From the Set: The Avengers Assemble in Albuquerque!

Dinner and Breakfast with Agent Coulson

As much as we love Clark Greg as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson–that subtitle may give the wrong impression of how much we love him–but we actually ran into the actor/director at the end of Day 1 as we were on our way to get dinner at a Brazilian restaurant and he graciously agreed to join the roughly twenty journalists for dinner. Then the next morning, we all had to wake up early to do our official interview with Gregg.

“As a fanboy myself one of the fun things about the gig has been every time I get a new script I get to find out more about his day-to-day life and what goes on and what his relationships are,” Gregg told us about what Coulson brings to the mix. “In the early days of ‘iron Man,’ he seemed to be just this guy who really wanted to have a meeting with Tony Stark and was getting blown off all of the time and I kind of loved that about him. He was this bureaucrat hiding in plain sight who ended up having some real game and a secret and I think in ‘The Avengers’ and to a certain extent in ‘Thor’ when Nick Fury details him to go handle this mysterious hammer that shows up in the desert, I think the way we see him deal with the arrival of the Destroyer, it doesn’t seem like it’s his first clambake if he’s willing to walk out to that giant monstrosity with the spiky shoulders and the tight-fitting suit and no face with flames and kind of be like ‘Excuse me, you are using unregistered weapons technology.’ It made me think ‘God, what the hell else has this guy seen this month that he is this casual about that guy?’ I think that really gets extended here, that some kind of mindbending stuff starts to go down and I guess one of the cool things about ‘The Avengers’ is it feels like maybe no one has ever seen anything like what’s about to go down here, but Coulson is deliciously hard to ruffle.”

The Battle for New York City

One of the most distinctive things that separates The Avengers at least from the Iron Man movies and Thor is that it mostly takes place in New York City. While we never learned why Tony Stark has moved his operations to New York, most of the action does take place there.

One of the sets we visited that was still under construction was Tony Stark’s luxurious New York City apartment in the high-rise Stark Tower, vast digs that looked as if they had to cut two or three floors out of the building in order to create space for the flat. Outside the large glass windows of his apartment was what looked like a helipad, but more than likely, this is what he uses so he can come and go as Iron Man. Although this set wasn’t complete, we were able to look at the blueprints for the apartment off to the side of the set and see again how much effort has been put into making this seemingly impossible environment realistic. This completed set can be seen in the scenes between Loki and Tony Stark in the various trailers, and we do know that confrontation doesn’t go well for Tony.

Otherwise, most of Day 2 was spent in an old abandoned trainyard a van ride away from ABQ Studios that was quite a different environment, being that it was an aging no-frills space with ceilings that must have been 40 or 50 feet high, rusted metal beams and junk piled up in the corner, as well as old dormant equipment like the heavy-duty crane used to lift heavy freight train cars.

Mind you, we were in Albuquerque in July during one of the hottest summers on record and the trainyard literally was turning into a sweatbox because being over a hundred degrees outside, it was going to be significantly hotter inside the unventilated warehouse.

As we walked in and saw how massive the building was, we were surprised to see they were only using one section of the trainyard, about a quarter of it, and that was still a huge area where they had constructed an enormous make-shift green screen stage used to recreate a section of New York City, specifically the section of Park Avenue in front of Grand Central Station. While it was mostly green screen, they had built the railings around the ramp leading up to Grand Central, which you can actually see in the new trailer during the panoramic group shot of all the Avengers including the Hulk coming together. (As a point of reference, this same location was used in the pivotal sequence in I Am Legend when Will Smith’s character first confronts the intelligent leader of the infected in an abandoned New York City.)

On the day we visited, the ramp had been littered with cars in all sorts of stages of destruction from being crushed to literally being ripped in half which made us think that the Hulk had been through there. A few months later, they’d be in that exact location in New York City shooting some more coverage, but first they would recreate a larger portion of the set in Cleveland, Ohio of all places for some more second unit.

In a section of the vast space apart from the ramp area, we would watch Jeremy Renner in action as Hawkeye taking on roughly a dozen stuntmen in motion capture sensor suits playing the mysterious non-Skrull aliens who would act as the world threat the Avengers are facing. While we had some idea what Hawkeye’s costume would look like this was the first time we’d see it live and in person, and though he was wearing a leather vest, he was mostly wearing spandex underneath rather than it being all leather, which would not be very comfortable in this heat and humidity.

The stuntmen approached him, climbing over the abandoned burned-out cars, a couple of the cars still on fire, and we watched Hawkeye launch a couple imaginary arrows (which we assumed would be added using CG) at enemies further away, then using his bow to strike some of the nearby adversaries. This stuff was being filmed by 2nd Unit director John Mahaffie and while we would watch most of it on monitors, we had a chance to  get much closer as well, which allowed us to see the destruction surrounding Hawkeye up close. His skirmish with the aliens was stiring up so much dust around him that in between each take, a technician had to run out with a monitor to make sure the air was still breathable due to all the fake dust in the air.

After watching Renner in action and getting to see Johansson’s Black Widow facing her own aliens–via playback on the monitor unfortunately–we would sit down with them off to the side of the humongous set to talk with them, though they weren’t going to be tricked into revealing who they were fighting in the scenes we watched them film, as hard as we tried.

“We’re avenging something,” Renner joked, as Johansson played along, “We’re fighting, I can tell you that, so it’s hot and sweaty.”

“I can tell you this,” Renner said about how much of the movie focuses on the duo. “There are so many characters in this movie, as you know, that it can’t really go too much backstories of characters. We’re telling a massive story here with a lot of characters in it, so the time is spent on all of us, I guess, saving things.”

“We’ve obviously known each other for a long time,” Johansson told us about their relationsip. “We have a very rich history, the two characters, with one another, but as far as the timeline, I think it’s pretty much the time that has passed since ‘Iron Man 2′ came out, I think a couple years, but since we’ve seen each other, we’ve been working together the whole time.”

You can read the rest of the interview with them below:

Interview with Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson

A Quick Trip Through the Art Room
After a bit of urging, Kevin Feige agreed to bring us on a tour through the art room with the understanding we wouldn’t record anything he said or take notes, and obviously, they went through and took out anything we absolutely shouldn’t see. Fortunately, we have a pretty good memory and we wrote down whatever we could remember from the amazing concept art and paintings we were shown. Some of the more distinctive images we saw actually appeared in the latest trailer including Thor atop the Chrysler Building with lightning smashing down around him, an image of Cap, Iron Man and Thor confronting each other in a wooded mountain top and a group of people bowing down before the victorious Loki. One of the things we saw that hasn’t even been hinted at from the trailer is that the Cosmic Cube is definitely a part of the story as we saw images of what looked like Stellan Skarsgard’s Professor Selvig experimenting on the Cube with Loki caught in some sort of energy cell in the background, giving us the impression he might use the Cube to reincorporate Loki’s physical body on earth following the end scene in Thor.

More importantly, we got to see our first image of the outside of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, which until recently, hadn’t been shown in any of the trailers, and we remember seeing an image of the Iron Man armory inside the Helicarrier with different versions of the Iron Man suit all along one wall, looking more like something out of the comics than what we’ve seen in either Iron Man movie.

Saving The Best for Last?

Day 2 was starting to wind down, but we still hadn’t had a chance to talk to Joss Whedon, who had obviously been busy directing, or Mark Ruffalo, who wasn’t filming that day, so we killed some time with some off-the-record lightning round chatter with Feige, before we conducted our final interviews with the two of them.
Whedon, who was celebrating his birthday that day, told us the process for developing what the plot should be for the movie. “It started out basically with Kevin (Feige) and Jeremy (Latcham) telling me ‘We know the basic structure of how they come together, what works, what doesn’t work, and how we see the climax,’ which was nice, because he gave me a basic skeleton of three acts that I knew I had to hang on and then it was just a question of ‘How do I get there? How do I earn that? What moments would cause these people to be in that situation?’ I’m very fierce about making sure that everything is motivated, that nothing is by chance or misunderstanding or coincidence or something like if people are going to fight or face a conflict or an enemy it has to be internal, it has to be because of something they believe and something they’ve done as opposed to ‘And now we clock this fight. And now check that box.’ The whole thing was to avoid that and I had the luxury of having taken the job and then spending two weeks off in Australia just thinking of moments, just thinking of that moment, that scene, ‘Oh, this is what this person would say.'”

“I had a very clear conception of what I wanted Bruce Banner to be and part of that was Mark Ruffalo,” Whedon said as introduction to the latest actor to play the Hulk’s alter-ego. “I wanted somebody who just opens himself to an audience, who just takes you along everywhere he goes. I felt that the performances in the other movies were very internal and the movies themselves lead to that, because they were all about Bruce Banner and the TV show was ‘I have a problem and I help other people and I live with that problem,’ so that’s sort of the way I wanted to approach it.”

“Mark and I spent a lot of time in the very beginning talking about rage, how it feels, how it manifests, what causes it, what it feels like afterwards, just the nuts and bolts of the emotion itself,” Whedon said about their direction on the Hulk. “In terms of the character it was very clear that we wanted to just have somebody who had gotten past where he was in those movies, so that when you meet him he is somebody who has internalized what went on in those movies to the extent that he’s someone you like and are interested in. If you’ve seen those movies, this would be a natural next step. If you haven’t, you’ll get the guy and you’ll get why he’s a good guy.”

Before we get to Ruffalo himself, here’s the full interview with Joss:

Joss Whedon Interview

Mark Ruffalo was in a playfully boisterous mood when we spoke to him, more than happy to answer all our questions regardless of how much he might be giving away. “I think Banner’s aging and living with this thing since now it’s been two years since his last one,” he said about where we pick up with his character. “We’re kind of going for this world-weariness of accepting and trying to get to the point where he can live with it, and maybe master it. Come to peace with it. There’s this nice kind of ironic ryness to Banner. He’s not sulking and miserable. We had talked about it being a throwback to Bill Bixby, which was the Banner that I grew up on basically. He had kind of a charm about it him, and this world-weariness. He was on the run, but he was still able to flirt sometimes and smile sometimes, and occasionally he’d crack a joke. When you have a movie where there’s so many characters you end up getting about 10 minutes screen time with your particular character, so in the screen time that we have we’re trying to bring out this charm in him, and maybe this idea that he wants to be a superhero. He looks at Stark and he’s like, ‘That’s the dude who did what I was intending to do. He’s the model. He made it work.’ So Banner and Stark have a very cool relationship in the movie.”

We learned the Hulk would be realized by Industrial Light & Magic, similar to the Ang Lee movie, but unlike previous movies, Ruffalo would be doing the performance capture for the Hulk rather than having it done by a stunt actor (or by Lee himself, as was the case with that first movie).

“Believe it or not, I looked at a lot of gorillas, just because they have this kind of lumbering to them that then becomes explosive. I liked that,” he said about his reference for the motion capture. “Plus when you do the motion capture, and you put the suit on and go into a room where they have monitors all around, and you step in front of the camera and there’s the Hulk, it’s literally like putting the costume on. Every move I make the Hulk makes; a very rudimentary version of him. And all of a sudden you get a look at that, and that, the way it is moving like that, is an honest sense of that character. And all of a sudden the image of the Hulk starts telling you how to move. He doesn’t move quickly; he has this kind of lumbering thing, and his shoulders are a little rolled over.”

Ruffalo also confirmed that we would hear the Hulk talk in the movie, although he wouldn’t confirm whether “Hulk Smash!” might be part of his vocabulary.

And you can read our full interview with Ruffalo below:

Mark Ruffalo Interview

And that’s it for our two-day trip into the Marvel Movie Universe and our look into what to expect from Marvel’s The Avengers which is released in all formats humanly possible on Friday, May 4.

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