Entertainment

’The Avengers’ :: No divas in the mix

by Jim Halterman
Contributor
Tuesday May 1, 2012
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When the cast, writer/director Joss Whedon and Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige gathered recently in Los Angeles to talk about the new Marvel film, "The Avengers," they were asked their favorite moment of the complicated shoot. Dapper Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man) and hunky Chris Hemsworth (Thor) agreed it’s the moment when all the superheroes are assembled together for the first time on screen. Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) admitted it was seeing Downey and Hemsworth fighting in full costume for the first time. 

For Mark Ruffalo (David Banner/The Hunk), however, it was being naked.

Naked in front of veteran actor Harry Dean Stanton, who appears for a brief cameo after Banner has transformed back from being the Hulk and finds himself sans clothing. Not to be outdone, Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) joked, "I was naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton at the restaurant the night before he shot the scene with you."


What to expect

The camaraderie evident with the cast, Whedon and Feige during the press junket for one of the most anticipated and biggest movies of the summer and, arguably, of the Marvel film franchise, is indicative of what viewers can expect when "The Avengers" hits US theaters this Friday. The film has already been released in 39 foreign countries and has raked in over $178 million.

Along with Downey, Hemsworth, Evans and Ruffalo, the film also stars Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill) and Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye). With all this talent assembled for one film, someone had to be the un-appointed leader and those duties fell on Downey.

"Going back to 2007 when I was cast in ’Iron Man’ and Kevin Feige over there said, ’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 gonna make this ’Avengers’ movie. And I just remember, I would get nervous about it and excited about it and doubtful of it.

"And then by [that] time, I already had a history with Sam [Jackson, who has had cameos as Nick Fury in all the Marvel films) and I was really wanting to capitalize on that," Downey continued. "By the time Chris (Hemsworth) and Chris (Evans) had launched their individual franchises with success and charisma and by the time we had Mark, I was like, ’wow, you know what, this is really gonna happen.’" Jackson also joked that Downey was the leader because he’s the one who had a plane. 


Making it happen

With all the A-list actors with individual careers, schedules and projects, it’s easy to imagine it was a full-time job just to make the movie actually happen. For Feige, it was a lifelong dream for him to see this movie made. "My whole life, just ’cause I’ve been a nerd my whole life and wanted to see this movie made for my whole life."

That moment came at the end of the first "Iron Man" movie. "Sam [Jackson] was gracious enough to spend three hours on a Saturday," said Feige, "and break into Tony Stark’s house wearing an eye patch and tell him ’you’re part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.’"

Since the first "Iron Man" movie became a huge international success, Feige started seeing the possibility for his dream coming true. "When that movie succeeded is when we realized, ’wait a minute, we actually have the opportunity to do it.’ And the only challenge was to try to make all the movies live on their own, even if we weren’t leading towards an ’Avengers’ movie because if they’re all just interconnected puzzle pieces, that’s not as fun. They need to be movies beginning to end. So, I would say that was the biggest challenge."


Biggest challenge

Whedon, who has brought beloved projects like "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly" to television and the current horror film "The Cabin In The Woods" to theaters (he produced and co-wrote the film), what was the biggest challenge in tackling "The Avengers?" "I think the exciting thing kind of speaks for itself," Whedon said.

"That bunch of characters, that bunch of actors playing them [and] that much money. It was kind of 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, um, but it had to be right, it had to be earned from moment-to-moment, and that’s exhausting.  That was still going on in the editing room after we’d shot."


Like Halloween

Jeremy Renner, Oscar nominee for "The Hurt Locker, sounded as though he had reverted to childhood when he turned up on set and saw everyone in the respective character’s costumes. "When getting all the actors in one room all in costume, it was like Halloween. I was fans of them as humans and now they’re dressed up like silly people and it’s great to laugh at each other...that always stuck in my mind."

For Chris Evans, looking less clean cut with a full beard at the press event, his character of Steve Rogers serves as straight man throughout most of this film. How did it feel for him to get as many jokes as the others? "It’s tough not getting any jokes," he said. "I wanted some jokes [but] that’s his role. It’s necessary, and that’s kind of why I like it because I am used to kind of leaning on cracking jokes and being a wise ass. So it’s nice to kind of play it straight a little bit."

One moment that has brought audiences to enthusiastically applaud is when Whedon creates a sweeping 360-degree shot of the entire group, ready to battle. "I remember thinking on that day," shared Hemsworth, "yeah, this is trailer shot. Or, this is the big moment. Because we’d been on the bridge in the first scene you see we’re all together, but we weren’t getting along at that point. Whereas and that moment was we finally were assembled and there and the same team and big 360 wide shot and all the chaos around us. I certainly remember thinking, ’yeah, this is the moment.’"


No prima donnas

Another factor Hemsworth offered for why the cast got along so well; No prima donnas. "I keep getting asked about, you know, who was the biggest diva or who was what? And this was the first time I worked with these guys, and I think we all are either that well behaved or everyone kept each other in check. No one wanted to be the one who screwed up." 

While "The Avengers" is very much a good vs. evil film, audiences may be surprised at how much well-placed comedy pops up in unexpected points of action and tension. While Evans said that any scene with Downey lent itself to comedy due to his improv abilities, Downey said after watching the film the night before the press conference that he could saw what that key was. "I think what everybody captured [was] the right tone," he explained. "This is essentially a comic book movie, but you kind of buy into the reality of it so I think everyone has their moments, and I think Joss did a good job of finding everyone’s frequency, too."

"The Avengers" hits US theaters Friday, May 4th. For more on the movie, visit www.marvel.com/avengers_movie.


Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.

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