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Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh’s chemistry in Black Widow is so striking that you’d be forgiven if you thought the Marvel Studios action-spy thriller was the latest of several collaborations together. Instead, Widow marks Johansson’s ninth appearance in the MCU, and introduces viewers to Pugh’s character, Yelena Belova, who shares a tragic past with Natasha Romanoff. Since Natasha sacrificed her life in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, Johansson has indicated that Widow — which takes place seven years before Endgame — is probably her swan song as the character she’s inhabited since 2010’s Iron Man 2. Thus, she’s now passing on the same words of wisdom to Pugh that Samuel L. Jackson once gave to her.
“The physical work is so grueling, and you can really burn out on that stuff,” Johansson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I did say to Florence in the beginning that this is a long job. And selling things — the emotional grit behind it — is a much more valuable way to spend your time than actually trying to be a professional athlete. The whole stunt department are incredible athletes, and you’re never going to reach their 16 years of professionalism, or whatever, in four weeks. So that’s the one piece of advice that I wish I had gotten, which, eventually, Sam Jackson gave me and now I pass through myself to Florence. ‘Don’t kill yourself, kid!’ Sam Jackson said to me; it was something like that. So I took his advice.”
Black Widow also contains a running gag involving Yelena’s aversion to Natasha’s tendency to pose during fights. As it turned out, this detail was added to the script at the last minute after Pugh commented on how impractical this behavior is.
“I remember the stunt team was like, ‘So Florence, what are we going to do about your pose?'” Pugh recalls. “And I was like, ‘Oh God, I have to think about a pose!?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, because you know Scarlett’s is this.’ And I was like, ‘I know! Who would actually land like that? That’s ridiculous!’ And they were like, ‘Well, yeah. If she actually landed like that, she would have broken her spine.’ And I remember I was just teasing [Scarlett] for it, and Eric [Pearson], the writer, was on set and was like, ‘Yep, that’s going in the script!'”
In a recent conversation with THR, Johansson and Pugh also discuss their kitchen fight scene and how it helped them get to know each other rather quickly. They also look ahead to their own individual projects with filmmaker Sebastian Lelio.
Whistling is a rather touching component of this film. Since anything can happen in post-production, were those your real whistling talents on display?
Scarlett Johansson: (Laughs.) Yes! Those were our real whistles! We put our lips together and blew.
Florence Pugh: (Laughs.) Didn’t you need a little bit of warming up, Scarlett, if I remember rightly?
Johansson: No, I can wet my whistle!
Johansson & Pugh: (Laugh.)
Pugh: So they actually were our real whistles.
So I knew this movie was for me when it debated the pronunciation of Budapest, but it really had me in the palm of its hand once Natasha and Yelena bonded over car keys. Conversely, when did the two of you first bond as actors?
Johansson: We had a very unique bonding experience in that we basically bonded in a headlock.
Johansson & Pugh: (Laugh.)
Johansson: So we bonded over a headlock. There was a rehearsal period, and (director) Cate Shortland brought in someone who could coach us through some bonding and trust exercises. And that was kind of goofy and fun. But the real bonding happened on the first or second day of Florence’s work when we immediately slammed each other into door frames and cabinets. It was so physical, and it was a real icebreaker. (Laughs.)
Pugh: The moment where I totally died was when we were doing a scene and Scarlett put her hand in my armpit. (Laughs.) And I just died because I knew how sweaty it was. So Scarlett looked at me and went, “That’s a sweaty pit.” I was like, “Oh, no! That’s it. It’s over. R.I.P. Scarlett Johansson tested my sweat.” (Laughs.)
Johansson: (Laughs.) It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Florence, did your professional wrestling skills come in handy during said bonding?
Pugh: Oh my goodness. I’m so grateful for all of the work that we did on Fighting with My Family. I felt like I wasn’t so intimidated by the stunts department simply because of that. Whenever you have to be physical in any way, it is intimating. You essentially want to look like a cool person, but most of the time, you don’t. So you have to learn how to look good while moving, and with Fighting with My Family, that was such a silly, fun and wonderful gig that it really took off any fear of movement and action in the future. So it just made me really excited because I do really enjoy action.
Scarlett, Black Widow is your ninth appearance in the MCU if you count Captain Marvel‘s coda, and it’s obviously Florence’s first Marvel movie of presumably many. Did you ever take Florence aside and offer her the advice that you wish someone had given you in 2009?
Johansson: Florence is so self-possessed. She’s forging her own path, and I never felt like I needed to guide her. It’s strange because she’s here now and I’m talking about her. But she’s so comfortable in her own skin; she’s very grounded; and she also has a very healthy career and healthy ego. So she didn’t need any of my guidance at all. She’s figuring it all out on her own. But the physical work is so grueling, and you can really burn out on that stuff. When I first started doing all the stuff in Iron Man 2, we had one really big fight sequence in the corridor, and it was really complicated. Back then, actors were doing a lot more of their own stunts, and it was less fine-tuned. I spent so many months training for that, and that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be physically comfortable with the stunt work and choreography that you’re doing; it should totally be second nature in some ways. But I did say to Florence in the beginning that this is a long job. She was particularly frustrated with something she wasn’t landing or whatever, and this is such a long job that you have to preserve yourself physically. And selling things — the emotional grit behind it — is a much more valuable way to spend your time than actually trying to be a professional athlete. (Laughs.) The whole stunt department are incredible athletes, and you’re never going to reach their 16 years of professionalism, or whatever, in 4 weeks. And these shoots are long. They’re very, very taxing in different ways, and you have to preserve your energy where it’s most valuable. So that’s the one piece of advice that I wish I had gotten, which, eventually, Sam Jackson gave me and now I pass through myself to Florence. (Laughs.) “Don’t kill yourself, kid!” Sam Jackson said to me; it was something like that. So I took his advice.
Yelena gives Natasha a hard time about her tendency to pose during fights, and even though I’ve never heard this commented on before, I can’t unsee it now.
Johansson & Pugh: (Laugh.)
Given how specific this observation is, have Natasha’s poses been an inside joke between you and your stunt team over the years?
Johansson: Omigod! All this time, we thought we looked so badass!
Pugh: (Laughs.) You do!
Johansson: (Laughs.) Our egos just got crushed. Florence crushed them in 15 seconds with that comment, and of course, it made it into the script. [Screenwriter] Eric Pearson was like, “We gotta use that!” I’m like, “10 years of work! 10 years of work!”
Pugh: That’s what you said! That’s exactly what you said on set! It was funny because we obviously have this teasing dynamic straight away; it comes very naturally. And when we were in rehearsals, I remember the stunt team was like, “So Florence, what are we going to do about your pose?” And I was like, “Oh God, I have to think about a pose!?” And they were like, “Yeah, because you know Scarlett’s is this.” And I was like, “I know! Who would actually land like that? That’s ridiculous!” And they were like, “Well, yeah. If she actually landed like that, she would have broken her spine.” And I was like, “You think Scarlett knows this!?” And I remember I was just teasing her for it, and Eric, the writer, was on set and was like, “Yep, that’s going in the script!”
Johansson & Pugh: (Laugh.)
Your Black Widow co-star Rachel Weisz made a great film called Disobedience a few years ago, and the two of you just so happen to have separate projects in development with its director, Sebastian Lelio. So did Rachel serve as a matchmaker of sorts on the Widow set, or is this nothing more than coincidence?
Johansson: I loved Disobedience, and by some weird proxy, Rachel served as a matchmaker without even realizing it. But it really is purely a coincidence. I met Sebastian a couple of years ago; I’ve been a big fan of his work over his career. So I just wanted to meet with him and find out what he was interested in and what he was working on. So we met and talked about all that stuff. We looked for things to work on for a period of time, and we sent each other ideas and kept in touch. So we developed this project over this quarantine time. It was this weird fever dream project that we worked on, but it’s purely coincidence that Florence is working with him in July or August.
Pugh: Yeah, in July! I’m so excited. I’m genuinely so excited
Johansson: He may be hunting us down! I think that’s more of a question for Sebastian. He may have some weird strategy.
Pugh: Do you think he’s going to go after David Harbour next?
Johansson: (Laughs.) Sure! Why not!?
Well, I hope the two of you share the screen again soon.
Johansson: Thank you so much!
Pugh: I want to share the screen with her again, too.
But not a Zoom screen — a big screen.
Pugh: (Laughs.) Yeah, a real one.
Black Widow is available in theaters on July 9, as well as on Disney+ Premier Access.
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