There’s been a flurry of activity around Joss Whedon today, with the announcement that he will be taking on the task of bringing us The Avengers 2 along with a Marvel-themed TV series. To this end, Disney has sent us a semi-exclusive Q & A* with the writer/director discussing his thoughts on the making The Avengers, along with his love of the franchise.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders with Stellan Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. The film’s story follows Nick Fury – head of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. – as he initiates a daring, globe-spanning recruitment effort to assemble the world’s mightiest Super Heroes together to defeat an unexpected enemy threatening global safety and security.
With the Blu-ray and DVD of Marvel’s The Avengers about to be released in Australia later this month, we’ve been sent a chat with the movie’s writer and director Joss Whedon to find out more…
How did you get involved with Marvel’s The Avengers?
I’ve known [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige for a number of years and I knew this project was coming up, so I was eager to find out more about it. I’ve been reading The Avengers since before Kevin was born, so this project was extremely appealing. However, I wasn’t sure I’d actually do it until I became incredibly intrigued by the proposed story of the movie. I became so obsessed that I couldn’t shut up about it!
Why did you become so obsessed with the movie project?
I am a huge fan of what Marvel has established. The films they have released are extremely informative, useful and fun – but when they first came to me, Thor and Captain America were not even close to being finished. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, you have all these moving parts, but how can you possibly bring them together?’ Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America don’t seem like they could co-exist, and ultimately that is what intrigued me and made me think, ‘This can be done and this should be done.’ These people don’t belong together and wouldn’t get along, and as soon as that dynamic came into focus, I realized that I actually have something to say about these people.
How tough was it to balance the script between the Super Heroes to ensure they all had their moment to shine on screen?
It was very, very tough. It was difficult to ensure structurally that everybody matters in the narrative and isn’t just there to have a funny line and a bit of cool action. I also had to make sure that whatever they do with their particular skill set is correct for their level of power. There are so many stunts in the movie, but you have to make sure, for instance, that there’s something Captain America could do, but not Thor. You have to make sure that you are always respectful of the characters.
How did you balance the action of the movie with the humor?
You can’t put these characters in a movie together without a certain amount of humor. It’s an inoculation against the unreality. When you see these characters laughing at their own situation or about how strange they are, then you are able to accept more readily that it’s fine to wear a cape. You can also accept that it’s fine to be enormous and green, or to shoot arrows at aliens racing through the sky. It all makes sense if you’ve been able to laugh at it and with it.
Marvel’s The Avengers is the largest superhero movie ever created. What was the most daunting aspect of the project for you?
I hadn’t worked with big movie stars before, so I was a little concerned about that aspect of the production. I thought to myself, ‘Am I about to go into a viper’s nest of egos with this movie?’ However, I shouldn’t have worried because I ended up delving into a box of kittens. There were no egos on the set. The thing that I was scared about the most didn’t happen. In fact, it was one of the happiest sets I’ve ever worked on.
How closely did you work with each of the actors on their action scenes and dialogue?
I worked on everything that they wanted to work on. I got the opportunity to sit down with every single one of them before I put pen to paper and say, “Here are my thoughts, what are yours?” Some had played the character before, in Robert Downey Jr.’s case twice already, while some were approaching their role for the first time. I let them know my intentions and then it was up to them to comment. Some actors like to take what they have in the script and make it work, but others like to say, “Can we shake this a little bit more?” To be honest, I was grateful for all of the actors who came to me with input because sometimes they understood their characters better than I did.
Which of the actors had a biggest hand in shaping their character?
Robert Downey Jr. really likes to keep the creative process fluid; he likes to be there from the beginning. He also likes to try his hand at different ways of approaching scenes. He’s always saying, “Is there more? Is there something we missed? Can we try something new here?” And it keeps his energy fresh. Mark Ruffalo and I also got to spend a lot of time working on the character of The Incredible Hulk together, which was very gratifying. Mark had one of the hardest jobs in the movie because playing both Banner and the Hulk are very complex things to pull off.
The cast reported a genuine excitement on the set of the movie. Can you take credit for any of that?
I will take credit for all of it, because that’s what I do! No, seriously, making a movie is an exhausting process – but the cast has been great because they were able to have a lot of fun with the project. There is a little bit of a geek in all of them and a little bit of, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this.’ Also, because it’s a movie with so many characters, nobody had that tough a filming schedule. Well, apart from me, because I had to direct every scene.
There are so many Marvel comic books on The Avengers. How did you decide which stories to follow for the movie?
Kevin Feige did most of the deciding before I joined the project. However, I knew it was going to be an origin story for The Avengers. That was part of the appeal of the project. I was incredibly interested in bringing them together.
Was The Incredible Hulk always part of the movie?
We always knew the Hulk was going to be part of The Avengers. There was a question about how big a part he would get to play – but once we had Mark Ruffalo on board and we knew how the character was going to be integrated into the group, we knew he was going to have a big role.
How did Mark Ruffalo get involved in the movie?
We were looking for the right actor for this iteration and Mark was definitely on my radar. I think he’s such an open, honest, intelligent everyman; he seemed like the perfect guy for the role – but he doesn’t look like the wimpy scientist that they usually draw in the comics. I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way Marvel is going to go for this.’ However, one of the first things Kevin Feige said to me was, “How about Mark Ruffalo for the Hulk?” I was overjoyed. The Incredible Hulk was the most difficult task in the film, both structurally and in terms of animation – but I am really proud of him.
Was it a challenge to have The Incredible Hulk speak in the movie?
His speech is definitely something you’re going to use sparingly in a movie like this. You don’t want to hear him saying things like, “This is Brooklyn. You know, the first time I was here…” The Hulk is like a haiku; you’ve got to find just the right words. I think, and I hope, we did that with The Avengers.
Who provides the voice of The Incredible Hulk?
That’s Mark Ruffalo. We’ve tweaked his voice a little, but that’s all him. You know what? Mark did performance capture before the movie, during the movie and after the movie – and the extraordinary conceptual artists at Marvel worked very hard to design a classic Hulk face that’s clearly also Mark. It was very important to me that they look like the same character. I’m really pleased with the outcome.
Was it always your plan to include Gwyneth Paltrow [who plays Pepper Potts] in the movie?
It was Robert Downey Jr. who spearheaded having Gwyneth Paltrow in The Avengers because he felt that she would really add something to the movie. He was interested in not playing Tony Stark as this crazy loner, even though Tony’s bad at being a team player; Robert wanted to show him as a functional guy. In general, I kept the characters away from their support systems because it forced them to be a team and it left stuff in their movies that we can’t claim. If we had all the ancillary characters in The Avengers then I’m stealing from their sequels and that doesn’t work. But as soon as Robert mentioned Gwyneth, we were all excited – and then he and I spent a lot of time shaping that scene between the two of them. We had a wonderful time doing it.
Who is your favorite character from “Marvel’s The Avengers?”
Gosh, I love them all like they are my own children. It’s incredibly hard to pick one. At the moment, I’ve got a lot of time Agent Coulson. He’s my favorite character from The Avengers because of his awesome man crush on Captain America.
And which of The Avengers would you most like to be?
Tony Stark is smart, he has a huge amount of money and he goes out with Gwyneth Paltrow… I’d like to be Iron Man please! You don’t have to work out in the gym all day if you’re the Iron Man, although you have to fit into the suit. I guess I can work on that…
Marvel’s The Avengers assembles on Blu-ray, DVD, Blu-ray 3D and digital download on 29 August 2012.
*This Q & A is provided by Disney.