He may be the Internet’s meme du jour, but John Walker is no joke—he’s the new Captain America in Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and he’s fascinating. io9 had a chance to speak with Wyatt Russell, the actor behind the mask, and discuss his great venture into the MCU.
Russell is best known for roles on Lodge 49, Black Mirror, and Overlord. Also, in case the strong chin and infectious laugh didn’t give it away, he’s the son of living Hollywood legends Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, the latter of whom played Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (along with, you know, some of the greatest action roles in the history of cinema). Walker, a highly decorated war vet, was at West Point when Steve Rogers re-emerged into public life. That means he’s witnessed the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe firsthand and realizes what the mantle of Captain America means. He also knows it wasn’t meant for him—and, well, that’s going to be an issue.
This week, io9 sat down with Russell on a video call to discuss his role. We talked about the character’s mindset, the actor’s preparation, the advice his father gave, and the Marvel mainstay who really pushed him to join up. Plus, of course, the memes. Here’s our interview, slightly edited for clarity.
io9, Germain Lussier: So in the latest episode, John mentioned that he was in college at West Point when Steve Rogers came back. That means he, kind of like us, has lived through the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How do you think him being alive and in the military during those events impacted him as a person?
Wyatt Russell: I think that the awareness of the fact that the Avengers were a thing while he was in the military was something that definitely informed him. I guess my first idea would be like, “Where the hell were you when I needed you? When we were over there [fighting a war]?” Like, “Hey, what about that?”
Other than that, I think he wanted to be someone who could help people. [It’s] at the center of him. And he does. He wants to be someone who can help people. It’s just the way he’s going about doing it isn’t necessarily that of someone we’ve seen before as an Avenger or as someone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who’s trying to fight [for] good. It’s someone who’s trying to be someone that he may not be and we’re at the beginning of his journey as Captain America and have to see where it goes from there.
io9: So do you put that into the performance at all? Do you, like, sit and watch the Marvel movies in character as John Walker and imagine what he would think about? Or do you go your own way?
Russell: I go my own way only because I’ve always found that no matter what you’re doing, if you look too much at material that’s come before it, you start to act as the result of knowledge you know that the audience may not. And that’s never good. It’s like, if the actor is ahead of the audience that way, you’re not with me.
So I tried to look at a lot of the art that was done of John Walker to sort of inform body language. Once you have the body language, you’re kind of walking around using some of that to inform how you are and some of the choices that you end up making. And inevitably, you do a very wide range of different things because the guy can be lots of different things, that’s what drew me to him. He can be funny and he can be totally terrifying and crazy, and Marvel and Kari [Skogland, director] and Zoie [Nagelhout, co-executive producer] and Kevin [Feige, Marvel president] and all those people who are great people at Marvel end up cutting together the best version of what they think John should tonally be.
io9: When the cameras are off, how do you think he feels about superheroes? Obviously, like I said, he’s lived through this. And when we meet Lemar Hoskins (played by Clé Bennett), he has a superhero name even though he’s not necessarily a superhero. So it feels like they might idolize them a little bit. How do you think he feels deep in his core about them?
Russell: I think that he wants to be one. He’s desperate for people to love [him], and people love superheroes. And I think John’s a person who’s desperate for love. Like “Please! Work with me!” He really wants that and he’s not getting it and someone who feels that and doesn’t get it, they feel rejected, and they can become dangerous.
io9: So they hint at this a little bit in the show, but how do you think John reacted when they asked him to be Captain America? Because obviously, he liked Steve. He followed Steve. He knows Steve gave the shield to Sam (Anthony Mackie), Sam donated it to the Smithsonian, and now they’re giving it to him. Was there any trepidation, was it more of a sense of obligation? What do you think?
Russell: I think that there was a sense of obligation, but as you said, there’s a little bit of trepidation there. There had to be because he is unsure and there’s definitely some imposter syndrome happening because at the same time as he wants to be…this is the best way he knows how to do good. He grew up idolizing these guys, wanting to do good, and what better way can you help the world than to be asked to be Captain America? But are you ready for Captain America? Are you ready for it? Are you built to be that? Is that how you’re wired? He has to answer all those questions now and that’s what we’re watching him do.
io9: Marvel’s obviously very secretive so I’m wondering when you went in for the show, did you know what show it was? What role it was? What did you know and how did you sort of find out more and more about it over the course of the process?
Russell: When I went in to read, I did not know who I was playing. Then once they were like, “Great, you’re our guy,” I was like, “Who? What guy?” And then they told me and I was like, “Well, I’m not sure.” I wasn’t sure. Then they told me a little bit more about him, where he was going, and I liked it. I really did like it. It made a lot of sense to me. So after that, I was able—once the scripts were done—to get the scripts and go through them and try and understand the character and ask questions and do all that as time went on.
io9: So did you know you were meeting for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or you just going in for a Marvel meeting?
Russell: Man, I don’t know. I can’t remember. [thinks a moment] I think it was just Marvel.
io9: OK, now I’m sure you’re been asked about this a lot today, but I’m curious, too. Obviously, John has become very meme-able from these last two episodes. What are your feelings about people using these images of you humorously?
Russell: I don’t have, I was going to say “I don’t have the internet.” I have the internet. I don’t have Instagram or social media or anything, so I don’t see most of it. But the really good ones are filtered through and that’s how I know they’re really good. The one that’s my favorite is the old man from Up. It’s one of the great ones. I’m very proud to go down in, what I consider, meme history as far as the old man from Up wearing the outfit. It’s classic. So that was a good one. I haven’t really seen any other ones. I could kind of care less.
io9: I’m doing an MCU rewatch with my wife and we recently hit Guardians 2 and I was like, “Oh my god,” I forgot that your dad is part of the team as well. Did you talk to him at all about that experience? Did that impact this at all? Because obviously your career, how you pick roles, has been very measured and awesome but then there’s “Marvel.” So I’m wondering if there was any discussion there.
Russell: Yeah, I mean, maybe a little. You know, he always gives the same advice. Everything is boiled down a little bit more simply than most people realize. If the movie’s good and you think you can be good, or the show’s good and you think you can be good and add to it, then do it. If you don’t think it’s good and you don’t think you can be good, even if it is good, don’t do it. It’s pretty much that simple. Even if it’s Marvel it doesn’t matter. You just have to do the thing that you think is going to be good.
Actually, James Gunn was the person I had talked to, to ask questions to. James and I are friendly and he’s a great guy and I trust his opinion, obviously, on movies and moviemaking and the process. So what he said was, “Look. Marvel doesn’t let it be bad. And so if those are your fears, you can let them go because they are great people. They are the best at Marvel. And if you’re going to take your bet, go take it with Marvel, they’re fantastic people.” And so when he said that I really took his advice and I trusted him. The proof is in the pudding with James. He’s an unbelievable filmmaker, and those are the people who I trust most.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier continues each Friday through April 23 on Disney+.
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