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11 Things We Learned on the CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Set

What’s oppressively hot, unreasonably sweaty, and packed to the gills with muscular men in spandex? If you said “my American Gladiators fan fiction,” you wouldn’t be wrong, but the correct answer in this case is Atlanta, Georgia. But not just anywhere in Atlanta — specifically the backlot of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, which I visited last June, in order to observe the filming of Captain America: Civil War. Though I metamorphosed into a human cranberry bog during my time on the set of the sprawling, epic superhero flick, it was worth every ounce of liquid lost to get an intimate, behind-the-scenes glimpse at one of Marvel’s most ambitious films to date.

Today, we’ll be focusing on the members of Team Cap (Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner, and Elizabeth Olsen), as well as directors Joe and Anthony Russo, producer Nate Moore, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and more. You can also take a peek at newly released Team Cap character posters in our gallery below. In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about Team Cap and Captain America: Civil War.


Their first fight is going to be one for the history books

After twelve films and eight years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is tearing itself apart. Not literally, but the two ideological cornerstones of the Avengers will soon be facing off in Captain America: Civil War. Based on the 2006 Marvel Comics storyline of the same name, Civil War finds Captain America and Iron Man on opposite sides of a philosophical debate that polarizes the MCU, leading to former friends and allies slugging it out in the name of what they think is right.

And that’s exactly what we watched while on set. The scene we watched was supposed to take place on the tarmac of a German airport, presumably during the first major encounter between Captain America’s crew and Iron Man’s squad. Yet in spite of the excruciating filming conditions (after all, concrete isn’t exactly the coolest of substances), it was hard not to let my inner fanboy come out when they came to blows. Seeing former friends like Black Widow and Hawkeye slug it out and relative newcomers like the Winter Soldier and Black Panther raining fists down on one another felt like seeing a comic book come to life in all of its pulpy, four-color glory. And it is precisely the effect the Russos were hoping to create.

“We’re referring to this sequence as the splash panel or the double panel,” director Joe Russo explained.  “If you’re a comic book fan you know that any epic book you would open it up, as a kid I would just go through and look at who was fighting who. I’d stand there in the store for 15 minutes until the guy told me to buy the book or get out. You’d just study it and so this sequence is our live action splash panel or double panel. It’s a big epic sequence.”

“This whole sequence is in IMAX,” Joe continued. “It’s about a 15-minute sequence. It’s the only one we’re doing on the camera. The camera literally just rolled off the press like a week before we started using it. It’s an IMAX 65, so it’s the Ares 65. It’s a joint camera between Ares and IMAX. We’re going to shoot all of Infinity War on those cameras.”

Se7en is a big inspiration for the film

You might be surprised to hear that the Russo Brothers are taking notes from David Fincher’s serial killer thriller Se7en when making Captain America: Civil War. Does this mean that Tony Stark is going to find Pepper Potts’ decapitated head in a box? Probably not.

“The movies we’ve been referencing a lot on this one are Se7en, weirdly,” Joe Russo revealed. “We like smashing genres into each other, so if you can find something that’s really idiosyncratic in respect to superhero genre and you can smoosh it into it, you usually wind up with something fresh and different. Se7en, Fargo, just as far as we’re not making comparisons in terms of quality we’re just talking influences, The Godfather, because that’s a sprawling film with a lot of characters that tells very intricate stories. Each character has an arc.”

“In general, just as a framing we always thought about Winter Soldier very specifically as a political thriller,” Anthony Russo revealed. “This movie we think of more as a psychological thriller. It’s connected to what we’re doing in Winter Soldier, but it evolves into a more sensitive, complicated character thriller. Again, I think based upon the fact we’re dealing with our protagonists clashing with one another.”


The relationship between Cap and Bucky is going to be “huge”

So where exactly do Captain America and Bucky stand nowadays? In the wake of their confrontation in The Winter Soldier, we know that Bucky has been on the run and is slowly piecing together his past after serving as Hydra’s murderous plaything for decades. At the end of Ant-Man, Cap and Falcon managed to track him down, and the first Civil War trailers told us that, yes, he does seem to remember who he once was. But whether or not Bucky can reconcile the man he once was with the man he’s become is another matter entirely. And that goes double for the rest of the world, many of whom, including Tony Stark, want him brought to justice for his crimes. The fact that his former employers murdered Tony’s parents probably won’t help much either. Or the fact that Bucky tries to shoot Tony at point-blank range.


“He’s my friend,” Captain America tells Iron Man in the trailer, referring to Bucky. “So was I,” is Tony’s sad retort.

“See, this is where we tread into dangerous waters,” Chris Evans joked when we asked about the relationship between Cap and Bucky. No, he wasn’t referring to the throngs of Stucky shippers on Tumblr; rather, he was referring to that constant struggle faced by Marvel movie stars of what exactly they can talk about in the first place.

Chris Evans continued:

“It’s central. Any other person who has gone through what Cap is going through, I think there’d be a lot more…they’d probably bleed on people a bit more. Cap’s such a selfless guy, he kinda stuffs all that down, which is a shame because there’s a lot of good meat on the bone to chew on. In this one we get to explore that struggle a bit more. Again, I can’t say too much, but this is a huge relationship. This is a huge piece of his history, it’s a huge piece of his struggle, not just to have someone that he can connect to on a friendship level, but just the guilt that he must have. ‘I let you go. I’m sorry.’ Just the survivor’s guilt element. So there’s plenty to play with. They certainly do explore it. I’m not gonna go too far into how relevant it is to the plot though.”

But what do the other Avengers think of Cap’s connection to Bucky?

“They sympathize,” Evans explained. “They certainly sympathize. Cap’s done nothing but give himself to this group, so I think they understand the value of what it means to me to find him. And especially after [Jeremy] Renner’s been brainwashed, Scarlett [Johansson’s] been misled, we’ve all had our share of being taken advantage of, so I don’t think they hold him completely responsible for some of his actions.”

“I’m just trying to tie in to what we know in the comic books,” said Sebastian Stan. “I think it’s going to be a mix of different things. He’s not gonna go back and be the guy he used to be. There’s just no way that would happen. He’s definitely, probably affected for life. It’s sort of learning about how you live with who you are now. Learning how to tame that wild beast that is a part of you at this point.”

Captain America

This film really puts Cap through the wringer

Given that the title of the film is Captain America: Civil War, you can safely expect to get a whole lot of Steve Rogers. After serving as the symbol for all things truth, justice, and the American way, Captain America now finds himself on the wrong side of the law. Of course, from Cap’s vantage point, it’s the right side of the law, morally speaking, but he is on the run nonetheless. So how does Steve Rogers reconcile this inner (and outer) conflict?

Chris Evans explained:

“Yeah, it’s tough. Because ultimately he knows he has a good heart. The problem is we all think we have good hearts, we all think we know what’s best. And this is the nature of compromise. It’s tricky to understand where to bend. I think in the past films, in [Captain America: The First Avenger] we all know Nazis are bad. In [The Winter Soldier] Hydra is no good either. But this one, there’s no clear bad guy, and I think that’s far more parallel to the struggles we got through in our current political state. There’s logic to both sides, and where do you bend? Where’s the compromise? What’s the goal? I think Cap’s struggling because every time he has fallen in line, and has been a soldier, and has taken orders and leaned on the structure of society, it’s kinda turned on him. And I think he ultimately feels the safest hands are his own, because at least he can trust them. But again, that’s not gonna work for the masses. So it’s the first time he really doesn’t know what the right answer is.”

“When you’re a guy who has very strong beliefs, and the larger system suddenly changes around you, you become a criminal without moving,” Christopher Markus elaborated. “You don’t have to go rob a bank if they decide that what you’ve been doing since the day you were born is suddenly illegal, you don’t have to change.”

“Bringing it full circle is really important,” Anthony Russo said, in reference to providing a satisfying conclusion to the arc that has been constructed over the past three Captain America films. 

“We’re taking Cap to a place that he’s never gone before,” he continued. “That for us is taking Cap full circle. How do you take this guy that began where he began and had that great arc that he’s had and still take him to a place he’s never gone before? We always talk about him, he’s such a tough character in a lot of ways because he’s so strong and so centered, he has such strong ethics and morals, how do you upend a character like that? It’s easier to upend a character like Tony Stark in some ways because he’s a little all over the place and unbalanced and blah, blah, blah. You can spin him out easier so to speak. So how do you spin Cap out? We found a way to really get at the heart of who Cap is to shake his foundation, push him somewhere I think that’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

The real Civil War was between Captain America and Falcon (over music)


As we saw from Steve Rogers’ notebook in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the First Avenger has an awful lot of catching up to do in the pop culture department. But Steve Rogers has an excuse: he was frozen in ice for the better part of the 21st century. According to Anthony Mackie, there’s a miniature civil war brewing behind the scenes between Chris Evans and him. Except these two aren’t battling over regulating superheroes; they’re fighting over who deserves the title of the greatest band of all time.

“He’s an interesting guy, that Chris Evans,” Mackie told the assembled press. “I’ve tried to help him understand that the greatest band in music history, pound for pound, they invented the crescendo: Earth, Wind & Fire.”

When we pressed Evans on what Captain America’s favorite Earth, Wind & Fire song is, he was not amused. “Ask Mackie what The Falcon’s favorite Beatles song is. He thinks that Earth, Wind & Fire is a better band than The Beatles. I mean, come on!”

To Mackie’s credit, he had a lengthy diatribe about why exactly Earth, Wind & Fire is better. I can’t say that I entirely agree with him, but he makes a damn good argument for their musical superiority:

“I don’t care what nobody say, I’ve never been sitting on my couch and was like, ‘Man! Put on that Doobie Brothers CD!’

Earth Wind & Fire is the greatest band of all time. If you don’t believe it and have iTunes I will give you forty bucks. Download forty songs and it’ll blow your mind. Blow your mind, alright? Greatest songwriter of all time, pound for pound, I don’t care what nobody says… I don’t care about his children… Lionel Richie. I don’t care what nobody say. I don’t care. I never was on my couch and was like, ‘Man! Barry Manilow made me cry!’ Never happened. Lionel Richie. Earth Wind & Fire. That’s it.

But [Evans] don’t believe that! And it confuses the shit outta me! How do you… It’s Lionel Richie. I guarantee you, I put on ‘Say You Say Me’ you’re going to say, ‘Damn. I need to text her right now.’ I guarantee you!

You can’t get a girl with Lionel Richie? You’re a loser. All of my high school years, every time I wrote a girl a note it was literally sixteen bars of Lionel Richie and then I would sign it ‘Anthony Mackie.’ She would be, ‘Oh, my God. You’re such a poet.’ I said, ‘I know, baby. I know. So cultured. I’m a poet. I’m just a renaissance man in my heart. I can build shelves and I can write poetry.’

I’m just saying, call your girl and recite one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and she’s going to go ‘What the f–k are you talking about?’ Call her and recite one Lionel Richie song. You’re going to be tazing her off you. Real talk.

I don’t know, maybe you don’t want to taze her off. That’s cool. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t like tazing girls off you. That’s cool. Knock yourself out.”

And that is the single greatest thing that has happened to me on any set visit.


The trickiest part of making the film was balancing the cast

Judging by the advance marketing, one would be forgiven for assuming that the film is titled Avengers: Civil War. However, in spite of its sprawling cast, it is a Captain America movie that just so happens to contain the highest density of Earths’ Mightiest Heroes we’ve seen on screen together to date. So how did they pull off this high-wire balancing act?

“Balance is absolutely the challenge,” McFeely said. “We’re not going to split all the roles and lines and screen time into fifteen parts.”

“You can’t call it Civil War and have it be three people fighting,” Markus joked. “That’s a fist fight, that’s not a war. We needed to get as many people as we could comfortably get [on-screen].”

“It is a Captain America movie,” McFeely said. “Lined up on the opposite side of him, first and foremost, is Tony Stark. If you were to look at the call sheet, those guys are way at the top and have the bulk of the lines and the screen time. That said, we’re Cap guys. We feel very beholden to Winter Solider. You’ll get a lot of Sam Wilson. You’ll get a lot of Natasha Romanoff.”

“The challenge is to bring people in without it feeling like a cameo,” Markus explained. “Without it feeling like we just happened to yank that guy in because we needed more people on this side. Even if it’s even the smallest arc, the challenge is to give everybody a human turn and to place them in the context of the thing.”

“We spent a good year and a half literally sitting in a room every day with Markus and McFeely and Nate Moore, combing through the script,” said Joe Russo. “You’re constantly trying to flush out logic for every character, and you have to track it. You have to do two or three days where all you do is talk about ‘What is Panther doing? What is he doing in this scene? How does he feel in this scene? What’s his motivation in this scene? Is this the correct end line for him? Is this setting him on the wrong motivation?’ And you have to do that for every character.”

“The good thing is that the fight has a central question, the Civil War question,” Markus continued. “It’s not like we’re fighting a giant robot and we’re going to bring in some more friends to fight the giant robot. Everybody becomes a character you minute you pose that question to them.”


The cast knows they look ridiculous while filming

When the Avengers are fighting against the forces of evil, the look undeniably awesome. That is, of course, after they have had hours and hours of help from postproduction, editors, and a certain amount of movie magic. While filming, they look cool most of the time. Other times, well, they look patently ridiculous.

Case in point, one of the scenes we saw on set was Team Cap running towards a Quinjet across the tarmac of a German airport. At least, that’s what it will be when it winds up on the big screen. The assembled actors, all in full costume, had to repeatedly sprint down a lengthy strip of asphalt in order to get the perfect “leaping to action” look that the directors needed. Now, that may not sound like much, but this heat was punishing, especially if you happened to be in a bulky superhero costume. After each take, a team of production assistants and makeup artists descended on the actors to spritz them with water, fan them, and touch up their makeup. While I’m sure everything looked great on the monitors, seeing Marvel’s mightiest heroes panting, sweating, and wheezing in between takes breaks the illusion just a little bit. Thankfully, that isn’t what winds up on the big screen — and the actors themselves would be the first to agree.

“I realized yesterday how stupid we look,” Anthony Mackie told us with a laugh. “They said ‘We need you to run, but before you break into a full run pop your arms out so your wings can extend and you’ll fly.’ I was like, ‘Okay, alright. I’m 36. Let’s do it.’ We were running and it’s so hot. It’s balls hot. So, I’m running and my goggles are filling up with water, right? I don’t know how women do this, but it’s torture. The makeup starts getting into the corners of my eyes, so I start crying. It’s so hot… I can’t really see anything and they’re like, ‘So, hold your arms out and just… fly away.’ I was like, ‘Let’s just do it, dude. F–k it, let’s do it.’

But Mackie doesn’t mind looking ridiculous when he has the finished product in mind. “So, the wings are real in my mind, [but] not on set,” he explained. “They have these little wings, like these little three-foot wings. I do this shit, then I have to do it with the little wings, so I look like a quail or a pheasant. It’s whatever. I’m happy about it. I’m happy to be an Avenger!”


The Falcon has some strong feelings about Tony Stark

As a newly minted Avenger and a bonafide member of Team Cap, the Falcon will be coming into contact with a whole host of new characters. In an extremely memorable cameo in Ant-Man, we saw Sam Wilson throw down with Scott Lang, but how does he react to newcomers like the Vision?

“Vision is by far the easiest person to make fun of,” Mackie said. “He’s always a good target. Vision is definitely my one guy because he’s easy to make fun of.”

But the Vision isn’t the only one who’ll be on the receiving end of Falcon’s jibes; the winged warrior has his sights set on Tony Stark.

“I don’t know why everybody thinks Tony’s cool,” Mackie confessed. “Tony thinks he’s really cool, but Falcon just thinks he’s a nerd. And not like a cool millennium nerd. Nowadays you see a nerd and they’re, like, hot chicks and they’re like ‘I’m a nerd!’ and you’re like ‘What’s up?’ I’m talking about a 1985 nerd. Naw, kid. You don’t win. Naw.”

We won’t learn about the Falcon’s personal life…

While the reams of fan art and the seemingly never-ending headcanon of the MCU fandom might have you wondering how much minutiae of the Marvel heroes’ lives we’ll see on the big screen, the answer is “little to none.” At least when it comes to the Falcon’s personal life.

“No, people don’t come to Marvel movies for personal life subplots, no,” Mackie said. “If you literally are watching this movie and we go, ‘On a side note, Falcon is over here trying to get a date at a coffee shop,’ you would shoot yourself in the face. You literally would.”

“‘Where’s Falcon?’ ‘Ah, he’s at the coffee shop on Tinder again.’ That would be the worst,” he added with a laugh.


…but we will see some sparks fly between Vision and Scarlet Witch

Okay, maybe it won’t be the full-on romance from the comic books, but we will see a unique connection between the Vision and Scarlet Witch in Civil War, according to Elizabeth Olsen:

“There’s something unique in the fact that her powers come from the same thing that powers him,” said Olsen, referring to the Infinity Stone on the Vision’s forehead. “And that is how we’ve made them have [something] in common, as opposed to it being something else that the comics kind of created, which has been pure romance. But they do have something uniquely special because of that.”

Damn, and here I was hoping to see this exact panel on the big screen:


The person who has it worst is the Black Panther…

…but not for the reasons you’d expect! As mentioned above, the heat on the Georgia set was nightmarish, and superhero costumes aren’t exactly known for their functionality, especially when trying to hearken back to the source material. So, who has the rawest deal when it comes to surviving the sweltering heat? According to Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, it’s Black Panther.

“He has the worst costume, Black Panther,” Olsen said, point blank.

“I know, that poor guy,” Renner sympathized. “It’s the worst of any Marvel character.”

“Yeah, I thought Ant-Man was bad and then I saw him…,” Olsen continued.

“Cap would complain about his cowl and it’s like dude, Panther’s got three on!” Renner exclaimed. “Terrible, sweating — if it takes you thirty minutes to go to the bathroom, that’s a problem.”


Hawkeye will be doling out plenty of one-liners

One of the most pleasant surprises of Avengers: Age of Ultron was that we got a better idea of who Clint Barton really is. In the first Avengers, Hawkeye spent most of the run time under Loki’s mind control, but in the sequel, we got to see Clint cracking wise and reuniting with his seemingly secret family. As a result, he felt like a more fully realized person rather than an extra body. So, will we see more of his personality in Civil War?

“Yeah that self-deprecating [humor], irreverence – all that sort of Han Solo-ish, old school Indiana Jones kind of thing,” Renner said. “That’s fun to play. I’m only here for a short amount of time, but getting a lot done. We’re having a lot of fun. That’s also what’s so great about the Russo brothers – literally they’ll have a line that’s pretty good and have a couple of alts that was good, and then we can just throw in whatever the heck we want. Joss was good with that with me too in the last one, just kind of throwing in some funny lines. I think we’re gonna have a few zingers in this one too, I hope”


The film finally addresses all the Avengers’ collateral damage

In the Civil War comic book storyline, the incident the sparks a national debate over whether or not superheroes need to be regulated is a massive explosion that winds up slaughtering 500 people, many of whom are children. Dubbed the Stamford Incident, it was caused when a group of heroes, the New Warriors, were filming a reality show in which they tried to catch supervillains laying low. Unfortunately, one of them, Nitro, was more than they bargained for, and detonated himself, murdering hundreds of innocents. So, what will be the straw the breaks the proverbial camel’s back in Captain America: Civil War?

“There will be a Stamford Incident but it’s not Stamford,” Stephen McFeely answered wryly. “We’ll have an incident that will force the governments of the world to go, ‘Wait a second. Let’s talk about the laundry list of things that we’re not happy about. Let’s finally do something about that. We think you guys need some oversight.'”

“It plays in an interesting way into people’s, some critics reactions to these movies where it goes, ‘You tore down half of New York. Why are we happy about that?'” Christopher Markus explained. “We dropped helicarriers on Washington, DC. You do this and it’s great but eventually you’ve got to go, if this is a realistic world, somebody’s going to go, ‘Stop dropping helicarriers on my fucking head.'”

“It’s more about oversight than unmasking or outing anyone,” McFeely elaborated when we pressed him on its comic book counterpart, which was more about making heroes abandon their secret identities.

“The unmasking was a way to register people,” Markus conceded. “I think we found a way to also make the sides very personal so it’s not just this polemic argument.”

“You want to have people, when they’re challenged over and over again, to not just pack up their bags and go home,” said McFeely. “The stakes have to ratchet up and larger, that’s the goal.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for more interviews and coverage from the set of Captain America: Civil War.

What side are you on, Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Let us know in the comments below.

Images: Disney/Marvel

Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter and ask about what team he’s on (@Osteoferocious).

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