In attendance at the UK press conference for the highly anticipated blockbuster sequel were director Joss Whedon, Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver) and Paul Bettany (JARVIS/The Vision). The panel was moderated by Empire’s Chris Hewett.
Joss this is obviously one of the bigger summer movies out there. But when you have a movie like The Avengers, which is a part of something bigger, does that make your job easier? Because you have things you don’t have to answer, you can set up, as well as pay off?
Joss Whedon: Yeah, easier and harder. There’s restrictions, but yeah, a lot of questions have already been answered so you know going into it what you’ve got to work with.
I’ve got a question for my son who’s 10 years old, for The Avengers, he would like to know, before you start filming the movies, what’s the thing you get the most excited about?
Elizabeth Olsen: I’m starting? I get most excited by cooking and eating.
Jeremy Renner: Hanging out with these degenerates.
Mark Ruffalo: Sorry, I skipped my turn.
Robert Downey Jr: There’s no translator, we’re in England.
Ruffalo: Coming back to the world and seeing where these crazy people we’re playing are headed, and knowing Joss is gonna take us there, into his own twisted psyche.
Downey Jr: Probably my first costume fitting, me surrounded by many full-length mirrors.
Chris Evans: I’ll say a similar response to Jeremy, Marvel [does] a great job of bringing a lot of the same people together, not just in front of the camera but behind the camera. So coming back together as a group, it kinda feels like a family, it’s a lot of familiar faces, it’s like a high school reunion or something.
Olsen: I didn’t understand the question.
Evans: Yeah as soon as you said ‘cooking’, I thought, she doesn’t get it. She misheard the question.
Johansson: Watching you eat. Because no one else does. I get most excited about reading Joss’ script, because it’s the big payoff after a long wait. And also all of the letters-
Downey Jr: – the cover letters for the scripts.
Johansson: Yeah, the cover letters before the script.
Downey Jr: They’re as good as the movie.
Johansson: They’re so delightful, and self-deprecating.
Evans: Thoughts of suicide.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson: I’m just so excited to be – yeah, no, to be part of it, y’know? That Joss brought me along on this fantastic journey and to this fantastic group of actors.
Paul Bettany: Box office bonuses.
Downey Jr: Wait, are they coming before the movie starts shooting now?
Ruffalo: By the way… you guys got box office bonuses?
Two questions – Joss Whedon – Ultron was a great villain, was that an easy decision to make? To cast Ultron as the main villain? Or was it a long thinking process?
Whedon: No, I said we should have Ultron in the second movie before I decided to make the first one. He’s big, he’s powerful, he’s angry, he’s metal… He’s been angry for so long that he might be a little unhinged.
Second question is – you guys inspire people all around the world. When you were growing up, who inspired you?
Bettany: John Lennon.
Taylor-Johnson: Inspired me in what way, like characters, or…?
Yeah, inside the cinema, outside the cinema.
Taylor-Johnson: I think Gary Oldman’s one of my inspirations-
Bettany: Sorry, and Gary Oldman.
Taylor-Johnson: Right, then, uh…
Johansson: Inspired me? Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.
Evans: I think we can all agree with that. I was gonna go a different way, I was gonna say my old man. “Aww…” [Laughter] No? To me, that’s who I am as a man, that comes first, I s’pose.
Downey Jr: Peter O’Toole.
Ruffalo: It’d have to be Gandhi.
Downey Jr: Ben Kingsley.
Ruffalo: And Ben Kingsley.
Renner: I’d have to say my pop.
Olsen: Michelle Pfeiffer and Faye Dunaway. They’re the girls I like.
Whedon: Chris Evans’ dad. [Laughter] I don’t know him, but I felt his presence.
I’ve got a question for the girls. How empowering does it feel to play two female superheroes in such a male-dominated Universe, and I suppose you have a bit more prominence in comparison to the first one?
Johansson: Yeah, y’know, I just skip through the script and go “oh, Black Widow, there she is, and there she is again.” Those are the only parts I read. [Laughter] But no, what’s great about playing this character is that she’s based in something deep, and something that I could hold onto – she’s grounded in something very real. I think she has experienced a lot of trauma, and she has never really been able to make active choices for herself and now she finally is, and now she’s ready for it – and unfortunately it’s just kind of bad timing. But y’know, these kinds of things are something we can all hold onto, so that when we’re fighting the good fight and shooting five eighths of a page over two weeks, it kinda keeps us involved and keeps our heads straight. So I’m looking at it just from an actor looking for material that’s something substantial. Not just a female actor looking for substantial work. Thanks Joss!
Olsen: I’m just still thrilled to be part of this whole group and world. It’s a franchise I’ve been watching since the first Iron Man and I think they…
[Robert Downey Jr starts mugging to the crowd, proudly. Laughter follows]
Olsen: …and I mean they make such great films with such a balance of depth and humour and action, and that’s given, but they’re all humans that have weaknesses and strengths. And especially in this film I think there’s a special highlight on everyone’s own personal worlds and lives and what makes them human. So I think that’s what makes this film so great – it’s just amazing to be a part of this cast, it’s mind-boggling.
Downey Jr: I’m sorry it’s been fifteen minutes since my last wardrobe change, I’ll be right back.
[An assistant approaches Robert with a leather jacket and a pair of shades; Robert swaps out his blazer for the jacket and dons the shades to much raucous laughter]
Great movie. Couple of questions for Joss – what’s next for you apart from a long rest, and do you see yourself returning to the Marvel Universe one day?
Whedon: I don’t think I’ll ever get that far away from it because I love it so much. After my long rest I plan a longer rest, and possibly an eternal rest. I have no immediate plans which is the best thing I’ve ever said.
Question for Scarlett – obviously your character could have just been written off as the sexy one of the team –
Johansson: Really? Have you seen Chris Hemsworth? [Laughter]
How important is it that she’s smart as well as hot, and are you angry that there’s not a Black Widow film in the works yet?
Johansson: Uh, yes… I don’t know how to answer that.
Bettany: She’s furious.
Johansson: I think one of the really – I think one of the qualities in the Widow that I love and am interested in is that she – she’s, when faced with, she’s put in the work, and she’s at a place where she’s able to maybe do something for herself and maybe even have a relationship with somebody and maybe even open up in that way. There’s this kind of greater calling that’s pulling her, and she very selflessly chooses that, and it’s heroic in a big way, in a small way… she’s really in herself, which is interesting, because she’s a very kind of slippery fish for her job. But when you get her, Natasha, she’s in herself which is kind of cool – in her sexy self! And yeah, a Black Widow movie, that would be cool, I’m always happy to put the catsuit back on and get in front of all those mirrors like Robert… I’m an actor! From your lips to Marvel’s big-pocketed ears. [Laughter]
My question is to all of the Avengers – other than your own characters, who do you all think had the most interesting story arc in Age of Ultron?
Evans: Lizzie’s like, “Cooking, and -!” [Laughter]
Downey Jr: Whose arc do we like besides our own, correct? Hawkeye’s got a heck of an arc this time.
Evans: Took my answer…
Downey Jr: I think I can say from us who have gone before, the arcs of what happens – obviously Paul has a very interesting turn, and also with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. I feel like Paul and Lizzie and Aaron came out and they exceeded expectations out of left, right and centre field, and I feel like watching the film I was like wow, in some ways that is the big triumph of the film.
Evans: That’s a good answer. I really liked Scarlett and Ruffalo.
Evans: [Mimicks Ruffalo’s voice] “Mmyeah, mmeh, meh, it’s alright, it’s my arc really, it’s the best arc of the movie.” [Everybody’s cracking up] It was just nice seeing the intimate moments between Scarlett and Ruffalo and this kind of like challenged relationship, along a team of superheroes where you don’t really get to see romance, especially within the group. Nailed it [clicks fingers] Good luck [Scarlett].
Johansson: I thought Joss’ arc was really interesting.
Taylor-Johnson: I’d probably agree with Chris, it was great to dive into Mark Ruffalo’s character, in the Hulk, and just see such a sensibility in that beast, it was quite an emotional journey in this one, so.
Bettany: Hawkeye I loved, for me it was really the heart of the movie, I found it really moving and he’s fantastic in it. So there you go.
Ruffalo: I would also have to say that Hawkeye’s storyline, I found great, as an actor who is often away from home fighting imaginary monsters, and the wife is at home saying “Where the hell are you? Why aren’t you here?” I’m very sympathetic to that.
Ruffalo: No, it’s your storyline!
Renner: I like you all, I’m not gonna pinpoint out – it’s a huge, huge testament to Joss, to be able to write a movie, to put all these characters that are all extremely interesting and flawed and fantastic – it’s like a chessboard in that you need all these pieces for any of it to make sense and I’m impressed that we’re able to dive in deep with the characters a bit more.
Bettany: You should totally have picked me though because I picked you. [Laughter]
Evans: You really dropped the ball man, really.
Joss, is this what it’s like on set?
Whedon: No, some of them were paying attention.
Downey Jr: I feel like I help you wrangle things sometimes.
Ruffalo: He does, he helps!
Downey Jr: Back to you, Olsen.
Olsen: Yeah, the Scarlett and Ruffalo through-line I loved, and my favourite moment is the first time we watch Black Widow talk down the Hulk, I just think that’s such a beautiful moment in the film, I’ve seen that moment twice and it’s one of my favourite parts of the film.
Bettany: I’m just saying, I can change my density, y’know. You could have said.
Question for Joss – the Avengers films are like Marvel’s Superbowl, really. How much of a constraint is that to you as a writer – to hit certain beats, make a billion dollars, and as a follow-up, how far do you think the superhero genre still has to go?
Whedon: Y’know, if I had a key on my computer that said “A Billion Dollars” I would press it. I just try to write it as well as I can, I don’t really think about those things. And y’know, the thing I love, the thing I love about what Kevin Feige’s doing with the Marvel Universe, which is he approaches every movie as a completely new idea. As a movie of some particular genre that happens to have superheroes in it. He’s not interested in creating a formula, he’s interested in creating a Universe. So as long as he can stay alive – I think probably a few months more? I think it has legs, as long as somebody who really cares is at the head, trying to create new versions of a superhero movie and not just fall into a pattern I think it could sustain for quite a while.
All of you actors are very famous for character-driven parts and I just wondered if you approached a part in Avengers differently? If it’s an action movie? Do you have more fun or is it the same kind of work?
Evans: It may be a little different, in an action film there may not be as many tangible opportunities to play off as an actor y’know, some actors where the reality’s a little more grounded given the environment you’re in and the characters you’re playing off of, you may have something more to kind of pull from. In a movie like this you may be sitting on a green screen or talking to a tennis ball. But I think everyone up here has a very healthy imagination, I think everyone up here grew up running around their backyard with a cape around their neck, so… It’s a different muscle, but I think it’s a very similar approach. [Scoffs] Nailed that one too!
Johansson: Well played, Cap. Well played.
Evans: I am killing this conference!
Johansson: Captain America, ladies and gentlemen.
Downey Jr: You’re on damn fire.
My question goes to Jeremy – I was wondering, you weren’t too happy with the way Hawkeye was displayed in the first film, as far as it’s been reported anyway. I know your part has been expanded in this film but would there be any comic book storyline that you would like to adapt with that character?
Renner: I don’t really read comics, so I can’t answer that part of it. I let the writers who know what they’re doing go and do that, and I’ll try to do what I gotta do. In this one I was so happy – I remember talking about, I’m not gonna talk about what happens specifically in this movie, but the ideas of what are in this movie, I remember sitting with Downey and Joss and Ruffalo talking about some really cool ideas. And they were able to implement them in this one so I was actually very very excited.
I want to ask Paul about his character in the film, because you’ve been part of the Marvel Universe since Iron Man – what’s it like now being physically on screen and not just a voice?
By the way, I really fancied you as the Vision which is a little bit worrying.
Bettany: Uhh, that’s really… odd. [Laughter] I’m gonna push over that one really quickly! It was lovely to finally be on set with a bunch of people I’ve been supposedly working with for ten years but haven’t really met, so that was nice. It’s a double-edged sword. Initially my job was turning up at the end of the movie with the superhero power that if anything was still unclear, I could clarify it by just talking. And then it would take two hours and they’d give me a big bag of cash, and I would go home. And I couldn’t imagine that the contract could ever be better than that. But it was a dream, honestly. Everybody was so welcoming, they’re a bunch of really lovely, happy, well-paid actors. That’s a nice environment to work in, y’know?
Ruffalo: You got a big bag of cash?
Avengers: Age of Ultron is out now.