Avengers: Age of Ultron


The Darker Back Story

Everyone’s favorite Marvel superheroes came back to fight evil, and with the charismatic addition of James Spader as “Ultron”, the intense action sequences were another level up of immensity in the newest of the Marvel Productions films, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner join up to kick-start a previously dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, but things go terribly awry, and Earth’s mightiest heroes must come together, including Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye, in order to save the world from the villainous Ultron’s plans of devastation. 

This sequel finds the somewhat dysfunctional team of heroes forced to react globally, making for some outstanding visuals from shooting all over the world at many different locations. Fans will enjoy Marvel’s typical quick-witted one-liners, as always to spice up the action, along a little more back story on both Black Widow and Hawkeye, as well as enjoy a couple of new additions to the team with new characters, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, from the hit comic book series.

SMARTY: What were your first thoughts about your character in this second film?
DOWNEY JR.: I was kinda like: “Where can you go?” with the first Avengers of him having to become a team player, and with Iron Man 3 him transcending his dependency, on the tech that’s keeping him alive… I thought: “Okay, now what?” But there’s all this unfinished business. There’s the matter of a certain wormhole that opened over in New York, and the imminent threat that still implies. So Tony’s turned his attentions toward a bit of a post Reagan-era, Star Wars-type notion, and he likes to call it “Ultron.”
SMARTY: What was iit like getting back together with the team?
DOWNEY JR.: I love the love/hate. I love the people. This time around I felt like I really got, honestly, a bunch closer with the cast members, and Joss and I are pals. Meanwhile, there’s always that part of it that you never forget your first time. From Iron Man 2 into Avengers and Iron Man 3, there’s always this… I think it’s like life, you’re like: “You know, why isn’t it like it was in college, now?” You know? But more than any other of the Marvel movies since Iron Man 1 for me, I feel like it’s the ending of an era and the beginning of another—obviously some of that is informed by the new blood coming through—with Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson—and I welcome it!
SMARTY: Tell us what it was like, reuniting with acting pal, James Spader.
DOWNEY JR.: Well, there’s a lot of full circles going on, and probably the most personal one is James Spader playing Ultron. He was the first person I saw kinda “off-the-boat” when I got to L.A., and took me under his wings. He’s just a couple of years older. I think again it was a very inspired casting choice, not just because he’s on everyone’s lips and minds, again for reasons obvious with his show, but also that he’s really a bit of an American treasure, and I’ve certainly borrowed from his style more than a few times over the years.
SMARTY: What have been your feelings about the franchise reaching across the world?
DOWNEY JR.: It’s a global property really, and the responsible thing to do was to branch out and do stuff. There’s also something much more authentic about when it’s not just a felt sense of somewhere, but: “Okay, they’re there.” And I’m certainly glad it happened. It seems like it’s really adding to the overall scope of the thing.
SMARTY: Your feelings on Director – Joss Whedon?
DOWNEY JR.: He’s just really smart—and he thinks stuff through. I remember sometimes the joy of things was we were kind of creating things as we went along or within the context of the story, and we were really figuring out: “What frequency should this scene be?” and Joss tends to already be a couple of steps along in that process, which occasionally can make you feel like: “Oh, well, what am I bringing?” But there’s always other steps that can go, and so it makes it easier to get to the best version of something, because he’s practically there already most of the time. 

STRIPLV: What a wonderful team of actors you have in this film.
RUFFALO: Yeah, it’s a great group of people—we have a lot of fun. There’s not a boring one in the bunch. We’ve all gone off and had families—all of us, except Chris Evans (chuckles). But I’m sure he’s somewhere. (looking around) He’s coming up the back somewhere. We’re having a good time—it’s great. It’s fantastic. 
SMARTY: Do you enjoy the hollering of so many fans? 
RUFFALO: Yeah, they’re great! They’re tough to please, but when you do, there’s no one who loves you more, you know. They really do show up. They love this stuff—and it’s way better than a lot of other things they could be doing with their time.
SMARTY: So where have the Avengers picked up in the return of this sequel?
RUFFALO: We covered a lot of ground of establishing who these guys were in the first one, so we were able to really dig down much deeper to who they are when they’re relaxed, you know—when they’re familiar with each other—that’s when people really start to sparkle. They let down their guards. They’re vulnerable…
SMARTY: And where do we find Hulk in this film?
RUFFALO: A lot of it is just his feeling of wellbeing within the group. He’s never quite felt so at home and part of a group before, and he really buys the idea that he has like made a leap—and especially the work that is happening with him and Black Widow—this sort of taming of Hulk, and being able to use her as a partner in this. I think they’re experimenting with Hulk, and how to control him. But I think it’s mostly he’s in a great point in his life—and because of that, he feels more able to join the world.
SMARTY: What was it like, working with Director – Joss Whedon?
RUFFALO: With Joss, it starts with the writing. And the fact that each character sort of has their moment is a tip of the hat to him, because the story that he is telling—he knows it so well—and—at the same time he knows the characters so well, that he knows when those two things should and must intersect so that you get the perfect balance of character. You feel like you’re being satisfied about who these people are, while at the same time pushing the story forward.
SMARTY: What are your feelings about Age of Ultron for the fans?
RUFFALO: I just think it’s been a great ride. It just takes you to a lot of places, each one visually pleasing, and emotionally pleasing, but together they’re epic!

SMARTY: So what changed for Black Widow this time around?
JOHANSSON: It’s been a very different movie this time around. We were able to kinda get the introductions over—and we actually assembled some kind of dysfunctional family—but a family nonetheless—and before everything goes awry, as it has to. But you know, it couldn’t be any easier—we’ve known each other for years… We’re very hard to wrangle. I just feel sorry for Joss—that’s all.
SMARTY: Tell us more about the new faces added to your team.
JOHANSSON: Yes, we have Aaron and Lizzie, which is very exciting. They’re such team players already—they came in, wanted to know if we had any advice for them, and I was like: “Um, you guys don’t need any advice! You’re doing way better than us—we’re falling apart.” So yeah, a little bit of fresh blood.
SMARTY: And how was it working with James Spader?
JOHANSSON: I was so thrilled with the casting of James Spader as Ultron. James is playing the kind of impossible role that when you read that script you go: “I’m so glad I don’t have to like try to put this together, because it’s all over the place.” He’s just so seamless with it. I think he has this sort of Shakespearean quality to him. He plays it like [King] Lear or something like that. It’s really, really effective. I really think it’s so fitting, because Ultron is everywhere and everything, and has these almost Shakespearean soliloquies at times that are very theatrical—and I think in most actor’s hands would probably be totally over the top, and impossible to juggle or make any kind sense out of. You know, you really have to own the phrasing—and because this character is psychotic—you have to kind of own the many faces of Ultron. The film is only as strong as the villain, and I think James is just a formidable one.
SMARTY: You seemed especially excited for this movie release.
JOHANSSON: I mean of course, because I don’t think I’ve ever made a movie that kids could even see before—so I have a whole new fan base, which is really exciting. And the fans are awesome! They’re so dedicated and so supportive. And knowing you have a film coming that people are rooting for, and that they want to see—is amazing!
SMARTY: What have been some of the most difficult areas of playing Black Widow?
JOHANSSON: The most important aspect of my job—you know, as an actor that’s been carrying this character through, not only Avengers, but from Captain [America], and then also starting in Iron Man, is to keep a thorough, steady consistency with the character’s arc, I think—and have the character’s evolution be one that is cohesive. And you know, you kind of want to feel like the character is growing, as opposed to just staying the same—making decisions based on the person that we know her to be, from the films that we’ve seen her in, and the time we’ve spent with her on screen.
SMARTY: What was different for your character, Natasha, in this film?
JOHANSSON: I think Natasha, or the Avengers in general, had this kind of stealthy approach, and S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly had that. Now we’re being judged in a different way. Everybody is watching us. It’s just a different playing field.
SMARTY: What’s one of the best parts, for you, in this film?
JOHANSSON: I think the really exciting part, for me anyway, you know bringing Avengers to the table this time is around is that we all get our opportunities to delve deeper into the back story of each one of these characters. Every one of the Avengers comes to the table with a lot of baggage. None of us really chose this job. It’s the kind of the job that chose us. That kind of reluctance to wear the superhero hat makes for very interesting back-stories. We have our sordid history, and we get to explore a little bit of that. And I think the audience is going to absolutely love that.

SMARTY: For new fans that haven’t seen the film, brief us on the Avengers in this film.
EVANS: S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen since the last Captain America. So now we’re all kind of relying on one another. There’s really no one to report to. So it’s kind of this loose hierarchy there. They’re kinda just leaning on one another as soldiers. There’s no one person giving commands. But we’re kind of operating as a true group now.
SMARTY: Where do we find Captain America as this film unfolds?
EVANS: He’s trying to still figure out where he belongs. He’s always been a soldier. He’s always kind of fit in that format. He enjoys structure, and he enjoys having orders, and a plan. Without that, he does feel a bit aimless. But he is still searching for whether or not he can have a life outside of being Captain America. He’s been of service for so long, trying to figure out what he would do without his uniform and shield is a bit of a puzzle.
SMARTY: What was it like working with Director – Joss Whedon?
EVANS: With Joss, he’s not just our director, he’s our writer, so that level of involvement that he has with these characters and this material is incredibly beneficial. If you’re struggling with a scene or with a line, he’s not only phenomenal at coming up with things on the spot—he’s very witty. He has wonderful banter and repartee, so he can always make adjustments. But he’s a comic book fan. One of the main demographics you’re trying to please are the “fan” boys, and since he is one, it’s a very safe exchange, knowing that anything he suggests will be met with approval.
SMARTY: What are your feelings about the back story in this film? 
EVANS: I thought it was great. I mean, they’re a unit now, so it’s not growing pains anymore. It’s now just kind of internal conflict, trying to operate as a team—as opposed to how to form one.
SMARTY: And what exactly is Cap’s role?
EVANS: I think he’s certainly giving the orders, but it’s not the type of hierarchy where he gives commands and people have to do it. This is purely in the sense of when battle breaks out and we need structure, Cap has no problems kind of organizing a team approach. In terms of how they behave when they’re not fighting a foe, there still is a loose chain of command. No one is technically in charge. But Cap does lean toward the side of structure and hierarchy, so when they’re on the battlefield, I think that’s when he feels most comfortable.

SMARTY: So what part does Thor play in the team in this film?
HEMSWORTH: He’s a central part of the team now. He’s established, and they’re certainly a unity that they’ve all formed now and solid. Thor, I think, sees a bigger picture of the current conflict that’s going on. There’s the initial battle, which they’re involved in, but Thor sort of uses his Asgardian knowledge and starts to tap into some other worldly possibilities and threats that he thinks are coming.
SMARTY: Have Thor’s perspectives evolved regarding humans and the planet Earth?
HEMSWORTH: I think in each film he has grown a great affection for earth and humans, you know, than the first time we saw him, when he was arrogant (smiling) and what have you. So yeah, this time around his biggest concern is the wellbeing of this world and he very much is sort of looking out further into the universe to make sure that threat doesn’t consume this world as well.
SMARTY: What was it like working with James Spader for the first time?
HEMSWORTH: It was one of the first times on any set where I had really no idea what that character was gonna be and how that performance was gonna be played out. And the first time James did it, it just all made sense—because the writing is tricky in his pitch. But the way he does it, everything has a sort of sarcasm and irony, yet highly intelligent, and it’s a beautiful mix. I remember the first time he came on set and did this big monologue for all of us, basically. We all just sort of applauded and forgot our lines, because we were captivated in what he was doing.
SMARTY: And what about working with Joss Whedon?
HEMSWORTH: Anytime you have a director who has also written the script, it’s a huge benefit, because they can articulate exactly what it is that they’re intentions were when they wrote that character. And so you have the source of that information right in front of you. He’s just such a smart guy, to be able to bring this many characters together and to give them all a purpose and a focus, and then have this huge, complicated story around it with tons of action, tons of humor, and also a part. That’s the balance that a lot of these films miss, and he’s a genius when it comes to kind of melding those things together.
SMARTY: How does this sequel differ from the first film?
HEMSWORTH: We’ve gone to far more locations than ever before, and covered more ground. So aesthetically, it’s gonna be a mashup of different locations and styles and images. But everything has just been dialed up, and even the complexity of the story has gone deeper. We’ve seen all these characters evolve in the individual films, and now to see them come together for the second time—I think is pretty exciting.

SMARTY: What was it like for you, on the red carpet release night? 
SPADER: I was so excited, because I was seeing the film for the first time. We’d been working for a year on it—because I had Principal of Photography—shooting all the stuff on the set, and a lot of motion capture after that, and then of course, lots of sessions doing voice work (smiling) to clean things up a bit! So I’d seen sort of little swabs of footage, but I was just so excited.
STRIPLV: You had very excited fans that eagerly anticipated this film’s release.
SPADER: We saw it at the Comic Con, and no one is better than Marvel at creating anticipation and being incredibly respectful of their fans. The fans appreciate it, and those of us that work on the films really appreciate it as well. It’s all very well constructed. It’s not an “us and them” environment at all.

SMARTY: What really appealed to you about your character, Hawkeye?
RENNER: It was really cool to be able to explore the human side and that was my attraction to doing Hawkeye in the first place, because he’s a character that is human, and he’s flawed and his limitations—and to explore that humanity in him, the human side of him, instead of the superhero side of him, was really exciting for me.
SMARTY: What was it like to work together again on this film?
RENNER: In this one we’re together a lot—which is great for us—terrible for Joss, because it’s tough to wrangle ten crazy actors that love each other and just want to talk. It’s like a Kindergarten class. He literally has to whistle to get our attention.
SMARTY: How do you feel about James Spader as Ultron?
RENNER: He brings a lot of weight and character, a lot of humanity, and sort of a 14-year-old boy temper-tantrum-ish kind of thing. His “regal-ness” counterbalances that. It’s really, really great to humanize something that’s really not human.
SMARTY: What was it like, working again with the direction of Joss?
RENNER: I think he’s the man with the answers, the plan. And I try not to rock the boat. He’s got it all figured out, and I trust that. The only thing I’ll ever raise my hand to say is if I can help make a stunt better or something else. I’m gonna help him tell the story—I’m not gonna tell him how to tell his story. All I know is if I get a smile on Joss’ face coming out of that tent where he’s watching… you know—job well done.
SMARTY: Can you compare the first and second film?
RENNER: I think that everything that worked in the first movie is just exponentially better in this one. The relationships are, not better in a sense, they’re just deeper. There’s more to go—the bad guys…again, not better, just different. The stunts are crazy, the hero shot of the spinner—not that it’s mimicked—but it’s just different, and I think it’s better. We’re all learning and growing.

SMARTY: What was it like, joining the Avengers team on the red carpet this time?
JACKSON: It’s fun to be on the red carpet with them. I didn’t see them that much when we made the movie. I just kinda walked by, and said hello, and ran away. It’s all about people with superpowers…and I don’t have any. But I’m really, really pleased to still be a part of this whole thing and to be here tonight.
SMARTY: What do you think about all the hoopla for movie releases?
JACKSON: It’s all about the summer event movies. It’s all about people being excited to see what new things are being done cinematically, stunt-wise… and when you have superheroes… Everybody’s got a favorite superhero. They kinda come out and they cheer for us and they go home and imagine themselves as these people, and it’s healthy and great for the imagination, and great for the movie business. It’s a business of big imagination.

SMARTY: What was it like to join the crew as Jarvis finally?
BETTANY: Well, it was strange, because I’ve been involved with Marvel since the first Iron Man, and you know, it was just nice to get on set with a bunch people that I’d supposedly been working with for ten years, but had never met. Jarvis’ superhero power was to solve any issues there were with clarity, so I was brought in, in like the last two hours before the premiere. And everybody was really welcoming. It was just lovely to be on the set with such a bunch of creative, intelligent and funny people who are playing at the top of their game. And I don’t just mean the cast… I mean Kevin Feige, Jeremy Latcham, Joss Whedon, and an incredible crew back in England. 
SMARTY: What was it like on the red carpet with the adoring fans?
BETTANY: It was totally and utterly amazing, and sometimes a little odd, (smiling) you know? I was thinking… it was about a year ago, we were at Comic Con. I’d been to Comic Con about four times, and I had never heard such noise… like a hurricane.

SMARTY: What was your first reaction to the script?
SKARSGÅRD: When I read the script, I thought it was an enormous, brilliant achievement, because Joss had managed to write a story with about maybe 10 leading characters, and still keep the story together. So already there, it was fantastic. But when you read the script, you don’t see it, because there’s so much special effects and fantastic visual stuff coming, added to it. But after a while, you get used to reading the Marvel scripts. You know that a lot of magic would be added later. So what you really read for is to see the characters, how they’re working.
SMARTY: What’s one of the best parts about working with Joss Whedon’s direction?
SKARSGÅRD: He knows what he wants. And he knows that the most important thing for a director is to know when it’s good, when it’s not good… when it’s truthful, when it’s not truthful. And also he’s extremely familiar with the universe he’s working with.

SMARTY: What was it like on set with the original members of the Avengers?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: It was definitely a daunting feeling to come on set with all of the Avengers, because for the majority of the cast, it’s their third or fourth film, you know. So they’re very comfortable with the way that they want to portray their characters and with each other. But that was taken away pretty quickly. When you meet the guys, everyone’s super friendly and down-to-earth, and it’s a very friendly kind of set.
SMARTY: Tell us a little about your character.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Quicksilver’s been really fun to portray as a superhero. Not only do I see his superpower being like as fast as the speed of sound, but he’s quick at everything. He’s quick-tempered, which means he’s so frustrated with everything. He’s already there. Everyone goes so slow for him. He’s fast to react in everything.
SMARTY: What’s your relationship with your twin like?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: They can’t do without each other, which is nice. And this is also a sort of ying and yang thing. I’m very kind of fatherly, and physical, and protective over her and she’s that sort of motherly kind of nurturing and caring, and more sort of emotional and thoughtful. So they sort of balance each other.

SMARTY: What type of research did you do on your character, Scarlet Witch?
OLSEN: I asked Marvel to compile, like a bible, of all comics that were centered around her. It’s just unbelievable the amount of material that she has to draw from. 
SMARTY: What was it like when you first joined the cast on set?
OLSEN: When I started, it was just Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jeremy Renner, and I in Italy, and then all of a sudden everyone was added—or everyone else had been there, and I had taken a break, and they were all there. And I was really intimidated that it was gonna be like a lot of improvisational banter.
SMARTY: Tell us a little about your character, Scarlet Witch.
OLSEN: Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, basically, they’re like vagabonds. They are gypsies in Eastern Europe and have just had to use their own resources to get on. And the way we thought of Scarlet Witch’s costume is that she would just kind of grab things on the go, or he would maybe swipe things for her. They became sort of an amalgamation of not trying to put outfits together, but using the resources they have.
SMARTY: Does Scarlet have a strong role in this film?
OLSEN: Joss, from the first Avengers, gets to inherit characters from all the different franchises, but he got to create us. And I know he was really interested in also creating in a female character that was strong, and like, a different silhouette was important to him, than everyone being in pants. It was fun to see our characters grow, because in the first script, it felt like we knew what the journey was, and what the arcs were, but it wasn’t fully created yet. And then as Joss… I don’t know if it was through conversation or just how… this just might be his process, but we started to grow and to expand and to become increasingly more relevant, which was really cool to see.

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