Avengers Assemble, for our money the best blockbuster action film in recent memory hits our screens next week. The stars were in town to talk about the process of becoming earth’s mightiest heroes, the genius of Joss Whedon and kicking butt on the big screen. Be warned, it does contain significant spoilers, so watch your step.
Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Robert Downey Jr, (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Jeremy Renner(Hawkeye), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and producers Kevin Feige and Jeremy Latcham.
Question to Kevin and Jeremy Latcham. 500 issues over the past 48 years. How and where do you start with this story?
Jeremy Latcham – Part of putting these movies together, especially this one, is taking everything that existed and having to be faithful to the movies that we’ve already put together and at the same time, going back to the comics as well and having to be faithful to the comics. So it is a challenge trying to find the right inspiration for the source material.
Luckily Joss Whedon, our writer and director extraordinaire is really really good at assimilating all that material and he goes, “oh, you just do it like this”. Oh, oh that’s much easier.
Marvel do a great job of picking the right actor for the character, whether it’s the theatrics for Thor or the comic irony for Iron Man. Why was Joss the right man?
Kevin Feige – Well that’s the great thing about Joss. In all of his work – you’ve got vampires with Buffy, you’ve got outer space with Firefly – it’s always the characters which rise above. And certainly, if you look at the cast assembled in front of you right now, we wanted them to shine more than the explosions – which of course you need in a movie like this – but Joss never loses sight of that. And frankly, my favourite parts in this movie are just the performances amongst this amazing group.
A question for Robert Downey Jr. I wonder at what point during your evolution of Iron Man, you realised you’d be taking part in an Avengers series of movies and secondly and more trivially, did you get to keep the Black Sabbath T-shirts?
Robert Downey Jr . – In reverse order of importance, I walked off set with one of the Black Sabbath T-shirts. Do you know where I put it? I’ve mis-located it. It’s like mis-remembering.
And from five years ago when we did the first Iron Man to today with all these folks you see here today, it couldn’t have gone any better. All three franchises which we’ve launched so far had to work. If this didn’t work, it’d affect all the previous franchises extremely adversely and there’s always the possibility of additional franchises reacting to Jeremy, Scarlett and Mark.
I really didn’t understand how everything has gone this well. But in this one instance of my life that seems to be the way things have gone.
To Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson. Throughout Iron Man 1 & 2, Tony Stark started off as a very egotistical character but learns how to play as team. How did you approach this role and did you learn anything through the three movies that you’ve made.
And to Scarlett. To get into shape as Black Widow, did you have to do anything specific in terms of diet?
Robert Downey Jr. – If I’ve learned anything, it’s that people are more interested in your second question to Scarlett than any answer I can give.
Scarlett Johansson– I was just going to say that very thing. How come you get the really interesting existential question and I get the rabbit food question? Yes. You’re training and doing the stuntwork, so you eat a lot of green things.
Given that you’re the Avengers and Loki to my young son, not the actors you are on the panel, what was your favourite fight in the movie and why?
Mark Ruffalo – There’s just so…there’s just so many. I’m Bruce right now.
Chris Hemswoth – Oh it’s that bit where you slammed Loki about the place.
Mark Ruffalo – That’s kind of my favourite too. It’s Loki’s favourite as well.
Tom Hiddleston – It is actually. Partly because some strange small person called Tom had to do most of that himself too. Hurling myself into the air and throwing myself on the floor repeatedly, I must have looked like a lunatic, which kind of describes Loki adequately.
Robert Downey Jr. – My favourite move? Tony’s favourite move? Well you know, probably how I can fall out of buildings and survive because of my tech. You notice that fight move involves no one but me and my stuff?
Scarlett Johansson – My favourite fight move or Natasha’s favourite fight move would probably be that…thigh grip…what do call it? The master thigh…hold?
Jeremy Renner – To be choked out by your thighs would be a good way to go.
Robert Downey Jr (as Tony Stark) – That’s my favourite move too.
Chris Hemsworth – Probably the summoning of the lightning and the cracking on the ground and the effect that it has on the earth which we didn’t do in this movie but we did in Thor 1. Maybe in Thor 2 I’ll do it again.
Cobie, what about you?
I like anytime that Hawkeye is looking in one direction and shooting in the other.
Clark Gregg – Generally the only weapon in Agent Coulson’s repertoire consists of one thing which is a sharp retort but in this movie he does what any sane human would do when faced with this threat – he reaches for the largest gun you can possibly imagine.
Question for Scarlett and Cobie. Working with Joss Whedon who’s well known for creating strong female characters, did that come across in production of what is traditionally seen as a male-dominated genre?
Cobie Smulders – Joss was very hands on from the beginning in terms of creating the character, in terms of costuming, in terms of how long my bang was going to be and that continued on set. He was very hands on with dialogue and always there for you.
Scarlett Johansson – When we first met Joss, he met with each of us all individually to ask us what we wanted to see from our characters and we did talk about my character’s plight and her dark past and all of those things but never once did he say anything about my character’s gender at all and we never talked about it. I think Joss is gender blind in some way. He wants his female characters to be dynamic and competitive and assured and confident and that has nothing do with anything but the fact that he celebrates those kinds of female characters. He’s just a charming fellow that way.
Did the collaborative process continue while you were shooting?
Tom Hiddleston – Yes, although I should say that the thing that was most impressive to me when I first met Joss was the incredible screenplay that he wrote. I mean, as an achievement in itself as a filmmaker, his screenplay was simply phenomenal because I think that all of us weren’t sure what to expect.
And that’s the most extraordinary answer to your first question, which was how do you get all these superheroes in one film. I take my hat off to him for that because I think that must have been his hardest job and that directing it must have seemed like a walk in the park.
Well, maybe not a walk in the park. Maybe a light jog. He was incredibly open and that’s all you want as an actor is you want to collaborate. Everyone at this table has a degree of ownership about their characters and he was always very respectful of that, that you’d lived under the skin of that character for quite some time. So he’d always ask, “Does this feel true to you? Does this feel in your character’s voice? But most of the time, I was just turning up and saying my very brilliant lines which he’d written on my behalf.
Jeremy and Scarlett. Both of your characters have a lot of action in the film but the cynic might say Hawkeye is the dude with the bow and arrow, Black Widow does kick butt but she’s not a demi-god. So how happy were you about that in the film? And cheesy follow-up question, which of your team’s superpowers were you most jealous of?
Scarlett Johansson– Cornball. Me and Renner and Tom spent the most amount of time in the stunt gym because we have these huge choreographed sequences that are… intense. And I’m happy to do that. We have such an amazing stunt team and a lot of them came off Iron Man 2. And we spent so much time in the stunt gym that we built a family with those guys…
[the phone interference is disrupting their mics]
Scarlett Johansson – What is that? It’s so annoying?
[Jeremy Renner picks up a phone] I think it might be this phone. Hello?
Mark Ruffalo – Nick Fury.
Scarlett Johansson – It’s great, it’s great fun to do it. Everyone, as characters and actors in this film have our burden to bear, but certainly the stunts paid off in the end. Right?
Jeremy Renner – I’m severely jet –lagged, I have no idea what you just said.
Scarlett Johansson – I don’t know. You just answered somebody else’s phone.
Jeremy Renner – Super powers. Oh yes.
Scarlett Johansson – Yeah, we don’t want any superpowers because superpowers maybe they can disappear. We’d rather be skilled. Is that what we thought?
Jeremy Renner – Yeah. If Thor lost his hammer, he’d still kick my ass probably but I least, I don’t know…I might have a fighting chance. I still have a skill set.
Chris Hemsworth – I thought the fight scene between you guys was one of the most satisfying because it was grounded in the most reality, this choreographed hand-to-hand sequence which was hugely impressive.
Scarlett Johansson – Thanks.
Chris Hemsworth – No worries.
We’ve seen ensemble movies and superhero movies before but this is the first one it feels like has combined the best elements of the two. I wonder, how do you approach that? Is it like translating a comic book to a screen or is it very different.
Kevin Feige – It always starts with wanting to replicate the experience that comic readers have had for years and years, whether that’s turning the page Joss recently described in an interview, that his sense of pacing and editing came from the experience of turning the page, that every time there’s something new that catches your eye and scene structure was very informed by that.
For me, it was the notion of reading the comics and not knowing who would appear in what because they all appear in the same universe and obviously that hadn’t been done before and once Marvel, we started making our own movies and we had the entire library, I thought, wouldn’t be fun to start doing that.
And the Avengers as a comic wasn’t just cool because of all these characters together, it was cool because it was all the characters from different books that you’d read and loved now coming together. So we knew we wanted to get the individual movies out first before we teamed it up. But it’s all about trying to get it to as broad an audience as possible.
Tom, you’re quite a voracious Twitterer but there can be quite an intense fan base for these types of movies. So I was wondering if any of you avoided going online while filming the movie, particularly Mark as he’s a new boy to the franchise. Did you fear what the preconceived ideas about this film were?
Tom Hiddleston – One of the great things about these movies is that we’re lucky enough to have a fan base. I mean it’s so often that you make a film and you put your heart and soul into it and really care about it and you think it’s half-decent and you turn up and say, “does anyone want to see it?” and maybe nobody does and we’re lucky that we already have people that love the characters as much, if not more than we do. I find it thrilling that there’s a pre-existing passion for the material in a way. It’s a privilege actually, a real privilege to have people that care that much and rather than feel paralysed by a fear of what they might think, it’s a challenge to deliver what you hope they might enjoy.
Mark Ruffalo – I was overcome by a moment of very poor judgement early on. By going online and seeing the response to me stepping in for the new Banner. I won’t do that again. It wasn’t glowing. And I found the fans’ exuberant passion to be very very brutal. [laughter]. I hope we’ve amended that.
Kevin, up to a few months ago, this film was just “The Avengers”. Now it’s “Avengers Assemble”. Can you tell us the reason for the title change?
Kevin Feige – We thought wouldn’t it be nice for our English fans to give them another word?! So you now you have two words in the title instead of two, isn’t that cool?! Listen, decisions like that aren’t made lightly, getting research and lawyers that get in the mix on it and that determination was to add that additional word. But the logo is still the ‘A’ and looks cool and has it all together. It’s the same movie.
Mark, what was it that attracted you to the character of Dr Banner in the first place?
Mark Ruffalo – Since I was kid, I was a Hulk fan and I was a particular fan of the TV show but people think that actors seek out material but it’s more of a case of us being given something. I was offered the Hulk, I was offered Banner. And I talked to Joss Whedon about it and he talked about this idea of a return to the Bill Bixby era, this world-weary charm of man on the run but still trying to live his life and falling in love and having a sense of humour about himself and I liked that.
But I also liked the idea that I would be the first actor to play both Banner and The Hulk and that was probably the most exciting thing to me. The one thing that we enjoy now is that technology has brought us to a place where an actor can play the Hulk. I love Joss’s take on it but I also love the idea of being able to bust out into the big green rage machine.
What was that process?
Mark Ruffalo – It was motion capture. Yes, there was that element of wearing a leotard that reduced me to a Chinese checker board but other than that, it was a very involved process – a three part process. We did all the motion capture before we shot the movie, we did it while we were shooting the movie and we did it after. It was a very very intensive process but I was by myself most of the time, which was lonely. [laughter]. In a leotard which makes all the wrong places look big and all the right places look small.
Clark, Scarlett mentioned that everyone had a talking process with Joss before it started. When did you find out that you were going to be expendable? And how do you feel about it as a result?
Clark Gregg – [Teary] Next question. I don’t know how much I want to talk about this. I was about to do the panel for Thor at Comic-Con and partly because of this amazing relationship that Marvel has with its stories and with its audience, I’d gone from shopping around for comics the first year I went to Comic-Con to needing a security detail. And people dressed as Coulson.
So I was already a geek having the time of my life and right before the panel in the green room preparing and this guy as I recognised as a geek, the king of geeks, Joss Whedon comes up to me and goes, “Oh! Oh! Coulson’s going to have a big part in The Avengers, can I introduce you as part of the cast?” which is officially the shortest decision making period I’ve ever needed.
Then there was an ominous call from Marvel which was kind of a good-news-bad-news call about how important Coulson’s role would be in this film and… I loved playing this guy a lot and I loved when I got Joss’s script, it was honestly one of the best days I’ve ever had as an actor. It’s been this chain-letter – different writers and directors reveal another facet of this character who is always entertaining to me. What Joss did I thought was magnificent and an extension, so because of that I think of it as an extension and not a resolution.
Question for Clark as a follow up, do you have trading cards of all these guys signed?
Clark Gregg – I have to wait till the very last moment before I go around and collect autographs because I have to pretend to be cool until then. [Laughter]
Avengers Assemble is released Thursday 26th April. Our review here.