With the flavor of a stick of bubble gum lasting longer than most comic book deaths, there’s a reason the old adage used to go, “No one ever stays dead — except for Bucky and Uncle Ben.”
Apparently, somebody forgot to tell this to Bucky Barnes.
Captain America’s sidekick was originally shot, mortally wounded and believed to have died in World War II at the hands of Cap’s mortal enemy, the Red Skull. Decades later, a brainwashed adult Bucky resurfaced, but by now he was the covert assassin known as the Winter Soldier. After repeatedly clashing with Captain America, his memories were restored and Bucky sought redemption for his heinous actions.
Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: The First Avenger “took elements from the comic book by introducing Bucky (Sebastian Stan), establishing his friendship with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and ultimately seeing him plunge to his death while attempting to foil a heinous plot of the Red Skull’s (Hugo Weaving). On April 4, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” picks up the Cinematic Universe’s take on classic Marvel mythology with a revived Bucky adopting the Winter Soldier identity and coming into conflict with Captain America, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
CBR News recently spoke with Stan about Bucky’s resurrection, preparing for the role both physically and mentally, why the clothes make the man and his hopes for the onscreen future of the Winter Soldier.
CBR News: Had you auditioned for any other superhero franchises before “Captain America?”
Sebastian Stan: Yes — I tested for “Star Trek” and “Green Lantern.” Those didn’t work out. “Star Trek” isn’t really superheroes, though.
When filming “Captain America: The First Avenger,” were you aware of who the Winter Soldier was and that Marvel would be exploring that character in the future?
When I had my initial meetings with them about Bucky Barnes and the Winter Soldier, I learned everything about the storyline. I didn’t really have any idea whether that was something they were going to decide on doing in the following years or after the first movie, [but] when we were doing the first “Captain America,” I was anticipating the possibility.
You’ve played a few bad apples in your career. What makes a good villain?
Whenever I look at a character, I try not to think so black and white in terms of, “Oh, this is the antagonist,” or, “This is the protagonist.” I always try to justify why the character does what he does in the script. In some of the other things I’ve worked on, it’s been a lot clearer to me why this would be the bad guy. In “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” I’m a bit hesitant to go ahead and call the Winter Soldier a villain, even though I can understand why he may be perceived that way. His motives behind what he does are so much more complex than just “I want to kill someone or destroy the world.” He’s essentially doing something he believes is right.
What makes the Winter Soldier such a formidable adversary for Captain America?
He is a direct problem for Steve Rogers’ psyche because of who he used to represent to him. He’s a good adversary, because he plays into Steve’s Achilles’ heel. We saw, after the first movie, that Steve Rogers went into this post-traumatic stress-type guilt because he wasn’t able to help his best friend. When Steve comes face-to-face with the Winter Soldier, he faces a dilemma within himself that he’s partially responsible for. That’s already a weak point for Steve.
Then, the Winter Soldier has a weapon in the form of a metal arm that can go toe-to-toe with Cap’s shield. And he’s more evolved at this point. All of the skills the Winter Soldier has always had, from being a mercenary, and being skilled in terms of knife training, close hand-to-hand combat and being a really good sniper — all those things have been amplified as the Winter Soldier. He’s a pretty good threat.
Can you talk about your initial impression of the Winter Soldier’s costume and how it helps you get into character?
My first impression was one of amazement. When I saw the sketches, it literally flew off the comic book pages. It seemed like what was in the comic books had come to life. That’s a credit to the amazing costume designers the movie has. The costume was a big thing. It helped me physically, in the way I was moving and approaching the character. The arm was great and not CGI. It helped me have that awareness on the left side of my body. I always think you let the wardrobe do the work for you and you step back. This is one of those situations where once you step into wardrobe, you really forget about yourself.
How did you prepare for this role, physically and mentally?
It’s always different. Physically, I trained over a span of six or seven months. It was a lot of fitness training, and eventually we did a lot of fight training and knife training and choreography for the fight sequences, which we practiced every day. The fitness diet aspect of it was very difficult for me. I’d never done any of that in my life before. I followed a pretty strict diet regime for about six months.
You’ll never want another chicken breast!
No, now I’m stuck. All I eat is chicken breasts. But that kind of adds a certain level of confidence. When you’re shooting, you feel good, like you’ve worked out hard and you’re proud of those achievements. That confidence is important when you’re called for these types of roles.
Mentally, it’s always a funny game that you play with yourself. Some days, you feel really prepared. Other days, you feel lost. It’s hard to describe completely. The material in the comics was there. There was a lot of information on the character already. I wanted to do a fair job of honoring that material and following the map that was so well written by Ed Brubaker. I watched a lot of documentaries on post-traumatic stress disorders, and what happens to some of these people that are essentially victims and casualties of war, which in a sense the Winter Soldier is. Like any other soldier, he’s a weapon somebody uses to carry out an order. There’s a desensitizing these guys go though in order to act under pressure. The Winter Soldier is so far removed from opinions and right or wrong at this point.
Looking at the trailer, there are numerous moments that have moviegoers giddy. What sequence makes you grin?
All those sequences. There were a lot of times when we’d be showing up to set, about to shoot that day, and were in the costumes. There was so much preparation and then you stand up there and go, “I can’t believe this is what we’re really doing.” There was always a giddiness factor to it, especially with these films. There is that element of cowboys and indians you had when you were a kid. There’s an energy behind it. You’re playing a larger-than-life character. It is fun, and you don’t get to do that every day. The whole experience was like that for me.
Director Joe Johnston established Bucky in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Did Anthony and Joe Russo approach things differently for the sequel?
Absolutely, in the sense that this is a very different movie from the first one. It’s much more grounded and rooted in our world today, as we know it, in 2014. Joe Johnston did a great job in the first film, as an origin story that took place in the ’40s. It was a different time. There was some propaganda. The World War II environment gave the movie a more faded, nostalgic look.
The Russo brothers had a very specific goal in mind. They wanted to really accentuate Cap’s ability as a fighter. They wanted everything to be as realistic as possible. It doesn’t feel very comic book-ish. It honors what’s in the comic book, but it feels very realistic in terms of how people can relate to it. Who can you trust? What information is really the truth? The moral decisions behind what you believe in and what you stand for? All those things are themes in the movie that are happening now. It’s a much darker, more realistic take on Captain America and embracing the world he is in.
Assuming you survive this installment, how would you like to see the Winter Soldier explored in future endeavors?
I’ll just leave it to surprise. I know that’s not a very exciting answer. I enjoy playing the character. I have a lot of fun. I’d love to continue the story. In the comic books, the Winter Soldier gets to the point where he’s having to deal with his own struggles of embracing this world and what has really happened and what he’s been up to in the last 50 to 70 years. As an actor, that would be a great challenge and also an interesting part to work on. I’m excited to see what happens next!