Playback: The Russo Brothers on ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and Raising the Marvel Stakes

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Avengers: Infinity War” is the talk of the industry, busting records across the globe and becoming the second chart-topping film from Marvel Studios in three months. The film’s most dazzling accomplishment is the balancing act achieved by directors Anthony and Joe Russo. The landscape isn’t simply littered with nominal moments featuring beloved characters. Everyone has a full experience on the screen and for the most part, complete arcs to play through. And for the sibling filmmakers, it represented a natural progression for an ever-expanding ensemble.

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“It seems like every movie we’ve doubled or more than doubled the size of the ensemble,” Anthony Russo says. “Joe and I have always thought about our creative process — we’ve analogized it to being mad scientists. We like to take disparate elements and kind of smash them together in unusual ways and just see what that makes, see what that brings you creatively. Starting with ‘Civil War’ and certainly continuing through ‘Infinity War,’ that has been the very process of making these movies. We have been taking these characters from different films, different tones, different styles, and figuring out how do they exist in a single film together? What does that do to them when you mix them?”

The duo admits the task can get overwhelming, sitting in a room hammering out story while surrounded by ideas and plot threads and the accoutrement of a cinematic universe. With screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who have penned all the Russos’ Marvel escapades, the directors forge a path through the chaos by, naturally, focusing on character every step of the way.

“We have a very disciplined process,” Joe Russo says. “It’s part of our collaboration with [screenwriters Christopher] Markus and [Stephen] McFeely that involves getting in a room together, the four of us, for months on end assessing story, character, potential arcs for characters, where did we leave them last, where do we want to lead them, what are we trying to say? Thematics are important to us. It’s a process Anthony and I forged through years of producing television. It’s got a bit of a writers room approach to it. Once we have a script, we then sit in the room again for many weeks and each day we spend time on each character. Like, ‘Today is Tony Stark day. We’re going to read the script from Tony’s point of view.’ The next day is Steve Rogers’ day or T’Challa’s day. You really comb through and go, ‘What do they want at the beginning? What are they getting by the end? Where are their moments in the movie? What are we trying to say about the character?’ So it’s just a process of putting coat of paint on the house after coat of paint.”

What’s the plan after the saga-closing (and currently untitled) fourth “Avengers” installment next summer? Joe Russo says there aren’t plans to pick up stakes. Marvel has become home in many ways.

“We’ve had the best experience of our careers with Marvel,” he says. “We have a great relationship with them and we love telling these stories. They’re very important to us. It would really be a function of, ‘What is that story,’ if we do stick around. Certainly it’s enticing when all these new Fox characters will show up. It’s a very complex universe to continue to build out. We also have very personal movies we want to go make, but we’re workaholics and we tend to put a lot on our plates and I think we can tell our personal stories and tell some big stories with Marvel as well. I think there’s room for all of it.”

And that’s just a taste. For more, including plenty of spoilers about the direction of this film and what the addition of characters like the X-Men and Fantastic Four could mean to this ever-expanding on-screen world, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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Anthony and Joe Russo photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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