The 2021 film which introduced Marvel audiences to Natasha Romanoff's estranged younger sister and fellow assassin concluded with Yelena finding her lost family.
However, that happy ending didn't last long, and neither did Florence Pugh's Black Widow version of Yelena Belova.
Florence Pugh Talks Changing Yelena Belova
In talking with Marvel for Marvel Studios' Hawkeye: The Official Collector Special, Florence Pugh opened up about playing Yelena Belova after the events of Black Widow.
Pugh claimed that she knew, even before Hawkeye, that Yelena "would be a completely different person" if Marvel Studios chose to bring her back:
"I think when we finished Black Widow I knew in the back of my head that if this character was asked to come back, [she] would be a completely different person because the whole film, the whole storyline of Black Widow, is that she’s got her sister back and she’s found her family again."
However, while Black Widow is a prequel, the same can't be said for its post-credits scene which fast-forwarded through the MCU timeline to show Yelena visiting Natasha's grave following Avengers: Endgame.
As for how her sister's Endgame sacrifice impacted Yelena, Pugh claimed to have already thought about that too, saying,
"I knew going into that film that Natasha didn’t make it back into her life, so from the get-go, I was automatically thinking about where [Yelena’s] mind was at. How does she find out [about Natasha’s death]? Who tells her? How does she react? Who does she go after?"
Interestingly enough, she didn't expect Yelena to go after Clint Barton, but she found it "fascinating" to be "in my character's head - a good person, but to everyone else, she is bad:"
"I did not see it coming, that they were going to put me and Clint against each other, which I thought was a really cool twist. So, I think in my head I’d already done the planning. I was really happy to have such a raw and painful revenge. It was fascinating to be – in my character’s head – a good person, but to everybody else, she is bad. That was an interesting line to walk."
Pugh also shared how she was given "the freedom to create a new character" with Yelena, sharing how Black Widow director Cate Shortland told her to make the character "essentially whatever you want it to be:"
"I think from the get-go on Marvel Studios’ Black Widow, I was really awarded the space and the opportunity and the freedom to create a new character, and that was totally down to director Cate Shortland. As exciting as it is to come into these big films, you’re always interested and wanting to know how much freedom you have with these characters. I was just so amazed and excited that Cate was like, 'Look, this is yours. It’s going to go to you. You’re going to continue this character, and you make it essentially whatever you want it to be.' That was just so exciting and thrilling for me."
The upcoming Oppenheimer actress didn't have to wait long to continue her character.
Black Widow had only premiered in theaters and on Disney+ in July when Pugh reprised her role in late 2021's Hawkeye, where she brought both her assassin skills and love of macaroni and cheese with hot sauce to the Disney+ series.
Pugh touched on Yelena's capricious character, noting her "unexpected edge:"
"So I’ve always wanted Yelena to be that she has kind of an unexpected edge to her. You don’t really know whether she’s going to be in a great mood, or a [bad] mood."
Her hilarious and somewhat unnerving interactions with Kate Bishop are intentional as well because, as the upcoming Thunderbolts star explains, "I wanted her to be a bit odd:"
"I wanted her to be a bit odd and for her timing to be unnatural. I think that’s something that makes her quite loveable because she’s just this incredibly inter-changing character. Coming into this series, knowing what we had done with Marvel Studios’ 'Black Widow' and knowing where I’d come from, that was an amazing gift to be given. And then, of course, in terms of storyline, the difference of Marvel Studios’ 'Black Widow' to this is miles away because she’s a changed person now."
More Change in Store for Yelena Belova?
Black Widow sounds like quite the acting exercise for Florence Pugh.
Not only was she given full license to create this character, but she took Yelena through a complete arc in Black Widow, all the while knowing that journey took place in the past.
For her next journey, Pugh brought a more seasoned Yelena to Black Widow's post-credits scene and then did the same months later in Hawkeye where she was driven by grief and revenge.
The fact the actress pulled this off, all while making Yelena Belova a fan-favorite character is no small feat, and it's all the more impressive learning how she approached it from the start.
But in many ways, her MCU journey has only just begun.
Even though Marvel audiences haven't seen her character since 2021's Hawkeye, she's confirmed to return in 2024's ensemble film, the Thunderbolts.
In addition to the opportunity to interact with even more MCU characters, she's also reuniting with many of her Black Widow co-stars, including Olga Kurylenko's Taskmaster, David Harbour's Red Guardian, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Val.
The question now is how did Yelena change between Hawkeye and Thunderbolts and does Florence Pugh intend for her to be a "different person" in that upcoming film as well?
With Thunderbolts filming and the actress starring in both Oppenheimer and Dune: Part Two this year, fans should hear more about Pugh's plans for Yelena in the coming months.
Black Widow and Hawkeye are available to stream on Disney+; Thunderbolts arrives in theaters on July 26, 2024.