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Behind the Scenes of 'The Avengers' with Robert Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth

As well as Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L Jackson and Kevin Feige

By Melissa Molina

The Avengers cast interview

Poster for 'The Avengers'

Marvel Studio

Apr 23, 2012 - We're just days away from the release of easily one of the most anticipated superhero movies of the past few years, Marvel's The Avengers directed by Joss Whedon, and fans of the movies and comics are excited to see it all finally come together on the big screen. Marvel has been quietly sprinkling the puzzle pieces into their movies, which will all be combined into one massive cinematic event when May 4th rolls around.

But how did Marvel get to the point where we are now with their films? One of the main people who helped make this fantasy into a reality is Kevin Feige, president of production for Marvel Studios, who has successfully brought the production company into their golden age. One of the main faces of said era is none other than Robert Downey Jr. who is the perfect on screen embodiment of Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man. Those two, along with the outstanding array of actors, directors and writers, have brought us all to the eve where we impatiently wait to see The Avengers.

During the press conference in support of The Avengers release, Feige, Downey Jr, and The Avengers cast members Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, and Samuel L Jackson talked about their experiences on set, what it's like to work with Joss Whedon, and how honored they all are to be part of what is to them a truly memorable and action-packed movie.

For Mr. Feige, how long actually have you been trying to make an Avengers film? And what sorts of things did you have to do in the build-up with the others movies to make sure that it all dovetailed into this?

Kevin Feige: "Well, one answer is my whole life just because I’ve been a nerd my whole life and wanted to see this movie made for my whole life. The real answer though is sort of towards the end of production of Iron Man when Sam (Jackson) was gracious enough to spend three hours on a Saturday to come and break into Tony Stark’s house wearing an eye patch and tell him and the world that, 'You’re part of bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.' And 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."

What is it that makes Joss Whedon the perfect person to take over and helm this project?

Kevin Feige: "Well, my big fear with this...really, one of the only big fears I had was that the whole thing would collapse under its own weight. That we’d spend so much time with costumes and super powers and special effects that these characters and these actors wouldn’t get the chance to [do it]. My biggest interest in The Avengers is the interaction between these people. And looking at Joss’ body of work and the scripts that he’s written and his TV shows, the characters never ever get lost. In fact, those are the moments that shine. That was, to me, why he was by far the best choice to mount this. We’re confident in our ability to handle a production of this size. We wanted a helmsman to come in and steer it in unexpected ways and to guide that tone, which is what Joss has done so well."

This question is for Mark Ruffalo. How did you form your own unique version of Bruce Banner and did you do any research? Did you read any specific comic story arcs for the Hulk?

Mark Ruffalo: "I met with Joss Whedon 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. And after the third episode, he turned to me and said, 'Papa, he’s so misunderstood.' And, you know, I basically based my character entirely on my 10 year old boy, who has all of the force of nature, like, screaming out of his body while at the same time having everyone around him telling him to f--king control himself. [Laughing] And that was it. I’m sorry I said control." [laughing]

Can each of you tell me what you like best about your character? What makes your guy special to you?

Mark Ruffalo: "I like this. We’re all told to be so well-behaved and I think we all sometimes are bursting at the seams to let it rip, and Bruce Banner gets that moment. And I think part of the joy for people is to actually see that happen is exciting for us. It’s a nice way for us to blow off steam in watching movies and, yes, especially me."

Chris Evans: "I’ll say his heart, his selflessness. He wasn’t born a superhero. This didn’t happen to him by accident. He was chosen, and it was for those reasons, values, and morals. He puts other people, other causes, ahead of himself. And it’s something to aspire to."

Robert Downey Jr.: "Well, he didn’t really set out to do anything noble, so he’s kind of in transition. And so there’s something kind of a little more Han Solo than Luke. And also the fact that he can pull off wearing a Black Sabbath tee shirt for the better part of the film." [laughing]

Chris Hemsworth: "I like the sort of visceral gut instinct that Thor has and there’s a bit of a...I always thought a childlike quality in the sense that if he believes something or if he wants to do something, he does it and says it. You know, how kids own their environment and you know there’s no opinions that they really care about. And I think Thor is -- it’s there. It’s surrounded by bravado and strength and all that, but, end of the day he’s pretty true to who he is and what he wants to do. And I think that was fun to play with."

Samuel L. Jackson: "I just like the fact that Nick Fury believes that these unique individuals deserve the love and admiration of the world, who, we pretty much owe everything to because there are things out there greater than us."

Question for Chris Hemsworth, your relationship with Loki is really complicated. Did you draw from your real life relationships?

Chris Hemsworth: "Yeah, the last time either one of my brothers tried to take over the world, or the universe - I had to think back and thought, 'How did I feel?' [Laughs] But I mean, when we did Thor, Kenneth Branagh kept saying, 'Let’s not get caught up in playing Gods or what have you. Let’s be truthful, you have brothers and how do you relate to that?' And that became the thread through Thor and through this, which was it’s that kind of thing of, 'Oh, I can give my brother a hard time and tell him off - but no one else can.'"

Robert Downey Jr.: "But don’t you feel that Liam is trying to take over your box office universe?"

Chris Hemsworth: "And I did say that. I said, 'Look, Liam, you know...'"

Robert Downey Jr.: "Doesn’t he need to be corrected in some way?"

Chris Hemsworth: "Oh no, he’s got a few bruises currently from that. [Laughs] Well, yeah, there’s a race to the box office, but I don’t know."

What moment stood out the most for you all when you were filming The Avengers?

Robert Downey Jr.: "There’s this first time that we’re all assembled on the bridge, and I think it was the time that we all saw each other and realized that we were probably likely to continue shooting the movie and have to make good on this vision of Kevin Feige’s from as far back as I can remember. And I have a question. How come it’s only Harry Dean Stanton that got to see Mark Ruffalo naked? [Laughs] Anyone who has that answer, I’ll trade you one for it. Gentlemen..."

Chris Hemsworth: "It was great. I believe that was our first day on set, too, with the whole ensemble which was a pretty exciting and nerve-wracking experience, but it was just amazing."

Chris Evans: "I think mine was the scene where Thor and Iron Man are fighting, and I had just seen Thor the day prior, but I’d 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 kind of geared up. And I just got really excited. I felt like a little kid. I was just honored to be a part of it."

Mark Ruffalo: "Mine was being naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton." [laughing]

Robert Downey Jr.: "Sam, you must have a moment."

Samuel L. Jackson: "I was naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton at the restaurant the night before he shot the scene with you."

Mark Ruffalo: "You lucky bastard."

Chris Hemsworth: "And you were naked in the audition, weren’t you, Kevin?"

Kevin Feige: "That’s right."

We have heard that the code name for this project was “Group Hug.” Can you tell us about any interesting or funny stories on or off the set?

Chris Hemsworth: Tom (Hiddleston) loves hugs. And I did a film with him, and there were plenty of hugs on that film, group hugs I think. I don’t know. Chris? You want to go?"

Chris Evans: "Oh, man, funny stories. I’m so bad at those."

Chris Hemsworth: "Chris (Evans) sent us a text and said 'Avengers assemble at such and such bar at nine o’clock on a Saturday night,' which that was kind of -- that was good group effort. [Laughing] We paid for it at work the next couple days."

Chris Evans: "Sure did."

Mark Ruffalo: "You should see that group hug. [laughs]

Chris Hemsworth: "...at three in the morning on the dance floor, The Avengers… yeah."

Robert Downey Jr.: "Ruffalo, weren’t you the one throwing the roof parties and the...you know what I mean?"

Mark Ruffalo: "Yeah, that was me."

Robert Downey Jr.: "Okay, that was you. So you were the group instigator…of many hugs."

Mark Ruffalo: "I was the group hugger."

For Chris, in your Details magazine interview, you joked that Captain America had to take the stairs when all the rest of them were fighting.

Chris Evans: "I'm like, 'You know, if [you're the] Hulk, you do this impossible thing. Thor, you bottleneck a portal. And Iron Man, fly over here. And I’ll take the stairs.'"

Mark, everybody else has suited up before. Can you talk about the challenges of integrating into this world and coming into it fresh?

Mark Ruffalo: "It was terrifying and I knew what my responsibility was -- or I felt it just by making the mistake of going online and reading some of the fan boy 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 shot a single frame.

But coming onto the set with all of these guys was pretty daunting. Many of my heroes in life are in this cast. And I knew that I had big shoes to fill, so to speak. This is becoming a long run-on sentence.

Yeah, it was tough. I wish that I had a cool costume to wear the entire time instead of a leotard that was painted like a Chinese checkerboard."

For Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, you get to play the fish-out-of-water characters amongst the group. Can you talk about playing those roles and specifically for Chris Evans, how does it feel to play the 'straight man' for once?

Chris Evans: "Yeah, it's tough not getting any jokes. I wanted some jokes."

So, what was it like being the straight man for once?

Chris Evans: "You know, 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. I think even in this film more than the first Captain America, Steve Rogers has some issues, some conflicts, some trouble given the fact that he is a man out of his time. But given who he is as a man, his nature, he puts that second. He puts the mission first and he’s just selfless. That’s a fun character, I guess."

Chris Hemsworth: "Yeah, the fish-out-of-water, we all kind of fell into that category. I mean Joss said it early on [that we were] the dysfunctional family and we somehow belong in amongst the fact that we don’t belong anywhere else. Thor, he’s from another planet. I guess his motivation through the conflict [was that the] villain was far more personal than the rest of them, because it was his brother. So, you know, it was nice to have already shot that film and have that relationship with Tom. That was sort of my focus anyway. But I think we all kind of didn’t get along at the beginning. And certainly we’re from some other planet or some other world, so it was fun to play that dynamic."

Were there any real-life accidents during filming?

Chris Hemsworth: "I had one. The scene where Thor takes Loki off the ship and lands, and then we go into the big sort of two-hander. So I was on a wire, because I hadn’t learned to fly yet. [Laughing] I had to come down and land on the cliff and I have to land and step and have the conversation with him. In the first couple of takes, and this is going to turn up in the DVD extras somewhere, but I just face-planted into the dirt. [Making a crunching sound] Incredibly ungraceful and un-superhero-like. That’s my story."

There was a lot of unexpected comedy in the movie. Can you individually talk about what it was like doing the comedy together?

Chris Evans: "Well, I think anytime you do a scene with Downey, he’s so good with improv and with working off the cuff, he’s never going to do the same thing twice. You know, so you've got to be on your toes. But he just has a natural [talent], he’s just funny. He’s always funny. He brings a certain life to the scene, even if you’re not the one making the jokes. You can appreciate what he brings to any scene in terms of comedy."

Chris Hemsworth: "The line where I say he’s adopted, got a big laugh last night, which is [funny because] I had no idea. You know, when we shot that I went, 'Is this really funny?' But that’s the thing, all that stuff, I mean, Joss is hilarious. And then the whole film I was surprised how the comedy in it played so well."

Robert Downey Jr: "In seeing it last night I think what everybody captured to a character was it was the right tone. And a certain point, you - without killing it - kind of tip your hat to [it that] we don’t take it too seriously. 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."

What are your favorite geek references from the script that you were excited to perform?

Chris Hemsworth: "I remember reading the script and reading the section where Hulk and Thor finally are on the same team and fighting the aliens and what have you. And they end, and it’s both of us standing there out of breath. And Hulk just backhands Thor through a wall - that was something I looked forward to. [Laughing] But you had me on a wire just getting yanked out of shot. You know, that was good."

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