David Harbor’s ‘Black Widow’ Scene Stealer in Red Guardian Tattoos, Suits and Parental Love

“Black Widow” is full of layered and heart-wrenching surprises, from the energy of big sister Florence Pugh to Rachel Weisz’s stunning pig mind control.

And that’s not even the crazy part of this character. Decades later, he returns as a stranded super-soldier, trapped in a rotting prison with nothing but his faded tattoos to show his years of dedication to the cause. One would assume this neglect would dampen his spirits — not an opportunity. Harbor (with his majestic beard) fills the screen with an ego bigger than Thanos. Fueled by the self-confidence of a man who never left his prime, Harbor’s passion and determination make it almost impossible not to cheer on this flawed and failing father.

Variety discusses the intricacies of playing Red Guardian with Harbor and whether or not the character will return.

Marvel is known for its great suit scenes. Your version is very different from what we’ve seen before. What did you and [director] Cate Shortland envision for this big moment?

In the script, it’s very funny. I think it’s also an homage to “The Incredibles”—this guy, clearly past his prime. I don’t think it was in the final cut, but it took us about five hours [to shoot that scene]. It’s not a joke from a different point of view…[Shortland] shoots a lot of stuff around my character, around Rachel’s character, about our relationship… none of those things will be in the movies. But I would say for that scene, there were great moments and we sculpted something.

While we were shooting it, I went in the mirror at one point — there was even stuff in the trailer that I didn’t think worked out in the [final] cut — where I just flexed and looked at myself and there’s this ego. But there’s also him seeing himself aging and dealing with that too. And then put a blindfold on and can’t face it and really can’t see it. There’s a whole bow. When any of us look in the mirror, it’s a very personal thing to look at ourselves to know what we look like and to see ourselves at that moment. And in that way, I like that about him. I love the fact that Cate isn’t afraid to play with those ideas. I love real bodies, I love bodies that can’t fit into jeans. Some people look at it and they laugh, but for me, I like people like that because I feel they have an appetite and they have life and love to live. Funny, but I like the guy too.

Oh, my God. My favorite is, he has “Karl Marx” written on his knuckles, like “love” and “hate”, which I find funny. I love it. It was a last-minute addition. He has a picture of [Vladimir] Lenin’s head on his stomach. There’s a very elaborate Russian gang tattoo that I think looks a bit too much like a Nazi eagle. I didn’t want people to be bothered by it, so we put a small parapet over it that made it ours. All Russian words are very personal to me. Then on her neck, there is a special tattoo that we made, namely Rachel Weisz’s face with a bob haircut when she was younger. Underneath it says “Melina”. It was probably my favorite because I love Rachel Weisz.

Starting with the script, all the colors contradict it. I like not shying away from that contradiction. Who you are when you talk to your father is completely different from who you are when you talk to your wife or husband or children. That contradiction is what makes it great.

From the start of the film, he must have made choices that were difficult for audiences to overcome. I think you have to get a lot of grounding later in the movie to get people to go with him because he does something pretty dramatic.

I started with the idea that he was a Soviet in the sense that he grew up under Soviet Russia as opposed to today’s Russia. And then in that sense, he believed in a reason. I didn’t know that Americans had the same belief in that. We have an ideology of freedom and things like that, but there is something about the Communist ideology that is so strong. So I think the sacrifice he made was for that. So I dig into that aspect, the philosophy, what it means to be a super soldier in that world. It becomes about the colors of regret, sadness, and having made the wrong decision. Seeing these princesses that you think you’re doing the right thing with a sort of transcends you and the jealousy. All these very human things.

In the film, Alexei is very happy that his “daughter” Natasha is an Avenger, but this goes against many of his beliefs. Do you think Alexei is proud that he defected from the whole mission and plan?

Well, he did both. It’s the same thing I think anyone does with their daughter. When it was to his advantage, he used it as something. At one point he said, “You are a capitalist.” or something about. And then, when he wanted to build it, it was “You’re great.” I think it’s just a product of them, it’s father/son. He only knew her and loved her. When he bothered her, he let her go.

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