There’s a new Marvel movie in theaters (and Disney+) right now. Which means there’s a new opportunity for us to dig into the influence that martial arts have on the Marvel cinematic universe.
We here at the AWMA Blog are always interested in exploring this intriguing relationship between martial arts and pop culture. Whether we’re looking at the ways in which martial arts are portrayed in the movies themselves or how they’ve helped to shape the minds and bodies of their stars, there’s always more to learn from the study of Mixed Marvel Arts.
So without further adieu, let’s dive into our next lesson: martial arts and Black Widow. What kind of martial arts background does Scarlett Johansson have? What kind of background did she have before she started playing Natasha Romanoff? And how has her training and performance evolved over the years?
What is Scarlet Johansson’s martial arts background?
Johansson wasn’t even a regular gym goer when she first signed on to play Natasha Romanoff in 2010’s Iron Man 2. But the actor was committed to learning as much as she could and contributing as much as she could to her action sequences.
“I’m the kind of audience member where you see any genre film like this, and you suspend your disbelief and go with the characters and then, suddenly, you see this whole fight sequence, and it’s the back of somebody’s head,” she told MTV News in 2010. “It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of lame.’ I wanted to be able to have Jon [Favreau, who directed Iron Man 2 and got beaten up in that boxing scene] use as much of my face as possible and really learn these sequences backwards and forwards.”
According to Screen Rant, Johansson began an intense training regimen that included strength and conditioning, boxing, wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to prepare for the physical demands of her new role. She’s been adding to that base with each new Marvel movie ever since.
What is Black Widow’s fighting style?
Natasha Romanoff moves and fights with the influence of all of the above disciplines. Staring with The Avengers, she also began to incorporate Wushu influences.
“We wanted to make Black Widow very fluid and acrobatic,” fight choreographer Jonathan Eusebio told ComicBookMovie.com in 2012. “Wushu, a Chinese fighting style, works well for her body mechanics. It’s very graceful but requires a lot of strength and flexibility. You are also going to see Black Widow executing more sacrifice throws and using a variety of weapons. The game has changed and so has her skill set. [Johansson] had to learn entirely new things and for her to deal with the various weapons like the ones we gave her was very difficult. She trained very hard and pulled off great performances on game day.”
How did Scarlet Johansson train for Black Widow?
For Black Widow, Johansson and her trainer Eric Johnson were able to cycle her training a lot like a professional fighter would. “We always kinda wanna be, like, six weeks out from our peak. But sometimes we have longer periods. We might have 12 weeks; we might have six months. But I like to break up her training into kind of different blocks,” Johnson recently told Insider.
The first phase of this training focussed on cardio, mind/body connection, and mobility to help Johansson reset and return to intense training. The second phase was all about strength training and increasing muscle mass. The final phase turned up the intensity with explosive functional training like sprints, kettlebells, and battle ropes.
“In phase three, we’re trying to increase her peak conditioning, we’re trying to cut back on rest periods, we’re incorporating drop sets and intensifiers, such as giant sets where we might do three to four different exercises for the same body part. We’re really trying to peak here, from her conditioning, from her athletic performance, from just how she looks aesthetically. Trying to become lean and really fit, and really try to put the finishing touches on her character.”
Does Scarlet Johansson have a stunt double?
Johansson has been game to do her own stunts when it’s appropriate, but she also works with an amazing stunt double named Heidi Moneymaker who has been with part of the Natasha Romanoff journey since the beginning. In addition to stunt work, Moneymaker has helped Johansson with her training and performance.
Moneymaker is a competitive gymnastic turned stunt actor who also trains in Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, kickboxing, Kung Fu weapons training, and MMA. “Combat style fighting/fitness is super important because you get used to, even if you’re not getting hit hard, getting punched,” Moneymaker told Hyabusa. “You get used to clenching up and tightening and your body kind of gets used to the feeling of hitting something hard. And that actually helps out because in the real real world of film, a lot of times you’re falling down on cement or being slammed into walls and stuff, so that actually does prepare your body for that kind of intense action.”