SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already seen Avengers: Infinity War.
There were plenty of surprises in Avengers: Infinity War. But perhaps the biggest one was the return of Captain America’s former foe Red Skull, who vanished at the end of The First Avenger after making the mistake of touching the Tesseract.
Now we know where he vanished to. In Infinity War, we find Red Skull on the planet Vormir, acting as the guardian of the Soul Stone, which he cannot possess himself. (So close, yet so far.) He informs Thanos that to obtain it, he must sacrifice something he loves, and he will all know what happens after that. (Let’s take a moment to go grab some Kleenex…)
Hugo Weaving played Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger, but that actor never expressed a real interest in coming back, telling Collider in one 2012 interview, “It’s not something I would want to do again. I’m glad I did it. I did sign up for a number of pictures, and I suppose, contractually, I would be obliged to if they forced me to, but they wouldn’t want to force someone to do it if they didn’t want to. I think I’ve done my dash with that sort of film. It was good to do it and try it out, but to be honest, it’s not the sort of film I seek out and really am excited by.”
But there was one person who was more than excited to take over the role: Ross Marquand of The Walking Dead fame. Not only does Marquand play Aaron on the AMC zombie drama (which just resumed filming this week), but he is a master impersonator, with several of his impression videos earning him viral fame. A frequent guest on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105), Marquand called into the show Tuesday morning to talk about becoming part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here are highlights from that interview.
EW RADIO: How did you end up getting involved and nabbing this iconic villain role of Red Skull?
ROSS MARQUAND: The biggest thing that Marvel wanted to do was come as close to the iconic role that Hugo Weaving portrayed seven years ago and pay homage to it while also giving it a new flavor. Once Red Skull touched the Tesseract, he goes into this intergalactic astral plane for 70 years. And as the Russo brothers pointed out to me — because I was trying to do a straight voice match to Hugo’s performance — they said, “You know, he’s been by himself essentially in this intergalactic prison of his own making for 70 years. He’s going to sound a little different. We want him to have this kind of ethereal almost ghost-like quality to his voice, so please try that.” I think the reference they might have given is Yoda-esque. His ambition has brought him this great pain, but also this great wisdom, and I think that’s what I tried to imbue that performance with.
I just loved playing this part because I genuinely used to draw Red Skull, Omega Red and all these other villains as a kid, and it was just such a geeky pleasure to play this part. I just absolutely love it.
How long did it take you to nail that voice and performance?
It was about a week and a half. I had gotten the breakdown, and I said, “Okay, let’s go over this a million times.” And, of course, I went over the source material in Captain America: The First Avenger and watched that over and over again. For me, it was a matter of melding his iconic performance in The Matrix with the German accent he brought to the character with Red Skull.
Once I felt I had a good handle on it, I sent in my audition, and we had just finished season 8 of The Walking Dead. I had flown back to L.A., and then almost as soon as I got off the plane, my manager called and said, “You got the part! You got to get back on a plane to Atlanta.” And I was like, “Oh, hilarious. I just left there.” So I got right back on a flight, and it was just a day of shooting.
It was just such a thrill to go to that lot. I had visited before as a guest the year before on Guardians Vol. 2, and that was such a trip to go to those studios and see these massive soundstages housing these incredible worlds in their own right and to see that they create these universes out of nothing. They’re mostly just empty soundstages with a few set pieces here and there, but almost all of it is done with CGI, and I don’t know about you, when I saw that movie — especially for the scene I was in, because that was not there — it’s so incredible what they can do with their CGI equipment these days.
Obviously, as you mentioned, this is a very different Red Skull that we see here from last time. The dude’s been through quite a lot, traveling through space and now acting as guardian of the Soul Stone. What was it that you wanted to come through emotionally in this character as we see him now?
First and foremost to pay homage to what Hugo did because I think Hugo did an exceptional job, and I was frankly honored to step into those shoes. I thought he absolutely rocked that role in The First Avenger. His performance was incredible, and I really wanted to pay homage to what he did. I really feel like he was one of the best comic book villains of all time, so I really hope he’s happy with the performance and the film as well.
I think the main thing I wanted to get across is that this Red Skull is quite remorseful. He does feel a certain degree of shame and loss, and he’s conquered by his own ambition, really. It’s very much like Icarus; he flew way too high — literally because he touched the Tesseract and got launched into space — and he got way too ambitious and lost sight of his humanity, and now he feels genuinely remorseful about that. And there is kind of a forlorn energy to him. It was coming across in the dialogue, and I just really wanted to honor that.
Your Walking Dead costar Danai Gurira is obviously also part of the MCU and appears in this movie as Okoye. When you got the part, were you texting Danai and comparing Marvel notes with her?
No. I didn’t tell anybody. These NDAs on these things are no joke! I literally did not tell anybody until it was out. I told my friend who I brought to the premiere because she had to know how I got tickets, and I said, “I can’t tell you who I’m playing, but I can tell you I am a part of this. But you can’t tell anyone.” It was just a few days before the premiere, and I said, “Would you like to come?” She said, “Of course,” and I said “But you cannot tell anybody I am a part of this. I haven’t even told my parents. I’ve told no one.”
And it is tough to keep those secrets. Like with The Walking Dead, I think I was silent for seven months before I told anyone about that. With this, it was about six months. And it’s tough because you’re so excited to tell everyone about these amazing worlds that you’re about to become a part of, but you can’t tell anybody.
So, just to be clear: You and Danai are in the same movie yet you didn’t even tell her that you were in the movie with her.
No. Because I’m scared to God! These NDAs put the fear of God in you.
What was it like when people started realizing it was you and your phone started blowing up?
I spent all day yesterday and the day before responding to texts, and it was really cool because you feel the love and you feel the support. A lot of friends were angry with me and said, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me! Why didn’t you tell me?” And I was like, “I couldn’t tell you!” They were also just kind of baffled because it’s such an iconic role, and if they were expecting me to play a character, it wouldn’t be that one. I’m just so thrilled to be a part of it, you have no idea.
Any chance we are going to see you again in an Avengers film?
I don’t know. I can’t speak to that, and I think that I would obviously love to play that role again anytime. It’s such a rich character, especially now that he’s gone to this intergalactic hellscape and he’s found his own prison there — not to quote Creed. That was a Creed song, right?
But he’s a changed man, and I don’t even know if he is a man anymore. He’s almost like this ghostlike deity, and he’s at the service of the Soul Stone now, and his sole purpose is to essentially guide people to this, but you have to wonder: Is there still a part of him that does have ambition? I don’t know. It would be really cool to see where that character goes. But that’s really a question for all the folks at Marvel and the Russo brothers and the writers. I certainly couldn’t speak to that.