By Jeff Otto | The Playlist May 3, 2012 at 10:03AM
After years of rumors, what ifs and hearsay, perhaps the most unlikely -- and certainly the most ambitious -- comic book movie of all time is finally hitting theaters this weekend. Beyond the mere logistical nightmare of pairing this massive cast with the equally massive budget required for such an undertaking, the green light for an “The Avengers” movie was dependent on the success of five other films before it. But here we are, the movie set to take North America by storm with hugely positive buzz and fanboys salivating for the penultimate moment when they finally hear “Avengers assemble!” echo across the megaplex.
The Playlist was on hand for the often chaotic “The Avengers” press festivities in Los Angeles this month. All the major players showed up for the party (minus Scarlett Johansson) and did their best to convey what it was like to shoot one of the most expensive and highly anticipated films of all time. One thing that was clear in the interaction amongst the big group was that, in light of everything it took to achieve this lofty goal, everyone had a pretty fun time making the movie.
Here are five things we learned about “The Avengers” from the director, producer and cast.
1. Robert Downey Jr. Was Glad To Have Some Other Superheroes To Share The Load
Every team needs a leader, whether that’s on the screen or off. And while Joss Whedon and Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige were clearly calling the shots, the cast also wound up looking to a veteran member of the team known just as much for his clever comic quips as his superhero know how. “Yeah, we needed it,” deadpans Robert Downey Jr. to press. “I offered rides back and forth from Albuquerque on my private jet. Going back to 2007 when when I was cast in ‘Iron Man’ and 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 gonna do something unprecedented, 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. By the time we were shooting I already had a history with Sam [Jackson], and I was really wanting to capitalize on that. Chris [Evans] and Chris [Hemsworth] had launched their individual franchises with success and charisma. And by the time we had Mark [Ruffalo] I was like, ‘Wow, you know what, this is really gonna happen.’ So just being a worker amongst workers is kind of where I started out. And it was nice to not really have to carry a movie. I think everyone is really equal in this venture”
Kevin Feige has been a man on a mission since he first joined Marvel in 2000. $4.8 billon in worldwide box office grosses later, his loftiest plan is about to come to light. And if early tracking numbers hold up, his impressive box office tally will cross the $5 billion mark and then some before all is said and done. So how long has Mr. Feige been working on “The Avengers” movie in some form? “Well, one answer is my whole life, just 'cause I’ve been a nerd my whole life and wanted to see this movie made for my whole life,” says the producer with a big smile. “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 he was 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. 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.”
Nick Fury, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Black Widow are a pretty confident bunch. They know what they’re up against and are always at the ready. And sure, Bruce Banner has some mental issues and anger problems, but the big green guy usually comes along and takes care of any trouble his puny human gets into. But in the case of Captain America and Thor, the modern world and, in the latter’s case, Earth, is a relatively new experience to deal with on top of Loki’s whole plot to destroy humanity. “That’s Cap’s role,” says Chris Evans. “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. And I think even in this film more than the first ‘Captain America,’ Steve Rogers has 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.”
“We all kind of fell into the fish-out-of-water category,” adds Chris Hemsworth. “Joss said it early on, the dysfunctional family, and we somehow belong amongst the fact that we don’t belong anywhere else. Thor, yeah, he’s from another planet. I guess his motivation through the conflict and the villain was far more personal than the rest of them because it was his brother Loki. It was nice to have already shot that film and have that relationship with Tom [Hiddleston]. That was sort of my focus anyway. 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.”
With the exception of Ruffalo, each of the cast members of ‘Avengers’ has spent a good deal of time in their character’s shoes. We asked them what traits they liked most about their respective heroes.
Mark Ruffalo on Bruce Banner/Hulk: “We’re all told to be so well-behaved and I think we all sometimes are bursting at the seams to let it rip. Bruce Banner gets that moment. And I think part of the joy for people is to actually see that happen. It’s exciting for us. It’s a nice way for us to blow off steam watching movies and, yes, especially for me.”
Chris Evans on Steve Rogers/Captain America: “His heart, his selflessness. He wasn’t born a super hero. 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. It’s something to aspire to.”
Robert Downey Jr. on Tony Stark/Iron Man: “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.” (Laughs)
Chris Hemsworth on Thor: “I like the sort of visceral sort of gut instinct that Thor has. There’s a bit of childlike quality in the sense that he believes in something. He does it and says it. 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 on Nick Fury: “I just like the fact that Nick Fury believes that these unique individuals deserve the love and admiration of the world. We pretty much owe everything to them because there are things out there greater than us.”
In light of all the early skepticism and requisite message board razzing, it looks quite likely that Joss Whedon has pulled off a feat many believed could never be done. Over on the DC side of the comic world, a “Justice League” movie has been discussed now and again for years. Whedon was asked what advice he might offer to get that similarly ambitious project off the ground. “Call me,” jokes Whedon. "It's enormously difficult to take very disparate characters and make them work. DC has a harder time of it than Marvel because their characters are from an old, bygone era where characters were bigger than we were. Marvel really cracked the code in terms of ‘Oh, they're just like us.’ Marvel really started with ‘Iron Man.’ I think you need to use that as your base.”
“The Avengers” opens in theaters nationwide May 4th, 2012.