During a press conference for the new Disney+ series, co-stars Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, along with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, talked about the desire to dig deeper into Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, what they’ve learned about their characters, exploring PTSD and grief, how the intensity of the stunt work in the TV show compares to the films, the monumental shift in the superhero universe that was caused by Avengers: Endgame, and whether there could be a second season.
QUESTION: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the second Disney+ TV series from Marvel Studios. Kevin, how does the streaming platform expand the storytelling bandwidth for you and why did it make sense for this particular project?
KEVIN FEIGE: This is the second one that is coming out on Disney+ but as everybody knows, it was the first one that we started. It has ended up working out very well because it was really meant to prove, to ourselves and to the audience, that just because it’s on TV, it doesn’t mean it’s not gonna be as big as it possibly could be, as a movie. We’re working just as hard on it and putting all of our blood, sweat, and tears into it, which is why the first episode really starts off with a bang. We kept saying, “If we’re gonna do a series with Falcon and Winter Soldier in it, we need to at least start off with the best action that we’ve ever seen,” and we’ve seen a lot of cool action with both of them before. More importantly, as you’ll see in the first episode and will see much more of over the course of the series, you’ll also learn who the heck they are. We know a little bit about poor Bucky Barnes and what he’s been through. With Sam Wilson, other than that he likes the job and is an inherently moral man, and had been in the service and worked with PTSD, we don’t know much about him. It was really an opportunity to go deep.
Anthony and Sebastian, what surprised you in what you’ve gotten to learn about your characters through this TV series?
ANTHONY MACKIE: It’s always a surprise when the minds get together and information trickles down to you. When I first read the script, I was really happy that it acknowledged the fact that he’s from Louisiana specifically, because that’s the best state in the union and New Orleans is the best city in the world. I had one request that, if he was from Louisiana, I had to eat crawfish on-camera and I don’t know who said no, but somebody said no. I don’t know if it was because they were out of season, but it was too much to get crawfish for Marvel. But no, it was great. The idea of Sam Wilson, he’s always evolved in the world of the Marvel comic books, and now he’s evolved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When Sam Wilson first started out, he was a hustler from Harlem. And then, as African-American culture evolved, Stan Lee evolved him in the comic book into different incarnations of himself. I’m excited for everyone to see the new and improved Sam Wilson.
SEBASTIAN STAN: I always learn something about myself from this character. I’ve spent ten years with him, so it’s impossible not to grow and evolve with the character. I was pretty freaked out because I felt like we had established the character a certain way and there were certain things about him that I knew and was very comfortable and familiar with, tonally, in the movies. And then, we went into this and like, “All right, what is he like now?” Part of that was really us homing in on his sense of humor. That really came into the tone of the series, particularly with his dynamic with Sam Wilson, along with my own dynamic with Anthony and just marrying the two. The character that we’ve been introduced to so far, for all of these movies, and then also where is he now, was scary and exciting. [Head writer] Malcolm [Spellman] really honed in on that and his quest for identity, in terms of really accepting his past and re-educating himself about the world that he’s currently in and the ideals and principles he might’ve lived by and been driven by, at one point, and how that no longer really serves him the same way. It’s really an interesting trajectory when we start out the show, and that’s always exciting for an actor.
How is it to explore your characters in a more in-depth way, digging into PTSD and grief?
MACKIE: The idea of Sam Wilson, and the character and the evolution of what’s now known as The Falcon, to be able to go back and dive into his backstory and his family and his surroundings, only betters the character for the audience. We’re in a place now where we want the audience to know and learn about these new characters. Especially since Kevin finally killed Iron Man, we have to put ourselves in the position to introduce these new characters to the audience and give them that relationship. That history that they’ve built over 10 years, we now have six episodes to play catch-up, post-blip, so it’s always great to learn more and give more about your character and have it not feel like heavy exposition. You want it to feel like a good cinematic experience.
STAN: Yeah. On the subject of PTSD, the experience that they both share, as soldiers and as men who have served, is one of the things that brings them together. There’s a bit of an honor code between them. Even though they have different ideas or opinions about things, there’s a mutual respect, which Anthony’s already touched upon. As everybody knows, PTSD is not something that you’re just done with. It’s really something that one has to continue to grow with and to become better at dealing with, so it’s a major part of our show and it grounds both of these characters, in very realistic ways.
How do you approach making the dynamic between your characters work so well?
MACKIE: The great thing about and what I enjoy so much is that you can’t find two people further opposite from each other than Sebastian and I, but there’s a mutual respect, understanding and appreciation of the other person. We listen, learn and teach each other a great deal. “Friends” isn’t a term that either of us use lightly and, because of that, as Mr. T would say, “There’s no jibber-jabber.” We allow ourselves to be our best selves, and we correct ourselves when we’re not our best selves. That’s our relationship. We allow ourselves to be ourselves.
STAN: Yeah, [Anthony] said it best. I believe that you’re always better because of the people you surround yourself with. Particularly in acting, it’s always about the people that bring out things in you. In this particular situation, the tone was really important and we were trying to find that very fine line of making sure these characters are grounded, real and deal with very serious issues. And then, the other piece to this is having fun and connecting. I actually always turn to Anthony for guidance in that, so it works out.
Steve Rogers didn’t know if he was the right guy to be Captain America, and Sam doesn’t know if he’s the right guy to carry the shield. Anthony, why doesn’t Sam know if he’s earned it just yet?
MACKIE: Sam’s whole thing is that he went on this Avengers journey, over six movies, because of his respect and admiration for Steve. When Captain America shows up at your door, you answer it. That being said, it’s the pain of the idea of not being able to go on these missions and not being able to help his friend. There are still people out there that really appreciate camaraderie and friendship, and Sam is one of those people. He enjoys his friend. You don’t wanna see Steve Rogers go away. You don’t wanna see Captain America go away. Just like Captain America was your Cap, Captain America was Sam Wilson’s Cap. That’s why he says, at the end of Endgame when he’s holding the shield, that it feels like someone else’s. He was a fan, just like everyone else. Sam Wilson, in all intents and purposes, is a regular guy that just won the lottery because Black Widow knocked on his door and needed a place to hide. He fell in love and was hoping to have a spin off with Black Widow.
How has Sam and Bucky’s love-hate bromance changed since Steve’s retirement?
STAN: I don’t think it has changed. It’s only gone further in its divide. They’re actually in some similar places, at the start of the show, because Steve’s missing and there are consequences of that. It’s thrown them both into almost opposite corners, in terms of facing their lives, their demons, and their questions. They’ve got different things that they’re facing, but they’re definitely in a similar place, in terms of questions they’re asking.
Sebastian and Anthony, how did the intensity of the stunt work in this compare to the films?
STAN: It was pretty on par with the films, I felt. It’s actually even more evolved and intense. For Falcon, it feels like the action really intensified in a lot of ways, and for Bucky as well. We’re always finding new ways to have them evolve with their action sequences, but it’s tonally the same as the movies.
MACKIE: The great thing about what we were able to do was make sure that nothing was jeopardized or watered down. The same stunt guys we worked with on the films are the same guys who choreographed and did all of our stunts on the show. Because of that, the stunts are really amazing. Taking the idea of weaponry away, it’s more hand to hand combat, more physical, and more assertive. It’s more of us utilizing our strengths instead of something else. Because of that, the stunt guys had a field day. Wyatt [Russell], Sebastian, and myself did a lot of stunt training, so that some of the stuff you see is us, but we had amazing stuntmen to go in and kick ass for us.
After WandaVision, we can see that Marvel excels at giving fans what they need, not necessarily what they want. Kevin, when you’re at the drawing board, how do you strike that creative balance between characters you’re gonna introduce and what stories you’re about to tell?
FEIGE: It’s taking advantage of the different storytelling medium that we have with Disney+ and what excites us in the room. We’re all fans within Marvel Studios, so it’s the same balance that we’ve been trying to strike for the last 10+ years and figuring out how to exceed expectations, but also how to subvert expectations. We’ve never thought of it in terms of what people want versus what they need. It’s just, how do you provide the best, most engaged level of storytelling to the audience? Sometimes that’s subverting what they expect. There are times where something comes up totally out of left field that even we weren’t anticipating and it turns into a whole thing that was new to us. Other than that, we’re usually quite in sync with what people are expecting, and either delivering on that or surprising and subverting that.
Do you feel that the success of WandaVision has made Marvel more committed to the Disney+ streaming model than when the platform originally debuted?
FEIGE: We were pretty committed even before that. We’re in the works on 10+ series and have been for a number of years now. It’s just another marker of us staying the course and the fans being willing to go with us to new and unexpected places, which is what excited us about the opportunity to do series on Disney+. It was a nice boost of confidence that we can continue down that path we started a few years ago.
Between WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, showing the emotional trauma of all of the main characters seems like a recurring theme. Is that something we can expect more of throughout Phase 4?
FEIGE: Definitely. You feel it more because we have more time with the Disney+ series, but I think that’s something we’ve always tried to do. Iron Man 3 was all about Tony Stark’s PTSD from Avengers, essentially. It’s always about exploring. What’s great about the Marvel characters is their flaws. For as crazy and extraordinary and science fiction and fantasy and supernatural as the MCU can get, it’s grounded in the character experiences and the emotions of the characters. That’s always, by far, the most important anchor for any story we’re gonna tell. And there has been a lot of trauma for these characters over the years. You can easily forget that or brush that under the carpet because there are sparkly portals opening and people cheering. But if you think about it, there are horrific elements that would have repercussions years down the line, and that’s very fun to explore.
Will The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have a significant impact on the MCU, or is it going to stay contained to Bucky and Sam?
FEIGE: The characters of Bucky and Sam are essential to the MCU, and as they change and evolve in whatever they go through, it could and should have a big impact on the MCU. It’s hard to navigate every fan theory that’s gonna pop up. Not everything is world shattering, to the point of bringing in some giant element of the comics that’s never been in before, or smashing the earth in two and creating two planets. There can be character shifts that have massive implications for the stories that we’re telling in the future. So, it will be a combination. And the end of the show does split the earth in two, I forgot, so don’t print that. That’s a spoiler. Not really.
Will organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and S.W.O.R.D. still be a part of the MCU?
FEIGE: You can always look to the comics. We always take our lead from what has happened before, and those organizations come and go in various forms over the years, so they always could. There are new organizations, like S.W.O.R.D., that you saw in WandaVision. There’s always an inherent need for certain above-board or shadow organizations in the MCU.
With Captain America gone, what responsibility do Sam and Bucky feel leading future heroes?
MACKIE: Endgame was a monumental shift of the superhero universe. The scope and idea of that film is something larger than anyone imagined. We didn’t wanna be the first crappy Marvel project. Our job was to take the torch and not make a bad show. I’m very happy to say that Steve Rogers would be proud that our show does not suck and we are not the first crappy Marvel project. The next show has a problem because if it’s bad, they’re gonna be the first crappy Marvel project in 20 years.
STAN: So what you saying about Loki?
MACKIE: I don’t know. I’m just saying.
STAN: Exploring that question is very much built into the arc of both of these characters and where they are, at the top of the show. Actually answering that and exploring that is very much their journey throughout the show. What do I have to contribute? That guy did this, so what is my legacy gonna be? Do I even want that? There are all of these pieces to it that are interesting rather than just coming out of the gate and saying, “I’ve got all of the answers.”
FEIGE: We never would have attempted this or tried this or had been excited to bring a series to Disney+, if we didn’t have unbelievable actors like Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan playing these characters and being able to bring them to life and know that we can pile six hours on and it will work, and they could go further. Malcolm and [director] Kari [Skogland] are bringing them to life in ways that are above and beyond. Everyone is making this show what it is, which as Anthony rightly says, doesn’t suck.
Anthony and Sebastian, you two are veterans in the MCU, having shared time with so many different heroes. With so many new heroes being introduced in Phase 4, like Miss Marvel, She Hulk and Moon Knight, which new characters are you most excited to see and potentially even share screen time with?
STAN: One character that sounds really, really, really cool to me is the character that Oscar Isaac is gonna play, Moon Knight. Moon Knight is the one that I heard that story and was like, “That’s gonna be amazing,” so that’s my vote.
MACKIE: I would have to say that She Hulk is an interesting character that I’m looking forward to seeing. But I would really like to spend some time in Blade world.
Kevin, is there a possibility that there could be more seasons of this show?
FEIGE: It’s a funny question and it’s one that we, obviously, get asked much more in television because people expect it to be what people know before. They’re like, “Where’s Season 2?” We really did approach it like we do the movies, which is that we better make this great, or we won’t be able to do another one. If we were able to do another one, there are certainly ideas. The slight difference is, and you’ve heard me say and it became clear with WandaVision, that they really will go back and forth between Disney+ series and the Marvel Studios features. Where characters show up and how will sometimes be in a direct Season 2 and will sometimes be in a feature and then into an additional season. We’re just not gonna say who does what right this second.
The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now available to stream at Disney+.
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