Is Red Guardian a super soldier?
AlexeiRed Guardian. Alexei is known most famously as Red Room's answer to Captain America. He's a Super-Soldier spy who has lived a lifetime of triumph during the Cold War. marvel.comRed Guardian (Alexei) | Characters
10 July, 2021 - 01:00am
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In very broad and potentially misleading terms, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Widow positions the dysfunctional quartet of Natasha Romanoff, Yelena Belova, Melina Vostokoff and Alexei Shostakov as a Soviet-era version of The Incredibles, a makeshift family of two parents and their children who find themselves tasked by their superiors to save the world. Or at least, that’s what they’ve been told.
Of course, we’ve barely even made it out of the prologue before the clan have been sent on their separate paths, even if they do reconnect right around the midway point to formulate a plan to free the prisoners of the Red Room and eliminate the evil General Dreykov once and for all. To do this, David Harbour’s Red Guardian must be broken out of prison, where he encounters a man with a Marvel Comics history of his own.
Alexei uses his super soldier strength to comfortably defeat all of his arm wrestling challengers, lastly defeating a man known as Ursa, which doesn’t sound like much of a big deal. However, those with an extensive knowledge of Marvel lore will be fully aware that Ursa Major is a Russian mutant that can transform into a bear at will, and in the comic books he’s been known to have ties to both Black Widow and the Red Room.
Additionally, when trying to reconnect with his estranged surrogate daughter to no avail, Yelena refers to Alexei as the Crimson Dynamo, before he swiftly reminds her that he’s Red Guardian. That’s a moniker that’s been held by several characters over the decades, usually foes of Tony Stark. The very first iteration of the Crimson Dynamo was Anton Vanko, father of Ivan, who was played by Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2. When it comes to Soviet superheroes in Black Widow, then, Easter Egg finds you.
10 July, 2021 - 01:00am
Click inside to find out who he told…
“The circle of secrets contains other people that keep secrets,” he told the outlet. “I felt like I could share Marvel secrets with them because, you know, they understand how to desperately keep a secret and the power of that.”
“But then there’s people who really want to know and I just wouldn’t tell them anything,” he added.
David explained that he had a pretty good reason for wanting to share spoilers with the Duffer brothers.
“Both things also take place, at one point, in a Russian prison,” he saod. “So, there were certain production things that I wanted to be different. Costumes I wanted to be different for Stranger Things than I did for, you know, Black Widow.”
The actor revealed that he would “secretly send the Duffers photos of production, photos of my costume,” just so that there was a clear difference between the two projects.
He also altered his performance so that audiences wouldn’t draw too many comparisons between his Stranger Things character and his role in Black Widow.
“One of my biggest concerns though is that I want to make them different,” he said. “The most obvious parallel is that they’re both father-figures in a sense, and in a weird way, they’re both father-figures to adopted daughters,” he said.
“So, Alexei’s narcissism, even his loudness of personality, even the amount of hair he has on his body is, like, all of it is trying to make this character behave much differently based on these set of circumstances, based on these traumas,” he continued.
Black Widow hits theaters Friday (July 9) and you can find out the meaning behind the movie’s end credits scene here!
09 July, 2021 - 05:29pm
We take a closer look at the history of Black Widow's Red Guardian and where he fits into the MCU.
When we finally catch up with Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) in the Russian prison where he’s been idling for years, he’s reliving his glory days in the midst of dealing with a string of arm wrestling contenders. Marvel’s Black Widow has already shown us just how strong Alexei is during its long, Ohio-set opening, so we know that the man who was once Russia’s answer to Captain America is going to win every single one of these bouts.
As Red Guardian, Alexei even had his own action figure, and although he’s now pretty out of shape the super soldier is more than a match for any of the younger and more ripped inmates who hope to challenge him. While a collection of men excitedly watch Alexei peacock his strength, he even brags about the time he beat Captain America.
“So,” Alexei teases. “I have the nuclear code, but there he is. Captain America! Finally, the Red Guardian’s time has come. I grab hold of his shield and, face to face, it’s a test of strength. The shield that he carries with him like a precious baby blanket? I use it to my advantage. I take it, I push him out the window, I make my escape.”
The beefy inmate he’s currently grappling with calls bullshit on the tall tale by getting Alexei to date his face-off with Cap at around 1983 or 1984 – a time when Steve Rogers was still in the ice.
“Are you calling me a liar?” Alexei rages, snapping the poor man’s wrist until it’s as floppy as a glove. Yikes.
But, hey, he’s just annoyed about being called out. There’s no way Cap and Red Guardian battled in the ’80s, right? It’s just not possible. Well, probably not. Unless you start thinking too hard about the events of Avengers: Endgame, the different ways that the writers and directors of the blockbuster view Steve Rogers’ fate, and the appalling way America treated Cap’s legacy, as revealed in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
A fascinating but deeply upsetting thing we learned in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was that Steve Rogers wasn’t the only super soldier fighting for America.
In the 1950s, Isaiah Bradley was one of many unwilling human subjects that the United States military tested their super soldier serum on, and as far as we know the only one who made it through those trials. During the Korean War, Isaiah fought Bucky Barnes when he was locked in Winter Soldier mode, and managed to destroy half of his metal arm in the heat of battle. The government started to worry about news of an African-American super soldier going public, and imprisoned Isaiah for three decades. He was freed in the 1980s and his death was later faked so he could live a normal life.
We’re pretty sure Alexei could tell the difference between Steve and Isaiah, but we guess it’s possible that the US military could have had other super soldiers posing as Cap between the period when Isaiah was active and Steve made his return from the ice. For example, in the comics, there were several men who stood in for Steve after Cap had been frozen, because the government didn’t want the world to know that Captain America was gone. One in particular, William Burnside, even went so far as to get plastic surgery to resemble Rogers and really took the whole thing too far (it didn’t end well, but that’s another story). Could Alexei’s tall tale be the first way the MCU nods to replacement Captain Americas beyond Isaiah Bradley?
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In the months following Avengers: Endgame’s release, the film’s directors and writers held court on the details of Steve Rogers’ mission to return the Infinity Stones and the long life that he subsequently chose to live with his WWII sweetheart, Peggy Carter. As you may recall, after Steve finished popping the stones back to their rightful places to avoid any of the chaotic branch timelines that The Ancient One warned Bruce Banner about, Steve and Peggy grew old together, and Old Cap then re-emerged on the very day he’d first left to pass his iconic shield over to Sam Wilson – an incident followed up in Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
But fans weren’t entirely sure whether the life Steve and Peggy lived would have caused its own branch timeline, a matter that directing team Joe and Anthony Russo were happy to clear up.
“Based on everything that happened, he would have been in a branch reality and then had to have shifted over to this, so jumped from one to the other and handed the shield off,” they said. “One thing that’s clear that Anthony and I have discussed, I don’t know that we’ve discussed this publicly at all, Cap would have had to have traveled back to the main timeline. That’s something that, yes, he would have been in a branch reality, but he would have to travel back to the main timeline to give that shield to Sam Wilson.”
A branch timeline, guys? Really? Loki, Mobius and everyone else at the TVA want a word.
Avengers: Endgame writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely had a totally different view of how Steve managed to show up where he did at the end of the film – he never left.
“That is our theory,” explained Markus. “We are not experts on time travel, but the Ancient One specifically states that when you take an Infinity Stone out of a timeline it creates a new timeline. So Steve going back and just being there would not create a new timeline. So I reject the “Steve is in an alternate reality” theory. I do believe that there is simply a period in world history from about ’48 to now where there are two Steve Rogers. And anyway, for a large chunk of that one of them is frozen in ice. So it’s not like they’d be running into each other.”
Yes, according to Markus and McFeely, there were two versions of Steve Rogers around in the seven decades that followed Captain America: The First Avenger, and the older version was just off living his life with Peggy while the younger one was in the ice. The confusion was palpable, with many fans refusing to believe that Steve would have hidden in the shadows instead of deciding to do something about all the horrible things that may have been happening in history’s relentless geopolitical conflicts.
The time travel rules of Avengers: Endgame – arguably nonsense – don’t leave much room for Markus and McFeely to be right – Banner tells the team that they can’t change the past because the past will become their future. But Markus and McFeely later doubled down on their comments, claiming that Old Cap was even at Peggy’s funeral during Civil War.
“I would like to believe that through some sort of bullshit time loop paradox–throw in the words you use when you’re bullshitting science in a movie: ‘some sort of quantum paradox’–that there are indeed two Captain Americas in the MCU timeline. That Steve Rogers who looped back into time has therefore always been there, and that he is living somewhere else in the movies you’re watching….And what I really like to believe is that there’s an old man sitting in back at Peggy’s funeral in Civil War, and that’s old Steve Rogers, watching young Steve Rogers, carry old Steve Rogers’s wife up to the front of the church. Can I explain it scientifically? Not really, no.”
Weirdly, it’s Black Widow’s throwaway moments with Alexei that could support the writers’ take here. Maybe the Steve who was with Peggy didn’t stay out of the fight all those years. Maybe he did try to stop Red Guardian from stealing the nuclear codes. And maybe this wasn’t the only time he and Alexei came to blows during the Cold War era. Sure, Cap would have technically been in his ’60s, but he ages slowly and Alexei is proof that the super soldier serum still very much has a kick to it as the years fly by.
Alexei could have fictionalized his interactions with Captain America for clout, and he comes across as the kind of person who would do so, but let’s look at the second time he brings up Captain America with his “daughter” Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. He couldn’t be any more proud that she became an Avenger, even if she defected to fight for the other side. Instead of reconnecting with her properly, however, the first thing he talks to her about privately is in the interest of boosting his own ego.
“Natasha come here, I want to ask you something, its important,” Alexei insists. “Did he talk to you about me? You know, trading war stories.”
“Captain America! My great adversary in this theater of geopolitical conflict. Not so much a nemesis, more like a contemporary, co-equal. I always thought there was a great deal of mutual respect,” he says genuinely.
Natasha doesn’t confirm or deny that Red Guardian got a mention in her conversations with Steve. She’s too annoyed that Alexei is harping on about himself again after they’ve spent so many years apart, but it may leave a tantalizing Captain America mystery lingering on the MCU timeline. Why would Alexei take an obvious lie this far, to someone with first-hand knowledge who would absolutely be in a position to call him out on it if he didn’t at least believe it was true?
For what it’s worth, Harbour told Inverse that Red Guardian’s Cap stories are “absolutely true, 100 percent,” but also went on to add “There’s a thing, confabulation, where people actually just believe their lies to such a degree that even when confronted with reality, they can’t process it. It doesn’t make sense [to them]. I think Alexei is very much the same way. He lives this reality completely independent of what other people have seen or heard.”
Whether any of this is ever canonically confirmed or not, the MCU is known for its breadcrumbs and callbacks, so don’t count out more Cap vs. Red Guardian hints just yet.
Kirsten Howard | @emotionalpedant
Kirsten Howard has paid their dues. Yes sir, the check is in the mail.
09 July, 2021 - 12:29pm
“Black Widow” is full of layered surprises and heart, from Florence Pugh’s huge little-sister energy to Rachel Weisz’s stunning pig mind control. But truly the next breakout star in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov, a.k.a. the Red Guardian.
In Alexei’s first few moments on screen, he flips a car, rides a plane as it takes off and forever betrays his fake daughters, little Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Pugh). And that’s not even the truly insane part of this character’s arc. Decades later, he tops himself again by appearing as a washed-up super soldier, stuck in a prison rotting away with nothing but his fading tattoos to show for his years of of dedication to the cause. One would assume this neglect would dampen his spirit — not a chance. Harbour (with his majestic beard) fills the screen with an ego larger than Thanos. Fueled with the confidence of a man who never left his glory days, Harbour’s vigor and determination make it nearly impossible not to cheer on this flawed, flailing failure of a father.
Variety discussed the intricacies of playing Red Guardian with Harbour and whether or not his character will return.
In the script, it’s very funny. I think it’s an homage to “The Incredibles” as well — this guy, clearly past his prime. I don’t think it’s in the final cut, but we took about five hours [to shoot that scene]. It was no joke with different angles…[Shortland] shot a ton of stuff around my character, around Rachel’s character, about our connection… none of that stuff’s going to be in the movie. But I will say for that particular scene, there were great moments and we really sculpted a thing.
As we were shooting it, I went over to the mirror at one point — there’s even stuff in the trailer that I don’t think made it in the [final] cut — where I’m just flexing and looking at myself and there is this ego. But there’s also him seeing himself age and confronting that as well. And then putting the blinders on and being unable to confront it and actually unable to see it. There’s a whole arc. When any of us look in the mirror, it’s such a personal thing to see yourself to know what you have looked like, and to actually genuinely look at yourself then. And so in that way, I love that about him. I love the fact that Cate was unafraid of playing with those ideas. I like real bodies, I like bodies that can’t get into jeans. Some people see it and they laugh, but to me, I like people like that because I feel like they have appetite and they have life and like to live. It’s funny, but I also like that guy.
Oh god yes. My favorites were, he has “Karl Marx” written on his knuckles, like “love” and “hate,” which I thought was just hilarious. I love that. That was a last-minute addition. He’s got a picture of [Vladimir] Lenin’s head on his abdomen. There’s a very intricate Russian gang tattoo that I felt looked a little bit too Nazi eagle. I didn’t want people to get distracted by that, so we put these little parapets on it that made it our own. There’s all these Russian words that were very personal to me. Then on his neck is a special custom tattoo we had built that is Rachel Weisz’s face in a bob haircut when she was younger. It says “Melina” underneath that. That was probably my favorite one because I love Rachel Weisz.
Starting with the script, there are all these colors that are contradictions to him. I really liked not shying away from those contradictions. I think people are full of contradictions and they play different roles in different scenarios. Who you are when you talk to your dad is completely different than who you are when you talk to your wife or your husband or your kids. Those contradictions are what made him great.
From the beginning of the movie, he definitely makes a choice that is hard for an audience to overcome. I think you have to gain a lot of ground later on in the movie to get people to go with him because he does something that’s quite dramatic.
I started with this idea that he really was a Soviet in the sense that he grew up under a Soviet Russia as opposed to the Russia of today. And then in that sense, he did really believe in a cause. I don’t know that Americans have the same belief in that cause. We have these ideologies of freedom and things like that, but there’s something about the Communist ideology that was so strong and so powerful. And so I think that the sacrifices that he made were for that. So I dug really into that aspect of it, the philosophy of that, what it would’ve meant to be a super soldier in that world. It became about these colors of remorse, grief and having made the wrong decisions. Seeing these daughters that you thought that you were doing the right thing by sort of surpasses you and the jealousy of that. All these very human things. My process always kind of starts with the script and then gets very personal as I go along.
Well he does both. It’s the same thing that I think anybody does with their daughter. When it’s to his advantage he uses that as a thing. At one point he says, “You capitalist.” or something about. And then, when he wants to build her up, it’s “You’re such a big shot.” I think it’s just more a product of them, it’s father/daughter. He just knows her and loves her. When she annoys him, he lets loose.
What attracts him about that Avengers thing is not so much that it’s Westernized, but the fact that she’s a superstar in a world that he wanted to be a superstar in, too. It’s not in line with the Communist ideology, but he was the great hope of Russia in terms of this superstar, and he never really made it. She sort of made it. She’s an Avenger; they know her, she’s the one. I think he is both jealous, but ultimately very proud of her superstar status and how much she achieved with where he put her in the Red Room and how messed up that situation was, how much she got out of her life.
Oh man, like everything. Russian accents are very hard. I do find that when I work on accents it’s hard to be technical with them…If you’re not careful, sometimes it can become an Italian mobster. I would find myself slipping into Tony Soprano, and that was bad. Accents are tough, but it’s fun because you have a little bit of a buffer in the sense of, it’s not a full-on documentary here. It’s a version of Russia that is populated with superheroes and international people. I do the best I can, but also allow the character to be the character and more than just the accent.
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. I love the character. There’s so many things you could do with him, right? There’s this gap of 25 years where we don’t know who he was, his version of events as opposed to the actual version of events, and what happens to him after this movie. And why isn’t he fighting Thanos? Where is he in that time? What happens then? When [Natasha] dies, what happens then? I mean, it’s very interesting to me and I hope that there is interest on other levels and maybe we’ll see some more.
09 July, 2021 - 06:00am
Who is the Red Guardian? Will we learn more about him?
One of the most unanswered questions coming out of “Black Widow” is about the battle we never saw between Red Guardian and Captain America.
In “Black Widow,” we meet Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), a former superhero who went by the name Red Guardian. Red Guardian, who is Russia’s version of Captain America, is also the adoptive father of Black Widow.
In “Black Widow,” Alexei makes a lot of references to Red Guardian’s fight with Captain America. He suggests that the two had a massive confrontation in the past, and he seems pretty convinced that it happened. We know that Alexei often boasts himself up in the film, and that he might be living in his own pseudo-reality. So there’s a chance that this is all a lie.
But Alexei even asked Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) if Captain America ever mentioned his battles with Red Guardian to her. She pushes it off — not really denying it or accepting it.
A fellow prisoner tells Alexei that Captain America was still frozen under ice during the ’80s and ’90s, when Red Guardian would have been at his peak of powers. So there would have been no chance of that fight actually happening.
“So, in other words, he has to be so bombastic because he can’t stop and feel these things, you know the failures they made,” Harbour said at a virtual press conference for the film. “So he has to build around him a world of, like, a confabulate story, a psychotic reality where he is the hero.”
And it is true — Captain America was frozen under ice after his battles in World War II. He wasn’t brought back to Earth until the mid-2010s, when the Avengers team was first starting up. So the fights would have not been possible.
I have one idea — and it’s sort of a stretch. In “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” we meet Isaiah Bradley, a Korean War veteran who was given the Super Soldier Serum in the 1950s. Per the Marvel Wiki, he was assigned to kill the Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes, who is more than 100 years old). But he failed to do so and was then arrested. In the 1980s, he was freed from prison and then faked his death. He lived in isolation.
This might be a stretch, but here’s a possibility the Red Guardian tangled with Isaiah Bradley sometime during those ’80s years. If Isaiah still had a Captain America uniform, this would make the battle all the more possible. It’s a stretch, but it’s one theory.
Harbour said at a virtual press conference for “Black Widow” that there’s a 25-year gap for Red Guardian that we don’t know about yet. We don’t know what happened before he was arrested, nor do we know what it was like when he lived in prison. But, as I wrote for the Deseret News, Harbour said it would be a fun avenue to explore.
“I do think that the classic Cold War thing is a really fun and funny dynamic between these two guys and the fact that they basically came up as nuclear warheads like in an arms race together. I think it’s just a really great concept that could be explored further,” he said.
And Harbour suggested he would love to share some screen time with Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, who recently became Captain America.
So will we see something like this in the future? It’s possible. Or it could be making something out of nothing. But if you’re looking for answers about the Red Guardian versus Captain America fight, you have as much as you need to know.
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09 July, 2021 - 05:00am
Harbour was blown away by the meet-for-lunch pitch with “Black Widow” director Cate Shortland, who said she envisioned him as Alexei Shostakov, the shield-wielding Russian version of Captain America also known as the Red Guardian. Shortland saw the character as a shell of his former self — a super-soldier who has maintained a paternal bond with the film’s title character but is now in prison, covered in tattoos, telling war stories that don’t quite add up and desperate for everyone to laugh at his overtly macho sense of humor.
“I was very excited to join the Marvel universe in general,” Harbour told The Post. “To play a guy who was so three-dimensional was such a gift.”
The Red Guardian, created by writer-editor Roy Thomas and the late, legendary artist John Buscema, first appeared in “The Avengers” No. 43, published by Marvel Comics in 1967. Harbour says he flipped through a few of the character’s comic-book appearances but knew the “Black Widow” movie would not lean in to those tales too heavily. In the comics, the Red Guardian is the Black Widow’s husband. Harbour’s version would be a reluctant father figure.
“The fun thing about this character is that he’s not that well-known,” Harbour said. “The problem with Thor, Iron Man or Captain America is that they are so well-known and beloved in the comics that you really have to keep within a mold to a certain degree. Whereas Red Guardian, he had a beard, we had tattoos, we were able to play with him a lot more.”
Harbour said there were brief discussions about Chris Evans making a cameo as Captain America in “Black Widow,” to explore the Red Guardian’s complicated relationship with his star-spangled U.S. counterpart. The idea never got off the ground because this is not the Red Guardian’s show.
Harbour welcomed what he saw as subtle-but-noticeable differences in the filmmaking process, given that Shortland is the MCU’s first solo female director.
“It’s hard to make generalizations about men and women because human beings are so different, but I did find that the vibe on the set [had] more questioning and was more collaborative,” Harbour said. “A lot of times with strong male directors you can get into a vibe of, c’mon, let’s shoot. … I did find that there was more exploration happening.
“I also like being the non-dominant voice. I like being the only guy in the room. It actually felt liberating in a strange way. It’s nice to sit back and have these four very strong, very intelligent women in charge and sort of let the boat carry you down the river.”
As an actor, Harbour has been a part of both sides of the comic-book movie coin. His “Hellboy” reboot was not a critical or commercial success, but he said that it was a role he wanted and that he enjoyed making the film. He said a Marvel Studios movie is a much different experience, one that feels like you already know you’re going to hit a home run.
“It feels like a different level. The script. The attention to detail. The production value. You do feel like you’re in safe hands,” Harbour said. “If we hold every [comic-book movie] to this Marvel standard … there’s going to be not a lot of room for other stuff. … But yeah, you definitely feel like you’re driving a Ferrari when you’re doing a Marvel movie. It’s insane.”
So could the Red Guardian be one of the supporting characters to get his own Disney Plus series? Harbour, no stranger to streaming services, says he loves the depth Disney Plus gives Marvel’s supporting characters such as Loki, Wanda and Vision. But he doesn’t expect a spinoff to be high on the important lists on the desk of Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige.
“He doesn’t need one more guy knocking on his door,” Harbour joked. “But if you’d like to tweet at Marvel Studios that you need to see this, please feel free.”
David Harbour says he had no idea 'Black Widow' was being made and was just hanging out in London when he scored 'one of the biggest gigs' of his life
09 July, 2021 - 12:00am
His career-defining performance as police chief Jim Hopper on the hitseries "Stranger Things" led to that jolt of fame (and a pair of Emmy nominations). Now he's rising to another level of stardom as he prepares to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In "Black Widow," now in theaters and available on Disney+, Harbour, 46, is a scene-stealer playing Red Guardian, the Soviet Union's answer to Captain America and father figure (albeit, not a very good one) to Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Though his washed-up demeanor makes it seem Red Guardian is over the hill, we see through the movie that Romanoff's need for his assistance is the rejuvenating jolt Red Guardian needs to be great again — and try to make up for his years of not being the best "father."
Insider chatted with Harbour overabout his unlikely entry into the MCU, how his suggestion led to the classic song "American Pie" being an integral part of the movie, and where he hopes Red Guardian goes from here.
David Harbour: Um, your perception of events is wrong. Marvel does not call me and say we want you to play Red Guardian. What happens is I'm in London randomly doing some stuff and ["Black Widow" director] Cate Shortland calls my agents and asks if I want to have lunch and talk about some stuff. I go to lunch and she tells me she's shooting a movie called "Black Widow" about Scarlett's character in the Marvel Universe and there's this guy we want you to play.
I had no idea there was a movie "Black Widow." I had no idea what we going on. I couldn't believe it. And she describes this character that is this guy who is a father figure and has all these tattoos, so to me, it was a fresh character. Then I went back and did some research and was like, oh, the comics are clearly all wrong. Finally, the movie will correct them. [Laughs.]
There was a lot on the page but there was also a lot of evolution. In the prison scene, a lot of that was on the page. The Red Guardian tattoo on my back and the arm wrestling, but as we got into the making of the movie there was a real freedom that Cate gave us.
Like the "American Pie" song, all of that was not in the script. A lot of the family dynamic stuff was improved. Even little things like me having a fake earpiece at one point. We were just playing around with things.
We had a week of rehearsals before filming started, which is such a luxury. We sat around and talked about the script. Like the first draft that I got the Red Guardian costume wasn't there. They put that bathroom scene in later. The dinner scene, there's a lot of us just messing around. Me grabbing food right in the middle of Scarlett's shot. They were developing the movie as we went. So there was a strong beginning, middle, and end but we were putting stuff in along the way.
We were sitting around talking about the family structure and in the bedroom scene with Red Guardian and Yelena Belova, 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.
I felt there's gotta be something a little more profound and I said, "Wouldn't it be interesting if back in America when she 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'? So from then on, she tells daddy to put in the tape."
So for this bedroom scene, I'm thinking, he's a failure as a father what can he do at the end of this scene? This narcissist who also has a big heart. And so he brings up the song, basically as him saying, "I tried."
[Laughs.] I mean, I would like to say no. I'm down for more.
I have two ideas. One is seeing Red Guardian back in his prime. That's interesting to me. But the other is going off this story, having this experience with Natasha and having this beautiful end when he takes her hand and says "I can't even speak to you because I would mess it up." When he finds out that she was on that cliff with Hawkeye and maybe the version of the story he hears is that Hawkeye pushed her off or something, it's a moment when Red Guardian turns back to the guy he was. He now wants vengeance for her. That I feel would play well.
I thought it was beyond my wildest dreams. I mean I was interested and fascinated by fame when I was a teenager. But growing up and by my 30s I really was enjoying what I was doing as an actor. So you give up that idea of fame. I'm that guy in the movies and I'm doing theater, I'm doing stuff. I'm happy. And you're right, it's crazy how things changed with "Stranger Things" and now with this, these are not things I looked for or expected at all.
In London and get one of the biggest gigs in my life. It's crazy. [Laughs.]
08 July, 2021 - 07:00pm
Cate Shortland and David Harbour offer their takes on Alexei’s tall tales of fighting the star-spangled hero.
But unlike Steve Rogers, who is memorialized and celebrated in national museums, the Red Guardian is a faded relic of the Soviet Union. And these days, he is prone to sharing tall tales of fighting the one and only sentinel of liberty — but did he?
If one were to do the math — as one other prisoner in Black Widow does — it’s clear Alexei could never have traded fists with Steve Rogers. After all, Captain America spent decades frozen in ice, going under in 1945 only to wake up in 2011, according to the timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Captain America: The First Avenger, where Steve wakes up in the 21st century, was released in 2011.)
So who was it that Red Guardian tussled with in the ‘70s and ‘80s? Was it really Captain America, or is the Red Guardian a big red liar? David Harbour and director Cate Shortland each have their own answers, and they revealed them in interviews with Inverse.
Red Guardian isn’t an invention of Black Widow. He was created in 1967 by comic book heavyweights Roy Thomas and John Buscema to be a Russian rival to Captain America with similar powers.
In a confusing bit of canon, the character Aleksey Lebedev held the mantle first during World War II where he fought alongside Captain America (not Steve Rogers, but Steve’s replacement William Naslund). However, his stories were published much later in 1991 (Namor, The Submariner Annual #1) as a retcon by Marvel’s writers to add more backstory to its history.
The “second” Red Guardian was Alexei Shostakov. Unlike in the movie, Alexei was a test pilot and KGB agent who was trained to become Red Guardian and was married to Natasha (aka, Black Widow). He was not Natasha’s fake father on an undercover assignment, which is the story told in the MCU.
And yes, he did fight Captain America in the comics, notably in his second comic book appearance in Avengers issue #44.
Harbour and Shortland each offer slightly different answers.
“I will say they are absolutely true, 100 percent,” Harbour tells Inverse.
Over Zoom, Harbour’s response has a whiff of playful sarcasm. But the actor also sincerely believes that Alexei believes it, which is all that matters.
“Part of the fun thing about Alexei is that I wasn’t interested in reality,” the actor says. “He doesn’t even know that he’s lying.”
Harbour, who was a working character actor before landing the role of Jim Hopper on the Netflix hit Stranger Things, says he’s played a handful of characters who lie. “Sometimes as an actor, I’ll have to know the reality because I’ll know [if] the character is lying. But Alexei simply believes this stuff is true.”
Director Cate Shortland believes “both” are true: Both that Alexei is lying, and that he’s telling the truth. Shortland hides whether there is a real canonical answer.
“I wanna see Alexei and Captain America together,” Shortland says. “If we saw them together now, I think we know what would happen. I don’t want to see Alexei poo his pants. I think that’s what would happen. You’d find this little boy in the corner crying his eyes out.”
Harbour adds that Alexei is prone to confabulation, for reasons that remain unknown.
“There’s a thing, confabulation, where people actually just believe their lies to such a degree that even when confronted with reality, they can’t process it,” he explains. “It doesn’t make sense [to them]. I think Alexei is very much the same way. He lives this reality completely independent of what other people have seen or heard.”
While Harbour and Shortland are resistant to give a canonical answer — for now — the question is arguably more interesting. Does Alexei believe he fought Captain America? Yes. But is it true that Captain America was out of action when Alexei was Red Guardian? Also yes.
Remember when Steve Rogers went back in time at the end of Avengers: Endgame to place all the Infinity Stones in their proper time? Remember how he stayed there in the past?
While it’s unlikely Steve met Alexei returning the Infinity Stones — though the Avengers did take the Tesseract in 1970, which could pit Steve against a younger, greener Red Guardian — it’s also possible Steve would have met Alexei years later after Steve had settled down with Peggy. Did Steve put on his costume a few more times for secret missions throughout history?
A second explanation could be set up for a future story that’s yet to be revealed. What if Alexei really did fight Captain America, who for whatever reason is lost or traveling in time?
While it could be Sam Wilson or, heaven forbid, John Walker, what matters is that Alexei is honest when he says he fought Captain America. He just didn’t fight Steve Rogers (and didn’t know it wasn’t him). This way, both things are true at the same time. Alexei isn’t lying when he says he fought Captain America, but people aren’t wrong when they tell him Cap wasn’t around.
If this is the case, this only brings up more questions: Who is this Captain America? And why are they fighting Red Guardian? With the Infinity Stones gone and Phase 4 yet to set up a crossover-level threat, it’s truly unknown what Marvel has planned for the future.