Like so many actors before him, when Wyatt Russell first auditioned for the Disney Plus series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” he had no idea what character he was trying to play. It wasn’t until he landed the gig that Marvel Studios told him he booked the role of John Walker, who took on the role of Captain America after Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) turned him down. Initially, Russell didn’t want it either.
“My first reaction was like, ‘Ewwohhh, I don’t know if I’m your guy for doing this,’” Russell said of Zoom. “I sort of had doubts.”
Eventually, Russell came, in part, as he explained to Variety, because Marvel has made it clear that they don’t want him to play Steve Rogers 2.0. Based on the vituperative fan reaction so far to John Walker on the show – as Russell puts it, “They just hate him! – it’s safe to say that Russell did make his hat quite different from Chris Evans’s. Here’s what Russell had to say about picking up Cap’s shield, working with Mackie and Sebastian Stan, and what it was like seeing his meme face all over the internet.
The first time we really meet John on the show, he feels the weight of this role he’s taking on as the new Captain America. Looks like you felt a bit similar when asked to do essentially the same thing?
It was honestly more my interest in playing the character where you don’t want to do anything that has been done before. Obviously, that wouldn’t be interesting. And then do I want to be the guy who is – do I want to wear the Captain America costume, to be honest. It was like, wow, you know, I don’t know. It had elements of what John Walker was [dealing with], and when they kind of explained to me where he was and what he was, it matched how I was feeling about it in a way. I thought that maybe it was a good solution. I just felt the weight of, can I be whatever they want me to be? Or will they lose a lot of money?
Did you study Chris Evans preparing for the role, his manners or his movements as Cap?
Yeah, I think in some ways, sure. In John’s world, he admires Steve Rogers and wants to embody that. When you see him doing his version, is that really who John is? Or is John trying to be someone he’s not?
How was the training? How does it feel to manipulate the shield?
The training was crazy. The shield is very heavy and awkward. You don’t know where to get your hands sometimes. And that’s why you have this amazing stunt team. They can do backflips on a 10 story building. Pretty much anything you ask them to do, they can do. So I worked a lot with my stuntman, Justin Eaton. We’ve been working on a lot of shield work and footwork and all kinds of stuff to try and prepare ourselves to look like we know what we’re doing.
The first impression I got of John was that he is a more skillful and perhaps more corporate version of Captain America than Steve Rogers. How can we expect him to evolve this season?
I think there is a corporate aspect to creating his character as Captain America. I think what you see now is that he’s fighting, “How can I be me and deal with this company that is the US government?” This is the only company he has worked for and it has worked really well for him in his life. Now he’s in this different world where there is a PR aspect. He’s just worked in the underground world, most likely, where no one really knows what he’s doing but he’s doing his job. And now it’s like, okay, go do that as Captain America – and sometimes his version of doing the job isn’t a bit the same.
Looks like the version of John Walker you’re playing is a little different than what we’ve seen in the comics. In the comics, there is a storyline where he has a whole professional wrestling part of his life.
I didn’t know it, but I wish it would appear at some point. John Walker, the professional wrestler – go for it! That was part of the problem with reading comics. As soon as I started searching for rabbit holes on Wikipedia, it felt like it was a bad idea. There are 19 different versions of him in different worlds with different people! In one case, it is sent to Canada? I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll just read the script.
The other thing that’s very clear in the second episode is that Sam and Bucky really don’t like John. How did this dynamic work on the set?
Yeah, they hate me in real life and I’m okay with that. [Laughs] No. They are just funny, easy going people. It’s very easy to work with and try to be good. I can’t say enough good things about them. I told Sebastian a year ago, I just felt very lucky to be brought into the Marvel world with these guys because they made me feel really comfortable and confident and all that you hope to feel.
Finally, there were a lot of memes of your face after the first episode. How did you feel about it?
I don’t have social media, but friends have sent me stuff that looks too good not to see. The best is the “Up” guy with the helmet. It’s really unbelievable. I mean, whoever did this deserves some reward. That’s flattering. They just hate the guy. They are right to hate him! It was fun being the Marvel punching bag for a little while.