By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Days before “Avengers: Infinity War” assembles in movie theaters, the stars of the Marvel superhero film—21 of them, to be exact—are present in in a hotel ballroom for a press conference, along with the filmmakers, several dozen journalists, bloggers, studio and personal publicists and more.
Few in the overcrowded room have actually seen the completed film—including the stars themselves. Therefore, questions are limited to what has been revealed in the trailers and rumors that have circulated about the highly anticipated action fantasy mashup that includes characters from Marvel’s “Avengers” films as well as “Black Panther” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
The “talent” in attendance—Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Danai Gurira to name a few—along with producer Kevin Feige and co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, spend the next hour taking turns trying not to reveal spoilers.
To lead this circus of the stars calls for a master of ceremonies, and that turns out to be Jeff Goldblum whose connection to the proceedings is having played the flamboyant Grandmaster in last year’s “Avengers” spinoff “Thor: Ragnarok.” With a barrel drum filled with ping pong balls inscribed with topics related to “Avengers” or the stars’ names, he manages to keep the proceedings light and entertaining for what may be the strangest movie press conference ever held.
For Robert Downey Jr., who has played billionaire Tony Stark, whose alter-ego is the super-powered Iron Man, the burning question is whether he will return for next year’s “Avengers 4,” to which he responds in the affirmative.
“We already filmed it,” he says looking cautiously at the filmmakers to ensure he hasn’t overstepped. “If I die tomorrow (in the “Infinity War” premiere) I’m going to be confused. We’ll see.”
At one point, it gets a little weird when Goldblum lobs a ping pong ball at Downey and it hits him directly on the face. Fortunately, no damage is done and the actor/superhero takes it all in stride.
Chadwick Boseman, fresh from his starring role in Marvel’s box-office juggernaut “Black Panther,” dismisses any idea that “Infinity War” is more of a “Black Panther” sequel.
“‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’” he says. “It’s not ‘Black Panther 1.5’ or ‘Black Panther 2.0’ or anything like that. We have a strong presence in the movie and it was great to have some of these people in Wakanda but it is its own movie. It was great to go from what we did in ‘Black Panther’ and bring some of that into ‘Avengers.’ It was a relief actually but it’s its own thing.”
Letitia Wright, who stole every scene she was in as Shuri, T’Challa’s brainy kid sister in “Black Panther,” receives a loud round of applause as she is asked about becoming a role model for teens and whether that is expanded upon in the “Avengers” movie.
“It’s something that’s super new to me to play this character and to have a character who is interested in all these amazing subjects (math and science),” says the Guyana native. “I wish I’d had a Shuri in TV or in movies that I could see when I was growing up. I would have stayed in my math classes a little bit longer but I’m really happy that the film and this character has allowed young kids to think learning is cool, and that they can contribute to the world with science, math, technology and engineering. Also, for young women as well to get pulled into that whole movement, feeling like it’s not just a thing for the guys, it’s for anyone to get into and contribute positively. To have that and for (teachers) to use (the character) in classrooms, I’m super grateful. I hope it continues.
Danai Gurira, who plays the fearless warrior Okoye in “Black Panther,” is asked whether there will be an all-female Marvel movie as rumored on social media.
“I’ve heard those rumors also,” she says, adding, “but no, I know of no details on that. I was thinking how excited I am about Brie Larson shooting ‘Captain Marvel’ right now. That’s going to be awesome. We’re seeing more women take the helm in various areas. Not only is that about time but it will make the world a better place.”
Oscar nominee Don Cheadle (“Hotel Rwanda”), who reprises his role as Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine, in his fifth “Avengers” (including the spinoffs) film, is asked about preparing for this latest installment and carrying over what happened to his character in “Captain America: Civil War.”
“What I think is great about having something like (this film) to anchor some of the other things that are happening in the story and getting to continue it forward through both films is we always get to have these down notes in a good way,” he says. “There is a lot of eye candy and a lot of dramatic things are happening—big spectacular fights and amazing things we see on screen—and then it comes down to these characters and their interpersonal relationships and their personal journeys.
“Where it comes to Rhodey, I’m glad it was something that is carried through and not just dropped. The line that goes through both of the films and comes into play in an important way is something that factors in all the way through, so it’s nice to have something that’s cohesive and keeps me grounded and keeps the character grounded.”
Chris Hemsworth, reprising his god-like character Thor for the seventh time in “Infinity War,” is asked what scene he found most challenging to film this time around.
“It’s so very difficult because of the directors and the people in it. Awful experience,” the Aussie actor quips. “The first day was Thor meeting the Guardians (characters). It felt like the first day of school because they knew each other and I didn’t. I was the new kid and they’d all been shooting (together) and I hadn’t. So, I had some weird sort of nervous butterflies floating around in my body but I squeezed them out of me. Chris Pratt gave me a big hug and all the butterflies flew away.”
This comment draws a big laugh from the audience, and then Hemsworth continues.
“That was a fun scene to have a whole new dynamic and new people to move around and interact with. Throughout filming, I felt like a fan meeting all these people and the characters that I’d watched onscreen and admired and to be on screen with them, not only as Thor but as Chris, also was pretty exciting.”
Zoe Saldana, who plays Gamora in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, was asked about the journey of her character into the “Avengers” universe and Josh Brolin’s character, Thanos, pushing it forward.
“Going with what Don was saying, besides these kinds of movies carrying so much action and entertainment and visual effects that cater to all of our senses, we wouldn’t be what we are in the Marvel universe if it wasn’t for the emotional beats that these interrelationships carry,” she says.
“That thread involves a relationship between parent and child and I will speak also on behalf of Karen Gillan’s character Nebula,” she continues. “We have so much fun with the arc, the relationship that these daughters have with their father because they get an opportunity to address what it was like to have a dad who is so complicated.”
Saldana is one of the few actors on the three-level dais who actually gets two questions. An actress with Puerto Rican, Haitian and Lebanese roots, she is asked to share her thoughts on how the cast has become more ethnically diverse over time and how she feels about a larger representation of minorities in the Marvel universe?
“I’m super happy to be an American right now,” she says. “I’m happy to be in the entertainment industry, to be a public figure and to be given opportunities by leaders such as our studio heads when they take on the task of broadening the narrative for our stories. As actors, regardless of our race and gender, we want to be given the opportunity to be chameleons and to continue growing and connect with our audiences. Change needs to come from within. As public figures, we have the responsibility to take the lead and broaden the narrative.
“It just makes someone like me, who is a positive recipient, super happy because I know what that means for future generations. I have three sons and nothing is making me happier than to know that they are going to inherit an influx of storytelling through media that represents them and makes them feel seen and heard and that their lives and heritage matters.”
Female empowerment apparently has a long way to go, though. Johansson, who plays the self-reliant Black Widow and is a vocal member of the #metoo movement, is obviously a little perturbed when she is asked about the “fashion elements” of the film from a journalist in the audience.
“I got the fashion question?,” she says. “I wear a leather unitard for most of this film, and I have been for the last 10 years. So, if you think of any fashion elements you’d like to include, please let us know. I have a new vest so that was pretty exciting. And I have a new hairstyle as well. It’s a little polarizing I can see. It’s fine. It was a choice I made and I’m sticking by it.”
Anthony Mackie who debuted as the Sam Wilson/Falcon character in 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and has reprised the heroic character three times since (counting “Infinity War”) is asked what the challenge is for him in developing his character because the cast is so large. The Louisiana native responds with a double entendre that brings more laughter inside the hotel ballroom.
“Some men need an hour to make their presence felt. Some need thirty seconds,” he quips.
Twenty-one-year old Tom Holland, the youngest member of the superhero team, is probed about his rumored redesigned Spider-Man suit this time around.
Darting his eyes towards the filmmakers, he deflects the question.
“I’m under instructions to keep my mouth shut,” the British actor responds. “I didn’t actually get to wear the iron spider suit because it’s too amazing to exist in real life, so I joined Mark Ruffalo in the man-cancelling costume and stood among these gods wearing pajamas. It wasn’t quite as heroic as I would have liked, but I haven’t seen the film yet so I can’t tell you what it does in real life. I’m sure it’s amazing and I’m excited to see it. “
Fellow Brit, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the mystical Doctor Strange, was asked if he read the final draft of the script or merely an early draft before shooting his scenes.
“I read a script,” the Oscar nominee acknowledges. “Whether I read the script is for (the filmmakers) to know and me to find out when I see the movie. But whatever script you read, it’s never the film, is it? It always changes. These guys (the Russos) never stop (changing and editing the story), so whatever I read is not necessarily what you’re going to see. I could tell you stuff but it wouldn’t make any difference.”
Pom Klementieff, who reprises her role of Mantis the empath from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, is asked how much her character has developed in “Infinity War.”
“Maybe a little bit but she still has this kind of a child-like way of thinking and she asks a lot of questions,” the Canadian actress says. “It brings some comedy and sometimes these movies need some fun, and a little bit of innocence. She’s going to evolve a little bit more in the next one, but in this one she’s still kind of the same, a little bit weird, and that’s good.”
Sitting front and center of the proceedings is Josh Brolin, who reprises his role as Avengers nemesis Thanos. He is asked the awkward question of which Avenger most impressed him because he seemed impressed in the trailer.
He responds incredulously, “I looked in the trailer like I was impressed by people? Then I didn’t do my job very well.”
He goes on to quip, “Being a person of the color purple and to be naked on the set in order to create a vibe of fear, I really thought that I scared everybody but apparently not. Anthony Mackie of course (does). It only took 25 seconds for me to be impressed by him. He’s Thanos’ weakness.”
Paul Bettany, returning as the android Vision, is asked to share his memories from the set, to which he too decides to be funny.
“Snitches end up in ditches and all the best anecdotes are unsayable,” he says.
Then, getting a little sentimental he adds, “but we’ve been making these movies for a long time and it’s a unique experience for actors to get to keep working with the same people again and again. People have had real life experiences (making these films). People have had children, gotten married, gotten divorced. We’ve all become real friends. I’ve never been on a set where people choose not to go back to their trailers but stay on set and make fun of each other, so it’s been a real privilege.”
Elizabeth Olsen, returning as the Scarlet Witch, asked whether she would like to see a spin-off film of her character, doesn’t hesitate to say yes.
“I would be thrilled,” she exclaims. “Paul (Bettany) and I joke about how we would love to do a House of M spin-off—a really domesticated, indie version of it. That would be a lot of fun.
“That part of her story is why I love this character so much. I’m just happy that I’m still included so I don’t need my own movie. Just bring me back all the time. This is the greatest cast and crew. We get to work with people who are the best at their jobs. We’re all very lucky to be here and enjoy each other’s company.”
Winding down the press conference, Romania-born Sebastian Stan is asked whether he thinks his Bucky Barnes/White Wolf character has changed since his first appearance in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and whether the other Avengers accept him into the fold in “Infinity War.”
“You see shades of the old Bucky in this situation,” he reveals from the back row of group. “I guess the guy smiles, finally, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying ‘accepted.’ He’s been seeing who his allies are. He’s been enjoying the coconut water in Wakanda, and everything else is peachy.”