Director Cate Shortland Talks 'Black Widow' Spoilers and 'Beautiful' Post-Credits Scene (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Director Cate Shortland's guiding principle while making Black Widow was truthfulness. No matter that she was making the jump from WWII historical dramas to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its physics-defying set pieces and comic book mythology, Shortland dug down to make each moment in her globetrotting spy thriller and costumed superhero flick feel true. What would it truly mean to be recruited as a child assassin? (As Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff and Florence Pugh's Yelena were.) What sort of man would volunteer to be Russia's first super soldier? (David Harbour's Alexi, aka the Red Guardian.) How do you put the Avengers most enigmatic member to rest?
On Zoom with ET, Shortland -- who was still a bit gun-shy about delving too far into spoiler territory -- spoke about what it meant for Natasha to confront her past, the Taskmaster reveal and that post-credits scene.
Something I don't know that I expected going into this but what stuck with me is the exploration of what it would mean to be a Widow. It evokes these notions of grooming and trafficking and feels of the #MeToo movement and these conversations we're having more and more. Talk to me about telling that story within the arc of Black Widow and why it was important.
Cate Shortland: I think all of us that were involved in the film wanted it to feel truthful. So, if you're talking about girls and children that are being taken from their family and made into soldiers, that happens all over the world and it doesn't happen of their own free will. We had to look at the reality of what that would've meant to Natasha and Yelena and what trauma would have been visited upon them. And also, how did it affect the parents? Because the parents, like many parents, turn a blind eye. Many people, in terms of being part of a corrupt system, turn a blind eye. We all do it every day. Every time we walk past a person on the street who's living not as they should be and we keep walking, we're doing that in a little micro way. I suppose I wanted to look at that, like, what does it mean to deny humanity and that Natasha, during the film, has to get it back. She fights to get it back.
The final scene between Natasha and Dreykov doesn't just feel like a superhero meeting the villain. It feels very much like a woman confronting her abuser.
Yeah, we just wanted the audience to feel that we were respecting them and we weren't making stuff up. We were really talking about what it feels like to be powerless.
Florence is so, so, so good in this. Talk to me about finding Yelena, between what was on the page that you wanted to explore and what you and Florence found together when you were filming.
You know what, that character is so much Eric [Pearson], the screenwriter. Eric is part Alexi and part Yelena. It's like he's split down the middle. So, he was a huge part of creating Yelena -- he did such a great job with her -- and then Florence, she and Scarlett would impro, and that was really great. And I also could work on the script and work on the dialogue, so it was a great collaboration to really get that girl answering back. And she does not take anything lying down.
Speaking of Alexi, how deep did you and David delve into the Red Guardian backstory? He's having a fricking ball playing this character, but there is a lot to dig into of what Alexi's been up to before the events of the movies and where he's been in the comics.
David is one of the hardest working actors I've ever worked with. He creates a big backstory for himself and he does a lot of research. I also did research [into the comics], but I also just looked at research of what he would have been like at that age in Russia, during the Soviet Union, and I worked with a Russian historian in London, and we created stories for all of the characters.
I like to think this Alexi has met Ursa Major in the past. If not, we have to get a humanoid bear into the MCU soon.
Let's talk about Taskmaster. Fans had so many theories of who it would be -- they thought maybe it was Rachel Weisz, others predicted O-T Fagbenle. How thrilled are you that even with a year's delay, that reveal has not gotten out?
I love Taskmaster so much. I hope that it remains a secret! Because the character is so great, so scary, so cool. Just such a great villain, and the reveal is good.
I love that the big climactic battle ends with our hero apologizing. I don't know if that's ever happened in a superhero movie. Something that didn't get kept a secret is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in this. Were you at all disappointed that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ended up beating you to that punch? And did you have to make any tweaks to what that scene was then?
We finished the film a year ago, and I haven't touched it since. The film stands alone. It doesn't matter what it's coexisting with. I think they can both be enjoyed, and I don't think that one detracts from the other.
You can't have more Julia Louis-Dreyfus and be mad about it. After Endgame, there was so much discourse about how Natasha didn't get a funeral or a memorial. You get to give her that, with a beautiful performance from Florence. What did that mean to you?
Well, it was so powerful for me, because when I spoke to Scarlett about it, she said -- which I loved -- she said, "Natasha would've hated a public funeral, because she's such a private person." Oh, it makes me cry now. So, it was so beautiful that the girls could just share that moment and the audience can understand, she's part of nature. She's part of the ether. She didn't need a big public spectacle and she wouldn't have liked it. What she always wanted, I think, was safety and love. And you see that with her sister.
I was most excited that Yelena got her dog.
Yeah, I've got three dogs, so I had to have a dog in the movie. [Laughs]
I have to assume you'd come back to do another Black Widow movie with Florence if the opportunity presented it?
All of the actors, I just-- That was one of the best experiences, was working with them all, and I loved each of them. We had a ball.
Black Widow is now in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access.