Wyatt Russell on wielding Cap's shield and pranking Anthony Mackie on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Captain America's shield is in new hands.
The first two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduced Wyatt Russell's John Walker, a former Marine tapped by the U.S. government to carry on Cap's mantle. It's a tall order trying to follow in the red-white-and-blue footsteps of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and the first few episodes follow John as he tries to win over both America and Steve's longtime friends Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) — neither of whom are too eager to roll out the welcome mat for the new Cap.
EW caught up with Russell after episode 2 to talk about his superhero transformation — and how he learned to wield that iconic, star-spangled shield.
"It's very cumbersome!" he admits. "It's very heavy. It's just something that you have to get used to. I'm not a shield connoisseur. I don't know anything about shields — other than that one."
For Russell, known for his roles in Lodge 49, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Ingrid Goes West, playing John Walker presented a unique challenge: How do you create an authentic character who is, by definition, trying to copy someone else? The actor admits he isn't much of a comic reader, but he still looked to John's appearances in Marvel issues for inspiration — not for story but for physicality. The character's gone by various names in the comics, including Captain America and U.S. Agent, and Russell and the stunt team used that art to help develop John's onscreen body language.
"It's like, what is he trained to be as Captain America? Is it a copy of Steve?" Russell says. "It's a little of like he's trying to be somebody he's not."
Episode 2 also highlights one key difference between Steve Rogers and John Walker: the latter's use of a gun. Although both men are veterans with extensive military experience, Steve never carried a weapon other than his shield. John, on the other hand, goes into battle with a pistol at his side.
"He's a modern-day military man," Russell says. "He wears a gun on his hip; that's what they do. In the comics, that's part of his costume. It's part of who John is in this world, and trying to thread that needle is something that he has to do himself. That's part of what you're watching: him trying to be like, 'Okay, but in this other world I can just walk in and use my weapons to clear a room.' That's what his job was as a Marine. Now you can't necessarily do that, so you have to be judicious about the way he's using his authority — and he's struggling with that."
In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there's no love lost between John, Sam, and Bucky. But when the cameras aren't rolling, Russell says his costars welcomed him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with open arms. "It's all in the writing for me," Russell says of their onscreen rivalry. "I wish I could say I went to Anthony's house and was throwing rocks at his window and was pouring water on his face to wake him up to really get him mad at me in real life. But they're just so great." The three men quickly bonded, and Russell recalls one day while shooting on location at a bar, he and Stan would "sneak off" between takes to drink coffee and beer and hang out in costume.
Still, despite their friendship, he couldn't resist playing at least one prank on his costars. While training for the role, Russell wore his usual long hair and beard, only shaving it off right before filming started. When he realized that Mackie had never seen him clean-shaven, he decided to have a little fun.
"I was doing all the training for a couple months without shooting, and I looked different," Russell explains. "I went to go shave and cut my hair and look like the character, and I went up to Anthony just to say hey. I realized he didn't know who I was as I was walking up to him."
"So I pretended I was like some crazy fan who snuck on the lot who loved the Falcon," he continues, laughing. "I was using a German accent, like, 'Falcon! I love you! You're so great!' He was like, 'What the hell?' until I got right up to him. He saw my eyes, and he was like, 'Oh my God, you look totally different.'"