I’d like to take a moment to say thank you to Robert Downey Jr. Ultimately, he’s the reason we’re getting an Avengers movie. While it’s easy to look back with 20/20 hindsight and see why he’s perfect as Tony Stark, at the time he was a controversial choice and many weren’t sure he could pull it off. Cut to now. The first two Iron Man movies have made over $1.2 billion dollars at the worldwide box office and Iron Man 3 is already in pre-production. Also, as a result of the first Iron Man, Marvel was able to expand their feature film library with Thor and Captain America, and now that they’ve been acquired by Disney, the future of comic book movies is brighter than ever. So, like I said, a big thank you to Robert Downey Jr.
Last year, when The Avengers was filming in New Mexico, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters and participate in a group interview with Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. They talked about what the film is about, how we finally get to see Tony Stark in New York City, the relationships between all the characters, improv versus sticking to the script, costume changes, working with Joss Whedon, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio or the full transcript is below. The Avengers opens May 4.
Question: I notice you are wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt.
DOWNEY JR.: Not bad huh? (Shows off the arc reactor on his chest.) I’ll keep lit up for you clowns. (Shouts to on-set producer.) Does Props want to turn this off to save the battery?
(Light goes off.)
CHRIS EVANS: They just did.
So who is the “good man” that was “dating a cellist”?
DOWNEY JR.: Yeah, who was that?
EVANS: I heard that was something we can’t touch.
DOWNEY JR.: Yeah, that’s right. We were just briefed. (In Tropic Thunder voice.) But somebody’s gonna die!
EVANS: Is that it? Great.
We have heard a little bit about what the movie is about, but can you both, in your own words, talk about the story and what it’s about, or what you’re allowed to say?
EVANS: Sure. It’s about these superheroes coming together. It’s the initial formation of the team, The Avengers. (whispers to RDJ) Does everybody know that Loki’s the bad guy?
DOWNEY JR.: Yeah, they told us not to talk about it.
EVANS: But we were allowed to talk about that.
We interviewed Tom (Hiddleston) yesterday, so we know.
EVANS: Right, so Loki’s in it!
DOWNEY JR.: He used to date a cellist. In Asgard.
EVANS: He’s our threat.
DOWNEY JR.: Here’s what I think it’s about: I remember at Comic Con, a season or two ago, that there was all this promise of… you know, this is hugely ambitious. God bless them, but DC have tried to do this before, and Marvel said, “We’re going to do it,” but saying they are going to do it and formulating a way to do it correctly, which I think is where JW (“Jay Dub” – Joss Whedon) came in heavily, so I think it is just a really good story that could have been done a hundred ways wrong. I think you will be – I’ll go out on a limb – pleased and surprised at how not predictable it is.
Why is there the location change? We have seen Tony Stark in California for so long, but now we know he is going to be in New York – we’ve seen his new apartment – and you guys are obviously going to be spending some time on the Helicarrier, so do you know the background to why he’s in New York, and how they get on the Helicarrier?
EVANS: Well, it takes place in New York. We’re pretty much in New York for the duration of the film. It’s not like we are shooting in Albuquerque for the exteriors.
We were talking yesterday to Chris (Hemsworth) about some of the egos on the team, and who each character might get along with, and who they might not get along with. Can you both talk about each of your characters and who they might be able to relate to? Maybe Tony and Bruce (Banner) are a little more intelligent and can relate on that level, and maybe Tony and Thor have some big egos so may clash at some point.
DOWNEY JR.: Yeah, I just don’t… speaking like Tony now… I just don’t like big guys who speak cryptically and act like they understand the language better than me. And have trippy brothers and all that sort of stuff. Whereas we (indicating Evans) have something that I think is a multi-faceted relationship.
EVANS: It’s layered.
DOWNEY JR.: It’s layered. Why is it layered?
EVANS: It’s got depth.
EVANS: I think they are both heroes in their own right. Tony is a little bit more flash, and he’s got charisma oozing out of him, and he likes the spotlight, and I think Cap might be a little bit more reserved in his desire to be front and center, but they are both, at their core, heroes, if you know what I mean. Even if Tony is flash and hot-shit, he is still a hero. He is still a good man. I think it just takes the duration of the film for them to see eye-to-eye and to see that in one another.
Does Tony see Captain America as an anachronism?
DOWNEY JR.: Well, here’s the thing: I was just sitting here thinking that it seems to me that this is the logical progression from the lessons Tony learns from, and with, War Machine in Iron Man 2, it seems that they are picked up, except now there is this extra added layer of it being connected to the Stark legacy, so it’s almost like dealing with Frankenstein, but Frankenstein has lessons that you actually haven’t learned yet. So it’s really easy to just be like, “Oh my God, you have bolts on your neck!” and Joss, while not being silly… I give Cap quite a bit of guff in the movie.
DOWNEY JR.: But I think it was probably the toughest relationship to really find the right arc for. You are catching us in one of the transition points, that we are shooting here today. Usually we wouldn’t be hashing out a problem together, we would be more on the verge of demonstrating the differences in our moral psychology.
Who would you say is the heart of the team?
DOWNEY JR.: (Points to Evans.)
EVANS: See, I was going to say him. I was genuinely going to say him. I think without him, we don’t work.
DOWNEY JR.: Not this time. I told them to write it that way!
EVANS: I think without Tony, we don’t work. He really is the glue in the family. He is the fire, the thing that keeps you coming back. I think, at least for this movie, Cap’s struggling with finding his footing in this modern day – he’s a fish out of water. He’s a little more uncomfortable in his own skin than he normally might be, and he’s not hitting the ground running without the charisma and the leadership and the character that Tony Stark is.
DOWNEY JR.: Well, maybe you’re right, if you put it that way. Okay. But I think that’s the other thing too. What Joss, Kevin (Feige) and the creative team has been able to do, is make it so that nothing is predictably definitive. I remember that one of my earliest concerns with this was, “Haven’t we done this, ‘it’s a bunch of superheroes together but they’re a dysfunctional family’ thing before?” But it has transcended that in a lot of ways. Obviously there is only one person whose name is Captain, and if you have a squad of people, there is a time where we need his prowess in terms of things that require actual strategy and military stuff, in what is essentially a war that we are trying to avert, of sorts. So I think that that’s really valuable.
Robert, you were known as a bit of a tinkerer on the set of the first two Iron Man movies, so have you been tinkering on this? Are you guys adjusting things each day or are you sticking to the script more?
EVANS: We did some tinkering today. It’s so great. Downey is renowned for being able to work on the fly, and so is Joss. They are both very good – they have incredible instincts – so if something does need to change, their anchor is so solid. You feel safe to try what’s on the page and to try other stuff, because if you have these guys guiding you in your exploration, you can unearth some really interesting things.
DOWNEY JR.: Yeah, but for the most part, particularly once we got to the final edition of the storyline and the script that came from that, it wasn’t broke, so it’s not like we had to fix things. And I think some part of me, between the Sherlock movies, and with some of the Iron Man movies, I feel like more of a producer – no-one asked me to – which is tough when you are getting your make-up done and they aren’t paying you to be a producer, but with this, it is a bit of a relief – it’s nice when the car drives all by itself.
Is there a through-line for Tony in this movie? Is there an arc that you think will be picked up in Iron Man 3 or will there be ramifications from this that will be picked up in that movie?
DOWNEY JR.: Sure. Yeah. Someone’s going to have to figure that out! (laughs)
Is there something either of you do in this film that perhaps you haven’t done in your solo films that excites you that you’re getting to do it now?
EVANS: Working with Robert DOWNEY JR.
DOWNEY JR.: And for me, just getting to work with myself again is just a treat. This time, it’s just me and me. Christ! What do you get to do? You get to do some crazy fucking shit.
EVANS: I mean it when I said it: Robert Downey Jr. I look around sometimes and… I don’t know. Doing Captain America was strange because you’re the only superhero, so it’s like you’re looking around at others, but here, the first day you came to set and there’s (Chris) Hemsworth in his cape, and Downey’s got the armor on, and you’re wearing the costume…
DOWNEY JR.: You’re not going to change when Captain America does huge business are you?
EVANS: I’m already changing. (Jokes) You’ve got two more minutes and I’m fucking out of here! Where’s my water?! No, It’s been great. On a personal career level – not necessarily rooted in exploring stuff as an actor – but just personally, just the stuff I have been able to do on this movie, to date, this has been the most geeked out that I have felt on a movie set. I literally come sometimes and get truly, truly excited about coming to work, and that’s a good feeling.
What is it like to have Joss as both the writer and director on set?
DOWNEY JR.: Why are you asking questions about Joss? We’re sitting here! (laughs) Here’s the nice thing: I’m changing too. I’m looking at the back nine, I’m a little more mellow. (laughs) I don’t need to tear up the sides and throw them against the wall to say, “I bet we can improve this.” I’ll just say, “I bet we can improve this.” But I might do that on Iron Man 3 just because I am used to doing it.
But the nice thing is that Joss is really quick and incredibly responsible to what his job requirements are to the letter, so we can say… for example, there is a scene at the end that unites Thor and Cap and Tony, and it needed to say a lot and it needed to also not just be one line but it couldn’t be two pages, so he said, “Give me a second,” and it’s not like, “Let’s hash this out together,” because, as I said, I’m getting better, but I wouldn’t mind just pulling out the pen and, “Let’s just spit-ball till lunch,” and then we would come in with the right thing to shoot. But instead, it wound up being four lines which included all or us, and he gave us, I think, three pages of options. So the guy is really just kind of a machine, but it feels organic.
EVANS: That’s a great way to put it. He’s just so good as a writer – he’s amazing. The banter is so witty – it’s not like when sometimes it may have a witty pay-off line, but the set-up is obvious, like, “You set ‘em up and I’ll knock ‘em down.” His set-up lines are seamless, they work, they’re right, so when this great exchange happens, you are like, “Man, that is so clever.” If, for whatever reason, it doesn’t work, he can come up with a new exchange just like that.
DOWNEY JR.: I hear he likes to dance.
EVANS: He does boogie. On the weekends, he is like, “We’re going to go dancing,” and I’m like, “You’re going dancing?”
DOWNEY JR.: I don’t know why you don’t invite me to your parties.
DOWNEY JR.: Oh that’s right.
How does Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye fit into the dynamic between the two of you, because he seems more like the company man, the soldier, but we haven’t seen him yet, so how does he fit into the dynamic between you?
DOWNEY JR.: Well, he is a S.H.I.E.L.D. guy but he has his own interesting arc in this, and so, not to give it away, he is largely doing his own thing. I think with some of these things, there is a lot of stuff going on and it all makes sense, and then once in a while, we all are together in one place. And if it can all make sense that when we are all together in one place, it’s not like, “How did that happen? It’s like they all did a photo-shoot in the middle of the movie.” But somehow or other, it does.
EVANS: Yeah, it’s great.
Is there a new Iron Man suit too?
DOWNEY JR.: I think so. I don’t know, I am wearing tracking dots.
EVANS: I can pee freely now, which is great.
DOWNEY JR.: Cap’s new suit, by I.P. Freely!
EVANS: Literally, it is a world of relief. The suit itself is fantastic – it’s much more…
DOWNEY JR.: That’s Alex Byrne. Great costumer.
EVANS: Yeah, she’s something else. But it’s great. It makes action sequences a lot easier: the last one was very utilitarian, so everything seems like it has a purpose but it’s very difficult to move in. The cowl is tricky on this one. In the initial Cap film, it was just a helmet, but this one looks much more like the comic book. It looks amazing, but is a little toasty in there. But it all looks great.
EVANS: Yeah, I don’t know what to do to make it better, damn it! It’s tricky, it’s true. You would love to get some feedback, to see what works and what didn’t.
DOWNEY JR.: You want the pay-off.
DOWNEY JR.: This is good for your humility.
EVANS: It is, believe me. Every day. Every day. It’s tricky, you know what I mean? It’s… I can’t think of a clever analogy… (shouts out) Joss!
DOWNEY JR.: (as Joss) “I have three pages and all of them seem to fit in with the flow of the conversation. Great. Well, you fucking write it!”
DOWNEY JR.: Could you imagine if you met your long-lost brother that was your dad’s favorite, and all of a sudden, he is in town? He doesn’t really want to hang out, but there’s business. It’s so annoying.
EVANS: There is a lot of meat on the bone there. There’s a lot to chew on, and hopefully it’s enough to last even into sequels. It’s a complex thing and there really are a lot of layers to it.
Who first gets to shout, “Avengers Assemble!”?
DOWNEY JR.: Most of those things, like people saying something at the same time as they realize it, or all those things – I think there is a pass where they are all omitted, like you’re not allowed to say them, and then if they happen… Does someone say, “Avengers Assemble!”?
EVANS: I don’t know.
EVANS: Well, I haven’t filmed my scene yet.
DOWNEY JR.: Me neither.
EVANS: But based on the character that he played in Thor…
DOWNEY JR.: Why don’t we have Joss tell us how we are going to feel when we are done shooting it?
There is a big Hulk cardboard cut-out on the set, so how are you guys working with the Hulk? Are you using the cut-out?
EVANS: We have had a couple of scenes with Ruffalo doing the motion capture stuff, so when they do that, they put him up, standing on a table for the scene. Then sometimes they bring out that cardboard cut-out for special effects to take textures and things like that.
Is Mark Ruffalo rampaging around all the time? Or is he mellow when you guys are in meetings and such?
DOWNEY JR.: Well, he’s on a lot of growth hormones right now.
Well, because in the comics the Hulk, sometimes he’s completely out of control, sometimes he does mellow out, people find a way to mellow him out so he can be with the group.
EVANS: Well, you will have to wait and see how we figure out how to be with the Hulk.
DOWNEY JR.: I think Ruffalo was really the right guy at the right time with the right canvas. It’s strange to me because the Hulk, out of all the Marvel characters, has been the toughest nut to crack, for some reason. Maybe it’s because the long history of the TV show, and that is so engrained that they got it right. If you go back and look at the old TV series, you’re like, “I was crazy about this,” and it has merit. But I think, again, what the creative team, and Joss and Mark, largely did, was bring something that feels new about it but is also much more like you remember it.
A fun event in the comics, that I know a lot of fans are excited about, is what happens when Thor’s hammer hits Cap’s shield. Is that something that might be explored in the movie?
EVANS: I don’t want to give anything away.
DOWNEY JR.: Oh God, I want to know.
DOWNEY JR.: I can tell you that there is a sequence where Black Widow and Iron Man both get stuck inside her suit, and for certain shots, they had to use a wide-angle lens. That’s probably the one thing I have never gotten to do before. (laughs)
How is it for Captain America to wake up in the present day, where there is a dude in an iron suit flying about the place, where there’s another dude who grows into this giant green monster, so how does he acclimate to that, and not only that, but to work with these people and become a team with these people?
EVANS: Sure. That is one piece of the puzzle, just waking up and there just being the evolutions in technology and things like that, the fact that there are cellphones and the internet and computers and all of this – that’s one piece of the puzzle. But I think the real stuff that he struggles with is the changes in society, between the morals and values and the way people interact, and the things that matter, and I think that is why he struggles with Tony at first, because I think Tony is the epitome of modern: he’s flash, he’s current, he’s hip, he’s “now”, and Cap is kind of stuck in this old mentality and this old way, so even though the Quinjet and all the technology that S.H.I.E.L.D. has, and Tony’s suit, does blow his mind, I think the stuff that he’s at odds with is more about the way people interact and the current state of people’s communal values.
Is it possible to fit everything that people want to see into one Avengers movie? Isn’t there just too much that people will be expecting and wanting to see to fit into one two-hour movie? Or do you think there will be stuff to save for the second movie?
EVANS: I think that it’s a well that will keep on giving. This film certainly will have no fat. There is so much stuff.
DOWNEY JR.: Exactly. And the thing too is that it’s about not so much what to put in it, but what to omit – not so that maybe we can do it later – but I think those were some of the biggest, smartest choices were the things that aren’t in it.
For more from our Avengers set visit: