Marvel’s newest offering assembles all of its greatest superheroes together in one action packed film, THE AVENGERS. That’s right! Iron Man/ Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America/ Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), The Hulk/ Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) are all back to help defend the world against alien threats. Also joining them are Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and Hawkeye/ Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). The man responsible for all of this fun and sweet fantasy is none other than director extraordinaire, Joss Whedon.
veryaware.com (along with every other living, breathing journalist in the Los Angeles area) had the chance to sit down with the actors and director of the highly anticipated superhero film at the press conference where they discussed everything from costume envy to the cast’s most memorable on set moments to Jeremy Renner’s Dance, Dance Revolution party. Yes, it was one of those conferences.
Joss, what was the biggest challenge for you personally to wrap your head around? You were gonna be the guy who finally did the Avengers film and bring all these people from the other films together.
JW: Um, I think the exciting thing kind of speaks for itself. Ah, that bunch of characters, that bunch of actors playing them, um, that much money. It was kind of a no brainer. Um, the, and the hardest part is–is and always will be structure. Um, 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, um, 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.
What in your mind separates a good comic book adaptation film from a bad comic book adaptation film?
JW: Well, um, there’s all sorts, but for me, ah, you know, 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 Spiderman, the first one particularly, really captured, you know, they–they figured out the formula of oh, tell the 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, um, 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 the 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, as a parent, what does being a part of a superhero movie like this mean to you? And when you make these movies, do you think about watching them with your kid?
CS: It means a lot more action-figures in your house. I think we have all of them, and she knows all of the names. It’s very cool to be a woman in a man’s world in this film and have my daughter see that. That’s probably the coolest thing.
What was your most memorable moment making Marvel’s THE AVENGERS?
CG: Not just because Joss is here but I’m gonna say it was the day I got the script, just because I felt like this was not an achievable task as someone who, 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. 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 fan boy 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.
TH: 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. We had so many different experiences together and it was an amazing time for me to work with some of the greatest actors in the world, sitting at this table. There’s an image in my mind, which was the first day on set that everybody was there together and it was sort of, 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 grey and white pajamas in the back. To see everybody finally assembled, it was an extraordinary moment. The picture of, of the Avengers.
JW: 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 don’t feel things necessarily in the moment. It’ll happen. 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 and I stopped and I just said to the producers, ‘it happened!’ I’ll tell you later. And that was the moment, that just sort of flooded over me and I was like ‘oh, that’s nice – excitement.
JR: Ah, it’s the same thing. It’s when everybody was together. That’s the most memorable, creepy, and funny. Getting to play with Thor’s hammer while he stroked my bow. I mean, that’s terrible. Oh, here we go.Yeah, it’s gonna get me in trouble. I think it’s just having, when getting all the actors in one room all in costume, it was like Halloween. I was fans of them as humans and now they’re dressed up like silly people. It’s great to laugh to laugh at each other and that always stuck in my mind.
CS: 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 – I don’t think Jeremy was there – but when I got to see everybody sitting at the table for the first time and I got to kind of stand back and see everybody. I also loved any moment I got to work with that man in the middle (looks at Whedon), because I’ve been wanting to work with him for a very long time.
Joss, how did you go about introducing all of the cast members of this film?
JW: It’s the same problem I had with SERENITY and 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. 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 if there’s a life outside the frame, then you feel good about it. You don’t necessarily have to lay everything out, but organizing that is and was the most exhausting part of the film. The stuff between the character, that’s just candy. That’s just booze and candy all day.
Nowadays comic books and video games are closely related. Can you tell us which are your favorite video games?
JR: Half Life – the first-person shooter. That got me hooked on gaming.
CG: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Mass Effect. I still will rock some Asteroids.
JR: Dance, Dance Revolution. I think we did that!
CG: We did that at your house! There were some Avengers community. There’s an Avengers edition of Dance, Dance Revolution. It should be videotaped at your house.
JW: I don’t actually own any video games because if I start playing one that will be it. I’ll be gone and I won’t be able to do this.
TH: I don’t know video games that I wish I want to comment, but the last video game I played, apart from Dance, Dance Revolution at Jeremy’s house…
CG: …which you were very good at.
TH: I was. Scarlett and I will always have Billy Jean.
JW: Nobody lambada’s like Loki.
TH: But the last video game I played before that was Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo, so I’m, I’m like from the dark ages.
CS: I’m classic too. I like Super Mario Brothers, the very first one with the mushrooms. That was my favorite one.
Joss, in a large-scale movie like THE AVENGERS, what was your approach to spectacle in the film?
JW: My approach to spectacle was kind of wrong-headed but the most important thing was, for me, was that it not 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 in their way. I tend to be very pedantic about that. I don’t just want a blur of things crashing around. I want to know, how everybody’s 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 flips over. A hamster could hit it and [SOUND EFFECT].
Cobie, what was your experience transitioning from a weekly regular routine of a sitcom to being a part of this blockbuster ensemble? Clark, you could also answer as well.
CG: Yeah, well very few people know this but the CBS Tuesday comedy block is actually like the farm leagues for the Avengers. It’s the Groundlings, really.
CS: Yeah, it was. It’s 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.
CG: 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. She’s got that tomboy thing.
JW: I kept trying to add frames to that shot of you flipping when he’s shooting at you so the people could see your face and know it wasn’t a stunt woman.
Clark, was there ever any costume envy?
CG: Well, I’m not going to lie. I think that Agent Coulson could rock some of Agent Romanoff’s cat suits. No, that’s being silly. There’s certain times of the morning when yes, I wish I did have some of the kind of like Asgardian armor to walk around in. And God knows, the antlers of doom that Loki has. But 13-14 hours into the day, I’m quite pleased to be in my cool, pressed Dolce and Gabbana suit.
TH: Can I just say the inversion of what Clark just said. It takes two hours to get into Loki’s outfit sometimes. It’s even more fun when you fight in it. You kind of, get the sweat pools in the chest and it’s a really luxurious experience. I want to publically salute Alex Byrne, um, because when you have to conceive of costumes at this scale, you’re risking ridicule. I mean, these are monster costumes and the last thing you want is for it to look silly or camp. Yet it has to look larger than life and heroic, and her work on it was amazing. She worked with everybody in terms of like making them practical. So you could fight in them and jump in them and roll around. My costume particularly does so much of the work for me, ’cause Loki’s silhouette is so incredibly menacing. And those clothes are so mean, and it’s leather and metal and gold. There were days when I longed for the suit, the Dolce and Gabanna one.
JW: We gave you one day.
TH: That’s true. Yeah, in the museum. Three hours in a nice suit.
Jeremy, talk about preparing for this role. Did you read a lot of the comic books? Did you go into some kind of archery training? Weren’t you injured during filming?
JR: I stretched a lot – I prepared by stretching. 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, which is 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, blah, blah. I gave it a go and shot a few bales of hay and missed a few. I think most of it – 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. Scarlett and I, we beat each other up pretty good. You know, you know, that’s fun. I love getting beaten up by Scarlett. Wouldn’t you?!
Any trepidation about such an iconic character such as Loki?
TH: I’m never get afraid of things. I only get excited. It’s just so much fun. It’s such a great character. He 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. He’d taken what I’d sort of built with Kenneth Branagh and he’s taken it further. It was, it was as damaged and psychologically interesting as I hoped it would be, but it was also darker and funnier. It demanded so much commitment.
Joss, could you confirm which alien race it was that Loki was working with in the film? Was it one from the Marvel comics or one you created? How did you decide which secondary characters, such as Pepper Potts, to incorporate into the movie?
JW: The alien race are the Chitauri or a version of them, because they are not one of the key races and they don’t have a story or history and really, that wasn’t the point. I know this debate will go on long after I am dead, so I’ll just say it was the Kree Skrull race and really make everybody angry. As far as the sports groups go, my first instinct was not to have anybody from any of them, partially because you 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 environs. But also so that when they would go back to their own movies, they’d have something that the Avengers didn’t have. I wasn’t sort of sucking the juice out of all the sequels that are going to be coming up. Pepper – this was really Robert’s thing. He pushed hard. He didn’t want to be, sort of crazy, alone guy. He wanted to be rh crazy in a relationship guy. He really thought Gwyneth would bring something great to the table and we all thought so as well. But he’s the one that convinced her to come and do it. That made sense because he’s been through two movies. He’s had more of a journey and he is in more of a stable place. But, he can still be that and be completely isolated from the world in his giant tower that he built and owns.
Joss, there’s an interesting balance between the action, characters and the conflicts they have, such as Iron Man rejecting the soldier mentality Captain America had. How did you develop these characters? Any ideology involved?
JW: You have to write something that you believe in. Captain America was kind of my ground zero for this film, and the idea of someone who had been in World War II, had seen people, laying down their lives in the worst kinds of circumstances. In a world where this idea of community and the idea of a man being somebody who is a part of something, as opposed to being isolated from or bigger than or more famous than it’s a very different concept of manhood. The way that it, in my opinion, has kind of devolved from Steve to Tony is, is kind of fascinating. I think you have to, obviously you’re not gonna stand around and speechify too much, although a little bit, but the idea of the soldier, the idea of the person whose willing to lay down their life is very different than the idea of the superhero. And since I wanted to make from the start a war movie, I wanted to put these guys through more than what they would 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 really willing to make the sacrifice play.
Harry Dean Stanton sees Mark Ruffalo naked in one scene. How did you come up with the idea to cast Harry Dean Stanton for that scene with Mark?
JW: You know, the, we had this, ah, um, yeah the love scene was cut [LAUGHTER], but, um, you know, we, I needed to get, um, Banner from the horror of what he had done and almost killing Scarlett and, and, ah, um, ah, or Natasha, I should say, in to, you know, a place where he was prepared to, you know, go back into that state. And I thought a lot about it and I was like he needs somebody who will just accept him. Seamus, our DP, was actually shooting a documentary about Harry Dean and spending a lot of time with him. I sort of got him stuck in my head and I was like who is more accepting than Harry Dean Stanton? I got to write this weird little scene, which when I wrote it was not little, it was about 12 pages long. Bruce Banner falls into a Coen Brothers movie, and the fact that they even let me keep that concept and that we actually landed Harry Dean to play it was very exciting. But the idea was to put him in a slightly surreal situation with somebody who clearly had no problem with what he was just to make that little transition without milking it too much.
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