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 Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson) and Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill) were joined by director/screenwriter Joss Whedon to talk about good comic book adaptations vs. bad ones, their most memorable moments in making the movie, the approach to spectacle, finding the balance between action and characters, how the interactions between the characters is just “booze and candy,” and costume envy. Whedon also clarifies which alien race Loki is working with in the film, and even gave some advice as to what it would take for Warner Bros. to get their Justice League movie off the ground. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and if you missed our interview with Downey, Evans, Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Jackson and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, click here.
Question: Joss, in taking on this film, what was the most exciting thing and what was the most challenging thing for you to do?
JOSS WHEDON: I think the exciting thing speaks for itself. That bunch of characters, that bunch of actors playing them, that much money is a no-brainer. The hardest part is and always will be structure. 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 it had to be right and it had to be earned, from moment to moment, and that’s exhausting. That was still going on in the editing room, after we shot it.
What is it that separates a good comic book adaptation film from a bad one?
WHEDON: Well, there’s all sorts, but for me, 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 Spider-Man, the first one particularly, really 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, that were in the vein of the comic. You see things like The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, where they just throw out the comic, or Watchmen, where they do it frame for frame, and neither of them work. You have to get the spirit of the thing, and then step away from that and create something cinematic and new.
Cobie, what does being a part of a superhero movie like this mean to you, and did you think about getting to watch it with your daughter?
COBIE SMULDERS: It means there are a lot more action figures in our house. I think we have all of them, and she knows all of their names. But, it’s very cool to be a woman in a man’s world, in this film, and then have my daughter see that. That’s probably the coolest thing.
What was your most memorable moment making this movie?
CLARK GREGG: Not just because Joss is here and not just because I want to be impressive, but I’m going to say it’s the day I got the script, just because I felt like this was not an achievable task. As someone 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 move forward and to have this story of them 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 saw that it was my fanboy wet dream of an Avengers script and that Coulson was a big part of it, that was the great day for me. I just drove around the streets with the script in the other seat, giggling.
TOM HIDDLESTON: For me, there are so many things that are memorable about it ‘cause it was such a long shoot. It was the whole summer, for all of us. We had so many different experiences together. It was an amazing time for me to work with some of the greatest actors in the world. But, if you said, “How was The Avengers shoot?,” there’s an image in my mind of the first day on set when everybody was there together. It was insane, the picture of everybody in costume, and all of these actors and all of these characters, in their chainmail and their capes and their armor, except for Mark Ruffalo in his grey and white pajamas at the back. To see everybody finally assembled was an extraordinary moment. Just the picture of The Avengers was amazing.
WHEDON: 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 will happen.” We were in the lab when almost all of The Avengers get together for the first time, and I was giving Chris Evans a piece of direction. I walked through the hall and I stopped and I said to the producers, “It happened. I’ll tell you later.” That was the moment it just flooded over me and I was like, “Oh, that’s nice. Excitement.” That was it. Told you it was dull!
JEREMY RENNER: It’s when everybody was together. That’s the most memorable and creepy and funny. Getting to play with Thor’s hammer while he stroked my bow. That’s going to get me in trouble! It was getting all the actors in one room, all in costume. It was like Halloween. They were hesitant as humans, but then they were dressed up like silly people. It was great to laugh at each other. That will always stick in my mind.
SMULDERS: I was very much a newbie, coming in. When I got to do a scene where most of them were there, and I got to see everybody sitting at the table for the first time, I got to stand back. I also loved any moment I got to work with [Joss Whedon] because I’ve been wanting to work with him for a very long time.
Joss, you’ve done movies with big ensemble casts before, like with Serenity when you also had to reintroduce characters again. How did you go about bringing together and reintroducing the cast of The Avengers?
WHEDON: It’s the same problem I had with Serenity, and swore I’d never have again. Tracking the information is 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 will come in knowing everything and you don’t want to tell them too much, and 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. 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. If I watch any film about sports, I feel the same way. If you feel that there is a life behind the life, outside the frame, 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 characters is just booze and candy, all day.
What are your favorite video games?
GREGG: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Mass Effect.
RENNER: Dance Dance Revolution.
GREGG: There was some Avengers affinity for Dance Dance Revolution. There was an Avengers edition of Dance Dance Revolution that should be videotaped, or not.
WHEDON: I have friends.
RENNER: Says the king of comic books.
WHEDON: Everybody knows that’s not true. I actually don’t know any video games because, if I start playing one, then that will be it. I will be gone, and I won’t be able to do this.
HIDDLESTON: I don’t know video games either. The last video game I played, apart from Dance Dance Revolution at Jeremy’s house, which I was very good at – Scarlett [Johansson] and I will always have “Billie Jean” – was Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo. I’m from the Dark Ages.
SMULDERS: I’m classic. I liked Super Mario Bros., the very first one with the mushrooms. That was my favorite one.
Joss, what advice would you give Warner Bros. on getting their Justice League movie going?
WHEDON: Call me! Honestly, it’s enormously difficult to take very disparate characters and make them work, and DC has a harder time with it than Marvel because their characters are from a bygone era, where characters were bigger than we were. They’ve amended that, but Marvel really cracked the code, in terms of, “They’re just like us.” A dose of that voracity that Marvel really started with Iron Man is what you need to use as your base.
In a large scale movie like this, what was your approach to spectacle?
WHEDON: The most important thing, for me, was that it not be spectacle for its own sake. It needs to be earned, believable and understandable, visually. You needed to know 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 is doing. Sometimes I would try to obey the laws of physics, and that would actually just make for weaker footage. 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 it would blow up and flip over.
Cobie and Clark, what was it like to transition from a weekly TV sitcom to being a part of this big blockbuster ensemble?
GREGG: Very few people know this, but the CBS Tuesday comedy block is the farm leagues for The Avengers.
SMULDERS: It’s true.
SMULDERS: 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 mainly to get myself comfortable using them. That was the thing I tried to do the most. In terms of schedule, it’s very different. I’m very blessed at How I Met Your Mother. We have a very nice schedule. This was very good, but we had a lot of stunts to do and a lot of fun things to explode.
WHEDON: First of all, Cobie is one of the best stunt people on The Avengers team. She did all of her own jumping and flipping and shooting, and stuff. She’s got that tomboy thing. I kept trying to add frames of that shot of her flipping when Hawkeye is shooting at her, so that people could see her face and know that it wasn’t a stunt woman.
Clark, did you ever have any costume envy on set?
GREGG: Well, I’m not going to lie, I think that Agent Coulson could rock some of Agent Romanoff’s catsuits. No, that’s being silly. There were certain times of the morning when, yes, I did wish I had some of the Asgardian armor to walk around in, or the Antlers of Doom that Loki has. But, 13 or 14 hours into the day, I’m quiet pleased to be in my cool, pressed Dolce & Gabbana suit.
HIDDLESTON: Can I just say the inversion of all of what Clark just said? It takes two hours to get into Loki’s outfit sometimes, and it’s even more fun when you fight in it. The sweat pulls at your chest and it’s a really luxurious experience. I want to publicly salute (costume designer) Alex Byrne. When you have to conceive of costumes of this scale, you’re risking ridicule. These are monster costumes. The last thing that you want is for it to look silly or camp, and yet it has to look larger than life and heroic. Her work on it was amazing, and she worked with everybody, in terms of making them practical. You could fight in them and jump in them and roll around. My costume, particularly, does so much of the work for me. Loki’s silhouette is so incredibly menacing and those clothes are so mean. It’s leather and metal and gold. But, there were days that I longed for the Dolce & Gabbana suit.
HIDDLESTON: That’s true, yeah. In the museum, I got three hours in the nice suit.
Jeremy, what did you do to prepare for the role of Hawkeye, and did you get injured during filming?
RENNER: Yeah, it broke my heart. No. 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 archery. It’s nice to know the technique behind it, but I was shooting behind my back and over my shoulder. But, I did give it a go. I shot a few bales of hay, and missed a few. Most of the physical part was just stretching, so I didn’t get injured. But, you get banged around every day when it’s hand-to-hand stuff. Scarlett and I beat each other up pretty good. It was fun. I love getting beat up by Scarlett. Wouldn’t you?
Tom, are you as old school with comic books, as you are with video games?
HIDDLESTON: In the UK, I grew up on these UK comics called The Beano and The Dandy. Most people’s access to Marvel and DC is a later one, and it’s through cartoons and trading cards. I was introduced to American comics through the movies. Christopher Reeves’ Superman was the first superhero I had ever conceived of, when I saw the movie when I was six, or something, and I loved it. That film, and also Tim Burton’s Batman, were my first superhero contact.
Did you have any trepidation about playing such an iconic character as Loki?
HIDDLESTON: I never get afraid of things. I only get excited. It’s just so much fun. It’s such a great character, nevermind the iconography. It’s like playing an iconic Shakespearian character. It’s just a privilege to be asked to do it. With a character like Loki, he’s got such a level of complexity and so many layers to him and so many things to explore, especially when he is as well-written, as he was in this film by Joss. 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 had built with Kenneth Branagh even further. It was as damaged and psychologically interesting as I had hoped it would be, and it was also darker and funnier, and it demanded so much commitment. I just was so excited about it. There was no trace of fear, just a huge amount of fun.
WHEDON: 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 storied history. That wasn’t the point. I know this debate will go on, long after I’m dead. I’ll say it’s the Kree-Skrull race and really make everybody angry.
How did you decide which secondary characters from other films you wanted to incorporate?
WHEDON: 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 needed for a team. That way, you can put them in new environments, and also, when they go back to their own movies, they’ll have something that The Avengers didn’t have. I didn’t want to suck juice out of all the sequels that are going to be coming up. But, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) was really Robert’s thing. He pushed hard. He didn’t want to be crazy, alone guy. He wanted to be 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 who convinced her to come 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.
WHEDON: You have to write something that you believe in. Captain America was my ground zero, for this film. The idea of someone who had been in World Ward II, had seen people laying down their lives in the worst circumstances, in a world where the idea of community and the idea of a man being somebody who is part of something, as opposed to being isolated from, bigger than or more famous than it, it’s a very different concept of manhood, and the way that, in my opinion, it has devolved from Steve to Tony, is fascinating. Obviously, you’re not going to stand around and speechify too much – although, you will a little bit – the idea of the soldier, and the person who is willing to lay down their life, is very different than the idea of the superhero. Since I wanted to make, from the start, a war movie, I wanted to put these guys through more than 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 willing to make the sacrifice and lay himself down, you get where he’s come and how Steve affected him.
How did you come up with the idea to cast Harry Dean Stanton?
WHEDON: I needed to get Banner from the horror of what he had done, almost killing Natasha, to a place where he was prepared to go back into that state. I thought a lot about it and I was like, “He needs somebody who will just accept him.” And, our D.P. was actually shooting a documentary about Harry Dean and was spending a lot of time with him, so I got him stuck in my head and I was like, “Who’s more accepting than Harry Dean Stanton?” So, I got to write this weird little scene that, when I wrote it, was not little. It was about 12 pages long. I was like, “This is great, Bruce Banner falls into a Coen Brothers movie.” 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. Besides, to work with Harry Dean and to quiz him about Alien and The Missouri Breaks, was awesome.