As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand, with new films and television shows releasing in what feels like a constant flow, the list of new fan favorite entries and characters grow with it. At the heart of these movies and shows, besides the stunning action, glorious visuals, and heartfelt performances, are the core narratives themselves. The kind of tales that have enamored audiences for over a decade now, leading to the widespread cultural phenomena that is the MCU. Marvel Studios’ latest story, Black Widow, details a spy who has seemingly lost everything, forced to confront fractured enemies and allies from her past in a last minute fight for her future. One of the few pivotal minds behind this story is screenwriter Eric Pearson.
Pearson is no stranger to the MCU, having writing credit on Thor: Ragnarok, the majority of Marvel’s One-Shot series of shorts, and even on the highly beloved Agent Carter. His career doesn’t begin and end at Marvel though, for already this year Pearson has found great success with with co-writing Godzilla vs. Kong alongside Max Borenstein. His latest contribution to the MCU has struck a loud chord with fans and audiences around the world, seeing as Black Widow is currently breaking all kinds of numbers in the movie-going landscape. To celebrate this feat, we sat down with Eric Pearson to discuss everything Black Widow, including its larger MCU ties, introducing and adapting Taskmaster, and where he would want to see David Harbour’s Red Guardian next.
To start off, Black Widow ties directly into the events of Infinity War, with Natasha getting her vest from Yelena, dyeing her hair, and taking the Quinjet. How did you work to make these connections feel fluid and natural?
Eric Pearson: It’s so funny, there’s things that you just don’t think you’ll notice. I remember, it was a thing from Kevin [Feige], talking about the vest, I’m just immediately thinking about the vest in that question. I didn’t think that was going to be that important, and then it turned out to be incredibly important! I’m glad that it feels natural and fluid. I feel like it comes from this group, this work-family that is Marvel Studios that has been working together from the beginning, from Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, to build something up altogether. Everyone has suggestions, everyone kind of covers each other’s back, and all the best ideas just seem to rise to the top.
Fans have been clamoring for Taskmaster for years, and Black Widow finally introduces that character, albeit with certain changes from her comic counterpart. When did you decide to make that character Dreykov’s daughter rather than Tony Masters, like in the comics?
Eric Pearson: That was in building the script, earlier in pre-production. It made sense in building the villainous threat that is the present-day version of the Red Room and Dreykov as an “in the shadows” threat. Because we were dealing with the time period between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, we needed a threat from the villains that could potentially succeed, but in success would go unnoticed. So that worked for Natasha’s spy-thriller genre character, and with the idea of the Red Room and the Widows under their control, we began toying around with the notion of deconstructing the human brain. We knew we had Taskmaster, this very physical villain. I just started seeing the pieces of the puzzle I had.
We had a mystery of Dreykov’s daughter that we’ve got to answer. We’ve got Dreykov, as a person, has the ability to take apart and rebuild the human mind. We’ve got a dark secret from Natasha’s past, something that she’s ashamed of, something that she must confront. What if that backstory came together in a way where the comic-book science seemed to work that if Natasha’s dark secret was that she intentionally harmed a young girl as a means to an end, something for the world (for herself, and for her defection to S.H.I.E.L.D.), the comic-book science is this guy who has the ability to rebuild the brain and what if he tries to save his daughter and discovers the photographic reflexes in rebuilding the mind, and turns Antonia into this Terminator-like Taskmaster villain? Everything I described in the last minute took a couple of weeks of discussion as we went over it, but that’s how it came about.
The Marvel Universe is full of so many incredible characters that obviously can’t always fit into one film. Were there any characters or stories that you had wanted or planned to include in Black Widow that didn’t make your final draft?
Eric Pearson: Let me think about it… it’s also weird because it’s been a solid 14 months since the movie was completed, and over 2 years since we stopped shooting it. Not that I can think of really. We very much wanted to tell Natasha’s story with this, and we wanted to take a character that you thought you knew and suddenly show this whole other side of like, these are the building blocks of who she is, looking into her past, confronting these things from her past that’s going to make her grow. It was really more about filling in the blanks of her past than it was including other people from the Marvel world.
Also, there was the gift that is given at the end because I didn’t know this casting was happening of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. That was really just a cherry on top of the sundae getting to write something for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, that was just the best.
Before Black Widow, you were a writer on Marvel’s Agent Carter. Now, that series has been becoming a lot more integrated in the larger MCU, with both Peggy Carter and Edwin Jarvis appearing in Endgame and now Peggy Carter being a major part of What If… ?. How has it felt seeing the show getting referenced more, and how positive the fan reaction has been to that?
Eric Pearson: It feels great. I will say that I’ve been really blessed in my career. I’ve gotten a lot of fun jobs, I’ve done a lot of cool things. Nothing was more fun than Agent Carter. The cast that we had, the writers that we were working with, my bosses, Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas [showrunners of Agent Carter], it was one of those things where you knew going into work everyday, whether it was writing, or in the room discussing ideas, or on set, or in editing, you knew you were gonna laugh a lot everyday in that job.
Peggy Carter was one of the first characters I got to put my fingerprints on back when I made the Agent Carter short, and I just think that she just represents so many cool things to so many different kinds of fans. There’s something about the MCU being this kind of organism now that just grows on its own, and things come back when you don’t expect them to, or things that you don’t expect to take off, take off, and some things that seem really big kind of just fade away… I just love that it’s its own thing, that it’s just growing and expanding. I can’t wait for What If…?, I feel like the idea behind the show is such a fun, cool thing.
Black Widow teases a connection between Red Guardian and Captain America, as they’re both super soldiers but born under different political climates. Where would you like to see this thread picked up in the future, especially now with Sam Wilson taking the mantle of Captain America?
Eric Pearson: Just because of Black Widow, I’m going to try and speak from Alexei’s perspective where I think he’s such a lovable narcissist that I imagine him getting into some sort of kerfuffle with Sam Wilson and complaining that he’s not Steve Rogers. That’s the kind of “annoying” that Alexei would be, and I think Alexei is his most funny, and his best version of himself when he’s being annoying. I would love some version of that, and his obsession with the East-West – Red, White, and Blue versus the Hammer and Sickle – I just think it’s very fun, and David Harbour had a lot to do with pushing that geopolitical narrative of that, which I think is just so funny.