Interview with Kari Skogland, the director of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Above: Ottawa native Kari Skogland on the set of  Marvel Studios’ The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with Anthony Mackie and Adepero Oduye. (PHOTO: MARVEL STUDIOS)

I have no problem telling you that I am a huge Marvel fan. I’ve seen all the movies, subscribed to Disney Plus on day one, and I love their content. One of the things I especially appreciate is their planning. Everything seems so perfectly laid out. Whether it’s their iconic post-credit scenes, Easter eggs or future development plans, every is just meticulously laid out.

For the past several weeks, every Friday my Facebook feed sees a lot of posts about this show called ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’. Have you been watching? OLM did a review of the first episode that you can see here: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

The show focuses on the characters played by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan. The show is six episodes and the finale will be released on April 23, 2021 on Disney Plus.

There is a lot of anticipation around this finale? What will happen? What’s next in the Marvel story? We will find out Friday but recently I had the opportunity to speak to the director of the show, Kari Skogland. Ms. Skogland is an Emmy nominated director for her work in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. She has won multiple awards for directing from BAFTA, the Directors Guild and the Genie Awards. She is down to earth and easy to chat with . . . but why wouldn’t she be . . . after all, she is from Ottawa!

Ottawa Life Magazine: First and foremost, congratulations on the success of this show. I have enjoyed the first 5 episodes. Since it’s just us, is there anything you want to tell me about the upcoming finale this Friday?

Kari Skogland: Well since it’s just us, I can tell you it’s got the best of the best action sequences so far. You’ll be blown away. I think you’re going to laugh, and I think you’re going to cry.

OLM: One of the things that I really love is that you had the opportunity of directing all six episodes. I love the continuity with that. I know you are no stranger to episodic television. You’re Emmy Award nominated, you’ve won multiple awards, you’ve directed multiple episodes of one of my favourite Canadian shows ‘Traders’ with that famous character ‘Jack Larkin’ who, in my opinion, was the original ‘Harry Spector. What is it like to direct the entire season as opposed to coming in and directing an episode here and there?

KS: Well, it’s great. It’s something I aim to repeat. You get to author the show and also capitalize on events that happen. When you come in episodically you don’t know what’s happened and what’s going to happen. You have a sense of it, but you haven’t been there to experience it. So, if an actor finds something in a character in episode two that you have no awareness of, how can you build on it for episode three? When you are doing all six (episodes) you can build on it. There’s a level of trust that starts to happen. When new faces come in every week or every other week it can be very difficult to rebalance and recalibrate. Here comes a director that may give some direction that doesn’t make any sense to an actor as they don’t know what happened. They (the actor) find it harder to give over their sense of trust. It’s collaborative and I feel like I made a six-part movie.

OLM: I loved that the show dove into the characters of ‘Sam’ and ‘Bucky’. And you also created a ‘buddy cop’ feel to this that was reminiscent of 48 Hours’. Was that part of the goal?

KS: Yes, we (Malcolm Spellman and the other writers) looked at some of the big buddy cop movies: ‘48 Hours’ was one of them, ‘Midnight Run’, ‘Lethal Weapon’ in order to see what worked, what didn’t and riff on that buddy cop paradigm, but freshen it with what our wonderful characters can do. But we definitely wanted to go on a road trip, and it was a location movie too. We were very grounded and very real world. All of that needed to be explored and baked into how we were going to achieve what we’ve done.

OLM: In the fifth episode (The Truth) there is a beautiful scene with Anthony Mackie (Sam) and Carl Lumbly (Isaiah Bradley) where they have a discussion in terms of how America is going to feel about a black Captain America which I felt was one of the best scenes in the series. I know there was a lot of great action and I’m not trying to minimize any of the great work you’ve done but there was something that seemed to break the fourth wall and have a conversation with the audience. Would you mind talking about that scene?

KS: Carl brought so much to the table. The heartfelt way with how he told his story, and his story is steeped in reality. The experimentation on Black men actually happened. Obviously, we shifted it to be in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) world, but it was all born of true events. So, when he is talking about it as a Black man he is talking about the Black history, American Black History and how can that not be incredibly emotionally charged? He is speaking from the heart. For Anthony, the same. That was such a core heartbeat of our story. This was the seminal interaction. I wanted to keep it super simple. In Episode 1 there was a scene with ‘Bucky’ and his therapist which I did unique angles and such. I wanted this to be super simple and almost a tad below, so the words were everything, and that’s what we did. I think we did two takes and we had it. It was that charged.

OLM: Can you talk about finishing the show in a pandemic? I know shooting was halted for a while and then you resumed. What was that experience like?

KS: We were one of the first projects to come back. There was a lot of safety discussion, but we very quickly got past that and then it just became we do what we do but with masks and obviously we did all of the safety protocols. What was interesting is that it allowed us to step back and ponder. We had shot 75 per cent and when we came back, we were informed about additional events in the world, so we were able to sharpen our pencils around the topics and themes we were presenting but we really didn’t skip a beat.

OLM: Obviously when you jump into the MCU you are going to be dealing with very passionate fans and a very passionate fan base. I watched episodes one and two, then I watched episodes three, four and five together so I was somewhat lost with all of this uproar online for Wyatt Russell — who I thought delivered a great performance. I think when you are getting a reaction from people that can be a good thing as it shows your acting is very strong, it just seems to me it went a little far. Would you like to comment on that mini uproar?

KS: The only thing I can comment on would be to say I am thrilled there is engagement. For a show, any show, to be evocative and to create discussion is important. Obviously hate speak is a different thing and so we have to be cognizant of when it does go too far and we have to self-modulate, and that’s just being a responsible citizen. For Wyatt, as you said, to be such a fine actor, that he can evoke such heart felt emotional response to this iconic character that he’s playing is a testimony to him as an actor.  And also, the iconic character that he is playing, that’s part of what he’s doing. He is looking at it and tearing it apart and deciding what it should be if that’s what it isn’t — that is part of what we are meant to feel about that character. I feel sad because he’s the nicest guy on the planet. And a hockey player by the way. He spent a lot of time in Canada. He’s practically Canadian. He’s one of our brothers.

OLM: If the opportunity presents itself would you like to do more work in the MCU?

KS: Oh gosh yeah! Of course. I would absolutely love to do more work in the MCU if they’d have me.

OLM: They’d be crazy not to! Are you ready for a little fun? It’s time for Rapid Fire! My first question is always this, what is your favourite movie of all time?

KS: That’s a tough one. I might say ‘The Piano.’

OLM: Beautiful film. Since we are talking about a series, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you for your favourite TV show of all time and you can’t say ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’.

KS: I’m a bit biased because I worked on it but probably ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. ‘ZeroZeroZero’ was also very good.

OLM: You’re an Ottawa native and we are all very proud of you. What is one of your favourite things to do when you’re in Ottawa?

KS: Skate on the Rideau Canal.

OLM: They are a lot of very talented, emerging filmmakers in Ottawa, what advice would you give to them?

KS: Well, you’ve got to invest in yourself and that means both sweat equity, maybe financially and believe you can do it, and do your homework.

OLM: As you go onto your next projects do you see yourself in a situation where they give you the budget for an episode and you think back to the budget you were working with on ‘The Falcon and the Winter Solider’ and say ‘I think you are missing a few zeroes’.

KS: (Laughing) I can only hope so. Wouldn’t it be great if I can stay in this lovely bubble that I am in.

OLM: Congratulations on everything. We are extremely proud of you. Love the series so far. I am eagerly anticipating 3 am Friday morning so I can see the finale. All the best and thanks for the time.

KS: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure speaking with you.