Meet John Walker, played by Wyatt Russell.

By Nick Romano
March 19, 2021 at 12:50 PM EDT
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Warning: Spoilers from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier season 1, episode 1 are discussed in this article.

The world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a new Captain America. He's just not the one you were expecting. Well, maybe you were, if you've been keeping track of Marvel comic book lore.

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan returned as Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes for the new Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Friday's premiere episode saw Sam turning over the shield of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) to be put on display in Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Though Steve chose Sam as his successor to carry the shield during the events of Avengers: Endgame, he felt it didn't belong to him.

In comes the U.S. government to do what the U.S. government is gonna do. The final moments of episode 1 saw Sam watching a breaking news report about the announcement of the next Captain America. Sorry to Steve and Sam's feelings, but in light of the criminal activities of Betroc's L.A.F. and the Flag-Smashers, the country has chosen John Walker (Wyatt Russell) to become the star-spangled hero.

"He's a complicated character. That's what drew me to him," Russell tells EW of the role. "It'll be fun seeing how all three of these guys interact in terms of what their identity is. I think that I can safely say that it's a show about identity and what it means to each specific person."

In the comics, John, a.k.a. U.S. Agent, a.k.a. Super-Patriot, is the government-sanctioned pick to become Captain America after Steve resigns from the post due to ethical conflicts. Russell's John has been purposefully withheld from most of the marketing for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier thus far, but it seemed like the character would fulfill a similar trajectory given his depiction in a variant Captain America costume. Now, the news is official, though it remains to be seen whether John will maintain the title in perpetuity, or if someone like Sam or Bucky steps up.

THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
Credit: Marvel Studios

Russell had some reservations about taking on a role like this. He was flying blind during the audition because Marvel didn't tell him who he was auditioning for.

"At first it was like, 'Well, I love Marvel, but not that much.' I gotta know what I'm doing," he says. "Eventually, they were able to tell me a little bit about what it was rather than just blindly going in reading the lines. ... And even then it's still kind of confusing. But the way they portrayed him to me, the things that he'd be going through [and] fighting against, and [the] internal struggles, and all the other elements of the character, it seemed like something worth doing."

On a deeper level, the whole Marvel of it all loomed over his decision. "It's a big thing," he says, meaning it's a massive corporate Hollywood entity.

Known for playing characters like Sean "Dud" Dudley (AMC's Lodge 49), Willoughby (Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!), and Zook (Phil Lord and Chris Miller's 22 Jump Street), Russell felt the work he's done up until this point has been "very insular" and "creatively driven."

"There's very little producer interference," he explains. "[With] some of the shows that I've done, the producers have been the creators. So, it was different going in and being like, 'I know there's an entire corporate structure behind this.' And there's no denying the fact that there's more in it for [Disney]. There's still a billion dollars worth of merchandise off of these franchises."

That perspective changed once he began the project. He felt it was such a "creative," "collaborative" environment when he got to set.

"Which then, in turn, made me feel so stupid," he admits. "Well, duh, what do you think? Do you think they hire all these great actors who you get to work with and they didn't use a creative process to get to the place they got and make these movies that are tight and very well thought out? It's not just a mistake."

THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
Credit: Mike Pont/Getty Images

Beyond that, the one aspect of playing John Walker he wasn't entirely prepared for was the level of action required of the part. He says "you're constantly fighting and moving in this superhero outfit," which proved "difficult." It became even more challenging during the pandemic, which forced filming to go on a hiatus from March-September 2020.

"I did as much as I could to try and get in shape, and then, during the pandemic when we went down, I was having some problems with feeling injured," Russell recalled. "So, I had to double down on the workout just to be in the studio. Forget acting, I guess. Just in order to convey anything, I have to be able to wear the suit."

According to lead writer Malcolm Spellman, Russell's introduction as the new Captain America plays into Sam's "deepest doubts" about "whether this country would ever accept someone like him [as a hero] and whether someone like him should ever even try to be accepted by that thing."

The character, he notes, will be used as a vehicle to explore the idea of privilege. John experiences a certain kind of privilege in that he's "done everything he's supposed to do," "everything his country has ever asked," Spellman says. And now, he's expecting to be rewarded for that duty.

"The truth is, life isn't fair and just being the best and doing what's right does not mean that your journey is going to go accordingly," he explains. "So, John Walker is in for some rough times up ahead as a human being."

New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Solider stream on Disney+ every Friday.

Check out our daily must-see picks — plus news, celeb interviews, trivia, and more — in EW's What to Watch podcast, hosted by Gerrad Hall. 

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