With no question, Marvel’s The Avengers is one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, bringing together such iconic superheroes as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), all under the auspices of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), in order to defeat an unexpected enemy (Tom Hiddleston) threatening to destroy the universe.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Downey, Hemsworth, Evans, Ruffalo and Jackson were joined by producer and President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige to talk about their most memorable moments during filming, the challenges of uniting all these characters together, what they like best about their characters, how much fun they had with the comedy, and what made Joss Whedon the right man for the director’s job. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
ROBERT DOWNEY JR: There’s that first time that we’re all assembled on the bridge, when we all see each other and realize that we’re probably likely to continue shooting the movie because we had to make good on this vision of Kevin Feige’s, from as far back as I can remember. 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.
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: That was our first day on set, too, with the whole ensemble, which was a pretty exciting and nerve-wracking experience. That was amazing!
CHRIS EVANS: Mine was the scene where Thor and Iron Man are fighting. I had just seen Thor, the day prior, and I had 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 geared up, and I just got really excited. I felt like a little kid. It was just an honor to be a part of it.
MARK RUFFALO: Mine was being naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton.
Mark, there have been many versions of The Hulk out there, in film and television, and a lot of actors have played Bruce Banner. How did you form your own unique version of Bruce? Did you do any research, in regard to any specific comic issues?
RUFFALO: Well, I met with (director) 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. After the third episode, he turned to me and said, “Papa, he’s so misunderstood!” I basically based my character entirely on my 10-year-old boy, who has all of the force of nature screaming out of his body while at the same time having everyone around him telling him to fucking control himself.
Robert, were you really the force that united this ensemble?
DOWNEY: Yeah, I offered rides back and forth from Albuquerque on my private jet. Going back to 2007, when I was cast in Iron Man, and Kevin Feige said, “You know, this is all going to lead to where we’re going to have all of these franchising come together and we’re going to do something unprecedented in entertainment and we’re going to make this Avengers movie.” I just remember that I would get nervous about it and excited about it and doubtful of it. And then, by the time I already had a history with Sam and really 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 to not really have to carry a movie. I think everyone really, really, really, really is equal, in this venture. It’s great. That will be my last sincere answer of the afternoon.
Chris [Evans], you’ve joked about how Captain America has to take the stairs while everyone else is flying around. What was that like?
EVANS: Yeah, I give all these orders like, “Hulk, you do this impossible thing. Thor, you bottleneck a portal. Iron Man, fly over here. I’ll take the stairs.”
EVANS: I want to say Iron Man because I love those movies, but who can do it better? The shoes would be too big to fill.
JACKSON: I’d want to be Scarlett [Johansson]. I just want to be that cute for 15 minutes.
Kevin, how long have you actually been trying to make an Avengers movie, and what sorts of things did you have to do in the build-up of the other movies to make sure that they all led to this?
KEVIN FEIGE: One answer is my whole life, just ‘cause I’ve been a nerd my whole life and wanted to see this movie made for my whole life. The real answer, though, is towards the end of production of Iron Man 1, when Sam [Jackson] was gracious enough to spend three hours on a Saturday to break into Tony Stark’s house, wearing an eye patch, and tell him and the world, “You’re part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet.” When that movie succeeded, we realized that we actually had the opportunity to do it. 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. If they’re all just interconnected puzzle pieces, that’s not as fun. They need to be movies, beginning to end. That was the biggest challenge.
RUFFALO: It was terrifying. I knew what my responsibility was. 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’d shot a single frame. Coming onto the set with all of those guys was pretty daunting. Many of my heroes in life are in this cast. So, I knew that I had big shoes to fill, so to speak. 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.
Chris [Evans], you are known for playing characters that tend to be the jokester or the smart ass, but you’re the straight guy here. What was that like for you?
EVANS: Yeah, it’s tough not getting any jokes. That’s the role. It’s necessary. That’s why I like it. I’m used to leaning on cracking jokes and being the smart ass, so it’s nice to play it straight a little bit. I think with this film, even more than the first Captain America, Steve Rogers has some issues, some conflicts and some trouble with the fact that he is a man out of time. But, given who he is as a man, his nature is that he puts that second and the mission first. He’s selfless. It’s a fun character to play.
Chris [Hemsworth] and Chris [Evans], you both get to play the fish-out-of-water characters in this. How much fun was that?
HEMSWORTH: We all fell into that category. Joss [Whedon] said it early on that we’re a dysfunctional family that belongs because they don’t belong anywhere else. Thor is from another planet and his motivation through the conflict and the villain was far more personal than the rest of them because it’s his brother. It was nice to have already shot that film and to have had that relationship with Tom [Hiddleston]. That was my focus. But, we all didn’t get along, at the beginning. Certainly, when you’re from some other planet or some other world, it’s fun to play that dynamic.
HEMSWORTH: I remember thinking, on that day, “Yeah, this is the trailer shot,” or “This is the big moment.” We’d been on the bridge, in the first scene where you see us all together, but we weren’t getting along, at that point. That moment, we finally were assembled and there and the same team, in that big 360 wide shot with all the chaos around us. I certainly remember thinking, “This is the moment.”
What was it like to work with Tom Hiddleston? Does he really like having group hugs?
HEMSWORTH: Tom loves hugs. I did a film with him, and there were plenty of hugs on that film. Group hugs.
Do you have any funny stories, either on set or off?
HEMSWORTH: Chris [Evans] sent us a text that said, “Avengers assemble at such and such bar, at 9 o’clock on Saturday night.” That was a good group effort. We paid for it at work, the next couple of days.
HEMSWORTH: At three in the morning, on the dance floor.
DOWNEY: Ruffalo, weren’t you the one throwing the roof parties?
RUFFALO: Yeah, that was me.
DOWNEY: So, you were the group instigator.
RUFFALO: I was the group hugger.
HEMSWORTH: I keep getting asked about who was the biggest diva. This was the first time I worked with these guys, and we all are either that well-behaved, or everyone kept each other in check. No one wanted to be the one who screwed it up.
What do you like best about your character? What makes your guy special to you?
RUFFALO: We’re all told to be so well-behaved and sometimes we’re all bursting at the seams to let it rip. Bruce Banner gets that moment, and part of the joy for people is to actually see that happen. That’s exciting for us. It’s a nice way for us to blow off steam, in watching movies, especially me.
EVANS: His heart and his selflessness. He wasn’t born a superhero. This didn’t happen to him by accident. He was chosen for those reasons – his values and morals. He puts other people and other causes ahead of himself. It’s something to aspire to.
DOWNEY: That he didn’t really set out to do anything noble. He’s in transition, so there’s something a little more Hans Solo than Luke [Skywalker]. 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 visceral gut instinct that Thor has. There’s a bit of a childlike quality, in the sense that, if he believes something and wants to do something, he does it and says it. Kids own their environment. There are no opinions that they really care about. With 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 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 owes pretty much everything to them because there are things out there greater than us.
Chris [Hemsworth], did you pull from your real-life relationships with your brother, for the complicated relationship between Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston)?
HEMSWORTH: The last time either one of my brothers tried to take over the world or the universe, I had to think back and wonder, “How did I feel?” When we did Thor, (director) Ken Branagh kept saying, “Let’s not get caught in playing Gods. It’s truthful. You have brothers. How do you relate to that?” That became the thread through Thor and through this. It’s that thing of, “I can give my brother a hiding and telling off, but no one else can.”
HEMSWORTH: And, I did say that. He’s got a few bruises, currently, from me.
Kevin, what is it that made Joss Whedon the perfect person to take over and helm this project?
FEIGE: One of the only big fears I had with this was that the whole thing would collapse under its own weight. We’d spend so much time with costumes and superpowers and special effects that these characters and these actors wouldn’t get the chance [to shine]. My biggest interest in The Avengers is the interaction between these people. 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 want a helmsman to come in and steer it in unexpected ways, and to guide that tone, which is what Joss has done so well.
There is a lot of hand-to-hand combat in this movie. Did you have any real accidents while you were filming?
HEMSWORTH: I had one. The scene where Thor takes Loki off the ship and lands, and then we go into the big two-hander. So, I was on a wire because I hadn’t learned to fly yet, and I had to come down and land on the cliff, step and have the conversation. For the first couple of takes – and it’s going to turn up on the DVD extras somewhere – I just face-planted into the dirt. It was incredibly ungraceful and unsuperhero-like.
FEIGE: Jeremy Renner did have a little bit of an injury, but it didn’t last very long, thankfully.
Everybody’s comic timing was great in this. What was it like to get to do that comedy together? Did you improvise much?
EVANS: Anytime you do a scene with Downey, he’s so good with improv and working off-the-cuff. He’s never going to do the same thing twice, so you’ve just gotta be on your toes. He’s just funny. He’s always funny. He brings a certain life to the scene. Even if you’re not the one making jokes, you can appreciate what he brings to any scene, in terms of comedy.
HEMSWORTH: The line where I say, “He’s adopted,” gets a big laugh, but I had no idea. When we shot that, I went, “Is this really funny?” But, that’s the thing. Joss is hilarious. The whole film, I was surprised how the comedy in it played so well.
DOWNEY: What everybody captured for their character was the right tone. At a certain point, without killing it, you tip your hat. We don’t take it too seriously. This is essentially a comic book movie, but you buy into the reality of it. So, I think everyone has their moments. Joss did a good job of finding everyone’s frequency. “I’m pretty sure God doesn’t dress like that,” before he jumps off, was still within the realm of what Steve [Rogers] would say and do. But, also, tonally there’s this moment where they’re in the final battle and, once [Mark Ruffalo] turns green or my helmet closes, he’s in upstate New York and I’m back in L.A., and these guys are on the ground. Sequence after sequence, there was all this stuff shot in Cleveland, and I don’t think we ever had to go to Cleveland, for one day. I kept squeezing the misses’ hand [at the premiere], during these incredible sequences that they did, going, “They shot a lot in Cleveland.” The Avengers could have fallen flat on its face and had people not be able to suspend their disbelief or get behind it, but the movie succeeded. Whether Joss’ wit is funny or actually 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.
HEMSWORTH: I remember reading the script and reading the section where Hulk and Thor are finally on the same team and fighting the aliens, and they end and are both standing there out of breath, and Hulk just backhands Thor. That was something I looked forward to. That had me on a wire, just getting yanked out of the shot. That was good.
What was it like to shoot that scene on the bridge when everybody is arguing with each other?
JACKSON: That was the second big scene on the bridge. That was an interesting scene. I didn’t really know all that was going on, in that scene, when everybody starts talking at once, until all of a sudden it happened and we were just like, “Oh, we’re having an argument.” Nobody is listening to anybody and we’re just batting stuff around. I kept wanting to say, “I don’t come to your world and blow shit up,” to Thor. They wouldn’t let me say it. We all know each other and we all laugh together. Once we saw each other, in that particular setting, it was like, “We’re actually going to do this. This is going to be a lot of fun.” It’s almost like an Our Gang movie, where you’re like, “Hey, I’ve got some costumes. I’ve got some film. My dad’s got a studio.” We just decided, “We’re going to have fun!” But, Robert gets to say all this nice, cute shit and every time I would change something, Joss would come to me like he was the line police. He was always on me. But, the family feeling was there. Joss set up the rules, and we showed up and played by the rules of that world.
It was a great time, doing that and being able to be in that space and allowing an audience to see, “Okay, these guys have superpowers, but they have normal attitudes.” They get pissed with each other and they argue about petty shit. They can be smart asses and they can be heroes and they can just be jerks, but they are eventually going to find a way to love each other. Thank god, we had somebody there to guide us in that direction.
For more on The Avengers, click here for Steve’s interview with Feige where he talks about Thor 2, Captain America 2, Iron Man 3, The Avengers 2, 2014 and 2015 releases, another Hulk movie, and a lot more.