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Published May 3, 2021

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: How the Supporting Cast Brought the Villains to Life

The creative force behind the Marvel Studios hit series tackle the subject of complex characters such as Karli Morgenthau, Baron Zemo, John Walker, and Sharon Carter!

Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Over the course of Marvel Studios’ The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, our titular heroes Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes come across unlikely allies and are forced to deal with a handful of roadblocks. Who can and can’t be trusted? From Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers, to the reappearance of Sharon Carter and Baron Zemo, to John Walker popping up at the most inconvenient times, the peripheral players contribute largely to the overall story.  

Marvel.com got to speak to the creative team behind the series as well as some of the stars themselves on how they crafted these compelling characters that challenged Sam and Bucky.

Executive producer Nate Moore explained, “I think if we've done our job right, it shows that all of those characters are human. All of us have goodness and badness within us. And I hope that the choices they make in this show, whether they be good or bad, at least are identifiable.”

“We wanted to embrace one of our big themes of the show—identity,” stated co-executive producer Zoie Nagelhout. “We wanted to subvert expectations by exploring the ways these characters have either shifted their identities or [are] taught to shift their identities, and seeing them in a new light.”

This Is How We Make Change

Flag Smashers

Throughout the series, Sam Wilson understands Karli Morgenthau’s cause and thought he was able to her walk off the path of extremism not by force, but by compassion.

On humanizing the Flag Smasher cause and relating it to the world we live in, director Kari Skogland shared, “Like any great villain, I believe that they have to be saying something that actually makes sense…[and] it’s not so terrible, and it's very relevant to our world today as well as what's going on in their world post-Blip. As it devolves, it turns into something else. It's the radicalization of the character, where Karli starts to take it as she becomes single-minded in her goal, and therefore she corrupts her own goals.” 

It’s also this relatable and noble cause that leads Sam Wilson to connect with Karli Morgenthau, which also pushes Sam on his own hero’s journey. “It's a complex relationship because Sam buys into what she's saying, and Karli knows that he buys into what she's saying,” added Skogland. “He feels like there's a soul in there that he can save.”

Speaking on Karli and Sam’s final scene together, Erin Kellyman, who plays Karli, detailed, “In those final moments when you see her, she's genuinely sorry. That's a genuine thing when she apologizes to Sam, when he's holding her. She's really sorry for everything that she's done.”

“Karli has a point of view on the themes of the show on mantles, on patriotism,” noted Nagelhout. “Her opinion on those things is in direct conflict with what our heroes are dealing with. It's really interesting to see characters who maybe at the root of it share similarities, but have different methods to how they go about creating change in the world. Her methods just grow more and more desperate, because, in a lot of ways, she's fighting for her life and the life of those she cares about. She's fighting for relevance. She's fighting to be seen by the world that has ignored her.”

“Unheard people are dangerous people,” cautioned Kellyman. “Her whole journey…she’s so passionate and so driven, and no one’s listening to her; it’s frustrating. I personally view her, at the very end, as kind of a hero. She’s on the good side, fighting for good things.”

Providing another layer to the character of Karli Morgenthau, Moore said, “There’s a desperation [with Karli], and I would argue not out of malice, in the way that, say Loki stabbing Coulson in Avengers was out of malice. This is a character in the moment making decisions that they would both walk back if they could, but sometimes you don't get to walk those decisions back. Karli, for as long as she’s around, I think would have carried Lemar's death on her conscience frankly.”

“A lot of the nuance comes from performance; it comes from Erin Kellyman,” added Nagelhout. “It's one thing to on the page create duality in a character, but you have to be able to see the complexity and the layers of that in a person's performance. You see not only her rage and her desperation, but you also see her at conflict with herself at times and her genuine care for her followers and for her crew.”

If I Had to Hustle, I Might As Well Enjoy the Life of a Hustler

Sharon Carter

“For Sharon, we find her completely changed, not because she's inherently a bad person, but because she was left behind both by the system and frankly by people she thought were her friends,” stated Moore. “That change hopefully feels earned, and is not a product of an inherent moral failing, but rather the circumstances that she found herself.”

Echoing Moore, Emily VanCamp shared, “When I found out that Sharon is in fact the Power Broker, it made perfect sense. It really solidifies what all of this means for Sharon. We’re meeting this whole new version of her, and this kind of character, unfortunately, is the sad product of the series of events where she was abandoned and left to her own devices. It is very fitting that she was hurt and scorned and went rogue.”

“A lot of talk about Sharon [from fans] are about how she was kind of abandoned and treated,” added VanCamp. “My hope is that viewers are on board with her decisions after all of this time. To be like, all right, Sharon’s off to this other side of things because they all forgot about her.”

I Only Ever Did What You Asked of Me

John Walker

In approaching the character of John Walker, Moore said, “John Walker was somebody with the best of intentions, but the pressure of being Captain America is so great that it ultimately breaks him to a degree. He especially was an interesting foil to put between Sam and Bucky. You get to see someone who on paper is the sort of poster boy for being as good as Steve, but the pressure of being Cap actually cracks John, but not because John is inherently a bad person, but because the circumstance that John found himself overwhelmed him.”

As for Walker’s brutal act in Episode 4, Moore revealed, “It's almost a psychotic break. Lemar, to some degree, was his North star, his conscience. And when that was taken from him, he lost it for a second. And I think the moment where John murders Nico is going to haunt him far beyond the events of the show. And the question I think now for John, both in Episode 6 and as he continues on the MCU, is can he ever atone for the thing that he's done? I think part of what will be interesting in following him is to see that character evolve.”

 “[John] has always been a person who will, in my mind, do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if that means doing the questionable moral thing,” stated Wyatt Russell, who plays John Walker. He's just trying to become the best version of himself that he can be, or so he thinks. He’s coming from a set of circumstances that is reminiscent of something that happened in war, where that might have been the right reaction, but isn’t in a public place while wearing the Captain America suit with that shield.”

“[In Episode 5,] he sees that ‘Cap is Back’ poster, and he looks at himself with self-loathing. That was never who he wanted to be. That was never who he thought he would become… When he sees that poster he decides, I'm going to go do this the way; I'm going to do it, and try and fight for myself.”

“He feels played by the U.S. government and feels betrayed by them, which was his only family that he's ever really known that he had a love for,” continued Russell. “He just felt stabbed in the back because they trained, like he says in that courtroom [in Episode 5], they trained him to do what he did. They sent him there.”

I Have No Intention of Leaving My Work Unfinished

Baron Zemo

“It was really fun to see Zemo again,” reflected Nagelhout. “Maybe he's not the most trustworthy guy. Maybe he has this agenda. He's a bit of a necessary evil here; we need his help. To see the ways that he actually can be helpful and that he has access to places in the Marvel Universe that even our guys don't. Having him be the link to Madripoor was really interesting to us and allowed the characters to grow and be seen in a new way.”

“Zemo has been operating from a place of pain for so long because he lost his family,” contextualized Moore. “He is a good ally in the context of the show because he is trying to stop the spread of super soldiers, but he is doing it in incredibly brutal ways while still trying to cope with that pain.”

Daniel Brühl, who plays Baron Zemo, was thrilled to come back and explore a new facet of his character. “To be honest, to be invited back to something is great because it shows you that you weren't that bad in the first place,” stated Brühl. “It’s the sense of humor that was added [to the character] that I love. No matter how serious the circumstances are, it’s good to lighten up the tone every now and then, and I was very happy that Zemo adds that by constantly teasing, provoking, and annoying Sam and Bucky.”

As for the unlikely alliance with Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, Brühl revealed, “I really enjoyed the dynamic in this triangle because they all come from so different places. They couldn't be more different, these three. What I liked is that underneath it all, there's that thing that they all have suffered and gone through so much in life individually that I think they do see that in each other and understand that. I wouldn't go that far that they start liking each other, and maybe respect would also be too much, but there is a mutual understanding for each one's trauma and the fact that they're all haunted by their individual demons of the past and by the severe loss that they have suffered.”

All episodes of Marvel Studios’ The Falcon and The Winter Soldier are now streaming exclusively on Disney+!

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