Directing ‘Avengers: Infinity War’: How Russo brothers tackled daunting task

“Everyone recognizes what a unique, creative opportunity this film is.”

The monster-size cast of “Avengers: Infinity War” might seem like a daunting task to direct, with big stars, big personalities and big egos.

But for Anthony Russo, who codirected the film with his brother Joe, it wasn’t as hard as it looks.

“Everybody is very happy to be making this movie,” he explains. “Everyone recognizes what a unique, creative opportunity this film is. There has never been a film made like this before, with this size of a cast, or this number of beloved characters in it that audiences have invested years in. So everybody knows what a rare and unique opportunity it is.”

How unique?

“Infinity War” is the culmination of a 10-year stretch of 19 movies. It’s a shared universe, where superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America are crossing over in each other’s films, and the events in one movie can have major repercussions in another film years later.

The big villain in “Infinity War,” Thanos, played in a motion-captured performance by the great Josh Brolin, made his first on-screen appearance in the first “Avengers” movie back in 2012, then showed up in the second “Avengers” film, “Age of Ultron” and in the space action comedy “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

 

Their secret origin

The Russo brothers had directed a few films before joining the Marvel family — “Welcome to Collinwood” in 2002 and “You, Me and Dupree” in 2006. They also had extensive directing experience in television, helming series like “Arrested Development,” “Community” and “Happy Endings.”

That experience with the small screen proved “really valuable” to their Marvel work, according to Anthony Russo.

“Serialized storytelling, of course, is the revolution in feature films that Marvel film has sort of brought out,” Anthony Russo says. “There’s a portion of that that’s borrowed the experience of television. We’ve always worked in large ensembles. I think that ensemble storytelling gives you a variety of characters to access a narrative from difference points of view.

“I think we’ve always loved that and valued that,” he continues. “We come from a big Italian-American family and I think that we grew up with this sort of ensemble feel in our lives.”

With this ensemble cast, the brothers were excited to get a chance to work with two Avengers who weren’t in the two previous Marvel movies they directed, the second two “Captain America” movies: “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War.”

“We didn’t get an opportunity on ‘Civil War”’ to work with [Chris] Hemsworth or [Mark] Ruffalo,” Joe Russo says. “So that was especially exciting. Two original Avengers that we had not had an opportunity to work with yet.”

They found that experience with Hemsworth, who plays Thor, and Ruffalo, who plays the Hulk, to be “phenomenal.”

“I mean, they’re incredibly gifted actors,” Joe Russo says. “[We were] really taking advantage of Chris Hemsworth’s natural sense of humor and it brought a whole new element to the character, a whole new dimension to Marvel that we’re excited to take advantage of. He’s incredibly fast on his feet, Chris. Some of the best improv in the movie is between him and [Chris] Pratt, in the scene where the Guardians meet Thor.”

“And Mark is one of the great gifted actors of his generation,” he continues. “We’ve been huge fans of his for a long time. Getting the opportunity to work with him has been a dream of ours for a while. He’s Italian. We’re Italian. It’s nice to have another paesano on the set.”

 

To be continued . . .

“Infinity War” might now be in theaters, but the brothers are still neck deep in “Avengers,” with the fourth movie, which was filmed back-to-back with this one, still being produced. Still untitled, it is due out next year.

“We have a year left of work on that film,” Anthony Russo says. “And it will be very intense, hard work. So as far as where we go after that, it’s difficult to say because I don’t know that our brains will be able to open up and answer that question maybe until the end of this year, early next year.”

While their directing work is laser-focused on Marvel, they are able to produce, and help out up-and-coming filmmakers.

Anthony Russo says filmmaker Steven Soderbergh gave the duo a leg-up early in their careers and they hope to help others in a similar way with their production company Russo Brothers Studio. Soderbergh was a fan of their first film, the 1997 indie “Pieces.”

“[‘Pieces’] was a very radical film,” Anthony Russo says. “It was not linear. It was very experimental. It was almost nonsensical in many ways. So it was a very passionate cinematic expression. It’s something that somebody only like Steven Soderbergh could respond to. And basically he’s the only person that did respond to it. But because he did, that helped enable a road for Joe and I in the film business.”

Now that they’re well into their careers — with many successful benchmarks — they can return the favor to others.

“Part of our agenda with our new company is not only to help us realize our own projects as directors,” Anthony Russo says, “but we are also very focused on helping other filmmakers and helping other stories get told. . . . We look at it as our job right now that we have been enabled and empowered by our success to try [and] find those people and those projects that need special protection and special help to get made. And so those are the kind of projects we’re interested in producing. And with our new company, we are going to be bringing, hopefully, some of those new films to the screen.”

Scott A. Rosenberg