When the highest grossing filmmakers of all-time take one of their Avengers: Endgame Marvel superheroes out of those films for a moment and place him in a very raw and real storyline that is facing many communities today, all cannot be fixed with a simple snap of one’s fingers but their film Cherry does successfully bring much-needed attention to an important issue through exquisite performances, both in front of and behind the camera.


Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the film follows the turbulent life of “Cherry” (played brilliantly by Spider-Man star Tom Holland), taking viewers along for the ride from the character’s early, ambitious years to his traumatic life experiences that ultimately lead him spiraling into a series of misguided choices that repeatedly puts himself and those he cares about in destructive life-and-death situations.


A majority of the film is set in Cleveland, Ohio, which is where Anthony, Joe and their Cherry co-screenwriter younger sister Angela Russo-Otstot were all born and raised. The city itself quickly becomes an important character in Cherry, as the gritty backdrop for the serious issues the film effectively brings to the surface. “A lot of our motivation to make this movie in the first place had to due with the fact that loved ones, people close to us, friends have suffered from opioid addiction, even died from opioid addiction,” Anthony reveals to Forbes. “Where we’re from is a bit of a ‘ground zero’ for the opioid crisis. Cleveland, Ohio, the Industrial Midwest. The problem is everywhere but the parts of the country that have really struggled economically for the past several decades seem to be the places where the opioid crisis grew first and grew strongest.” Joe follows up from Anthony’s response saying, “Going home is everything for us and this movie in particular because we’ve had some emotional experiences regarding the opioid criss in Cleveland. It felt catharsis to be able to make this film to shine a spotlight on this issue.”

Angela co-write the screenplay for Cherry and felt a sense of nostalgia in returning to Cleveland for this project and being able to create beside her big brothers. “It was such an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” Angela shares. “My brothers have come back there quite a few times now to film. The first [film] they did, Welcome to Collinwood, I worked as their assistant, so I traveled throughout the entire production with them and it was wonderful. When they came back for Winter Soldier, I was actually living and teaching in Cleveland, so I got to experience that production with them, as well. To go back on this one as co-collaborator and a writer, I guess it will be different for different people in terms of how they look at their families, to have an opportunity to work with them is a gift.”




Though some might argue that family and business simply cannot mix, the Russos are a shining contradiction to that argument with their quality filmmaking experience together on Cherry. “Because this was such a strong personal motivation that had to due with our family history together, Angela was just the perfect collaborator for this movie,” Anthony says. “She worked with Jessica Goldberg and the two of them co-wrote the script. It’s an incredibly powerful script and it was also really critical to the whole process of making this movie. We began that process of experimentation of what the movie can be in that screenplay.”


When filming ultimately began in Cleveland for Cherry, Angela says that she and her husband had just adopted their third child, so she needed to maintain a balance between mother, wife and filmmaker. Angela says she was there for a lot of the prep parts, including rehearsals and read throughs, but says when she had to be away from set during Cherry’s production, she remembers having many calls with her brothers. “I have very vivid memories of one day, I was at Disneyland with my kids walking around and they called me from set and said, ‘I think we’re missing a scene here’ and I stopped and pulled off to the side by the tea cups and had a whole discussion about a bus station scene. We had constant communication. We were sending pages back-and-forth, so I felt like I was there in spirit.”

As for Tom Holland leading Cherry on-screen, Anthony and Joe knew that he was the right fit for this emotionally layered role. “I feel like we were very lucky because we had a window into who Tom Holland was, both as a performer and as a human that very few people had,” Anthony continues. “When we cast him as Spider-Man, that was a very involved process that involved hundreds and hundreds of actors auditioning. So when we saw Tom and something told us that he was the guy, we began to work with him very intensely, first to get him the role and then through three films as Spider-Man. That’s multiple years we’re working with him. So during that period, we developed a very intimate understanding of who he is an artist, who he is as a person and he developed a very intimate understanding of us. That bond, I think, is really the foundation of how we tracked a road from him to Cherry. We could tell early on that he was an amazing talent. We could tell that he was an extremely hard worker, we could tell he was a very brave soul and he was into pushing himself as an artist and pushing himself as a person and exploring things that weren’t necessarily easy or safe. This very difficult movie about a challenging subject matter stays inviting and accessible to people because Tom is such a good, charismatic and likable actor that you will go with him, that the vast majority of other actors can’t take you.”

Cherry was made by AGBO, an artist-founded, artist-first independent studio founded in 2017. Anthony and Joe, who are AGBO’s Co-Founders and Executive Chairmen, know that their record-breaking success with their Marvel films have paved the way for AGBO to be possible today. “It has given us an incredible opportunity to start our own studio and support our own projects,” Joe expresses. “Cherry is just one of a half dozen projects that are creatively exciting to us that are challenging.” The Russo brothers also do not rule out a return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to direct more stories ahead. “We will always be open,” Anthony shares. “The experience of making those movies were among the best experiences of our lives and the working experience that we had with Marvel was among the most fulfilling that we’ve ever had. We will always remain open to making more Marvel films when the right movie comes along, the right time comes along.”

Being President of Creative at AGBO, Angela also realizes the benefit of making Cherry under their independent group. “As a writer, there are a lot voices to service. You have the studios, you have the producers, you have the director. In this instance, it was just Anthony and Joe which is a pretty amazing situation to be in. I was afforded a lot of freedoms when I went off to write. They encouraged me to get experimental and I grew as a writer because of it.”

With the film already released in select theaters and premiering tomorrow on Apple TV+ to stream from home, the Russo family of filmmakers have their own personal thoughts on Cherry’s pandemic-era film debut. “We’re not prejudice about how people consume stories,” Joe says. “In a lot of ways, movies as difficult as this is going to reach a much, much wider audience through digital distribution than it would theatrically. I would argue that five to ten times the amount of people will see this movie because of digital distribution. It’s great that besides the pandemic, people have the opportunity to see it in the theater and I do think that’s going to be the future where you will have the option.”

Beyond Cherry’s distribution routes, Angela has her own hopes for what viewers will take from this dramatic story surrounding both the struggles of PTSD and the ongoing opioid crisis. “All that matters to me in this movie is that the people who do not share these experiences develop a sense of compassion for the people who do,” Angela adds. “And for those viewers out there watching who actually do see some crossover with their own life experiences, I would hope that the movie provides them some sense of catharsis, even if it’s in some small way. This movie, I hope, lets people feel connected.”

Following the Cherry filmmaking experience together, Angela looks forward to working beside Anthony and Joe on future projects through AGBO. “If I have the opportunity to sit down at the table and lock ourselves away in a room again, I will take it every time. It’s a really powerful, exceptional opportunity I was given, to be able to not only work with individuals I admire artistically but individuals that I love so dearly.”