When Scarlett Johansson and Marvel first reached out to Cate Shortland to talk about the long-awaited stand-alone Black Widow movie, the Aussie director was a little confused.
So confused, in fact – and so far was the world of Avengers and action extravaganzas from her filmography and sensibility – that she didn’t actually realise what she was being asked.
“I was in Sydney working on a television series as a writer and my American agent called and said ‘Marvel would like to talk to you about Black Widow’,” she recalls with a laugh via Zoom call from her locked-down home town. “And I said ‘oh, I love that show’ – I thought she was talking about Black Mirror. And then she said ‘no, no, no – it’s Marvel, it’s this other thing’.”
Even once that was cleared up, Shortland wondered why the hell Kevin Feige and the Marvel Cinematic Universe had come knocking for what would be by far the biggest film in her directing career of two decades. Having cut her teeth on the beloved Aussie drama The Secret Life of Us, and then winning a stack of awards for her 2004 debut feature Somersault, Shortland’s CV only features two other movies, the 2012 foreign language drama Lore and the 2017 psychological thriller Berlin Syndrome.
All were well received without setting the box office on fire, but there was nothing to suggest that Shortland would be an ideal candidate to take charge of the film to kick off Phase Four of the MCU, which has earned a staggering $30bn from its 23 films so far. At first she dismissed the idea as being crazy but the more she thought about it, the more she realised she admired what the studio juggernaut had already achieved. She was big fan of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and huge admirer of how Kiwi Taika Waititi had brought his indie film sensibility to Thor: Ragnarok.