With an all-star lineup of superheroes, Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers” is expected to break box-office records for superhero movies. Leading up to the 2012 release of “The Avengers” were 2008’s “Iron Man,” 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” and 2011’s “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed and “The Avengers,” accomplished a monumental task of not only making a blockbuster movie but also making it one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. Yes, this is a superhero movie that has gotten almost universal praise from critics.
In “The Avengers,” Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson), the director of the top-secret S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, recruits various superheroes to join forces and battle Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston), an outer-space villain who has gathered an army of aliens to take over the world. The problem is that these superheroes don’t even like each other at first, and their fights with each other threaten to destroy any chance that they have to form a cohesive unit and save the planet.
The day after “The Avengers” had its Los Angeles premiere, two separate press conferences were held with the stars and key filmmakers. The first press conference had Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (who plays Steve Rogers/Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk), Jackson, Chris Hemsworth (Thor, who is Loki’s brother), and Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige (who is a producer of Marvel’s superhero movies). The second press conference had Whedon, Hiddleston, Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson) and Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill). Here is what they all said.
Interview with Robert Downey Jr., Chrs Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth and Kevin Feige
What was your most memorable moment for you all when you were filming “The Avengers”?
Downey: There’s this first time that we’re all assembled on the bridge, and I think it was the time that we all saw each other and realized that we were probably likely to continue shooting the movie and have to make good on this vision of Kevin Feige’s from as far back as I can remember. And I have a question: How come it’s only Harry Dean Stanton that got to see Mark Ruffalo naked? Anyone who has that answer, I’ll trade you one for it.
Hemsworth: That was our first day on set, too, with the whole ensemble which was a pretty exciting and nerve-wracking experience, but it was just amazing.
Evans: I think mine was the scene where Thor and Iron Man are fighting, and I had just seen “Thor” the day prior, but I’d yet to see Hemsworth or Downey in their full suit. I showed up that night, and it was the first time I saw them both kind of geared up. And I just got really excited. I felt like a little kid. I was just honored to be a part of it.
Ruffalo: Mine was being naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton.
Downey: Sam, you must have a moment.
Jackson: I was naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton at the restaurant the night before he shot the scene with you.
Ruffalo: You lucky bastard.
Hemsworth: And you were naked in the audition, weren’t you, Kevin?
Feige: That’s right.
This question is for Mark Ruffalo. How did you form your own unique version of Bruce Banner and did you do any research in regards to the specific comic?
Ruffalo: I met with Joss Whedon and he said he really liked “The Incredible Hulk” TV show and what Bill Bixby did with him. So I rented those with my 10-year-old son. And after the third episode, he turned to me and said, “Papa, he’s so misunderstood.” And, you know, I basically based my character entirely on my 10-year-old boy, who has all of the force of nature, like, screaming out of his body while at the same time having everyone around him telling him to f*cking control himself. And that was it. I’m sorry I said “control.”
Robert, a lot of the “Avengers” cast members say that you were the leader of the cast. Can you elaborate?
Downey: [He says jokingly] I offered rides back and forth from Albuquerque on my private jet. [He says seriously] Again, going back to 2007, when I was cast in “Iron Man,” and Kevin Feige said, “You know, this is going to lead to where we have all these franchises come together. And we’re going to make something unprecedented. And we’re going to make this “Avengers” movie. I remember I would get nervous about it and excited about it and doubtful of it. I already had a history with Sam [Jackson], and wanted to capitalize on that.
And by the time Chris [Hemsworth] and Chris [Evans] had launched their individual franchises with success and charisma, and by the time we had Mark [Ruffalo], I was like, “Wow, this is really going to happen.” Just being a worker amongst workers is where I started out. And it was nice not to have to really carry a movie. I think everyone really, really, really is equal in this venture. It’s great. That will be my last sincere answer of the afternoon.
Chris Evans, it was funny how you said in an interview that Captain America has to take the stairs …
Evans: Yeah, it’s so cool. I’m like, “Hulk, you do this impossible thing. Thor, you bottleneck a portal. And Iron Man, you fly over here. And I’ll take the stairs!”
So if you could swap characters in the “Avengers” movie, which character would you want and why?
Evans: I want to say Iron Man, because I loved those movies, but who can do it better? The shoes would be too big to fill.
Jackson: I want to be Scarlett [Johansson, as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow], because I just want to be that cute for 15 minutes.
Mr. Feige, how long actually have you been trying to make an “Avengers” film? And what sorts of things did you have to do in the build-up with the other movies to make sure that they all dovetailed into this “Avengers” movie?
Feige: Well, one answer is my whole life just because I’ve been a nerd my whole life and wanted to see this movie made for my whole life. The real answer though is sort of towards the end of production of “Iron Man” when Sam [Jackson] was gracious enough to spend three hours on a Saturday to come and break into Tony Stark’s house wearing an eye patch and tell him and the world, “You’re part of bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
And when that movie succeeded is when we realized, “Wait a minute, we actually have the opportunity to do it.” And the only challenge was to try to make all the movies live on their own, even if we weren’t leading towards an “Avengers” movie because if they’re all just interconnected puzzle pieces, that’s not as fun. They need to be movies, beginning to end. So, I would say that was the biggest challenge.
Mark, everybody else on this panel has suited up before in a Marvel superhero movie. Can you talk about the challenges of integrating into this world and coming into it fresh?
Ruffalo: It was terrifying and I knew what my responsibility was, or I felt it just by making the mistake of going online and reading some of the fanboy responses to the announcement that I was playing the next version of Bruce Banner. That was a mistake. I will never do that again.
But I’ve never had a role be more scrutinized and criticized, even before I shot a single frame. But coming onto the set with all of these guys was pretty daunting. Many of my heroes in life are in this cast. And I knew that I had big shoes to fill, so to speak. This is becoming a long run-on sentence. Yeah, it was tough. And I wish that I had a cool costume to wear the entire time instead of a leotard that was painted like a Chinese checkerboard.
For Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, you get to play the fish-out-of-water characters in the group. Can you talk about playing those roles? And specifically for Chris Evans, we’re used to seeing you on screen as a jokester, so how does it feel to play the “straight man” in “The Avengers”?
Evans: Yeah, it’s tough not getting any jokes. I wanted some jokes. You know, that’s his role. It’s necessary. And that’s kind of why I like it because I am used to kind of leaning on cracking jokes and being a wiseass. So it’s nice to kind of play it straight a little bit.
I think even in this film more than the first Captain America, Steve Rogers has some issues, some conflicts, some trouble given the fact that he is a man out of his time. But given who he is as a man, his nature, he puts that second. He puts the mission first, and he’s just selfless. That’s a fun character, I guess.
Jackson: Put on the silk T-shirts though. They’re going to be large.
Hemsworth: The fish out of water, yeah, we all kind of fell into that category. I mean Joss said it early on [that we’re] the dysfunctional family and we somehow belong in amongst the fact that we don’t belong anywhere else. Thor, he’s from another planet. I guess his motivation through the conflict [was that the] villain was far more personal than the rest of them, because it was his brother. So, you know, it was nice to have already shot that [“Thor”] film and have that relationship with Tom [Hiddleston, who plays Loki]. That was sort of my focus anyway. But I think we all kind of didn’t get along at the beginning. And certainly we’re from some other planet or some other world, so it was fun to play that dynamic.
The “Avengers” scene that gets one of the biggest audience reactions is when we see all of the Avengers gathered around in a circle from a 360-degree view and ready to do battle. What was it like filming that scene?
Hemsworth: I remember thinking on that day, “Yeah, this is that trailer shot. This is a big moment,” because we’d been on that bridge in that scene but we weren’t getting along together at that moment, whereas in that [group circle] moment, we finally were assembled and there’s a big 360[-degree] wide shot and all that chaos around us. I certainly remember thinking, “Yeah, this is the moment.”
What do you like best about your “Avengers” character?
Ruffalo: I like this: We’re all told to be so well-behaved, and I think we all sometimes are bursting at the seams to let it rip, and Bruce Banner gets that moment. And I think part of the joy for people is to actually see that happen is exciting for us. It’s a nice way for us to blow off steam in watching movies — and, yes, especially me.
Evans: I’ll say his heart, his selflessness. He wasn’t born a superhero. This didn’t happen to him by accident. He was chosen, and it was for those reasons, values, and morals. He puts other people, other causes, ahead of himself. And it’s something to aspire to.
Downey: Well, he didn’t really set out to do anything noble, so he’s kind of in transition. And so there’s something kind of a little more Han Solo than Luke [Skywalker]. And also the fact that he can pull off wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt for the better part of the film.
Hemsworth: I like the sort of visceral gut instinct that Thor has … I always thought there was a childlike quality, in the sense that if he believes something or if he wants to do something, he does it and says it. You know, how kids own their environment and you know there’s no opinions that they really care about. And I think Thor, it’s there. It’s surrounded by bravado and strength and all that. But, [at the] end of the day, he’s pretty true to who he is and what he wants to do. And I think that was fun to play with.
Jackson: I just like the fact that Nick Fury believes that these unique individuals deserve the love and admiration of the world, who we pretty much owe everything to because there are things out there greater than us.
This question is for Chris Hemsworth. Thor’s relationship with Loki is really complicated. Did you draw from your real-life relationships?
Hemsworth: Yeah, the last time either one of my brothers tried to take over the world or the universe, I had to think back and thought, “How did I feel?” But I mean, when we did “Thor,” Kenneth Branagh kept saying, “Let’s not get caught up in playing gods or what have you. Let’s be truthful, you have brothers and how do you relate to that?” And that became the thread through “Thor” and through this, which was it’s that kind of thing of, “Oh, I can give my brother a hiding and tell him off, but no one else can.
Downey: But don’t you feel that [your brother] Liam is trying to take over your box-office universe?
Hemsworth: And I did say that. I said, “Look, Liam, you know…”
Downey: Doesn’t he need to be corrected in some way?
Hemsworth: Oh no, he’s got a few bruises currently from me. Well, yeah, there’s a race to the box office, but I don’t know.
What is it that makes Joss Whedon the perfect person to take over and helm the “Avengers” movie?
Feige: Well, my big fear with this — really, one of the only big fears I had was that the whole thing would collapse under its own weight, that we’d spend so much time with costumes and super powers and special effects that these characters and these actors wouldn’t get the chance. My biggest interest in “The Avengers” is the interaction between these people.
And looking at Joss’ body of work and the scripts that he’s written and his TV shows, the characters never ever get lost. In fact, those are the moments that shine. That was, to me, why he was by far the best choice to mount this. We’re confident in our ability to handle a production of this size. We wanted a helmsman to come in and steer it in unexpected ways and to guide that tone, which is what Joss has done so well.
Were there any real-life accidents during filming of “The Avengers”?
Hemsworth: I had one. The scene where Thor takes Loki off the ship and lands, and then we go into the big sort of two-hander. So I was on a wire, because I hadn’t learned to fly yet. I had to come down and land on the cliff and I have to land and step and have the conversation with him. In the first couple of takes — and this is going to turn up in the DVD extras somewhere — but I just face-planted into the dirt. [Making a crunching sound] Incredibly ungraceful and un-superhero-like. That’s my story.
Feige: Jeremy Renner [who plays Hawkeye] did have a little bit of an injury. It didn’t last very long, thankfully.
There was a lot of unexpected comedy in “The Avengers.” Can you individually talk about what it was like doing the comedy together?
Evans: Well, I think anytime you do a scene with Downey, he’s so good with improv and with working off the cuff, he’s never going to do the same thing twice. You know, so you’ve got to be on your toes. But he just has a natural [sense of humor]. He’s just funny. He’s always funny. He brings a certain life to the scene, even if you’re not the one making the jokes. You can appreciate what he brings to any scene in terms of comedy.
Ruffalo: I concur.
Hemsworth: The line where I say, “He’s adopted,” got a big laugh last night, which is [funny because] I had no idea. You know, when we shot that I went, “Is this really funny?’” But that’s the thing, all that stuff, I mean, Joss is hilarious. And then the whole film I was surprised how the comedy in it played so well.
Downey: In seeing [“The Avengers”] last night, I think what everybody captured to a character was it was the right tone. And a certain point, without killing it, you kind of tip your hat to [it that] we don’t take it too seriously. This is essentially a comic-book movie, but you kind of buy into the reality of it. So I think everyone has their moments, and I think Joss did a good job of finding everyone’s frequency too.
I’m pretty sure a god doesn’t dress like that before he jumps off, but it was still within the realm of what Steve would say and do. And I think tonally, there’s this moment when they’re in the final battle. Once he [he points to Ruffalo] turns green or my helmet closes, or once he’s in upstate New York, and I’m back in L.A., and these guys are back on the ground, there was this whole, huge sequence after sequence and all this stuff was shot in Cleveland — and I don’t think we had to go to Cleveland for one day. I kept squeezing the Mrs.’ [my wife’s] hand last night during these incredible sequences that you guys did, and just going, “They shot a lot in Cleveland.”
But there’s this moment when a cop goes to Cap[tain America], “Why should we take orders from you?” And then some of the aliens come in and he handles them, the audience really appreciates that. That, to me, was the moment when the sentiment of “The Avengers” could have fallen flat on its face and not be able to have people suspend their disbelief or get behind it anymore. To me, the Act 3 moment is where the movie succeeded. I would speak to Joss’ wit — whether the wit was funny or whether the wit was being able to hold the whole myriad of ideas and notions that you have to get right — for “Avengers” not to be bunk is what he accomplished.
What are your favorite geek references from the script that you were excited to perform or say?
Hemsworth: I remember reading the script and reading the section where Hulk and Thor finally are on the same team and fighting the aliens and what have you. And they end, and it’s both of us standing there out of breath. And Hulk just backhands Thor through a wall. That was something I looked forward to. But you had me on a wire just getting yanked out of shot. You know, that was good.
Can you talk about filming the scene on the bridge where all the Avengers were arguing?
Jackson: I didn’t really know all of that was going on, when everybody starts talking at once, until all of a sudden it happened, and we’re like, “Oh, we’re having an argument.” And nobody’s listening to anybody.
We’re just kind of batting stuff around blaming you for this and saying, “You’re not my guy. I don’t know anything about your world. F*ck off! I’m going to come into your world and tear sh*t up.” Which is what I kept wanting to say: “I’m coming to your world and blow sh*t up!” They wouldn’t let me say it.
We all know each other, and we all laugh together. And once we saw each other in that particular setting, it was like, “OK, we’re actually going to do this. This is going to be a lot of fun.” And it’s almost like an “Our Gang” movie: “Hey, I’ve got some costumes. I’ve got some film. My dad’s got a studio. Let’s get together.”
And we just decided that we were going to have fun. And Joss is one of those guys. I noticed watching the film last night, “Why does Robert [Downey Jr.] get to say all this nice, cute sh*t?” But every time I would change something, he [Joss Whedon] would come to me like the Line Police: “No, you can’t say ‘it’s. You have to say ‘it is.’”
“Really?” It’s like a cartoon bubble.
So he was always on me, and I was talking to the Line Police a lot. And he let those guys do it, but the family feeling was there. Joss set up the rules, and we showed up and played by the rules of that world. Certain people have license.
[Tony Stark] is the rich, smartass guy. [Bruce Banner] is the little guy with the big words that might turn and f*ck you up at any moment, but you don’t know what that is. And [Thor] is trying to make [Bruce Banner] do it, like the little brother thing, like “Watch my brother turn into a monster!”
It was a great time doing that and being able to be in that space and allowing an audience to see, “OK, these guys have superpowers, but they have normal attitudes.” They get pissed with each and argue with each other about petty sh*t. They can be smartasses and they can be heroes and they can just be jerks, but they eventually are going to find a way to love each other. And thank God we had somebody there to guide us all in that direction.
We’ve heard that the code name for this project was “Group Hug.” Can you tell us about any interesting or funny stories on or off the set?
Hemsworth: Tom [Hiddleston] loves hugs. And I did a film with him, and there were plenty of hugs on that film, group hugs I think. I don’t know. Chris? You want to go?
Evans: Oh, man, funny stories. I’m so bad at those.
Hemsworth: Chris [Evans] sent us a text and said “Avengers assemble at such and such bar at 9 o’clock on a Saturday night” … That was good group effort. We paid for it at work the next couple days.
Evans: Sure did.
Ruffalo: You should see that group hug.
Hemsworth: At 3 in the morning on the dance floor, The Avengers… yeah.
Downey: Ruffalo, weren’t you the one throwing the roof parties and …you know what I mean?
Ruffalo: Yeah, that was me.
Downey: OK, that was you. So you were the group instigator … of many hugs.
Ruffalo: I was the group hugger.
Interview With Joss Whedon, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders
Joss, what was the biggest challenge for you personally to wrap your head around making “The Avengers”?
Whedon: I think the exciting thing kind of speaks for itself. That a bunch of characters, that a bunch of actors playing them, that much money. It was kind of a no-brainer. And the hardest part is and always will be structure.
How do you put that together? How do you make everybody shine? How do you let the audience’s identification drift from person to person without making them feel like they’re not involved? It’s a very complex structure. It’s not necessarily particularly ornate or original, but it had to be right, it had to be earned from moment-to-moment, and that’s exhausting. That was still going on in the editing room after we’d shot it.
Joss, what separates a good comic-book adaptation film from a bad comic-book adaptation film?
Whedon: Well, there’s all sorts, but for me it’s capturing the essence of the comic and being true to what’s wonderful about it, while remembering that it’s a movie and not a comic. I think “Spider-Man,” the first one particularly, they figured out the formula of “Oh, tell story that they told in the comic.”
It was compelling. That’s why it’s iconic, but at the same time they did certain things that only a movie can do and were in the vein of the comic. I think you see things like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” where they just threw out the comic, or “Watchmen,” where they do it frame for frame, and neither of them work. You have to give the spirit of the thing and then step away from that, and create something cinematic and new.
Cobie, what does being in “The Avengers” mean to you as a parent?
Smulders: It means a lot more action figures in out house. I think we have all of them, and [my daughter] knows all of the names. But it’s very cool to be a woman in a man’s world, in this film, have my daughter see that. That’s probably the coolest thing.
What was your most memorable moment making “The Avengers”?
Gregg: Not because Joss is here, but … I’m going to say it was the day I got the script, just because I felt like this was not an achievable task, as someone who writes sometimes and loves movies and watches a lot of them. I just didn’t think it was really feasible to have this many characters and have them all get to kind of move forward and to have the story of them kind of coming together really work.
And if it did work with that many amazing superheroes and movie stars, I felt it unlikely that Agent Coulson would do anything but bring some super coffee to somebody. So when I read it and kind of saw that it was my fanboy wet dream of an “Avengers” script and that Coulson was a big part of it, that was the great day for me. I just kind of drove around the streets with the script in the other seat, just kind of giggling.
Hiddleston: For me, there are so many things that are memorable about it because it was such a long shoot, it was the whole summer for all of us, and we had so many different experiences together. It was an amazing time for me to work with some of the greatest actors in the world, sitting at this table.
But I think probably the thing, if you said, “How was ‘The Avengers’ shoot?” There’s an image in my mind, which was the first day on set that everybody was there together — and it was insane! The picture of everybody in costume, of all of these actors and all of these characters in their chain mail and their capes and their armor, except for Mark Ruffalo in his gray-and-white pajamas in the back. But to see everybody finally assembled, it was an extraordinary moment — just the picture of the Avengers. It was amazing.
Whedon: I don’t remember any of it. Mine is super-boring, but people kept asking me, “Are you excited that you’re directing this movie?” And I kept saying, “I will be. I just don’t feel things necessarily in the moment. It’ll happen.”
And we were in the lab where almost all of the Avengers get together for the first time and I was giving Chris Evans a piece of direction. I walked into the hall, I stopped, and I just said to the producers, “It happened. I’ll tell you later.” And that was the moment. It just sort of flooded over me and I was like, “Oh, that’s nice — excitement.” That was it. I told you it was dull.
Renner: It’s the same thing. It’s when everybody was together. That’s the most memorable and creepy and funny. And getting to play with Thor’s hammer while he stroked my bow. I mean, that’s terrible. Oh, here we go. That’s going to be great. Yeah, it’s going to get me in trouble.
But I think it was getting all the actors in one room, all in costume. It was like Halloween. I was a fan of them as humans and now they’re dressed up like silly people and it’s great to laugh at each other, and that always stuck in my mind.
Smulders: That’s the same for me. I was very much a newbie coming in, and when I got to do a scene where most of them … were sitting at the table for the first time, I got to kind of stand back and see everybody. I also loved the moment I got to work with [Joss Whedon], because I’d been wanting to work with him for a very long time.
Joss, you’ve done movies with big ensemble casts before, like “Serenity.” You had to introduce characters then. How did you go about introducing all of the cast members of “The Avengers”?
Whedon: Well, it’s the same problem I had with “Serenity” that I swore I’d never have again … Tracking the information is almost as difficult, more difficult because it’s not as much fun as tracking the emotion of the thing. You have to know how much people need to know, because some people come in knowing everything, and you don’t want to tell them too much. And some people will come in knowing nothing and you don’t even want to tell them too much. You want some things to be inferred.
It’s fun to see a movie that has texture beyond what you understand necessarily that you know. Like when I watched “Wall Street,” I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I was very compelled by it. It clearly mattered a lot.
Or if I watch any film about sports, I feel the same way. If you feel that there’s a life behind the life. If there’s a life outside the frame, then you feel good about it. So you don’t necessarily have to lay everything out, but organizing that is and was the most exhausting part of the film. Because the stuff between the character? That’s just candy. That’s just booze and candy all day.
Comic books and video games are closely related. What are your favorite video games?
Renner: “Half-Life,” first-person shooter. That got me hooked on gaming.
Gregg: Yeah. “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “[Call of Duty;] Mass Effect.” I still will rock some asteroids … There’s an “Avengers” version of “Dance Step Revolution” that should be videotaped.
Whedon: I don’t own any video games, because if I start playing one, that’ll be it. I’ll be gone. And I wouldn’t be able to do this.
Hiddleston: I don’t know video games, so I won’t be able to comment, but the last video game that I played was … “Super Mario Kart” from Nintendo … Like from the Dark Ages.
Smulders: I like classic too. I like “Super Mario Brothers,” the first one with the mushrooms. That was my favorite one.
Joss, what advice would you give Warner Bros. Pictures on getting their “Justice League” movie going?
Whedon: “Call me!” I would just say that it’s enormously difficult to take very disparate characters and make them work. And DC [Comics] has a harder time of it than Marvel, because their characters are from a bygone era, where characters were bigger than we were. They’ve amended that, but Marvel really cracked the code of “Oh, they’re just like us.” So a dose of that veracity that Marvel really started with “Iron Man,” I think you really need to use that as your base.
Joss, what was your approach to “spectacle” in “The Avengers”?
Whedon: My approach to spectacle in the film was kind of wrong-headed. But the most important thing, for me, was not for it to be spectacle for its own sake: that it be earned, that it be believable, that it be understandable visually, that you knew exactly where things were, what was at stake, who had to get where from where and how, and what was their way. I tend to be very pedantic about that.
I just don’t want a blur of things crashing around. I want to know how everybody is doing. I think sometimes I would try to obey the laws of physics, and that would actually just make for weaker footage. And eventually I just had to give myself up and realize that every time a car is hit by anything, it blows up and flip over.
Cobie, how was your experience transitioning from a weekly regular routine of a sitcom like “How I Me Your Mother” to being a part of this blockbuster ensemble? Clark, you could also speak to that as well, since you were in the “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
Gregg: Yeah, well very few people know this but the CBS Tuesday comedy block is actually like the farm leagues for “The Avengers.”
Smulders: It’s true. It’s true.
Gregg: It’s the Groundlings, really.
Smulders: Yeah, it was definitely a shift in schedule alone. I made it a point to do a lot of training to prepare myself for this role with weapons and to get myself mainly comfortable using them. That was the thing that I tried to do the most. In terms of schedule, it’s very different. I’m very blessed at my job at “How I Met Your Mother.” We have a very nice schedule. And this too was very good but we had a lot of stunts to do and a lot of fun things to explode, so it’s very different.
Whedon: First of all, Cobie is one of the best stunt people on “The Avengers” team. She did all her own jumpin’ and flippin’ and shootin’ and stuff. And she’s got that tomboy thing. You know what I’m talking about — that hot mom/tomboy thing.
Clark, was there any “costume envy” that you had about any of your “Avengers” co-stars?
Gregg: I’m not going to lie. I think Agent Coulson could rock some of Agent Romanoff’s catsuits. No, that’s being silly. There were certain times in the morning when, yes, I do wish I had some of the Asgardian armor to walk around. And God knows, the antlers of doom that Loki has. But you know, 13 or 14 hours into the day I’m quite pleased to be in my cool pressed Dolce and Gabbana suit.
Hiddleston: Can I just say the inversion of all of what Clark just said? It takes two hours to get into Loki’s outfit sometimes. And it’s even more fun when you fight in it. The sweat pulls and the chest. It’s really a luxurious experience.
I want to publicly salute [“Avengers” costume designer] Alex Byrne because when you have to have to conceive of costumes of this scale, you’re risking ridicule. I mean, these are monster costumes. The last thing you want is for it to look silly or camp. And yet it has to look larger-than-life and heroic. And her work on it was amazing.
And she worked with everyone on it, in terms of making them practical, so you can fight in them and jump in them and roll around. And my costume particularly does so much of the work for me, because Loki’s silhouette is so incredibly menacing. Those clothes are so lean and leather and metal and gold. But there were days when I longed for the suit — the Dolce and Gabbana one.
Whedon: We gave you one day.
Hiddleston: That’s true. In the museum. Three hours in the nice suit.
Jeremy, can you talk about preparing for your role as Hawkeye? Did you read a lot of the comic books? Did you go into some kind of archery training? Didn’t you get injured during filming?
Renner: Yeah, I broke my heart. No, I stretched a lot, and I prepared by stretching. Yeah, I did take some archery, but I realized very quickly that I couldn’t really use it in the film. It ended up being superhero-type archery. It’s nice to know the technique behind it but then shooting behind my back and over my shoulder and using fake arrows and blah, blah, blah.
But I gave it a go and shot a few bales of hay and missed a few. I think most of it, again, was the physical part, is just stretching so I don’t get injured. You get injured, banged around every day when it’s hand-to-hand stuff — like Scarlett [Johansson] and I, we beat each other up pretty good. That’s fun. I love getting beaten up by Scarlett. Wouldn’t you? [He laughs.]
For Tom, knowing how “old school” you are regarding video games, are you equally as “old school” when it comes to comics?
Hiddleston: Well, it’s funny because in the U.K. I grew up on these U.K. comics called “The Beano and the Dandy.” And most people’s access to Marvel and DC is a later one and it’s through cartoons and trading cards. But in terms of comics, the thing is I was introduced to American comics really through the movies. It was Christopher Reeve. Superman was the first superhero I ever conceived of when I saw the movie when I was6. I loved it and it’s really that film and also Tim Burton’s “Batman” that kind of were my first early superhero contacts.
So was there any trepidation about such an iconic character such as Loki?
Hiddleston: I never get afraid of things; I only get excited. It’s just so much fun. He’s such a great character. He’s just a treat, never mind the iconography. It’s like playing an iconic Shakespearean character or something. It’s just a privilege to be asked to do it. And with a character like Loki, he’s got such a level of complexity and so many layers to him, so many things to explore, especially when he is as well-written as he was in this film by Joss. I mean, when I read it, I couldn’t believe my luck.
The film was called “The Avengers,” and yet Loki was almost on every page. And [Whedon] had taken what I’d sort of built with [director] Kenneth Branagh [in the “Thor” movie] and he’s taken it further and he was as damaged and psychologically interesting as I hoped it would be, but it was also darker and funnier and it demanded so much commitment. I just was so excited about it, so there was no trace of fear — just a huge amount of fun.
Joss, which alien race was Loki working with in “The Avengers”? And how did you go about choosing which secondary character to put in the movie, such as Pepper Potts (Tony Stark’s love interest) instead of Betty Ross (Bruce Banner’s love interest)?
Whedon: The alien race was the Chitauri or a version of them, because they’re not one of the key races, and they don’t have a storied history. That wasn’t the point. I know this debate will go on long after I’m dead. I’ll just say it was the Kree-Skrull race and really make everybody angry.
And as far as the support groups go, my first instinct was not to have any from any of the [preceding Marvel superhero movies], partially because we need to separate the characters from their support systems in order to create the isolation that you need for a team. Put them in new environment, but also when they go back to their own movies, they’d have something that the Avengers didn’t have, that I wasn’t sucking the juice out of all the sequels that are going to be coming up.
But Pepper, this was really Robert [Downey Jr.’s] thing. He didn’t want [Tony Stark] to be a “crazy and alone” guy. He wanted to be a “crazy and in a relationship” guy. And he really thought that Gwyneth [Paltrow, who plays Pepper Potts] would bring something great to the table. And we all thought so as well, but I think he was the one who convinced her to come and do it. And that made sense because he’s been through two [“Iron Man”] movies, he’s had more of a journey, and he is in more of a stable place. But he can still be that and isolated from the world in his giant tower that he built and owns.
Joss, can you talk about writing the conflicts between Iron Man and Captain America? Did you think of putting in a touch of ideology when writing these characters?
Whedon: You have to right something that you believe in. Captain America was kind o my ground zero for this film. The idea that someone who had been in World War II, who had seen people laying down their lives in the worst kind of circumstances, in a world where the idea of community and the idea of a man being somebody who is part of something, as opposed to being isolated or bigger than or more famous than it, it’s a very different concept of manhood. And the way that it has kind of devolved from Steve [Rogers] to Tony [Stark] is kind of fascinating.
Obviously, you’re not going to stand around and speechify too much. I will a little bit, but the idea of the soldier, the idea of somebody who is wiling to lay down their life is very different from the idea of a superhero. And since I wanted to make from the start a war movie, I wanted to put these guys through more than what they’d be put through in a normal superhero movie. It was very important for me to build that concept and to have Tony reject that concept on every level, so that in the end, when he’s willing to make the sacrifice play, when he’s willing to lay himself down on the wire, you get where he comes on how Steve has affected him.
Joss, why did you cast Harry Dean Stanton in “The Avengers”?
Whedon: I needed to get Banner from the horror of he had done of almost killing Natasha to a place where he was prepared to go back into that state. I thought a lot about it and I was like, “He needs somebody who will just accept him.” And Seamus [McGarvey], our DP [director of photography], was actually shooting a documentary about Harry Dean, and I sort of got him in my head. And I thought, “Who’s more accepting than Harry Dean Stanton?”
So I got to write this weird little scene, which when [I originally] wrote it was not little. It was about 12 pages long. I was like, “Oh, this is great. Bruce Banner falls into a Coen Brothers movie.” And the fact that they let me keep that concept and we actually landed Harry Dean to play it was very exciting. But the idea was to put [Bruce Banner] in a slightly surreal situation with someone who clearly had no problem with what he was, just to get him in that little transition without milking it too much. And to work with Harry Dean and to quiz him about “Alien” and “The Missouri Breaks” – what a privilege.
For more info: “The Avengers” website
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