When Wyatt Russell was cast as the new Captain America, it wasn’t without caveats. For one, he’s not really Captain America, depending on who in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier you ask. That role was held by Steve Rogers and Steve Rogers only, and anyone donning the shield is just a pretender. Secondly, how Russell’s character John Walker even got the shield is a bit dubious, since Sam Wilson gave it to the Smithsonian in the first episode, only to have it re-emerge a couple of weeks later in Walker’s hands. Third, Steve Rogers became Captain America through a series of painful looking injections and exposure to vita-rays. John Walker is a decorated veteran, but isn’t—as far as we know—a super soldier. Or is he?
That last question is something we posed to Russell when we chatted earlier this week. His answer was, in typical Marvel form, a little dodgy, but you can check it out both in the video above and in the transcript below. We also talk about Russell’s first audition for Captain America 10-odd years ago—a role he acknowledges he wasn’t ready to get—and whether he thinks Walker really knows why Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are not taking this whole “new Cap” thing too well.
The A.V. Club: You’re coming into the show as the “new Captain America.” Why do you think the world of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier needs a Captain America? Has the blip left the country in such turmoil that it needs a Captain America, no matter who he is?
Wyatt Russell: I think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would not be complete without a Captain America. I think it would be leaving a whole void that’s just too big to not address.
I think what [the government is] saying in the show is that America needs a hero and we’re going to give you the one we think you want and we think you need. It’s a government choice. Steve was a little bit more organic of a choice and [the role] felt like it chose him a little bit more than the shield chose John. John was from a different era.
So it’s an interesting question because you’re right. Why do we need Captain America? I think people need some some kind of hope to grab onto.
AVC: Speaking of the shield, Sam had, in the first episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, donated it to the Smithsonian. Fast forward 30 minutes later and we see your character, John Walker, with the shield. It’s back. Do you think that John understands what he’s done to Sam and Bucky? Is he interested in learning that at all, or does he just think, “Well, this is my job”?
WR: What has John done to Sam?
AVC: I suppose Sam had given up the shield, so does he have the right to care? If it was in the Smithsonian, it’s not his anymore.
WR: Right. So what did John do to them, then?
AVC: They’re sad. He took away their friend’s job and his memory, in a way.
WR: Oh, that’s interesting. He took away the memory of their friend.
I don’t think he’s as aware of that as much as he’s just trying to do his job as whatever version of Captain America they said he should be. He’s just trying to do the best that he can to try and get them to be on his team without fully understanding the depth of what he’s asking them to do because he didn’t know Steve and he didn’t know all the information that that they knew.
That’s also part of what they need to come to terms with. Sam gave up the shield. If you give up the shield, what do you expect? And that’s what he’s having to wrestle with, too, which makes it interesting. He’s wrestling with his own decisions. These decisions were made for him, and, you know, you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry. That’s what Sam’s having to deal with now, and it’s an interesting part of the story.
AVC: In episode two, we see John Walker in action as Captain America 2.0 in a big truck fight, and we also see him earlier in the episode in some press footage whipping the shield around like Captain America. Steve Rogers got really strong via the super-soldier treatment. How is John Walker so strong? Is it just a lot of burpees and and good clean living?
WR: I guess so. I wonder how many burpees he had to do to be able to throw the shield like that?
That’s a good question. I guess there’s a lot of working out and a lot of ability that you learn being a Marine. It’s a different version of [what Steve learned in the Armed Forces.]
It’s a very good question. Maybe, maybe, maybe it will be addressed.
AVC: The show’s head writer, Malcolm Spellman, said that the writers made your character more righteous on screen than he was in the comics, and he said that your character is going to have a big impact on the MCU. Do you feel like you had a big impact on the MCU?
WR: That’s up to you. That’s up to other people. I just do the job they asked me to do and do it best that I can. And then it’s up to fans and viewers whether they really like it.
When you do something—no matter what it is, whether it’s like a tiny little indie movie that costs 5 cents or a huge Marvel movie—the end result always ends up being the same. You and the people watching like it or they don’t, and they vote with their clickers or what they decide to do with their time. And if they choose to watch this show and that’s how they choose to spend their time, then I would love that, obviously. If not and they don’t like my character and want me to move on, I’m okay with that too. That’s just part of the gig.
AVC: Much has been made in the past couple days about how you originally auditioned to play Captain America long, long ago, though you’ve said, basically, “That wasn’t my job” or “That job wasn’t for me at that time.” Do you hold a grudge?
WR: I would have held a grudge if they hired me. I don’t think that it was a real meeting. I don’t think I had the actual ability to get the job. I wasn’t stupid. There was no way I was getting to be Captain America or anything, because I was so unprepared, experience-wise. You can’t substitute for experience—just doing lots of things and what I guess I would call at-bats—and I had none. So when I went and did it, I think it was more of an exercise to see if I could act. Maybe they’d put me in smaller things. Maybe there was a role that was right me for in another thing. The casting director, Sarah Halley Finn—she cast me in this, and she’s awesome—she’s always been a real champion of mine and brought me in on all kinds of different things. This was one just to see if I could do it.
I was very green and I didn’t know much of what I was doing. I wouldn’t have been ready anyway, nor would you have wanted me to be because you got the perfect guy. So when I got [Captain America] this time, it was cool.
I also didn’t know who I was reading for at the time of reading [for the part] this time because they don’t tell you who you’re reading for. So it was like, “Okay, read the Joe Blow character,” and then when it came back around, they said, “You got it!” And I was like, “Great! Who’s it for?” And they said, “Captain America… ish?” And I was like, “Okay!”