, though, we have insights from the set we can share. This starts with interviews hearing from two of the film’s stars: and . Both actresses sat down with members of the press on the film’s set (costumed in their respective editions of Black Widow costumes!) to talk about the movie, sharing the few details they can.
In the article below (and video above), we run through eight secrets we learned on the set of Black Widow from talking with Johansson and Pugh. In the coming weeks, you will hear much more about our day on the Marvel film’s set, with interviews from other cast and crew members and some of our observations! It makes sense to start with these two, as the relationship between their Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova will be at the heart of the movie.
“It’s a relationship that is grounded in a shared experience and a knowingness and a sisterhood, and with that comes many complicated feelings, of course,” Johansson explained. “Not all good fuzzy ones, but visceral, real grounded ones. It’s a very special relationship. I think it will be very touching for a lot of people.”
What sort of secrets will you find below? The first movie in Phase 4 won’t pay much mind to the Avengers, for exampe. This one is focused on telling the story of these women and the world in which they have been operating. “I don’t know what Yelena thinks about [the Avengers],” Pugh said. “It hasn’t really been focused on that story. It’s more been about our family and where we came from and how we are broken and how we fix it. I’m sure there’s room for all of that somewhere.”
Continue reading below to hear from the cast of !
Dropping New Insight
Scarlett Johansson added a bit of insight about Natasha’s Vormir leap in Avengers: Endgame. By the sound of it, Black Widow is going to shed some light on why Natasha took the fall, and Johansson says, “Her sacrifice was a truly altruistic offering.
“In some weird, messed up, backwards way, if any person could be truly altruistic and totally weird, because nobody is obviously, but actually the act that she… Her sacrifice was a truly altruistic offering,” Johansson said of Natasha’s decision to earn the Soul Stone for the Avengers and spare Clint Barton’s life. “I think she really sacrifices herself, in a way, no just really out of love, for love, she saves her friend. She saves everyone, but she saves her friend. And I think that just being in that kind of head space and being able to make that decision, that selfless decision, that selfless act, is so incredibly powerful. It’s amazing that she could be in that head space to do that.”
This will lead to Black Widow showing more sides of Natasha, likely shedding new light on the sacrifice. “It’s been an interesting evolution, and it’s been interesting to discover it with each director that I’ve worked with and what they see, what they’re interested in and what side they want to uncover,” Johansson said. “And with Cate [Shortland], it’s been so liberating because she’s not afraid of any of the ugliness, or what is perceived to be ugliness, the embarrassing, uncomfortable parts, the soft underbelly, all that. That’s what she wants to make movies about, so it’s been… I hope that in this, you see Natasha in her real, true strength in this film, more than ever before, and that Cate will bring that out, too.”
Black Widow is set following the events of Captain America: Civil War. She has recently betrayed Team Iron Man and has not yet reunited with Captain America as seen in Avengers: Infinity War. She is very much on the run and without any friends to fall back on. Johansson says this is the first time Natasha could just disappear into the ether and nothing would happen – so Scarlett nor Kevin Feige wanted to make an origin story but they wanted to show this small, gritty, spy-driven world where the Avengers don’t ever operate to give us a look at Nat’s life, world, and “gray moral compass” as Johansson called it.
“Post-Civil War felt like a good time to start. We never intended on doing an origin story,” Johansson says. “I never wanted to do an origin story because I just didn’t want to go back, back. I wanted to move forward, even though we are going back, but it all makes sense when you see it. It felt like a good time because Natasha, she has always been, she’s always worked for someone. She’s always been a part of some operation. She’s always had some safety net. Not necessarily, I don’t know if safety net is the best way to put it, but she’s always been an operative, and she’s actually never really had to, for better or worse, make any decisions for herself.”
“All the pieces are everywhere, and how do we connect everything back together? And then at the end of this film… When you find her in the beginning of the film, she’s just broken. And by the end of the film, the goal is to put her back together, but different than before,” Johansson expained. “Kevin [Feige] and I and Brad [Winderbaum], we were all, at the very beginning of this, we agreed, and it was clear that that was the best place to start in the timeline. It gave us a lot of grit and every possibility. And we always, we said that if the Avengers were like above and all the villainous characters were below, and there was some dark underground thing, even if it was Leviathan or whatever, all that stuff was below that Natasha, the most interesting thing about that character is that she can go between the two worlds and seamlessly. And her allegiance is not always so clear. She doesn’t operate with the same moral compass. And that that would be, that gray area was a cool place to live. Yes, that’s where we are.”
Yelena Belova doesn’t think about the Avengers. According to Florence Pugh, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are not at the top of her mind, or at least in this movie she doesn’t, as the actress says this one is going to focus much more on Yelena and Natasha’s relationship. “I don’t know what Yelena thinks about [the Avengers],” Pugh says. “It hasn’t really been focused on that story. It’s more been about our family and where we came from and how we are broken and how we fix it. I’m sure there’s room for all of that somewhere.”
The character seems to be a very straight shooter, with the super heroics of others not being of concern. “What I like about Yelena is that we’ve created, even in terms of the costumes, that there is no messing, there’s no bells and whistles with her, she gets the job done,” Pugh said. “And whether that’s fighting someone or verbally abusing someone, it’s all pretty straightforward and pretty bolshie, and I’ve loved playing her. She’s ready to fight, whether it’s argument or physical, there’s no stopping her.”
The Same Vest
As it turns out, Pugh’s Yelena Belova is indeed wearing the same green vest which we saw Natasha Romanoff wear in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s a worrying detail for those fans hoping to see Yelena survive the movie (though, the rumormight calm those nerves).
“Well it actually is an important thing. It seems very superficial, but it actually is very unique, it’s a very meaningful thing,” Johansson told reporters on the film’s UK set. “That’s totally a Kevin Feige thing. He loves all of that backstory stuff and things that connect characters to one another.”
As the story goes, Johansson’s Natasha will somehow get that green vest and wear it to battle Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. She also changes her hair color to blonde some time between the start of Black Widow and the start of Avengers: Infinity War, matching that of Pugh’s Yelena character.
“When we designed [the vest] then, it was really just a different look for the character, but it’s fun how Kevin’s mind works in this – he’s like an imagineer in that way, where he thinks of all the little hidden things that people will give, things that are seemingly innocuous, some heart,” Johansson explained. “It’s an heirloom, it becomes an heirloom in this unexpected, funny way.”
Sisterhood of the Traveling Spies
Florence Pugh says Yelena and Nat’s relationship is a “confusing, bratty, emotional sister relationship.”
“What’s my relationship with Nat? Confusing, bratty, emotional sister relationship. Exactly what you’d expect a younger sister to be like,” Pugh said. “Yelena is deeply annoying and pretty much takes the life out of everything Natasha does, but fundamentally they have a very unique and strong relationship that drives them through the film.”
From Johansson’s perspective, Nat and Yelena have, “a relationship that is grounded in a shared experience and a knowingness and a sisterhood, and with that comes many complicated feelings, of course. Not all good fuzzy ones, but visceral, real grounded ones.” She adds that the have some shared trauma, and this relationship is not only a part of Nat’s redemption arc, but also will show us more of her compassionate side that we’ve only seen glimpses of so far.
“I have a lot of, I don’t know, empathy for that relationship and for both of those characters’ history and trauma,” she explained. “That shared history, as dark as it is, is what brings them together, and there’s a lot of love between them. But their relationship is also contentious and everything else that comes with that kind of sisterly relationship, I guess.
“I think Natasha has a lot of compassion, and that’s not necessarily a trade I would have, when we were making Iron Man 2 or Avengers or whatever, I necessarily would have… You’ve seen glimpses of it, and it’s developed as we’ve been able to bring the character to the forefront in different installments, but she’s a very compassionate person and that compassion is actually what drives a lot of her decision making. She’s also practical and pragmatic, but I don’t think those two things necessarily have to work against one another. And that part of her is what really touches me.”
The Widow Maker
The Marvel Cinematic Universe merely scratched the surface on the abusive Black Widow program and its Red Room. The concept was shown briefly in Avengers: Age of Ultron but Black Widow will dive into the issue in a much deeper manner. Both Natasha and Yelena went through the program, each coming out of it differently but with a shared trauma.
“I think this is a good question,” Pugh said when asked Yelena’s thoughts on the Black Widow program. “I think that one of the heartbreaks about this film is that it is essentially about women that have been abused, whether it’s about system or whether it’s about physical abuse. They’ve all been in some way trapped, and I think this film is the realization of the life that was taken from them. And that’s how Natasha and Yelena start repairing, I suppose. So I don’t think she’s too happy about [the Black Widow program]. Then again, it’s the only thing she’s known, so I don’t know.”
For Natasha, everything is off the table except, possibly, the family from that program. “She’s made decisions, but she’s part of this greater whole, and whether it was the Red Room or Shield or the Avengers, she’s had this kind of family, for better or worse,” Johansson said. “And then after Civil War, it’s all gone. Everything is gone, and she’s, for the first time ever, really just on her own.”
Worth the Wait
Scarlett Johansson is glad this movie took so long to get made in the sense that a change in cultural perspective of female characters has paved the way for the character to have more story to tell than moments like Iron Man 2’s sequence where Tony Stark looks to Natasha and says, “I want one.” She believes the character will be taken more seriously and she believes that’s exactly what the audience wants, now.
“It definitely has changed,” Johansson said, before pointing out how her life has also changed since she joined the MCU. “I’ll be 35 years old, and I’m a mom, and my life is different. Obviously, 10 years have passed and so much has happened. I have a much different, more evolved understanding of myself as a woman. I’m in a different place in my life, and I feel more forgiving of myself as a woman, sometimes probably not enough, but I’m more accepting of myself. And all of that is related to that move away from the hyper-sexualization of this character. You look back at Iron Man 2, and while it was really fun and had a lot of great moments in it, the character is so sexualized, really talked about like she’s a piece of something, like a possession or whatever…
“And I think Tony even says something like that, along those lines. What’d he say? ‘I want [one].’ Yeah, ‘I want [one].’ And it’s like, I’ll say piece of meat, so it’s more palatable. But maybe at that time, maybe that actually felt like a compliment. You know what I mean? Because my thinking was different. My own self-worth was probably measured against that type of comment, like a lot of younger women would probably feel. And then you come into your own, and you understand your own self-worth. Now, it’s changing now. I think a lot of young girls are getting a much more positive message. But it’s been incredible to be a part of that shift and be able to come out the other side and not just be a part of that old story but actually progress, evolve. It’s pretty cool.”