‘Black Widow’ Star David Harbour Loves Being a Big-Screen Loser

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The New York Times 11 July, 2021 - 11:49am 16 views

Is Red Guardian Captain America?

The Red Guardian is an identity that was created as the Soviet equivalent of Captain America, although its use has continued after the fall of the Soviet Union. wikipedia.orgAlexei Shostakov as Red Guardian

Is Black Widow a super soldier?

Her fighting skills are augmented by a variant of the Super-Soldier serum, which she was given as part of the Black Widow program. Although this treatment doesn't give her superhuman strength like Captain America, Natasha operates at peak human condition. marvel.comBlack Widow (Natasha Romanova) In Comics Powers, Villains, History

The actor talks about his roles as a failed superhero in the new Marvel blockbuster and as a milquetoast accountant in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move.”

It’s never a particularly good time to be a loser, but it’s an excellent moment to be David Harbour, who embodies misbegotten characters so fully in his latest movies.

Harbour, who may be best known as the reluctantly heroic police chief Jim Hopper on Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” can currently be seen in “Black Widow,” the Marvel movie directed by Cate Shortland that opened over the weekend. In it, he plays Alexei, a Russian super-soldier who formerly led a thrilling life as the costumed champion Red Guardian. Now confined to a wintry prison where he has become feral and overweight, all he can do is reminisce about good old days that may not have happened as he remembers them. That is, until his rescue by Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), the spies he raised as his own daughters.

Alexei is the latest in a series of strangely compelling deadbeats for Harbour. He also appears in Steven Soderbergh’s new HBO Max thriller, “No Sudden Move,” as Matt Wertz, a milquetoast accountant drawn into a criminal enterprise that’s well out of his league.

And these are precisely the kinds of characters that Harbour loves to play. As he explained in an interview on Thursday: “Winners are great, and we like them, rah-rah. But to me, the beauty of human beings is in the flesh and the failures. We’re all frail.”

Having performed over the years in Broadway productions of “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “The Coast of Utopia” as well as in films like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Revolutionary Road,” Harbour called his current renaissance “another step in a very even-keeled, slow trajectory, which I like.”

Now 46 years old and married to the pop singer Lily Allen, Harbour said he was happier to have found success at this stage of his life. If he’d had this much attention as a younger man, Harbour said: “Oh God, that would be miserable. It took me so long to cultivate an artistic voice. If I had people judging me so early about whether or not they liked what I did, I wouldn’t be able to survive that.”

Speaking via video from New Orleans, Harbour talked further about the making of “Black Widow” and “No Sudden Move,” his offbeat influences and the comfort of working with Soderbergh during a pandemic. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

It’s oddly pedestrian. I have friends who tested for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” who talked about a top-secret lair and getting sides [dialogue pages] and then they burn them. My agent said Cate Shortland wants to meet you for a movie she’s doing. He didn’t even know what it was about. I sat down with her, and she said, “I’m doing this ‘Black Widow’ movie for Marvel with Scarlett Johansson.” And then she proceeded to pitch my character as this dude who’s big and violent with tattoos and gold teeth and also needs you to like his jokes. She pitched me these incredible contradictions, and we talked about all these family dramedies with desperate people — movies like “The Savages” and Ricky Gervais on “The Office.” And I was like, hell yes, on so many levels.

It’s just that he’s so desperately insecure, and that insecurity manifests itself in boastfulness. I love people like this. He now has such deep regret and emotional guilt, but he can’t feel any of those things. So all he does is exist on his sociopathic charm and his need for validation. Someone like Hopper [in “Stranger Things”] has guilt, but it’s so internal, whereas he’s loud in every way. Smelly and sweaty and big and hairy. So cringey, as the kids say.

I have such an odd ego. I am always flattered, and then I look back years later and I go, what were you flattered by? I’m sort of an outcast myself. Growing up, I was, certainly. And I’ve always wanted to act because I wanted people to feel less alone. Even when I’d play villains, people would say, “There was a way that you humanized the experience so that we understood someone, as opposed to judging them.” So that’s what flatters me — you’re using me as an artist to understand this deeply troubled and confusing individual that a less capable person would make a mockery of. I maybe proceed to do both. But I can hopefully give you some understanding of him.

I had never even met them. But then we had rehearsals for about two weeks, which is rare on a movie this size, and we really did take on those family dynamics, right from the get-go. I did feel like Rachel was the woman I was meant to be with — no offense to Lily Allen, because she is the actual person I was meant to be with — but it did feel like Melina and Red Guardian had something beautiful. Scarlett felt like the oldest child; I started to see her as rigid in a certain way, and I started to poke fun at her rigidity. And Florence really felt like the baby of the family; I just wanted to coddle her and make her laugh.

I had grown the beard and the hair for “Stranger Things,” and I was like, “Let’s use the weight.” So I started eating even more. I got up to 280 pounds, and I loved it. I said to the first A.D. [assistant director], “Listen, we have to shoot the flashback stuff at the end, so that by the time we shoot the flashback, I’ll lose the weight and I’ll be thin.” And he was like, “You’ll never be thin.” [Laughs.] I was like, “Yes I will, man.” And I lost like 60 pounds through the shooting. The first stuff we shot was at the prison, so that belly that’s coming at you, that’s all real belly. And then as we shot, I started to lose weight. I was just hungry a lot of the shoot.

[Dryly] It’s a true testament to my undeniable charisma when I say that my wife met me at 280 pounds with this beard and this hair. We went on a date at the Wolseley [restaurant] in London, and she really fell for me at my worst, physically and hair-wise. So as the thing went on, I started losing the weight and working out. And she honestly has some mixed feelings about it. Which is a good place to be in a relationship. It’s really good to start the relationship from that part, as opposed to being the young, handsome buck and watching yourself degenerate over the years.

They really want you to do it. They’re very encouraging. But I’m the anti-Tom Cruise when it comes to this stuff. I do not want to fly the helicopter. I want Alexei to be a production of eight different people. I’m the face. I’m very happy to put the stunt people in. But I do my own arm-wrestling. I wouldn’t let anyone else arm-wrestle for me.

That’s what I love about Alexei and what I love about Hopper. It comes from my view of Walter Matthau. In “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” you have this schlubby leading man and you put him against Robert Shaw, who’s like the most bad-ass Brit in the world. You think he’s never going to take this guy. But there’s something about his American heart that we want to love, and I love embodying that. Once Hopper rolled around, it was like, swing for the fences. Give him the dad bod and let him smoke cigarettes, have him be a total mess.

It was very interesting to be perceived as a villain. There were heavies, but then I was cast as true, dangerous psychopaths, too. There’s something about the mental freedom of the psychopath that I can embrace in a certain way. It really was [the casting director] Carmen Cuba on “Stranger Things” who was like, “I know this guy’s been the villain and he’s been fifth and sixth on the call sheets for a long time, but I think he’s the Harrison Ford.” No one had seen that before. I always blamed it on the jawline or the brow, whatever it was. It really takes a sophisticated eye to go, it doesn’t matter whether he has a double chin. His heart is there.

It got shut down during Covid, so they refashioned it and put that movie back together. A couple people couldn’t do it so a couple replaced them, and I was one of them. Steven Soderbergh’s process is very simple: He sent me the script. Would you like to do this? Yes, very much. And then I met him on the first day.

Matt lives in a prison of his own making. The tragedy of Matt is that he can’t be who he is, and he’s been living this lie for a long time. There is a carrot that gets dangled in front of him, and as one of the characters says in the movie, he had the brass ring and he just let it go by. That’s the true tragedy of Matt Wertz. There’s some excitement that he may actually get to live a life, finally, after so much struggle. And he disappoints us. [Laughs.]

That was my first pandemic shoot. “Stranger Things” had come back for Season 4 in September, and they didn’t need me until January. And I freaked out. I love my wife and kids, but I also need to go to work, because I’ll lose my mind here, trying to home-school them. This job came to me, and I took it. We were in Detroit for two and a half, three months, sequestered in a hotel. But luckily it’s Soderbergh. He did “Contagion.” So all the C.D.C. guys that he worked with on that were there on set. We were talking about the vaccines. I would go to Soderbergh and be like, “When is this going to be over?” And he would be like, “Oh, sometime early next year, there’ll be vaccines.” I was like, “Which one?” He’s like, “Pfizer’s doing very well — two shots.” It was incredible. You’re making this movie and you’re finding out what’s actually happening at the C.D.C.

Ugh. I want to tell you something. I have my prepackaged answer, which is true, that it’s a super-exciting season. It’s gone to a whole other place. It started out, in Season 1, with this small-town police chief, and now it’s become this sprawling thing with a Russian prison and a monster. The brothers [series creators Matt and Ross Duffer] are big into video games, manga and anime, and we definitely play on that this season. We talked about “The Great Escape” and “Alien 3” as influences. In terms of Hopper, you get to see a lot of back story that you haven’t seen before, it’s only been hinted at. As opposed to this dad he’s become, eating chips and salsa and yelling at his teenage daughter, you’ll unearth some more of the warrior that he had been.

I do a lot more stunts this season than I’ve ever done. And I — if I do say so myself — did some pretty impressive things. And that truly came from being humiliated on the set of “Black Widow,” being not able to do those things. There is an ego in me that’s growing. Hopefully by the time I’m 55, I’ll be hanging out of a helicopter as well, making my own version of “Mission: Impossible.”

Read full article at The New York Times

‘Black Widow': Did Red Guardian Really Fight Captain America in the ’80s?

Yahoo Entertainment 11 July, 2021 - 04:22pm

While Natasha Romanoff herself is certainly the main character in “Black Widow” — out now in theaters and on Disney+ — nobody makes a more effective effort to steal the show than David Harbour’s Alexei Shostakov, better known as the super soldier Red Guardian. Alexei played the role of Natasha’s father in the 1990s when the two of them, along with Yelena (Florence Pugh) and Melina (Rachel Weisz), lived in the U.S. as a “The Americans”-style spy family.

While they aren’t actually related, Natasha spends a big chunk of “Black Widow” reassembling that family in order to take down the Red Room, where the three women of the family were all mutilated and conditioned as children. In the middle of all this, Alexei tells an interesting story about the time he claims to have fought Captain America.

There’s a problem with this story, though, as another character points out: the Red Guardian allegedly fought Cap in the mid-1980s, when Steve Rogers was still frozen in ice.

This is a point that would have played much, much differently had the MCU release schedule not been totally upended by the pandemic. Had “Black Widow” been released last year, ahead of the launch of the Marvel shows on Disney+, we would have to resort to comic book knowledge to make any sense of this idea. But since we’ve already seen “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which was originally scheduled for months after this movie, we know that Steve Rogers was not the only Captain America in the MCU. There were others who took on that role while Steve was frozen for 70s years.

We’ve met one of them, Isaiah Bradley, on “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” Isaiah told the story of how he was essentially a secret government experiment, tortured by the people who had turned him into a super soldier as they tried to figure out how to make the serum work for more people.

But Bradley fought in the Korean War, decades before Alexei’s story. After the war, he was imprisoned and suffered through three decades of brutal testing before his death was faked and Isaiah was freed under a new identity. There’s not much of a chance that Bradley was the Captain America he fought.

The U.S. also used the serum on some others while Steve was frozen, but we don’t know all those details. But it’s not crazy to think that if they had one secret Captain America fighting in the Korean War, then they probably had some others at later points as well. And it could easily have been one of those who fought Red Guardian.

David Harbour, however, told us that he thinks Alexei may have made this story up. He doesn’t know for sure, though.

“I don’t know the realities of that. And in fact, to me it was sort of, as I played it, it was relatively unimportant. Because Alexi himself doesn’t even know he’s lying when he’s lying, because he so believes his own confabulation,” Harbour told TheWrap.

“Like he’s so invested in his own version of events and his own reality, that it didn’t much matter to me. But I think it would be an interesting exploration to go back and see if any of this were true and what the circumstances of that was. Because it’s interesting to see him in his glory days, too. We don’t really get to see any of them.

“And I would like to know, yeah, what he was about when he was younger. Because he was sort of the great hope of Russia at one point, and he’s a very interesting dude. A lot of complexity, a lot of contradictions, a lot of layers.”

As for whether we’ll ever see any of those glory days or more Alexei at all in the MCU, Harbour says he doesn’t know about that either.

“I don’t know. Like, I don’t know. And they won’t let me tell you even if I did know, but I don’t.”

Read original story ‘Black Widow': Did Red Guardian Really Fight Captain America in the ’80s? At TheWrap

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Black Widow: David Harbour Inspired American Pie Scene With Florence Pugh

ComicBook.com 11 July, 2021 - 04:22pm

Black Widow’s David Harbour had the idea for the emotional scene with Florence Pugh. He talked to Insider about how the creative team settled on “American Pie” by Don McLean as the heartfelt soundtrack choice. According to the Red Guardian actor, his moment with Yelena was supposed to end a little differently. After she storms off angry with her family, the father figure was supposed to try and fail to reach her. Instead of ending on a silent note, Harbour suggested that they go with the song as an emotional callback to their time in Ohio. That choice seems to have worked out because audiences responded to the swap with positive posts on social media. A lot of the family dynamic in the movie shines, but Alexi brings the heart in a big way throughout Black Widow. Check out what the star had to say down below.

"My character is fumbling trying to be a father and in the end he fails. She tells him to get out. In the script, he says something and leaves," Harbour said. "I felt, there's gotta be something a little more profound."

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"I said, 'Wouldn't it be interesting if back in America when [Belova] was little and was terrified having been taken from her family the Red Guardian would put her in the car and drive around and play 'American Pie'?" he added. "So from then on she tells daddy to put in the tape."

In a previous conversation with Variety, the actor rallied for another stint as The Red Guardian somewhere. He sees so much potential for the lovable lug in the MCU.

"They don't let you say these things. I would love for there to be more Red Guardian, and I would love for you guys to love for there to be more Red Guardian because that always helps the cause," Harbour explained. "I love the character, there's so many things you could do with him. There's this gap of 25 years where we don't know who was he, what is his version of events as opposed to the actual version of events?"

What was your favorite moment from Black Widow? Let us know down in the comments!

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SAM'S TAKE | Black Widow Review | RNZ

RNZ 11 July, 2021 - 04:17pm

Black Widow's Red Guardian Is Stronger Than Captain America - and That's Worrying

CBR - Comic Book Resources 11 July, 2021 - 06:45am

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's safe to say Chris Evans' Steve Rogers is one of the strongest heroes. The super soldier's fought elite killer robots, aliens, gods and, of course, Thanos, proving that the SSR and Dr. Erskine's serum was indeed something spectacular. It really did turn him into the perfect war specimen, so much so that Falcon and the Winter Soldier had a chemical arms race for vials to create the next Steve. However, Black Widow introduces another super soldier in the MCU, and this one is even stronger than Captain America.

It's Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), the undercover agent that the Red Room planted in Ohio during the '90s to steal intel from a S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility. Russia's "first and only super soldier" was faking being a family with Melina, as well as the young Natasha and Yelena, in the opening act of Black Widow. They fled once he stole the research and burned the facility down, and when they got to the airfield, his true grit emerged.

Later on in Black Widow, as he breaks out of a wintery Russian prison, Alexei's shown smashing walls and scaling the compound like an animal. He does so quickly, evoking shades of Steve, but the thing is, Alexei's now out of shape. Thus, one has to imagine he'd be even better if he were fit or conditioned for years like Cap was to be a true soldier. Granted, he probably did receive some training before he became the Red Guardian, but there's clearly something special about his raw strength, even in his unrefined state.

In the comics, Red Guardian was given his own variant of the super soldier serum that enhanced his strength, endurance and abilities immensely. Alexei debuted in 1967's Avengers Vol. 1 #43 and it's revealed that his death was faked when he was married to Natasha Romanoff. While she went on to become Black Widow and then defected, he was turned into the Russian equivalent of Captain America. He was trained rigorously and attacked Earth's Mightiest Heroes, only to switch sides and help them once he saw Natasha and remembered their love.

The thing is, if this serum can keep an unfit Alexei so strong, as seen with how he handles himself fighting Taskmaster in the finale, it might provide more base brute strength than other serums on the market. One can't help but wonder if there's more of this serum out there, if it's been perfected, if it's connected to Isaiah Bradley and how strong might its subjects be with Steve's training. It could pave the way for more super soldiers for Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes and even Baron Zemo to someday pursue.

It is also possible that Red Room boss Dreykov, who loves chemical experiments and mind control technology, may have taken Alexei's blood. He could have retro-engineered it to sell on the black market, so with this shrouded in mystery, destruction could be on its way. It could be something for John Walker/U.S. Agent, Valentina and Yelena to track with their own Dark Avengers team, creating intrigue as to what other world powers have been cooking up for their armies.

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