Kevin Feige's official title at Marvel Studios is "President of Production" and he has a producer credit on all of the studio's films to date. In reality though, he's the mastermind behind the first shared comic book movie universe, an unprecedented model that we're going to start seeing a lot more of. When we visited the set of Thor: The Dark World, Feige wasn't in London for us to pick his brain but we did get a chance to interview him just before Thor 2 released and again on the LA set of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
In addition to planning out multi-film story arcs for years to come (up to 2021 at least), Feige has the task of bringing in the right people for the job and for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that meant TV veterans and brothers Anthony and Joe Russo. You can read on our-set interview with them here, and read on below to hear what Feige had to say about choosing the Russos as well.
In our group interview with Feige, we also delve into the process for selecting Marvel movie directors in general; timelines and continuity and where Captain America 2 takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; casting big name actors; making standalone character films in between team-ups; taking "risks" with projects; meeting Chris Pratt and Vin Diesel for the first time; secrecy and expectations from fans, and of course, those infamous totally fake rumors.
To start, Joe and Anthony Russo, they've done nothing even close to this. What was it about them that you guys felt made them the perfect directors for this project?
Well, you know, it’s worked out well for us when we've taken people that have done very, very good things. Very rarely are one of those good things a big giant blockbuster superhero movie. Elf, Favreau. Good TV for Joss. Good Shakespearean drama 15 years ago for Ken Branagh. And in the same way I was a big fan of—I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, but the TV that I was watching that I found interesting, their name kept popping up. And then I knew they had also made that Soderbergh-produced movie with George Clooney. It was like, “Wait a minute.” So they’d done this interesting stuff in TV and then they've done that movie which was interesting in and of itself. They had been popping up in the trades for being attached to various features. I said, “So obviously they’re interested in features. Let’s bring them in.” And like all of our director choices it starts with meetings. It starts with, are we connecting with a certain idea? And I’d pitched them our idea for Cap 2. And you've heard me describe it, which is a loose description, a broad description, as a sort of '70s political thriller. But that’s what I pitched to them. And they lost their minds. They just started coming back and coming back and coming back with great ideas and great ideas and great ideas. And I just believed they could pull it off. And now is where, you know, two-and-a-half weeks, three weeks from finishing I feel very, very good about what we have so far.
Why is the time right for something like that now as opposed to maybe a third entry?
Well, this sort of is a third entry. I mean, there’s Cap I with his origin in World War II and only the last two minutes are, “Oh my God, he’s in the modern day.” Avengers played a little bit with his feelings of what it’s like to be in the modern day, but he didn’t have a whole lot of time in that film because he’s introduced to the team. He’s got to fight off the alien invasion. So it did feel like this was absolutely the right time to deal with how he can come to terms with a past that is long gone and is seemingly never coming back. Dealing with the shades of gray of the modern era and certainly of being a part of an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D. And then just as perhaps he’s finding a niche for himself, his past comes back and lands like a ton of bricks on his head in the form of Winter Soldier.
Why was that sort of '70s conspiracy thriller the right template to tell that story?
Well, we’ll see next year if it was the right template when it’s all finished and its working. But you know, we make a lot of superhero movies here at Marvel Studios and I believe the key is to make them all different and to make them all unique and to make them all stand apart while connecting together. And that’s what the comics do. You can find Captain America stories that are as two-dimensional and red, white and blue as you would think from the costume. Then you've got great stories in the '70s and '80s and then you have The amazing [Ed] Brubaker which is sort of dealing with albeit 180 Marvel universe with this notion of conspiracies and authorities and what it seems to be coinciding with when Cap returned in the early '60s and then suddenly ten years later there’s Watergate and he’s gone through the '70s. That’s interesting stuff to me. So we’re sort of pulling from all of those tales for this story. And like the first film was a Marvel superhero origin story masquerading as a World War II propaganda movie, this is a Marvel superhero sequel masquerading as a seventies political thriller. And then, frankly, all the stuff that’s happening now with the NSA and the news is just pretty amazing timing for us because that’s the kind of thing Cap doesn't particularly like that our fake comic book organization and real life national security organization seem to be doing. Which again is always nice when you’re big entertaining fun competent movie can touch into some aspect of a grounded real world—no matter how crazy that real world may be.
Comic book readers are accustomed to tonal and stylistic shifts in a character to enrich it. How are you going to help mainstream moviegoers adapt to the tonal and stylistic shifts in this movie from the first movie? It sounds like it’s gonna be pretty different.
It will. I mean, I’m betting that more people will have seen Avengers who are coming into Winter Soldier than saw Captain America I. It certainly can be a direct sequel to that film. It can also be a direct—it is a direct sequel to The Avengers. And if you look at the whole Marvel cinematic universe, I think the audience has already been with us for that tonal shift. You know, they know when that Marvel flip logo comes it can be an Iron Man Clancy techno thriller. It can be this fantastical Thor film. It can be a World War II film. I mean, they've already stayed with us for all of these different genres under the umbrella of the cinematic universe—it’s not about betting they’ll come with us. I think they’re demanding that we continue to evolve and grow and shift sort of our models.
S.H.I.E.L.D. with Black Widow. Did that just sort of naturally feel like that would be the right thing?
Yeah. As you've seen in Iron Man 3 now for Tony to go back to his world in Malibu and Stark Industries, Thor going back to Asgard—we weren't gonna send Cap back in time. We weren't gonna send him back to his home. He had nowhere else to go. That’s part of the story. That’s part of how we meet him at the beginning of the movie. And it just made sense that he was the one that stayed with what remains of the Avengers at the end of the movie.
We heard that this is like a year after the Avengers?
It is smack dab between Avengers and Avengers 2. And it takes place after Thor and Iron Man. So the continuity of the release of the film is the continuity of the film as well. Which was sort of the case with the first phase one films, but it was a little trickier. But the ramifications at the end of this film go directly into Avengers 2. Much more so than the other films.
Is that something that carries over at the end of Iron Man 3?
It exists—yeah, it exists in the world, you know. There was some elements of Avengers that were referenced in Iron Man 3 but we didn't go into a whole lot of detail because we were following that particular story. You can hear about some of those past events but this is very much a S.H.I.E.L.D., a Steve Rogers, focused storyline.
The Avengers was such a worldwide phenomenon—I can imagine that it inspired a lot of people that hadn't seen the phase one films to go back.
I think so. I think that’s true.
So to what degree can you kind of rely on that when you’re making this movie in terms of not having to deal with backstory, just approaching the story?
Well, we know that’s true, right, because the Blu-ray sales and the DVD sales of the other films started going up again when Avengers came out, when it came out again on home video. But frankly, I believe every movie should stand apart. If you hadn't seen Star Wars I think you’d probably watch Empire Strikes Back and get it. The same way I really think this movie should work. It needs to work for people who've not seen Avengers or Cap I. It needs to work for the people who've seen all of them. That’s important to me that the movies can play on multiple levels like that. So I guess it’s, you know, we’re always on alert for getting too inside baseball but at the same time sometimes you can be so inside baseball that it’ll just go over the heads of some. So as long as it’s not distractingly inside baseball. So two characters are like, “Remember this? I do. Ha, ha.”—what are they talking about? Unless it’s Hawkeye and Widow talking about, you know, Budapest in which you know, “Oh, maybe some people thought there was another movie where that happened but it didn't matter, right, because it was just about their backstory.”
You talked about the big picture of phase three and then how this one sort of fits in with your grand plan.
I've no idea what the big picture of phase three is.
Right. Well, part of it—talking about it from a filmmaker level as opposed to sort of a story level—you've all heard me say this before. Teaching the general moviegoing audience about the notion of the characters existing separately, coming together for specific events and going away and existing separately in their own worlds again. Just like comic readers have been doing for decades and decades. And part of my early, early goals was to get movie audience used to that kind of thing. And knock on wood, so far with Iron Man 3 it's worked. People didn't throw tomatoes at the screen going, “Where’s Nick Fury? How come Thor doesn't help them take down Guy Pearce?” People sort of are accepting that it’s just a time when they should be together and there’s a time when they’re not. So that was one of the first goals which is why we made the Iron Man 3 that we made, why we’re making the Thor movie we’re making and why Cap does fold back into that a little bit more. You know, it’s all about going deeper into the stories. The more moviegoers that see these movies and are participating in watching these movies with us, the more inside baseball you can be. And suddenly it’s not a small group of people, it’s a large group of people. And that’s what I like very much is that the continuity of the films now are becoming known and accepted. Like my friend’s mother was asking me about, “Is this character coming back?” It’s like, “How do you know that?” Because of the movies, which is great.
These amazing actors like Redford, are they surprised when you approach them or at this point, the movies have become so big?
I think it varies. I think it varies. I mean, sometimes they approach us. I mean, Robert’s not shy. Mr. Redford is not shy about the fact that his grandkids are a fan of this and he wanted to do something that his grandkids would watch him in. So that works out very well in those cases. In some cases we approach. You don’t have to do quite the song and dance. They sort of know what we are already and I do think until we royally screw it up they think it’s a safe place to come and put on a costume and stand in front of a green screen and at the end of the day come off, you know, very well.
With Guardians, you're going out there on a limb. Is there any way that you feel the need for a safety net?
Well, I mean, I think we've always been rewarded for taking risks. I think when Fox hired Bryan Singer, it was a risk back in the day. I think obviously Downey was a risk at the time and I had to twist a lot of arms to push that through. And by the way, when we were doing the first Iron Man film, the X-Men franchise had already been a giant hit. The Spider-Man franchise was already a giant hit. So the safety net becomes Marvel itself. It’s that red brick logo on top of the title—right now, it means something to people the way the Pixar thing does. People go, “Oh, I get kind of what this is will be.” So it did seem like now is the right time to do something like Guardians which is different. I didn't know how big the Iron Man fan base was. We all knew Thor. But obviously it was like, “Oh, is he a robot? Oh, is that the guy that has blonde hair, the helmet guy?” They didn't know much more than that. It’s not like those were Spider-Man before the movies. Those were not well known. Guardians is even less-known than that. They had been in some cartoons. They’d been in a video. Although now they’re popular because now, you know, we're raising their profile. But most importantly, you always just want to make a good movie. You always want to make it an interesting movie that plays for people whether they have a deep affinity or nostalgia for the characters or not. And with Guardians it’s sort of liberating because there are very few people that have the nostalgia for that. We’re still being true to the books. We’re still pulling all our favorite elements from those books to make the movies. But I like that most people will think and experience it as a brand new and fresh film. You've all seen the photo that you tweeted the other day. It looks pretty good. They’re all important. They’re all important. And I mean, and we’ll have the voice I think soon. We want to get one soon to inform the animators. But we've got a great design. We've got a great look. I just helped bring it to life and now it’s all about that voice.
Are you past the arm-twisting phase of having to get things done? Are people more understanding your vision or at least letting your success get you past some things you might have had to push more?
I think so but to be fair Marvel has always been unified. It’s sort of the reason we were gonna start doing movies ourselves was to tell the stories the way we wanted to. And I don’t know why it’s the case that the actual, you know, property owners are the ones that were willing to go take further risks with their material than the licensees studios were back in the day. But I’m glad that was the case. And it’s definitely the case. And I think frankly that’s because we just understood the characters more or believed in the characters more. But I don’t want to suggest that it’s like the me against the world. It’s not. And Marvel has been very unified in the way we want to proceed.
How did that meeting with Vin Diesel go?
It’s happening at three o’clock today. It literally hasn't happened yet. He’s coming in today. It’s just a general.
Are those just to like figure out the interests on their part, where you possibly see them?
Yeah, there are lots of actors who come in here all the time. Not all of them have 43 million Facebook followers and say, “I’m going into Marvel.” But sure, I mean it varies. In this specific case of Mr. Diesel there’s no specific ideas. It’s just a meeting. And sometimes there’s a specific idea. But usually, I mean sometimes we just go right into an audition into, you know. I didn't meet Chris Pratt until we’d already decided. I’d watched six of his tests and we decided. Because it doesn't matter how fun they are at dinner. It matters what they look like on that screen. But it is happening today.
You said something like how this movie will affect the other movies. Now that you have the TV show, too, S.H.I.E.L.D. will that be taking a lot of planning? It’s airing in April and if something happens in Cap that affects the world?
Yeah. Well, you know, the studio is not involved in the day-to-day of the show. Loeb and the TV division is overseeing that. But as far as this crossover, I was just in a meeting with those guys and I’m about in two minutes to go back to a meeting with those guys to hear the overall picture and to, you know, to hear their ideas and how they deal with the events and Thor and the events of the past. Their ideas for season two, should there be one, to make sure they lead into Avengers and don’t cue that show. Just like they keep all movies. It has to stand alone. If you stripped out all the connective tissue, is it worth watching? And it’s all bonus and it’s all gravy when there’s that connective tissue. And that’s what they’re doing a very good job on so far, is building.
Captain America’s a very great guy. How do you ensure that it doesn’t seem old-fashioned in today’s world?
I don’t mind if it feels old-fashioned. I don’t mind if he feels out of place. He is out of place and he is kind of old-fashioned in the modern era. I care if he feels two-dimensional. I care if he feels boring or if he feels in any way not like a fully formed character. But in this movie we’re embracing that side. That’s part of his conflict with fury and with some of the other members of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the fact that he’s from a different place. He has a different set of values, I think. Or at least he thinks he does initially. And we want to play into that and run towards that which creates conflict, which creates drama, which creates character. You know, we’re careful not to make him a goofball fish out of water, you know. We don’t spend a lot of time with him trying to understand what an iPhone is. He’s, you know, what do we call the Cap? I don’t know, 27? If you took a 27-year-old and introduced him to something they’ve never seen before, they’d probably figure it out. They wouldn’t be completely flummoxed about that. So we’re avoiding sort of the, “What is a cell phone? What is this magic glass that you type into?” We have some fun with it. And frankly, Cap, because he’s been around in the modern day for a little while post-Avengers, he sort of has fun with peoples’ expectations. He sometimes pretends not to understand something when he does. He goes, “Oh, I forget.” He goes, “I get it.” To, you know, again make him more than just perfect and two dimensional.
What are the sort of joys and pains of making movies the way that Marvel does with an eye on other movies and interconnectivity, and an eye on secrecy? All of those elements that are pretty singular to the way Marvel does the books? For you, what’s great about it and what is challenging?
Well, it’s all pretty great. I mean, as we keep making them I want to keep an eye on not painting ourselves into a corner. Because again, a lot of what we’re doing is modeled on the comics but there’s also pitfalls to look out for. There’s a reason, you know, comic universes have to reboot after ten or 15 years because they start to fold in on each other and it becomes very, very confusing. I think that’s less of a danger when you’re only doing, you know, four hours, four-and-a-half hours of entertainment a year—two movies a year. But that’s one thing that we want to be careful to avoid. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that yet. So it’s really all just sort of fun to be able to have access to all those characters and all those stories as we make them.
The secrecy thing, I don’t know that it’s unique to us. I think every filmmaker wants to save the surprises for the screen. You know, we've got security guys walking around on every set and holding up “Don’t Take Pictures Please” signs and things like that. And everyone’s taking pictures of it—you know that’s gonna happen. We sort of stopped chasing that, frankly. I mean, I think people are savvy enough now to know that if a picture’s taken from behind a tree with a long lens, if the pictures look great—as most of Winter Soldier pictures looked pretty cool, I thought, some of them look like professional—like really damn cool. You know, we used to try to get ahead of that and do our own photo shoot beforehand, but the truth is we just spend all of our time getting ready for that day when he’s gonna be in front of the movie cameras for the first time. And sometimes, you know, a picture appears behind a tree with a long lens and the guy doesn’t look great or it’s a stuntman. I do think people are savvy enough to know, “Oh that’s not the way it’s going to look in the movie.” So it’s just the way it is now. And I’ve always said the only thing worse than a photographer in a tree is no photographer in the tree because nobody cares. We’re filming in a big street, there’s nobody here? I thought that happened to us once in Iron Man 2. We were filming in Randy’s Donuts in Iron Man 2 and there was nobody there. What, there’s nobody there? And I was like, “Because nobody cares.” And we go home and there’s this unbelievable shot of him—they were in a building.
Hiding in the bushes.
Yeah, there was somebody far away.
Are you guys actually playing now with expectations?
I’m wondering if there’s a clever answer to that. The answer is no, but I don’t know. Maybe that gives away the game. No. I wouldn't know how to do that. Sometimes we've talked about a name and put something out there. I think a few years ago we tried that and they were like, “Shut up, we don’t believe you.” But, no, I mean you know, some of the information isn't true. Sometimes when it comes to casting, because of their agents, because people know who’s coming in for meetings and things like that, rarely is information 100 percent private. And sometimes it’s completely off the mark. And that’s funny and that becomes its own business for me. Right? I mean people who thought that Tony was gonna go to space to meet the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of Iron Man 3. Okay, they can think that. So people are doing misinformation for us.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is produced by Kevin Feige, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, and stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014, The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.
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