In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson’s spy-assassin Black Widow stands apart from the rest of the Avengers.
Widow, also known as Natasha Romanoff, doesn’t have superpowers, a stand-alone film or a plethora of action figures. Until the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” she was the team’s only female member. And unlike her Avengers companions who have families and friends outside the super-team to protect, Widow lacks human ties to the world she’s trying to save.
“Age of Ultron” explores Widow’s desire for connection, revealing her painful past and redefining her role on the team.
“Regardless of gender, characters work when they have substance and when they are grounded in something that is visceral and true,” Johansson told the Los Angeles Times last month. “I loved that she is sort of this reluctant superhero, that she is kind of a mutant in some ways, that she didn’t really choose this path for herself.”
Hero Complex sat down with Johansson to talk more about Black Widow’s past, her relationship with Bruce Banner in “Age of Ultron” and her career aspirations. Spoilers lie ahead.
In the farmhouse bedroom, Natasha tells Bruce Banner an emotional secret about her past. What was it like to portray a character who’s had something like that taken from her?
You know, the thing that really touches me about the character is that she’s kind of like an orphan. Not only does she have no family, like she was taken away from her family, but her family — or whatever potential of that — was taken away from her at such a young age that she’s just been sort of floating through. I think she buries herself in her work because she doesn’t have anything really outside of that. She’s just kind of untethered without that. And S.H.I.E.L.D. originally and now Avengers becomes this kind of weird dysfunctional family for her — a home, some strange sense of normal. I think I could never have tapped into the character if I didn’t sympathize with her in some way, in just imagining, if I didn’t feel for her as well and just kind of see this lost soul that she is. It’s kind of hard to do when you have your own family, when you’re grounded to someone, or people. But I think when you have something, there is something even more potent about the idea of not having it. If your life feels full, and then you take the elements away that make it feel full, you know, you’re stuck with that kind of emptiness that she must feel. So I guess it’s sort of like working backwards a little bit.
How did you feel about Natasha’s romance with Bruce?
It was very unexpected for me, actually. According to Mark, he was like, “I saw it all along!” But when I read the script, I said to Joss, “But why? Is this out of convenience?” And he was like, “Gosh, do I have to explain everything, Johansson?” Ha ha … But actually when I started to work through the scenes with Mark, I was like, “Oh, of course these characters are together.” Because it’s not just beauty and the beast, it’s like, these are two people who have experienced so much trauma and are so traumatized by their own pasts, they’re haunted by their own memories, they’ve witnessed and been a part of such destruction.
I think with Banner, he’s had this kind of out-of-body experience. He feels very disconnected and sort of like, in some ways, taken advantage of, because his experience within that destructive world is an out-of-body one. He’s in it, but he’s out of it, it’s another body. And for Widow, she’s a mercenary and was part of this widow program, and she’s never really chosen any particular path for herself, which can leave you feeling very much outside of yourself and isolated. And now these two characters have finally come to a place where they’re like, “OK, we’ve put in the work, right? We’ve put in the hours. Can we have our lives? I want a life, you want a life …. ” And like any epic romance, “I see me in you, and this is exciting, and why can’t we have this? We deserve it like everybody else.”
But they have this huge calling that’s larger than their love potential, or whatever, could be. So it’s complicated. It’s a really complicated relationship that they’re in. I hope that they have their time. I think it’s maybe a case of bad timing for them. But it’s fun to explore, definitely, with Mark, and we both, like, get it, what that relationship is. And it’s nice that it’s more complex than, “Oh, hey, over there. I saw you hulking out. Wanna grab coffee?”
What was it like filming “Age of Ultron” while you were pregnant?
It was actually great. I was really, really happy to have a job, which I never imagined would be possible given what I do. But, yeah, I got to stay really active, and I couldn’t do as much of the physical stuff until later on. I got to kind of fill in the blanks afterward, but I relied on my awesome, awesome stunt double, Heidi Moneymaker, who’s just incredible and took a lot of the punches literally for me this time around. And then you know, I kind of helped her out on the back end. And that’s how we work, kind of tag team and stuff. It was great. I felt very, very fortunate that I could have a job.
Whatever I may have been self-conscious about in the beginning, I think melted completely away because Joss was like, “Yeah, that’s happening to you. Anyway, so we’re just going over here, and we’re doing this ….” It was totally cool.
You’re a veteran in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Did you find yourself in a mentorship role for the newcomers?
I really didn’t get to work with them that much, actually. I didn’t work with Aaron [Taylor-Johnson] at all, and Lizzy [Elizabeth Olsen], I had like a moment with. So maybe I think in “Civil War” I’ll probably be taking more of that role on, certainly a lot more screen time, but I’m sure I’ll also be learning from them, because that’s kind of what the process is all about. That’s what I think acting is all about. It’s such an exchange. I wouldn’t know what advice I’d give at all because I’m still desperately trying to absorb any advice. I’m still finding my way. So I don’t know.
You’ve been in a lot of weird sci-fi films lately. What draws you to the genre?
I don’t know. I don’t know necessarily that I’m particularly attracted to the sci-fi genre at all over any other genre. That’s just where the smart writing is going. It just seems to be where the bigger questions are being asked. If I could find a really smart slice-of-life movie or romantic comedy or whatever else, I’d be there. It just seems to be that perhaps I’m interested in the bigger questions at this phase in my career and life, and maybe it will pare down and become more intimate later on.
You have over 20 years of experience in the industry. Do you want to direct?
I do, yes, I do want to direct. That’s been a goal of mine since I was a kid. And I will.
I’ve worked for a really long time, consistently. I like to work with actors. I think that would be my great pleasure, would be to collaborate with actors in a different context, whether that would be directing theater or film or something like that. I think that could be exciting. I kind of continue to find the right material for that and the time. And luckily there’s always time; directing something, it’s never like something can be in development for too long. At some point you need to bite the bullet, but you know, I think the right project will come along at the right time.
Do you have a big-picture view of the Marvel universe and your character’s role in it?
I think that particularly with this universe, it is so big, there’s such a bigger picture, and that involves several installments leading up to something. At some point, you can only save the world so many times, and so there has to be some kind of a larger kind of question that we’re asking ourselves. All the minutiae is important of course, and developing character. Joss was talking earlier about when he came to write “Avengers 2,” he was saying, “OK, what stories haven’t I told between these characters? What’s funny about them? What are their deep desires or weaknesses?” And those things are all important. But maybe perhaps with Widow, I sense that there’s this larger calling that’s looming over these Marvel pictures.