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Marvel Studios – ‘Black Widow’ Stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz Discuss Strong Women Characters

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Marvel Studios is back in theaters (and in your homes via Premier Access) with the long awaited premiere of Black Widow! Not only is Black Widow the first MCU feature film about a woman superhero, it’s also the first MCU film directed by a woman and also featuring multiple fantastic women characters.

In my review of Black Widow, I wrote about how strong the cast of the film is, which stars Scarlett Johansson, along with Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour. Previously, I also wrote about how director Cate Shortland and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige approached the development of this film.

During the global press conference for the film, it was clear how unique and special it was for the cast to be part of a project that features so many strong women characters working together. Black Widow certainly passes the Bechdel Test in spades and that’s a quality we need more of in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios' BLACK WIDOW..Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2020
Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW..Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)
Photo: Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2020

For Scarlett Johansson, who has defined the character of Natasha Romanoff in the MCU over the last decade, this film offered her the opportunity to delve even more deeply into her character. “Natasha at the beginning of this film is really alone for the first time. She’s always been a part of something…being a victim of the Red Room, and then obviously joining SHIELD and then, subsequently, Avengers,” Johansson said of Natasha’s character arc. “I mean she’s always been a part of something that was part of a greater whole. And then suddenly she finds herself sort of floating in this weird in-between space and she’s off her game. And she realizes that she’s got all this possibility in front of her and it’s really suffocating.”

Johansson talked about how that period of uncertainty that Natasha is facing early in the film set the stage so that she’s more open to the unexpected family reunion that forms the basis of the story. “[S]he’s blindsided by this person who comes from her past who is just on fire and is a liability and is, like, got this crazy energy and is dangerous, and is full of life, and isn’t needy, but needs her, and it’s just she’s so thrown off her game in this. It’s great to see her like that. We never get to see her like that,” Johansson said.

Of course the person Johansson is referring to is newly introduced character Yelena, played by Florence Pugh. Natasha and Yelena’s relationship is critical to the story in Black Widow.

“I think from the get-go, in the script, it was very obvious that they have this connection and they have this relationship. And ultimately despite her skillset, she is that wonderfully annoying young assistant that says all the right things in all the wrong times…and I think also being welcomed into it with Scarlett equally being as giving as she was, I really found it such a wonderful and creative space,” Pugh said.

Yelena (Florence Pugh) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in Marvel Studios' BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Yelena (Florence Pugh) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

In addition to working with Johansson, Pugh credited director Cate Shortland for allowing her to fully explore the multiple facets of Yelena’s personality. “I think something that I really appreciated was Cate was so welcoming of me to figure out how she thinks and how she moves and what she wears. And I think for me that was such a fun part of figuring out this character, because she really comes out of the Red Room and she can buy her own clothes, and she can buy a vest that has lots of pockets and she’s really excited by it,” Pugh said. “And I think Cate really encouraged me to find, the oddities of her and kinda lean on that. So much so that in the end scene, you can see that she’s flourishing; she’s becoming her own being.”

In the film, we first meet Pugh’s Yelena in Budapest when Natasha travels to her old safe house. The two sisters get reacquainted through a wonderfully brutal fight sequence that is one of the best moments of the entire film. Interestingly enough, that scene also happened to be the first sequence that Pugh and Johansson shot together, making for an amusing introduction for the two actors.

“The first sequence that we shot was at the Budapest fight scene in a safe house. So that was my first week of shooting and that was Scarlett’s second week of shooting. And so literally on my first day I was, like, throwing Scarlett up against a wall, and she was smashing my face in the sink,” Pugh said. “And I just remember, like, there was no greater way than to just break the ice than really wrestling Scarlett Johansson to the floor. Like, trying to choke each other. It was great that it was done. We got to know each other and we were friends.”

(L-R): Melina (Rachel Weisz), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios' BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Melina (Rachel Weisz), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Johansson, who is no stranger to intense action sequences after a decade in the MCU, appreciated both the athleticism and emotion that Pugh brought to that memorable scene. “I’m very lucky because Florence is an athletic person. She has a background in dance. And so she nailed all the choreography. She was right there, and like totally game to go at it….And it was such a unique way to bond with another actor. But, it also felt like a very safe way to do it somehow. There was like no trepidation,” Johansson said.

Rachel Weisz, who plays Melina, Natasha and Yelena’s mother, talked about how much she enjoyed the fact that the film centered three interesting, strong and complex women. “Scarlett just explained Yelena…she just used 40 adjectives to describe what Yelena is like, and it’s really joyous to hear that, because that’s what people are like, not just men,” Weisz said. “People are just many, many, many things. And what the writers got onto the page and what Cate directed was just highly complex people that are very contradictory. You know, that, yeah, that we’re all three of us elite Black Widows, but there’s a lot more to them than just that.”

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Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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