With The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’s launch Friday on Disney+, the viewing public has once again been reacquainted with our old pals Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. With a first episode that offers a lot of table setting for what’s to come, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier promises to be a whiz-bang, smash-’em-up six parter, as well as a surprisingly deep and emotional look at what it truly means to be Captain America. To get a better sense of how the show came together, we sat down with the director of all six episodes, Kari Skogland, to talk about Bucky Barnes’ time in therapy, being a woman working in “a muscular space,” and why she thinks there’s too much gunplay in entertainment.
The A.V. Club: Wandavision was a huge success for Disney+ in terms of fan involvement with the show. Has that put pressure on you in terms of expectations? I actually talked to [showrunner] Jac Schaeffer from Wandavision about this, but can you please everybody all the time when it comes to a Marvel project?
Kari Skogland: I’m sure we can’t. I’m just trying to stay true to the story that we’re telling.
Wandavision came out of the gate swinging, and that’s fantastic. I was thrilled for them because it’s such a creative show and so unique and different. It couldn’t have opened the whole Disney streaming thing for Marvel better, as far as I can tell. They set the bar high, though, and how exciting is that for us?
I hope the fans embrace our show. We love making this show. We’re very, very proud of it. I hope the fans embrace it as much as we love making it. I’m sure [Jac] would say the same. I just hope our fans are as engaged.
It’s spectacular that the fan base is so invested in these characters and is so interested. I think it is extraordinary.
AVC: I’ve heard the show compared to a buddy action-comedy, and some previews have mentioned that it’s reminiscent of some beloved action movies. Did you guys watch anything in reference? What was on your mood board?
KS: That’s a great way to put it. The way I try to get inspiration and ideas and such is from a very, very wide swath of different genres, even if I’m looking at a particular execution, mostly because I want it to have some originality. I wanted the show to have not just my personal voice, but also to embrace other ideas that I can bring into the genre. So it’s all about feeding those synapses and stirring the pot and coming out with something that’s hopefully original.
So I look at a wide range, everything cinematically from a David Lean to a movie that Lina Wertmüller did. More recently, The Untouchables, 48 Hours, and Lethal Weapon were some of the classics we watched for sure, because we were in that sort of arena. But the goal was to really embrace all aspects of relationship movies as much as we could because we had so much more real estate and so much more time to explore with these characters.
I wanted to be informed, though, so I bubbled it all together, “put that there, put that there,” and hopefully it becomes something fresh.
AVC: There are some huge action pieces in the first episode. You’ve worked on action projects before, but I have to imagine there’s still a learning curve when it comes to, say, shooting a dogfight in a canyon. What was the most difficult set piece for you to figure out?
KS: I think all the action sequences have to serve character and story and character story. So I looked at every one of those as having a unique angle and a unique perspective. I wanted each action sequence to have its own unique DNA at its core. So we really looked for how to mix that up in a way that was not only satisfying visually from a certain perspective, but really from a character place.
I look at action sequences much like you look at a drama sequence: It’s still got a beginning, middle, and end, and it’s got violence in it of some form that’s character based.
I guess one of the things that I did as a sort of overview was that we reduced weaponry. That does mean that all the things we choreographed come from sort of a different mindset, and that just by definition brings a different flavor to a scene.
AVC: Why did you decide to do that?
KS: For obvious reasons. I think that we need to look at weaponry in entertainment as being too much of a crutch. We wanted to have our characters be clever and interesting and not just rely on the go-to.
AVC: Watching the first episode, I was really struck by the emotional state these guys would be as we meet them. We’ve lost two Avengers. Half the people in the world—including some of our characters here—were gone for five full years. A lot has changed. Bucky was a hired killer for decades! He should definitely be in therapy, so I’m glad he is, frankly.
KS: I think all these characters have seen or been involved with very traumatic events, and I don’t think Marvel’s ever shied away from exploring the consequences of some of those events. We just have a little more time to do it. In our case, we’re able to explore it on a more detailed character level just because we have the time.
So, yeah, I’m looking at consequences, looking at, you know, he left behind a trail of victims and there’s collateral damage. What does that look like and what does that feel like for a guy who has to cope with what it is to go forward? He’s going to have to do something in order to be able to find some relevance for his future in relation to where he sits as a result of his past.
AVC: In past interviews, you’ve talked about the glass ceiling for women directors. What does it mean for you to be given this chance on a very big scale, and how are you helping other women along the way?
KS: It was a huge opportunity. If Captain America comes knocking at your door, you answer the door.
I was thrilled to tell the story, because I feel it really is one of the most important stories of this century because of the themes and the relevance to what’s happening right now in our world. So it was a very onside with my political thoughts and views and what I like to embed in entertainment. So I was absolutely thrilled.
I think going forward, what I’m hoping is that I can be part of the wave because there’s a number of women who are doing big movies and shows like this. Marvel’s been at the forefront of promoting that as well.
Very soon I hope we no longer say “female directors” or “male director” or “Black directors” or “Chinese director.” I hope soon we are able to just say directing or writing so that the labels and the genders and the ethnicity count less.
I obviously like to work in a muscular space. I enjoy working in a world that is very challenging and that isn’t what we think stereotypically is feminine. I think men can do the same thing. It’s about the passion of the filmmaker. It’s about the sensibility of the film. So I would hate for the world to be come to a place where only women can tell women’s stories. Only men can tell men’s stories. I think it has to come from the heart and from the skill set and from the hard work that it takes to get to anywhere where you’re successful and let it be that instead of getting tangled in other politics.