The Winter Soldier is a fairy tale - at least that's what the intelligence community in the Marvel Cinematic Universe tells themselves. This assassin, with his cybernetic arm and relentless pursuit of his targets - has been picking off victims for fifty years, a span too long for any human being. But some people know the truth, that the Winter Soldier is in fact a man, and that he is kept in cryogenic stasis between missions. And that his mind has been wiped, and that he is programmed only to kill.
That makes him a weird character for an actor to approach. History is everything when actors prepare for roles, but the Winter Soldier's memory is wiped every time he is taken out of storage. For Sebastian Stan, who plays the long-haired death dealer and central physical threat in Captain America: The WInter Soldier, that blank slate was evocative of something he had experienced in his own life.
It reminded me of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, and I had a chance to see that very up close and personal in someone I knew. That’s what that scene was. Watching someone go through Alzheimer’s you see them struggle to understand why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. They have glimpses of things they don’t completely get, so they’re very confused. They’re also extremely violent, they can be very violent. They can go from ‘You’re familiar’ to ‘You’re a threat to me’ - immediately. It’s hard. I just thought, for me, that [character], when I was reading [him] on paper, very much reminded me of someone who, unfortunately, was struggling to understand what he feels and what he’s thinking.
Of course that is just one aspect of who The WInter Soldier is. Stan needed to prepare himself physically to be a guy who could stand toe-to-toe with Captain America, recipient of the Super Soldier Serum.
Physically I started training about six months before. The whole deal: eating spot on, eight hours a night, no drinking, no partying. Monk living! It was hard, but also it’s amazing to see what happens to your body. Your energy skyrockets.
I was also doing a play at the same time, which helped my discipline. Then it went right into fight training about three months before, and the stunt guys were teaching us every move beat by beat by beat. It’s like learning notes, it’s that mechanical and choreographed.
[This is] the introduction of the Winter Soldier onscreen. That meant you needed to understand why this guy was a threat, what he does and how he does it, what his process is. You’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg, in terms of how much of a threat he is - how much of a weapon he is - but he’s still a human being.