Last June I got to visit the set of director Joss Whedon‘s The Avengers with a few other reporters when the production was shooting on soundstages in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Shortly before Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) shot an action scene involving aliens on the streets of New York City, he and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) sat down with us for an interview. They talked about the relationship between their two characters, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury, how their characters react to Gods like Loki and Thor, what it was like on the first day that everyone was on set and in costume, future Marvel movies, 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.
JEREMY RENNER: I can’t tell you anything of what’s happening in there. (laughter)
Can you tell us how you’re reacting or being proactive about what is going on in there? What are you doing in regards to what is happening?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: What do you think is happening in there?
Well, it seems like there’s some kind of force that has arrived in New York City and I imagine you guys are there to put a stop to whatever that is.
RENNER: We’re avenging something.
JOHANSSON: We’re avenging something.
RENNER: (laughs) We’re fighting, I can tell you that, so it’s hot and sweaty.
Scarlett, you did a lot of hand-to-hand combat in Iron Man 2. Do you up that or do you take on any weapons in this film?
JOHANSSON: Yeah, there’s a combination of all that stuff. There’s definitely a lot of hand-to-hand combat still, and combination of different fighting styles: gymnastics, Muay Thai, boxing, kick-boxing, all of that.
RENNER: You do all that?
JOHANSSON: You know I do all that. We use all kinds of stuff: knives, guns, all sorts of things. Yeah.
You each appeared in previous Marvel movies but how much time has passed? I assume since you’re both agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you already know each other, but how much time has passed and is there anything in this movie where we see the two of you meeting for the first time?
RENNER: I can tell you this. There are so many characters in this movie, as you know, that it can’t really go too much backstories of characters. We’re telling a massive story here with a lot of characters in it, so the time is spent on all of us, I guess, saving things (laughs).
JOHANSSON: But that’s never been established. We’ve obviously known each other for a long time. We have a very rich history, the two characters, with one another, but as far as the timeline, I think it’s pretty much the time that has passed since Iron Man 2 came out, I think a couple years, but since we’ve seen each other, we’ve been working together the whole time.
Since you’re both agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I think we assume you’ll work together.
JOHANSSON: Yeah, working together and apart and whatever.
Is this the romance in the movie?
JOHANSSON: There’s no time for romance (laughter). We’ve got shit to avenge. (more laughter)
You said there’s a rich history, but what is the nature of the relationship? What is the back and forth between them?
JOHANSSON: Um, I think that these…
RENNER: They fought a lot together.
JOHANSSON: We’ve fought a lot together.
RENNER: They’ve done a lot of missions together and they fight well together, and so you definitely get a sense that they’ve seen a lot of shit together, and they complement each other.
So are they paired for most of the movie, your characters?
JOHANSSON: We’re all kind of paired together in different ways.
JOHANSSON: But our fighting styles are not similar but they definitely complement one another. Both of us fight hand-to-hand and we’re just humans with no abilities.
RENNER: Yeah, we’re humans.
JOHANSSON: But we’re fighting in a different way than everybody else. We do a lot of fighting on the ground.
How do your characters react to gods like Loki and Thor?
RENNER: Yeah, I ask myself that every day. I don’t know. How do I know Thor? I guess I was in the movie. I was going to put an arrow in his head, but I don’t know this guy, do I? So I always ask those questions and Joss is a very creative… it’s a complicated universe, as you guys know, and there’s a couple different versions of this universe, so it’s interesting. We find reasons to make it work, but I think the general overall assumption is that we all at least have an understanding of each other… or a misunderstanding of each other is probably better.
We talked to Robert and he said that Hawkeye likes to do things on his own, he’s his own guy, kind of like a rogue agent a little bit. Can you describe that aspect of the character and how that plays out in the movie?
RENNER: Yeah, that kind of plays into being a sniper in general. That’s sort of philosophy of snipers that I hang out on rooftops and trees and things like that by themselves, and don’t really kind of work with anybody else. So that just kind of… even in military, it’s the same sort of thing, so I think it just plays into his character and being a rogue agent.
Tom told us yesterday that Loki has scenes with each of you and the Avengers. Can you talk about working with Tom and why Loki is having these individual conversations?
JOHANSSON: Well, I think that he’s….
RENNER: ‘Cause it’s written in the script. (laughter)
JOHANSSON: (laughs) I think that he has an agenda, and I think the best way to break up a group is by trying to manipulate the situation by going individually to each one of our characters and you kind of see that. He’s playing good cop/bad cop, but it’s just him in some way with each one of us. I think he’s trying to figure out a way to put holes in the team, trying to figure out a way to disassemble us in some way and manipulate us individually. I absolutely adore working with Tom. He’s such an incredibly talented… I don’t know.
There’s just a theatrical way about him that’s just a lovely way to work, especially when you’re living in this universe that’s larger than life reality in a sense, that kind of theatrical style is really appreciated I think. He’s just been great. I think he’s having so much fun with that character, and I don’t know. I think we all had our own interactions with his character, but my experience has been very much a kind of… I’ve really seen his dramatic turn and vice versa and we had fun playing with that and Joss writes such solid dialogue that we each have really nice meaty points of view.
RENNER: Tom is a troubled boy, but he looks good in his costume.
One of the things about your characters that’s always interesting is that neither of you have superpowers, just abilities and skills, and you’re basically on a team with a giant green monster, a God, so how do you interact with them? Do they look down on you guys cause you don’t have powers or are you able to step up and stand up to them in fights?
RENNER: Well, yeah, initially I thought that it was going to be weird, but then I found out a lot more about… for me, for Hawkeye, I’m like, “What’s a bow and arrow going to do against the Hulk?” Actually, I have specialized things that I can’t tell you anything really about, but I can put him down so (laughs) it’s pretty cool. Yeah, all we are is humans with high skill sets, and I think what makes all characters interesting is that they all have weaknesses. That’s what makes them human in that regard. What’s Tony Stark without his suit?
Where do we find your characters as the film starts off? Are you still with Tony Stark when we start off?
JOHANSSON: No, my character is sort of on another mission. I think at the end of Iron Man 2, that mission is over for her and she’s an agent who is tasked for some different purposes. So we find her…
RENNER: Sipping a mai thai in Hawaii.
JOHANSSON: Sipping a mai thai in Hawaii. No, she’s at work, just the old 9 to 5.
Can you talk about the first day all of you guys were on set together in costume? I guess on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier? Can you talk about being there with everybody?
JOHANSSON: Very surreal.
RENNER: Yeah, it’s weird.
JOHANSSON: It was just kind of an out of body experience. What is happening?
JOHANSSON: Like a dress-up but to the extreme.
RENNER: I was getting really ….(They talk over each other a bit)
JOHANSSON: …. embarrass the shit out of each other. What did you say?
RENNER: I don’t even know what I was doing there, but I was there.
JOHANSSON: Yeah, you were there.
JOHANSSON: (laughs) Yeah, it’s never even… even when our characters… when the Avengers assemble, it’s totally, it feels like being a little kid.
RENNER: I like seeing Hemsworth, because he has his hammer and then he has a latté in his hand (laughter). To me, that’s a great image. (lots of laughter)
JOHANSSON: And there’s always this plan that as soon as everything is cut, everything comes off.
RENNER: Yeah, exactly.
JOHANSSON: All our costumes are unzipped, some air conditioning venting unit goes in. Someone is having a wig removed. We all have our various things that we have to do to get comfortable. Everybody looks incredibly uncomfortable until the cameras are rolling and then we all look fucking badass. Then “Cut!” and we’re all like “Arrrgh… God, this thing, get it off me, it’s awful!!”
Whose costume would you say is the least comfortable and who has it best? You look at them and go, “I can’t believe they just get to wear that.”
JOHANSSON: Well, we all have our own… I’d say everybody has their own uncomfortable costume situation.
JOHANSSON: I don’t think that’s… speak for yourself! (laughter)
RENNER: I was going to say that I have it easier than you because of your fucking hair.
JOHANSSON: Nope. My hair? What about my hair?
RENNER: You have to do hair every day.
JOHANSSON: That’s a girl thing. That has nothing to do wit h being a superhero. (laughter) I’m talking about that it’s like 800 degrees in my costume… and it’s a unitard, and I have nothing underneath it!
RENNER: But that might be nice for people. (laughter) I think it’s easy.
RENNER: Watching her is really easy.
JOHANSSON: Yeah, thanks.
RENNER: The people that have it harder is I think Evans has it tough because he has a headpiece. (talking over each other again)
JOHANSSON: Either Chris has it pretty bad. Tom…
RENNER: Yeah, both Chrises …
RENNER: I think the humility award definitely goes to Ruffalo.
JOHANSSON: Aw, for his little suit?
JOHANSSON: And his little fez on and his little plus and minus stickers, poor thing.
Is it hard to work off of that knowing he’s supposed to be this giant beast.
RENNER: Well, I laugh once in a while and he’s always growling, “Stop it!” but yeah, it’s good fun. They’re all tremendous, and well overcome the obstacles we need to overcome. It’s a really good group.
What about the hierarchy at S.H.I.E.L.D. now because you dealt with Nick Fury a lot and you dealt with Coulson, plus there’s also Maria Hill, so who do you each take orders from directly. Is Nick Fury the one you deal with most? Or are you working with Coulson and Maria Hill in this?
JOHANSSON: All of our orders come directly from Fury.
RENNER: Yeah, it’s either you obey him or you disobey him.
JOHANSSON: Yeah, we have scenes together.
RENNER: Yeah, we do.
JOHANSSON: But we take our direction all from Fury.
RENNER: And I just don’t take any direction at all. (laughs)
Okay, I was more curious about how Maria Hill plays into it because in the comics, she even takes over for Fury, and we haven’t seen her at all here so I wondered how much is delegated to her.
RENNER: Yeah, I think it stays pretty true to that universe. They’re tied I think with Coulson, Maria and Fury, I think that’s a pretty tight unit there, and then when it comes to jokers like us, they bring us in for special things, just like in the Marvel Universe.
You’re wearing a “Motley Crue” t-shirt and Downey Jr. was wearing a Black Sabbath shirt so are you guys trying to champion the soundtrack?
RENNER: I didn’t get one.
JOHANSSON: Oh, yeah? You want one? Yeah, we are. I would love to have some Motley Crue. I don’t know what’s going to be playing. I don’t really know much about Joss’ musical tastes, do you?
RENNER: No, I have no idea.
I’m curious about the soundtrack because all the Marvel films have different ones like with Iron Man having AC/DC.
JOHANSSON: That’s Favreau though, that’s totally Favreau’s thing. Joss I would imagine is some sort of operatic soundtrack.
RENNER: Your guess is as good as mine.
JOHANSSON: I have no idea.
RENNER: Of course. (laughs)
JOHANSSON: “I hope this is mediocre.”
But when you sat down to read this thing, I imagine contracts were already signed before you saw a script and you guys were in the movie.
JOHANSSON: Well, the nice thing about our cast is that there’s a silent oath, a support system in some way and all of us are really looking out for one another’s best interests and more when the first drafts came in. I remember going to Comic-Con last year and flying back with everybody, and we were all like, “We’re in it together!” We had assembled on the plane. So reading the first draft, it’s a huge story with a lot of storylines. The first draft to me was still very much a work in progress, and Joss wanted everybody’s notes and got all of them, and we all met separately and together and talked about it. I think the script over… Joss was like pulling his hair out, doing these insane drafts on a time crunch, but I think with everybody’s notes and all of us kind of looking out for each other really streamlined it to something that is very coherent. The first draft to me was a little bit like “Waugh! What are all these storylines?” I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It very much felt like an assemblage of a lot of different storylines together, but I think that’s all part of the screenwriting process in a ways. Streamlining.
RENNER: Yeah, there’s no bigger fan than Joss of this world, and he’s a really good writer and he had a massive task to write this movie and direct it, massive. I don’t know anybody who could really write this and really put in all the stuff that he really wanted to put in, cause he honors all these characters so much, so people will ask about backstory and all these other things, he’s like, “Well, there’s a lot going on in this movie.” We won’t have a lot of the time that he wanted to put into each and every character. There are so many different versions of the stuff that sometimes I even liked it better because it had such a good sense of humor at some points. Even though the movie still does, somehow, someway, he pulled it off.
After this experience, are you guys championing your own solo films?
RENNER: I’m championing a vacation, is what I’m going to champion.
JOHANSSON: I think going into this process and even going into Iron Man 2, the whole idea is that you hope the audience…
RENNER: Are you in Iron Man 3?
RENNER: (laughs) Aren’t you going off to do Iron Man 3?
JOHANSSON: Yeah, we’re on the same flight. I think the whole idea is that you want the audience to be as enthusiastic as you are about the characters and in that, you hope that you’ll be able to take the character farther. It’s certainly a process to zip up the suit every time and it gets harder with each passing year, but I mean, if it was badass and it incorporated the darker side of the character and got down to the nitty-gritty of who she is, I would like to see that movie.
When we asked Kevin Feige about a possible Hawkeye spin-off, he said you’re basically in so many possible franchises now, he doesn’t know if you’d have time. How does it come about that you’re in all these franchise now?
RENNER: I don’t know how that happened.
RENNER: Yeah, well you’re assuming a lot here, that they’re going to succeed and they’re expensive movies to shoot, franchise movies, so it’s got to do very, very well in order to do another one. I worry about that movie and that movie only. Because a franchise is only a movie that does well and has the possibility of making another one, which separates itself from a movie that’s just a one-off. So there’s no guarantee by any means that there will be any other movies made at Marvel, let alone from any of those from Missions or Bournes or whatever it might be, to Hansel and Gretel. So we’ll see.
Iron Man 3 starts for you guys in February?
RENNER: Yeah, when are you starting?
JOHANSSON: I haven’t gotten my schedule yet.
Does anyone else have to sweat it out in this building besides you two?
JOHANSSON: We all get an opportunity to sweat it out in this building, right?
RENNER: Well, no, I think…
JOHANSSON: Downey’s flying around.
RENNER: Yeah, yeah, Downey.
JOHANSSON: is a 6 foot 5 African-American man, let’s be honest with ourselves, a giant muscle man who is sweating it out in there. Downey comes in…
RENNER: Downey had it easy on that one.
JOHANSSON: I think he has the easiest costume to wear.
RENNER: But we got to go sweat it out in the asbestos box. (laughter).
For more from our Avengers set visit: