• Interviews

Anthony and Joe Russo on “Cherry”

Collectively known as the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe are best known for directing four films in the Marvel Universe: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Captain America:  Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019), the latter grossing over $2.798 billion worldwide. They previously worked on projects such as the TV comedies: Arrested Development, Community, and Happy Endings

Most recently, they wrote and produced last year’s Netflix hit, Extraction, starring Chris Hemsworth, and also produced Mosul, with an all Arabic cast, based on true events about a rogue SWAT team in the titular city in Iraq who struggled to save their city from ISIS.

The prolific duo also helmed the highly acclaimed drama, Cherry, starring Tom Holland, based on the novel of the same name by Nico Walker which follows an army veteran who resorts to robbing banks to support his opioid addiction. 

Tom Holland takes on a very difficult character in Cherry, not only in the changes he goes through externally but the life-altering experiences he endures. 

JR: Yes. This character is a very difficult character. He makes some self-destructive choices that are distancing to an audience and forced us to retreat into an intellectual exercise rather than an emotional experience. You need someone of Tom’s incredible charisma and charm to take the audience on that journey, even though he makes choices that you may not agree with in the film. 

AR: I would add that right from the beginning, when we were drawn to the novel, a big part of us deciding to adapt it was thinking of Tom in that role. It’s a difficult story with the difficult subject matter and with Tom as the character it made the movie feel a lot more accessible to us.

Cherry was such a good illustration of the after-effects of war and PTSD.  Do you think it’s a subject we haven’t explored enough? What do you think we can learn from the film?

AR: That was really one of our strong motivations to make the movie because PTSD and drug addiction are difficult things for people to talk about, whether they’re suffering from those things themselves or have loved ones that are suffering from those things. A movie can be a wonderful resource to allow your relationship with those secrets and hidden issues to evolve and move forward.

What were the unexpected challenges and unexpected joys of working on this film?

JR: The challenges were working with very difficult material on a daily basis and very personal material. People very close to us have died because of the epidemic and others are struggling with their sobriety. So, dealing with that subject matter on a daily basis can be intense. And I think it was very intense for the actors. Tom lost 30 pounds and then gained it back all within a four-month period. He really shredded himself emotionally, so that was a very difficult shoot for him personally as well. The joys of it were certainly being able to work with subject matters like this and coming off of the Marvel films, we had incredible freedom. You work your whole career to get to a point where you have artistic autonomy. Also, we got to collaborate with our sister, Angela, on this film, the co-writer of the screenplay, along with Jessica Goldberg. We’ve worked with Angela before, but this, I think, was our most exciting collaboration with her.

Both Cherry and Mosul are films connected to the Iraq War. Why does that subject strike a chord with you?

JR: It’s interesting because it seems to be very topical and a heavy issue surrounding that war.  Again, the questions of what is the essence of this country, and what do we stand for? I think these are issues that have been questioned the same way they were during the Iraq War, over the last four years. So it feels like a good opportunity to use a device like that war to question more sensitive issues that people might not want to address, the more topical issues which are harder for them to address because they are closer to the issue. What’s fascinating about the book and about the character is that the psychology that initiated the opioid epidemic during the war is still the same psychology that is fueling the epidemic today to its most deadly year in history. So I think that there’s some modern existential light that infiltrated parts of America and other parts of the world and has taken a hold of certain segments of society and that is propelling people to self-medicate with these street drugs that have been scientifically engineered to be as addictive as possible, to make money. So I think the correlation between the past and the present is significant and that’s why we have done two films regarding that war.

Did you talk to former and current addicts?

We had many conversations with former addicts, current addicts, we had a consultant on set who was a former addict. We have friends and family who are former addicts. So a lot of what is in the film is based on personal experience based on the experience of books that deal with people like Cherry. A lot of those overhead shots that we use are meant to imply that this is one story in millions, that in that house lives a man whose life is falling apart. And as you pass over the houses we have in the film, it’s meant to imply that there are thousands if not millions of stories just like this. And so that authenticity was critical to the execution of the film, it was paramount. We didn’t want to make the movie for any other reason than to be faithful to the pain and tragedy that surrounds this crisis.

Can you talk about The Gray Man? Have you started shooting and where are you with that?

We are in prep on that and we will begin shooting in March. Most production in Los Angeles has been halted because of the epidemic. 

I really enjoyed Mosul. What was important for you in telling that specific story?

JR: It seemed tragic to us that we couldn’t point to a Hollywood-made movie that had Arabic characters as the central protagonists of the film. It was based on an article that we both teared up when we read it, a true story in The New York Times that detailed what was perhaps one of the more profoundly war-damaged cities, if not the most war-damaged city of the last 30 years. So, for all those reasons we were compelled to make that story.