By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
BURBANK, Calif.—A press conference to promote the new superhero flick “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” seems more like pep rally than entertainment newsgathering event. No fewer than 13 cast members and filmmakers have assembled on the stage of a huge movie auditorium here on the Disney Studios lot. (Disney owns Marvel, which has been releasing hit after spectacular action-packed hit for several years now.)
If this were a sporting event, then Robert Downey Jr., reprising his Tony Stark/Iron Man role for the fifth time (sixth, if you can’t his cameo in 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk”), would be the team captain. He’ also serves as a de facto emcee, even though a moderator is on hand to make sure everyone on the dais gets a question.
Surprisingly, though, the first several questions are directed to director Joss Whedon and producer Kevin Feige and some of the supporting actors, causing Downey to quip several minutes into the festivities that he won’t be doing any more press conferences in the future unless he’s asked the first question. He appears to be kidding.
The crowded stage also includes returnees from previous Marvel films (including the first “Avengers”) Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/the Hulk, Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Cobie Smulders as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, as well as newcomers to the lucrative franchise Elizabeth Olsen as clairvoyant Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, Aaron Taylor-John as her lightning fast brother Max/Quicksilver, Paul Bettany appearing in the flesh for the first time as Jarvis/The Vision and James Spader as Ultron, the A.I. robot that gets out of control.
For 20 minutes, they joke and banter and occasionally answer questions about the action-packed adventure in which the group of Marvel superheroes battle killer robots reprogrammed by one with advanced artificial intelligence (Ultron), to save the world.
Q: Joss, could you talk about bringing Vision and Ultron to life as they embody the good and bad of Tony’s nature?
Whedon: Yes, you’re right. They do embody a little bit of him but they’re also their own people. I do see them as two sides of the same coin and I like the accord between the two of them. I think there’s something beautiful about the fact that they see the same thing and react to it differently emotionally.
Q: Can you talk about the biggest challenges that you faced putting together the story and shooting the film? What surprised you?
Whedon: (looking at the cast) There’s like 47 of these people. I really didn’t think that through before doing this at all. It’s just making sure that everyone’s got his or her moment. I love all these people. They’re extraordinary, but making sure that they’ve all been served and they’re all within the same narrative structure. They’re in the same movie and it’s all connected to the main theme. At some point in the editing process, I could not have told you who they were, or who I was. I got so lost in it, but I think it all came together. It’s just about making these guys look good, which takes a long time.
Q: Kevin, as the producer, you started with this grand plan almost a decade ago. What does it mean to you to see it all come to fruition working with Joss and the rest of the cast? What has that experience been like?
Feige: It’s been great of course. It started with the notion of making these movies ourselves and becoming Marvel Studios, and then it continued with Robert and I with “Iron Man,” the notions of Sam Jackson come in at the end and say, “You’re part of a big universe. You just don’t know it yet,” thinking that most people wouldn’t know what that meant. “We’ll introduce all the individual characters and then put them together. It’ll be great!” But the minute that happened, the world sort of got it much more quickly than I anticipated. The expectations are daunting now because before they didn’t exist and now they’re crushingly overwhelming, particularly on this movie. But it’s incredible. If you look down the line, it keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s the greatest ensemble ever assembled in cinematic history and it’s amazing to be a part of it.
Q: Elizabeth and Aaron, the chemistry between the twins is so important to have an emotional impact. Was the fact that you had worked together previously on “Godzilla” an advantage in making their relationship work in the film?
Olsen: I think it’s only a benefit. Aaron and I didn’t work that much on “Godzilla” together, and it’s kind of intimidating joining this group. (But) I got to do it with Aaron by my side.
Taylor-Johnson: It was comforting to know that stepping on set in such a big ensemble that you kind of had someone to feel comfortable with.
Q: Cobie, your character, Maria Hill, is the common thread that ties everything together from “The Avengers,” the other Marvel superhero films and the TV show. Talk about where we see her now and what kind of Maria Hill you wanted the audiences to see in “Age of Ultron?”
Smulders: Maria is now under the employment of Tony Stark. She’s now working with him to privatize security. It’s very fun being a thread that’s able to tie the TV show and the movies together. That’s been a lot of fun. But she’s got a bigger job now. She’s working with Tony and she doesn’t have S.H.I.E.L.D. at her disposal anymore, so it’s a much more difficult job.
Q: Robert, we get to see a lot of sides to Tony Stark in “Age of Ultron in that he creates Ultron and has to take care of Hulk’s destructive rages. Did you have these things in mind when you were playing the part?
Downey: (deadpan) I must be mellowing with age but I want to say this very clearly, the next time I’m not asked the first question, I will ******* walk out.
I read Joss’ script and said, “I wish this was great.” And Kevin said, “You never say that. You can’t mean that.” I said, “Yeah, I think it’s great. Let’s go shoot it.” I really thought it was a Swiss watch to begin with. Joss created a lot of new situations for Tony to be in so rather than dig in my heels and try to rewrite every scene to make it even better, I just showed up, and it turned out great.
Q: James, could talk about doing the motion capture and how you were able to bring life to this killer robot Ultron?
Spader: I really don’t have any idea what was happening. It all happened very quickly. I really was just trying to hold on and stay on a train that was moving very quickly. I will say this, I arrived in London and within the first half hour, I put on this suit and all the gear and went through the motions and then, within 15 minutes, I was watching me walk around a big room and doing this and that and watching Ultron, or a stage of Ultron on a monitor in front of me. It started right there and then the next day, I was on set shooting a scene with Scarlett (Johannson). That pace was what it was like the whole time. Luckily, I had had some conversations with Joss and one fantastic meal with a whole bunch of wine to figure out who this guy was and that really was it.
Q: James, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, growing up, who was your favorite superhero and why?
Chris Hemsworth: “Superman” was probably the only film I liked when I was growing up and sticks out for me.
Chris Evans: (to Hemsworth) So had “Captain America” been out…
Hemsworth: …It would have been “Captain Australia.”
Spader: Growing up, I didn’t have any comic books at all but my friend Will Branas had a trunk full of them. So comic books were like candy to me. I’d go over to his house for a sleepover and I would be just devouring everything that I could get my hands on. I’d devour whatever I could get my hands on because the sleepover was going to be over and I was going go back to my house and it was going be chitlins.
Q: Jeremy, a lot of Hawkeye fans felt a little shortchanged with the first “Avengers,” because your character didn’t get much screen time, but here we see a greater emphasis on him this time around. Talk about what you were hoping to see him evolve into in this film and your first reactions to when you read the script for this one?
Renner: (quips) I speak in this movie, which is awesome. I’m part of the team, which is awesome. There are lots of aspects that are awesome. When I was sitting down with Joss back in the day about why I liked Hawkeye and wanted to play him, I didn’t understand what these gentlemen (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) do. I don’t have that creative a mind, but I understand Hawkeye. He’s an assassin and he’s human and I tap into that and I felt like I got to explore a little bit beyond the skill set. I thought that he was really endearing and thoughtful, kind of secret.
Q: Scarlett, can you talk about the physical preparation that went into playing Black Widow. You were expecting when you shot this. Were you a proficient motorcycle rider already?
Johannson: I don’t think you’re allowed to ride a motorcycle when you’re so pregnant, but I did. I did all the motorcycle stuff. I embarrassingly rode a kind of electronic bull motorcycle, which goes nowhere. It doesn’t look cool at all, but we had some very professional and amazing motocross work being done (by the stunt team) that makes Black Widow look like a total bad***.
I’m very fortunate that there’s a team around me that’s very supportive in helping all of Widow’s fight moves and bad*** motorcycle riding happen. I could not do that without that part of it.
Q: Mark, could you talk a little about the evolution of your character, Dr. Bruce Banner, in this film?
Ruffalo: I was helped out by the fact that I’m green and huge to help me with the distinction between the two characters. I can’t take full credit for that, except for the accent maybe.