IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'The Avengers'

Wednesday, 02 May 2012 13:32 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'The Avengers'

Over the last decade and change, the superheroic exploits of neon gods in spandex and armor have become one of our most reliable sources of blockbuster entertainment.  Ever since Bryan Singer's X-Men and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man ushered in the modern age of the comic book movie, the Marvel Comics stable of iconic heroes have dominated the popular culture and multiplexes across the country.  Now, even with comic book adaptations having saturated our sensibilities, The Avengers is something truly unprecedented.

It's the event movie towards which Marvel Studios and its head honcho Kevin Feige have been building since the studio's first feature, 2008's Iron Man.  It's culmination of years of planning and ambitious, never-before-attempted franchise cross-pollination between The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and both Iron Man films.  It's also an outstanding standalone piece of pop entertainment, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon ably providing thrills and juggling characters as writer-director.

Those characters Whedon so impressively juggles are played by an all-star cast, each of them capable of carrying their own franchise and many of them having done just that.  IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick was amongst the global entertainment journalists present at the Los Angeles press day for The Avengers.  Held in LA the day after the film's premiere, the press conference included Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, and Cobie Smulders, all of whom were happy to discuss making the film together.

With the film days away from theaters and an inescapable presence thanks to a ubiquitous marketing campaign, The Avengers might now seem inevitable, but the film is an improbable coup, the result of half a decade of world-building and complicated planning.  It doesn't feel like it now, but not so long ago, The Avengers looked impossible. 

Nobody is more away of that than Downey Jr., who exlplained, "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 franchises 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 [Samuel L. Jackson] 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."

Clark Gregg, a writer, director, and actor who previously played the deadpan SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson in three Marvel movies and two short films, was also unsure that the film could become a reality, let alone an outstanding one.  As such, his favorite memory on the film was when he received Whedon's script.  "As someone who writes sometimes and loves movies and watches a lot of them," he explained, "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."

Most of the major players were reprising familiar roles and, in some cases, continuing established relationships.  The familiarity of the cast resulted in a memorable experience, and every actor had a unique answer to the question of which memories they recalled most fondly.  "For me, there are so many things that are memorable about it because it was such a long shoot, said Tom Hiddleston, once again playing Loki, the God of Mischief.  "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."

"Mine was the scene where Thor and Iron Man are fighting," opined Chris Evans, playing Captain America for the second time.  "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."

While many of the actors had played their Marvel characters previously, there were also some new additions.  Most notably, Mark Ruffalo came aboard the film as the latest actor to portray Dr. Bruce Banner, the Gamma-irradiated scientist whose alter ego is a bellowing green rage-monster.  "Well, I met with Joss Whedon," Ruffalo said of his casting. "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."

Ruffalo, entering this world for the first time, was acutely aware of the pressure accompanying his role.  "It was terrifying," he explained.  "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." 

Another newcomer to the Marvel movie game was Cobie Smulders, playing Nick Fury's right hand woman, SHIELD Agent Maria Hill.  She also faced particular challenges and , especially since she also stars on a hugely successful CBS sitcom.  She said, "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."

One character who isn't exactly new is Hawkeye, SHIELD's master archer played by Jeremy Renner.  The assassin appeared very briefly in last summer's Thor, but The Avengers features a greatly expanded role for Clint Barton.  Like pretty much every other major character, this one required some specialized skills.  "I did take some archery," Renner said. "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 [Johansson].  Wouldn’t you?"

Playing the villain who forces the Avengers to assemble in order to thwart his plans for world domination, Hiddleston was thrilled to push Loki to even more sinister places than he did in his first go-around, saying, "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 [Thor director] 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."

Coming together against Loki and his extraterrestrial army, the superheroes find themselves at odds, with each of them coming from different backgrounds, especially in the cases of Captain America and Thor, who hail from a different era and a different planet, respectively.  Of the fish-out-of-water elements, Thor actor Chris Hemsworth said, "We all fell into that category.  Joss 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."

The dysfunction and contention between the central characters comes to a head in one scene aboard the SHIELD helicarrier, as all the good guys end up bickering over one other and basically coming apart at the seams.  "That was an interesting scene," said Samuel L. Jackson, playing SHIELD Director Nick Fury for the fourth time.  "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," Jackson continued, "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."

Eventually, the six heroes make it through their differences and unite to defend Manhattan against Loki's army.  Their coming together as a team is demonstrated by a downright iconic shot featured in innumerable TV spots and trailers, a shot in which the camera slowly rotated around the stars as they prepare for battle.  "I remember thinking, on that day, 'Yeah, this is the trailer shot,' or, 'This is the big moment,'" Hemsworth recalled.  "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.'"

One of the elements of The Avengers receiving a whole lot of praise is the films sense of humor, which shouldn't surprise fans of Whedon, a writer known for his especially nimble wit.  For Evans, who frequently plays characters who know their way around a wisecrack, starring as the straight arrow Steve Rogers was a change of pace. "Yeah, it’s tough not getting any jokes," he said.  "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."

Downey Jr. summed up the sentiment that Evans and so many other actors expressed about the film's ensemble, saying, "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. 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 miss's 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."

To read what writer-director Joss Whedon had to say at the press conference, click right here.  And to see IAR's exclusive video interview with Clark Gregg, click here.

The Avengers arrives in theaters nationwide in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D on May 4th.

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