Inside 'The Falcon and Winter Soldier's Therapy Sessions (Exclusive)

A formerly brainwashed super-soldier with a metal arm and a guy with bird wings walk into a therapist’s office. You know that classic setup, but on Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s less so a punchline than a gut punch: These guys are dealing with massive PTSD from their time serving as superheroes and fighting the so-called big three. (Androids, aliens and wizards.)

Still, the fact that Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) are more odd than couple means that all of the miracle questioning and soul gazing they do in couples therapy provides its fair share of humor, too. But to cast the shrink capable of contending with these two required a noted character actor like Amy Aquino, who’s appeared on everything from Bosch to ER to Felicity. (On the latter, she even played Felicity’s therapist.)

Following episode 2, “The Star Spangled Man,” which saw Sam and Bucky butt heads and show a bit of vulnerability on her proverbial couch, Aquino spoke with ET about joining the MCU and having a front row seat to the Mackie-Stan show.

ET: Tell me about getting the call to join Marvel’s cinematic universe. How well versed in the MCU were you before this?

Amy Aquino:[Makes a “zero” sign with her hand and holds it up.] Like, literally. Look, because I’m here in Hollywood, I had tremendous admiration for them for forming their own studio — I thought it was a brilliant idea — and I knew how well-respected the films were. I kept meaning to see at least one, but I hadn’t. I hadn’t. But I knew that it was a big deal. I thought it was a franchise, though. I did not realize it’s a universe.

You did not know your Falcons from your Winter Soldiers.

I did not. They would refer to this audition and it’s like, “It’s for the what? The Hawk and the…? Oh, the Falcon? Right. The Falcon and what…?” Yeah, no, I didn’t know. But once I got the job, then I got tutored by Titus Welliver, who was my co-star on Bosch. He’s got one of these encyclopedic memories and he’s got all the action figures — he’s extraordinary and was deeply interested — so, he gave me the rundown of the history of these characters. Which I, of course, couldn’t follow. You can’t have somebody just say that stuff to you, verbally, and have it mean anything.

But I got a sense of just how complicated it was. He told me, “If you’re going to watch one thing, you should watch this,” so I watched Winter Soldier. And then I understood, “This is why everybody loves it.” Because it’s really funny, it’s really smart, the acting is terrific, and it looks visually amazing. It’s not just people flying and getting blown up. So, that really helped me. But I think that not being a big fan of it probably helped me more in terms of my being able to come into it with that objective eye that a therapist needs to have. Because I just saw this guy as this guy. He’s a wounded person who needs help.

And your character comes in and really starts a conversation about mental health amid this massive world of action and adventure. What sort of conversations did you have with Kari [Skogland, director] and Malcolm [Spellman, head writer] about that aspect of the series?

Well, they were limited. I think that they understood that I got it. There was no big pressure on it to deliver a message. It was written in the lines. And I loved that about it. It’s not totally professional, obviously, for a therapist to refer to their own personal struggles with the same thing, but they wrote it because she’s talking to him soldier to soldier. She’s letting him know when you’re feeling this stuff and you feel alone, that’s what’s going to kill you. And the fact is you shouldn’t feel alone, you don’t need to feel alone, but you’ve got to be the one to control that. You’ve got to be the one to do the reaching out. Or you are just committing suicide, figuratively or literally, which is what happens to a whole lot of people with PTSD. So, we didn’t have conversations, per se, but they just made it happen in the script. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about dealing with the things that are bothering you and acknowledging them so that you can move forward.

We get some hints at Dr. Raynor’s backstory, but this is an original character created for the series. When you’re joining something like this, is there any disappointment that you don’t have a comic book counterpart you get to bring to life? Or does it take some of the pressure off, because fans don’t have expectations of you?

I cannot imagine how awful it would be to try to bring a comic book character to life that has tens of millions of fans who have these expectations! [Laughs] I think that would be terrible. And because I was not embedded in the universe before this, it actually didn’t even occur to me. I guess I was very lucky. I was given a whole lot of freedom by this being this new person. I just approached this as a really well-written character and a really interesting job with terrific people involved with it and a wonderful little storyline. That’s what I do. I did not approach it as this gigantic thing at all, and that probably helped me a lot.

My favorite scene of the series thus far is your session with Anthony and Sebastian in episode two. How much of what goes down when those two are on the set is strictly scripted and how much are they adding to it?

They had the framework of what had to happen — I say to sit and face each other or “what are you doing?” — but the rest of it, it was Anthony and Sebastian, who have this huge history. And they were doing it in character — although in between they were also having a lot of fun — but they were creating those moments within the framework of what was on the page. And that was just delightful. And thank God I didn’t know them better, because had I known them better — because I only met them that day — I probably would not have been able to keep a straight face.

How many takes did you have to do of the leg scene to get it right?

The leg scene! [Laughs] The leg scene? Which one?!

When they pull together their chairs and their legs are interlocked.

Oh my god! They just did that. That was them! Him pulling his chair and just shoving it, that was Anthony. That was totally him, like, “Nah, are we going to do this or are we going to do this?” And they just did it right, first time. Boom. But the whole scene, we probably did that four or five times from each angle, but not more than that. Kari’s pretty amazing. She gets what she needs to get, man. And like I said, when you’re working with these two wonderful actors, who have all this history and you’re playing to that and the writing, etcetera, you just sit back and make sure you’re lit well and the cameras going and you’re there. And let ’em ride.

New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stream Fridays on Disney+.

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