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There was an idea.
A few years ago in Atlanta, Scarlett Johansson was at dinner with Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige and development executive Brad Winderbaum. Johansson was shooting Avengers: Endgame, which featured the death of Natasha Romanoff, the hero she’d played since 2010’s Iron Man 2. Even so, a Black Widow stand-alone was something the team had long wanted. The question now, was how?
“Every one of these movies starts from a single conversation,” Winderbaum recalled of that dinner. “We were tossing around ideas of what it could be. And it just launched like a rocket.”
Black Widow, debuting July 9, sees Natasha reunite with her adoptive family for an adventure tied to their mysterious past. Johansson served as an executive producer on Black Widow, making her the first Avenger to hold that title on a Marvel movie.
“I think she did as much work in front of the camera as behind the camera,” Winderbaum told The Hollywood Reporter at a Black Widow fan event in Hollywood on June 29. “She was fundamental in supporting [director] Cate Shortland and supporting the production and really helping us craft the story.”
Black Widow enters a world the Marvel team couldn’t have imagined a few short years ago. A global pandemic swept the world and delayed Black Widow‘s release date a year, while pandemic pressures are seeing the project hit Disney+ day-and-date. The film also comes as Marvel juggles both movies and its new Disney+ streaming series, giving MCU talent even more places they might pop up. (Florence Pugh, who plays Natasha’s sister, Yelena, is already set to appear in a Marvel streaming project.)
In the past, Marvel made headlines for expansive deals that saw Samuel L. Jackson sign on for nine pictures in 2009, or Chris Evans and others ink six-picture pacts. But Feige says those types of deals are not the norm for Marvel these days.
“That got a lot of attention way back when, with I think Scarlett, and [Chris] Hemsworth and Evans and Sam Jackson. It varies now,” Feige told THR when asked if the studio is making sweeping talent deals for a specific number of streaming and movie appearances.
Feige noted that he “would throw theme park attractions” into the list of things the studio makes talent deals for.
“It varies, project to project, cast to cast,” said Feige. “Really, what we want are people that come in, are excited to be in the universe, are excited at the opportunity to do more things, as opposed to being locked into contractual obligations.”
Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are among Black Widow‘s Marvel newcomers joining Johansson in the MCU. The quartet has major chemistry, something director Shortland helped develop with rehearsals before filming, including for a key family dinner scene.
“This was the first time they were all together, and that’s big energy at that table,” recalled screenwriter Eric Pearson, who says the rehearsals informed his writing. “I got to feed off of that. All of them saying, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that.’ It was overwhelming. A little intimidating.”
In a change from the comics, Harbour’s Red Guardian — the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America — is a father figure, rather than a romantic interest, for Natasha.
“We needed to complete the family, and that’s where Red Guardian came in as the paternal figure,” said co-producer Brian Chapek. “David is hilarious. He has a great new spin on a new character in this world, and hopefully we will see more at some point.”
For Feige, Black Widow was a chance to show both Natasha, and even previous Marvel movies, in a new light.
“I look forward to people watching this film and then rewatching Avengers 1, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and certainly Infinity War and seeing how her actions are informed by her past that’s revealed,” said Feige.
As for Johansson’s MCU future, the actor has not signaled whether she’ll be back for more. Perhaps comic books, in which anything is possible, can provide a clue.
“‘Maybe there will be more down the road’ — [is the answer] comics have taught us,” said Feige. “Anything could be the answer to that question.”
Black Widow is in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access July 9.
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