Daniel Brühl's Helmut Zemo made quite the first impression -- in Captain America: Civil War, he turned Captain America and Iron Man against each other and nearly managed to take down the Avengers -- but he's even better the second time around, literally dancing his way back into the MCU.
In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's third episode, "Power Broker," Zemo is brought back into the fold when Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) bust him out of prison to help track down a rouge super soldier serum. This time, we meet Baron Zemo: The comic-accurate son of European nobility who dons a purple mask whilst doing his villainous deeds.
But about the dancing. The trio jet off to Madripoor in pursuit of a lead, finding themselves at a swanky gala party with a particularly thumping soundtrack playing. And Zemo does what Zemo is going to do: He fist bumps, about one second of now-iconic footage that has inspired Falcon and Winter Soldier's best memes yet.
Over Zoom, the newly mustached actor ("This is not a personal hipster choice," he laughs. "I started filming a movie set in the first World War, so that's what I got.") spoke with ET's Ash Crossan about improvising on the dance floor and why viewers should root for Zemo.
ET: We haven't seen Zemo in quite a bit. Did you think you would be coming back to the MCU? Or did you think Zemo's story was over?
It's always a good sign when they don't kill you, so I was always hoping for a potential return. But I didn't know anything. I didn't about any plan that they had in mind for Zemo, so it really took me by surprise when I got the call. I was in Hungary shooting another show, I talked to the director [Kari Skogland] and I think a week later, she came to Budapest with a very funky-looking suitcase where my mask was presented to me in a very ceremonial kind of way. I was totally enthusiastic about this show, because I thought not only can I revisit a character that I really liked, but also, I can do something else with it. I can wear the iconic mask. I can show his aristocratic background. There's much more humor in it, for me. I didn't have the impression that I would repeat myself.
Instead of a briefcase full of money, they came with the mask.
Yeah! And she said she had to have it on her, so it was hand luggage. Obviously, some security guys in Hungary said, "Well, can we have a look?" And so imagine a woman traveling with that purple mask. [Laughs]
Zemo made quite the reentrance, especially with your little dance move moment. Have you seen the reactions and memes yet?
It is so crazy! That was such a weird choice I made on the day. It wasn't scripted. It was improvised. I was there, I saw the crowd, I heard the beats, I thought Zemo needs to show his moves. He needs to let off some steam after sitting in a dodgy German prison for years. And every possibility to annoy Sam and Bucky is good, so I just decided to do this little dance. I was 100 percent sure that they would cut it, so I'm thrilled that they kept it in the final cut and to see the reactions, I mean. Some of my friends texted me and put on their own tunes to do the dance. It's really funny.
I want to party with Zemo!
And you should!
He's done a lot of very bad things, but audiences are really starting to root for him -- even over John Walker. Did you ever expect that people would be loving Zemo and hating Captain America?
It's hilarious! They should all join Team Zemo. I think it's a good choice. [Laughs] No, but what was established in Civil War already and what I loved about Kevin Feige's reinterpretation of that character was that he is not a cliché, one dimensional evil guy who just does that creepy stuff for no reason. He does it out of a very human motivation. He has suffered severe loss. So, although I always disagree with Zemo's radical methods, I kind of empathize with him, knowing where he was coming from. And that ambiguity is carried on in the show, as well, so you cannot totally dislike him.
Was there anything you were surprised to learn about Zemo this time around? Like, I love that we're getting a glimpse into his rich boy life.
Well, a lot of cars and a private jet, I didn't know that before either! There was a lot of surprises when I opened these scripts. It was just a different take on this character. And again, it's fun, because it doesn't become redundant. It doesn't become boring. Also, to have that triangle, I always love these scenes between these three because they couldn't be more different. They all come from very different places, obviously, what I always liked is that underneath it all, there's a mutual understanding and almost a respect -- well, maybe not a respect but an understanding for the traumas that each of them had. They're all haunted by the demons of the past. They've all gone through a lot, have lost people very dear to them, and so this dynamic between those three, getting to know each other, becoming a boy band, was something that I really enjoyed.
There's a lot of theories about Zemo's mask -- some people think the mask is meant to look a little like Thanos -- will we get more backstory into why he wears the mask in upcoming episodes?
Well, like my character Zemo, I love being opaque and mysterious and secretive and enigmatic, and I won't tell you a thing! You will have to check it out. I couldn't and wouldn't answer that question.
Fair enough. We end on a cliffhanger in this most recent episode: Wakanda is coming for Zemo. What can you tease about the rest of the season?
I am the master of spoilers, so I'm really scared to death when it comes to these questions. [Laughs] I would rather not say a word. You really have to watch it. It continues being fun. What really impressed me is that they managed to keep that cinematic level to the show. It really looks like and feels like a long movie -- like a 6-hour feature -- and there will be very interesting turns and surprises, that I can assure you, but I'd rather not say anything!
New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stream Fridays on Disney+.