If the New York Comic-Con reaction to Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers” is any indication, the superhero blockbuster will be the biggest movie of 2012. Thousands of fans, many who waited for hours, rapturously cheered on cast members of “The Avengers” who appeared on a New York Comic-Con discussion panel at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City on October 15, 2011. Chris Evans (who plays Steve Rogers/Captain America), Tom Hiddleston (who plays outer-space villain Loki), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill) and Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige (who is a producer of Marvel’s superhero movies) talked about the movie and also showed sneak-preview footage from the film.
Most of the plot has been kept top-secret, but what has been revealed in advance is that Loki is the movie’s chief villain and there will start a war to take over Earth. The other Avengers cast members who will be battling Loki and his cohorts in the movie include Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. Chris Hemsworth as Thor (who is Loki’s brother) and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye. With all these superheroes assembled in one story, “The Avengers” is already being called “the ultimate superhero” movie. Here is what the stars said about it at the New York Comic-Con panel when they answered questions from a moderator and members of the audience.
“The Avengers” is a tremendous undertaking. What has the process been like for you?
Feige: I think we first brought it up at another Comic-Con in 2006. We planned on making an “Iron Man” and another “Hulk” movie and a “Thor” movie and a “Captain America” movie. “Maybe someday.” That day is now.
We’re seven months out from releasing it to the world. It’s great stuff. The cast that we’ve assembled here and the characters they are playing are pretty cool. And the leader who is literally working in a dark editing room as we speak: Joss Whedon. He’s been amazing. He’s writing it and cutting it down. It’s his movie.
Chris, what’s it been like working with this huge ensemble cast in “The Avengers”?
Evans: It’s great. It’s a lot nicer when work with people who share the load of being in the movie, to be honest. I’m joking. It’s been great, but it’s been nerve-wracking going into a project like this. There are so many talented and accomplished people, and you want to make sure you all get along, because this is a movie that could be a franchise. And if we don’t get along, it could be tricky making multiple movies together.
Everyone always says this when they promote films, “Oh, we got along well.” We got along so ridiculously well. We really did. I’m not exaggerating. It was fantastic. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.
What was a typical day when you were filming “The Avengers”?
Evans: A typical day? It depends on what we were shooting. It was always nice when you don’t … Not that I didn’t love the suit. I loved the suit, but it’s nice when you’re shooting a scene where you’re just wearing normal clothes. There are all these chunks in the schedule where you have two-week blocks for stunt stuff — two weeks of a big battle. And you have to prepare to time your bathroom breaks. It’s not easy getting in and out of the suit — and you just long for a movie where you can just wear shorts and a T-shirt.
Hiddleston: Welcome to my world, Chris.
Evans: [He laughs.] That’s the thing. It was hard to complain. It was easy on “Captain America,” because you’re the only one doing it. “Look at me. Doesn’t my life suck?” But then you see these poor guys with [he gestures above his held, making the shape of a helmet], I mean, come on. It was nice to kind of share the misery.
Tom, in “Thor,” Loki was the villain, but he didn’t have as much power as he does in “The Avengers.” What was it like for Loki to be hell-bent on world domination in “The Avengers”?
Hiddleston: That’s a great question. Loki is not a happy man. And I think anyone who saw “Thor” will realize that by the end of that film, he’s a little confused of his place in the universe. And it was such a thrill to me that Joss [Whedon] and Kevin [Feige] and everybody at Marvel thought that I was all right in the first one and that I might be OK in this one too. It’s thrilling for me to be the only bad guy in a group full of the greatest superheroes in the world, played by some of the greatest actors in the world, sitting here at this table with me.
I guess I can’t say I ever got a day in jeans and a T-shirt. It was mostly leather and metal … the heavier the better. No, it was really fun. My day begins with getting strapped in Loki’s buckles and belts and whistles and getting the air oiled and the helmet and preparing to make menace.
Isn’t it funny how Loki is a god, but when it comes down to it, he still has daddy issues?
Hiddleston: Hey, man, everybody’s got daddy issues. It’s part of growing. Yeah, he’s got a few brother issues as well.
Cobie, can you describe what you’re wearing in “The Avengers”?
Smulders: It’s funny. I feel like I’m the first woman in a superhero movie that had the easiest costume. Compared to these guys, I had it pretty good. I think that’s what’s been the most interesting thing about taking on [the Agent Maria Hill character] was seeing how the costumes were developed. They literally took central drawings from the comic books and really just developed some of the most beautiful pieces. And it was really cool to see each intricate detail. They really thought it through.
[Says jokingly] So “The Avengers” movie was more physically demanding than “How I Met Your Mother”?
Smulders: I would say so, yeah.
[People in the audience shout, “Robin Sparkles!”]
Smulders: I am not going to sing. No. [She laughs.]
So what was it like to step into such a huge movie? It’s going to be the biggest movie of 2012.
Smulders: It was extremely intimidating. I was probably most excited to work with Joss. He has been a friend of mine — and is a friend of mine. That was one of the most exciting parts of this movie for me. I’m still kind of pinching myself and walking around and being here in front of all of you guys, and being as thrilled to see how the movie turns out. It’s a dream.
Clark, did you think when you signed on for this franchise that your role would grow?
Gregg: I’m not going to say that never occurred to me, but it was only in my most demented fantasies to do one line in “Iron Man,” before they started adding more scenes. I never thought the journey would take me to the scene in “Iron Man 2” where I’m telling them they’re going to New Mexico. And I said, “Why?’ And they said, “Oh, you’re in ‘Thor’!” And then being backstage at Comic-Con two years ago and having Joss Whedon come up and introducer himself and say, “Oh, you’re in ‘The Avengers’!” To spoil a scene in “The Avengers”: Coulson pulls back his face to reveal that he’s a Romulan princess.
Ruffalo: [Says jokingly as he pretends to hit Gregg] Why did you do that?
Gregg: [Says jokingly] Oh, no! I’m banished from the Con!
Mark, what has it been like playing Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk?
Ruffalo: It’s been amazing journey. I’m building this Bruce Banner off of some really great Bruce Banners, starting off with Bill Bixby and Eric Bana and Ed Norton. Ed and I joked that this [Bruce Banner] character is my generation’s Hamlet: We’re all going to get a chance to get the part. This is going to be a more mature Banner who understands a little bit of what he has under the hood, so to speak.
How much did you have to pay homage to previous portrayals of Banner and how much did you have to make it your own?
Ruffalo: I had to pay homage, but then I definitely had to Ruffalize is.
Whose costume was the hardest to make and to get into every day?
[Hiddleston raises his hand and other people on the panel point to him.]
Hiddleston: Chris’ suit was pretty intense. Everyone who had a suit had a pretty intense time, and that includes Mr. [Robert] Downey Jr. in his iron-clad armor.
Gregg: [He says jokingly] When Banner turns into the green guy, that is by far the most difficult costume.
Ruffalo: The most ridiculous costume!
Hiddleston: There was a day when all of the Avengers were on set together, and it was kind of incredible. We were all geeked out by it. Chris is in blue and red and white. [Chris] Hemsworth is there with is hammer and cape. And Robert is in his suit. And Jeremy [Renner] had his arrows, and Scarlett is kind of amazing in her suit. And Mark is at the back in some kind of spotted gray pajamas.
Ruffalo: It’s great as an actor to be reduced to a Chinese checkerboard.
Hiddleston: That, by the way, is how you “Ruffalize” a role!
And the Hulk in “The Avengers” isn’t all CGI, right? It was performance capture of Mark Ruffalo?
Feige: The whole [Hulk character] movie is Mark’s performance throughout, yeah. He was there every day.
Ruffalo: Because of modern technology, I do have the only distinction of available to me, which is I am the only actor who gets to play Bruce Banner and the Hulk.
Chris, which character do you like better: Captain America or the Human Torch?
Evans: It’s a tough question. Actually, Clark and I have the same number of Marvel movies under our belt, don’t we? It’s a tough call. I’m going to go with Cap. I had a great time making both of those movies. It’s like [asking], “Which kid do you love more?” There’s no way to answer that question.
To the entire panel, who are your favorite male and female superheroes?
Feige: I think somebody said it’s like choosing your favorite kid. I would say Bruce Banner and Maria Hill, of course, are my favorite.
Ruffalo: I’d have to say Bruce Banner and the Black Widow and Maria Hill.
Gregg: For me, it’s a toss-up between Agent Hill Coulson, the superhero you don’t see coming. It’s a toss-up between Agent Hill and Natasha Romanoff. It’s a dead heat — a happy, happy heat.
Smulders: I would say Iron Man and Maria Hill. Sure, why not?
Hiddleston: Well, Loki is a super-villain, even though on his own mind, he’s a superhero. I think my “brother” is getting left out of this. My favorite superhero is Thor. And my favorite female superhero is the body that Loki chooses to come back in.
Evans: I’m going to say Iron Man, because he was somebody who wasn’t born with super powers and he became [a superhero]. I would say Iron Man. And I’m going to go with Maria Hill. It’s an honest answer.
Tom, there are so many incarnations of Loki in Marvel Comics. Which ones did you use for inspiration in portraying Loki?
Hiddleston: That’s a really good question. I’ve stolen and borrowed from them all, I think. When I was getting ready to do “Thor,” I just filled myself up with everything I could find. All the early Stan Lee stuff … There was an amazing bit in a very early run that I hope Kevin [Feige] will one day think worthy to put in a movie, which is when Loki turns a whole street of cars in New York into ice cream. I kind of love that about him.
And then there’s some stuff in the J. Michael Straczynski comics. They’re fantastic. The J. Michael Straczynski has, I think, Lady Loki in it too … Loki is an amazing character. He’s the shapeshifter of the Marvel universe. And it’s a privilege to play him.
Tom, will we see a deeper side of Loki in “The Avengers”?
Hiddleston: He’s definitely evolved in “The Avengers.” In the course of the story, you see Loki’s journey of self-discovery. And it is a much a story for Thor as it is for Loki. In “Thor,” we start that film was two brothers who stand to inherit the kingdom — and the picture looks very different at the end. I hope that there’s plenty of [Loki] in ‘The Avengers.” That’s up to Joss … He’s definitely moved on. He’s a Loki who knows exactly who he is now. And he is one mean fella!
Tom, which was your favorite Avenger to fight as Loki?
Hiddleston: Maria Hill drives a hard bargain, I tell you. What’s fun is that each superhero has a particular superpower, so Loki has to adapt to each hero. The way he fights Captain America is rough and tumble. I’m curious to see how Loki gets Ruffalized. And inevitably, there’s more brotherly brawling with the God of Thunder. And Tony Stark has his day too. I really can’t pick a favorite. It was really, really fun.
What was the atmosphere like on the set of “The Avengers”?
Ruffalo: It was a really good time. It was very exciting. I’ll never forget the first day when I where I walked out and actually saw Captain America, Thor, Sam Jackson [as Nick Fury], Maria Hill and Iron Man/Tony Stark all there. And the helicarrier is awesome! It was actually quite a bit of fun.
Gregg: At the Disney concert where Tony Stark was served papers in “Iron Man,” to actually find myself back in a black suit and walking into a room and seeing the doors swing open. And there were the Avengers. I felt like it was the Make-A-Wish Foundation and I only had a week to live and nobody told me.
Smulders: I had a similar experience too. I felt I started the movie when we were doing a lot of helicarrier stuff. When they [the Avengers] came in, it was so intimidating. You could not see me, because I was literally glued to the back. I was like a fly on the wall. I was so intimidated by everyone. I think that’s how it started off, but as time went on, we all became friends. There was a lot of time to spend on the set.
Gregg: There weren’t a lot of times when everyone was in town at the same time or moment. But the night there was, my favorite text I’ve ever gotten in my life was from Chris Evans, and it just said, “Assemble.”
Hiddleston: That was a fun night, actually. I remember …
Evans: I don’t remember.
Hiddleston: I remember — I’m sorry, but I’m going to tell the story, Chris — there was some dancing involved. And I remember only two people in the club who weren’t dancing were Messrs. Evans and Hemsworth. And they were saying [he makes a muscle gesture with an arm], “How do you get this to …?” And I remember Chris Hemsworth saying, “I don’t know. Just work out and stuff.” Two brothers in arms.
Gregg: I remember one moment at the VIP booth were a bunch of people were having a birthday party. And then people parted and there was Scarlett [Johansson] really breaking out [dancing] and stuff, and seeing the birthday boy go, “Happy …” [Gregg then puts a shocked expression on his face]. And Mark Ruffalo? He was throwing up!
Marvel superhero movies have had teasers in the end credits for the next Marvel superhero movie. Will “The Avengers” have that too? And what movie is it going to tease?
Feige: It’s a nice tradition, and I like traditions, so I think I’ll keep that up.
Chris, will Captain America work with Wolverine in “Captain America 2”?
Evans: That’s a great question. That’s a great question for Kevin.
Feige: Wolverine will probably not show up “Captain America 2,” but you never know someday.
What’s your favorite story in the comics about your Avengers characters?
Hiddleston: There’s a really great story where Loki disguises himself as a horse … And he actually saves Asgard, I think — or maybe he doesn’t. He’s always saving it or trying to destroy it and then saving it again. But I love that particular [story]. I think there were some apples involved. He needs to distract everyone’s attention from the apples. And he distracts a female horse … Anyway, there’s a horse involved.
Tom, what did you tap into to play Loki as such a complex character?
Hiddleston: I feel like acting is… the art of being an actor is having the privilege of stepping into the shoe of someone else for a time. My privilege with Loki is that he is a very charismatic and a very beloved villain. The way to play a villain is very interesting, because villains don’t believe that they’re villains. They think they’re doing the right thing, no matter how misguided that is.
And that was really my corner that I came to from it. “How can I make this relatable and somehow meaningful and three-dimensional?” Everything that set the mood for me in cinema is ultimately human. And so I tried to make Loki possess as much humanity as I could. That’s a great compliment to hear. Thank you.
Do you get emotionally attached to your characters?
Evans: I get attached to every character I play, whether it’s a short amount of time or a long amount of time. Everything on film is forever … Every role that you play, whether it’s four movies or two movies, it’s something personal that you play. Yeah, there’s a huge attachment.
Kevin, can you talk about any other upcoming Marvel movies?
Feige: We’re in pre-production for a movie called “Iron Man 3” right now. We’ve got a great director named Shane Black who’s taken the reigns. And “Iron Man 3” will be the first of the movies what we refer to as Phase 2 of this Avengers saga and will culminate in “The Avengers 2.”
Movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” … We’ll introduce the groups in those movies. We’re not going to do a Star-Lord movie on their own. It’ll be all the Guardians together.
For more info: “The Avengers” website
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