EW.com — It was March 2014 when the cast of Captain America: The Winter Soldier assembled in London for the U.K. leg of their international press tour. For some, namely Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson, this wasn’t their first rodeo with Marvel Studios. They knew their talking points and how to regale reporters at the press conference by swapping war stories and feeding off each other’s energy. Sebastian Stan, only on his second outing in the franchise, was more reserved. He offered warm smiles and laughed along with the group’s jokes, but kept his own responses somewhat brief. When asked about any on-set injuries that might have incurred, he said. “I honestly wouldn’t feel anything until I was in the car on the way home, when I couldn’t get out of the seat. But I’m sure we hurt each other.”
On his left, Anthony Mackie chimed in. “You didn’t hurt me,” he said in a soft, almost amorous tone as they locked eyes. This made the audience chuckle. Stan livened up, volleying back what Mackie served. “You?! This is the first time I’m seeing you,” he joked.
Mackie had inadvertently solved a small problem for the Disney publicists managing that tour. “They were worried that I didn’t talk a lot. I get very uncomfortable,” Stan admits to EW, Zooming in from Vancouver for a chat with his New Orleans-based costar this past January. “They’re like, ‘Just put him in with Anthony, okay? They’re going to talk.’ And I was talking!” he says. “By the end, I was very lively, and it really is thanks to him.”
Mackie agrees. “I’m the ketchup to Sebastian’s French fries.”
Stan can’t help but smile. “Way to put a button on it, and then some!”
Whatever the special sauce, it’s this playful dynamic between the actors that made Marvel want to center them in their own event series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Premiering this Friday on Disney+ following the successful debut of WandaVision, the show sees Captain America’s two best mates — wise-cracking pararescue Sam Wilson (Mackie) and genetically enhanced super-soldier from World War II Bucky Barnes (Stan) — stomach each other long enough to face a global crisis involving a masked militia group and one Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), the big bad from 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. As it happens, head writer Malcolm Spellman points to a scene from that film as “the moment this show was born.” Fans know it well: a cramped Bucky in the back of an old Volkswagen Beetle asking Sam, “Can you move your seat up?” Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, also looks to the duo’s battle with Spider-Man later in Civil War, which offered an opportunity for more banter. “They’re so funny,” Feige says. “Those are the two moments that we [at Marvel Studios] would watch and go, ‘I want to watch that! I want to watch them together more!'”
As production ramped up on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in Atlanta in October 2019, Stan needed reminding of that rapport. Again, he credits Mackie. “I think he had a much better handle on the temperature of the show than I did, because there are times where I was so scared and really trying to find the truth of everything,” Stan says. “He had to pull me back and be like, ‘Yo, just remember we’re going to have some fun, too!'” And that’s the show in a nutshell: a buddy comedy thrown in the middle of a high-stakes international thriller.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was once meant to be Marvel’s first Disney+ series out the gate, a show of force in the TV space from the masterminds behind one of the most successful Hollywood franchises in history. Though a scheduling shuffle and a production delay due to COVID-19 now has this premiering after WandaVision, the course for the six-episode hourlong series — as well as the entire Phase 4 slate — remains the same. The show is meant to set up what the world of the MCU looks like after the events of Avengers: Endgame. More specifically, it establishes what it looks like without Captain America. Steve Rogers (Evans), aged from his time-traveling adventures, chose Sam as his successor at the end of Endgame, but the Falcon notably remarks that the shield feels “like it’s someone else’s.” For Spellman, as a Black man, this was the essence of what he wanted the show to become.
“The idea of creating a series that features an African American superhero, and how he responded to that [moment], sparked a million ideas,” he says. It’s the thought “of exploring a decidedly Black, decidedly American hero in the current climate.”
“The show is very honest and forthright and very unapologetic about dealing with the truth of what it means to be American, Captain America, Black Captain America — and if that’s even a thing,” Mackie elaborates. “I think picking up from where we left off at the end of Endgame, the show progresses extremely well by asking those questions and really explaining why Sam said the shield feels like it belongs to someone else.”
Mackie doesn’t believe there is “a defacto Captain America figure” here. At least, not in the beginning. “I think the more important thing is, how do we now define the Falcon and the Winter Soldier? When you’ve been defined so long as an Avenger or a superhero, when you’re not that anymore, what are you?”
Marvel executive producer Nate Moore and co-executive producer Zoie Nagelhout met with multiple writers in search of a lead for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Spellman, who wrote 2010’s Our Family Wedding and episodes of Fox’s Empire, rose to the top of the list. He had “one foot in what would be required for a fun action series,” Feige says, “but also, being a Black man working in this industry, [he had] very specific points of view that are required to tell the type of story we wanted to tell for, specifically, Sam Wilson.”
The mandate, Spellman recalls of pitching the show, was “this cannot be TV.” Instead, he decided with director Kari Skogland and the writers’ room to make each episode “feel like an event, not just as far as the spectacle on the screen, but the way you tell the story.” Skogland says, “Everybody went into this saying we’re making a six-hour feature. We’ll break it up so ultimately it will look like television, but it will feel like a six-hour feature.” Feige did note on the virtual Television Critics Association press tour in February that these “shows are not inexpensive. The per-episode cost is very high.”
Mackie had some reservations, let’s say, about this approach when he met separately with Marvel months after Endgame. “I was horrified,” he says of “being a guinea pig for the first [TV] spin-off of a Marvel movie.” He continues, “You’re in this amazing franchise and everything works. The last thing you want to do is be the lead of the first thing that does not work, ’cause that’s 100 percent you. I don’t want to be the guy that destroys an entire Marvel franchise.”
He felt a bit more at ease when Feige caught up with him before the start of filming. “I won’t let you suck,” he promised his star. But it was watching the finished episodes and what Marvel did with WandaVision that boosted Mackie’s confidence. Now, the actor feels like “Marvel has revolutionized the game of cinema” by bringing “the scope and magnitude” of the big screen to the small one. “If Kevin says it won’t be s—, I would bank on that,” he says. Continue reading