From the Set: The Avengers Assemble in Albuquerque!

By now you’ve probably already seen the teaser, the trailer, the Super Bowl spot and possibly even more footage and photos from Marvel’s The Avengers, the culmination of five years of planning by Marvel Studios to create a Marvel Movie Universe based on the popular Marvel Comics characters, some of which are nearly 70 years old.

Back in June 2011, there were so many questions about how an Avengers movie might work. At that time, we hadn’t even seen Captain America: The First Avenger yet and weren’t even sure if Chris Evans would work as Cap. We were especially curious to know what the dynamics would be like between the various members of the group as played by actors  with a wide range from experienced vets like Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. to newcomers like Chris Hemsworth, at the time who we’d only seen in Thor.

Might we see Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark giving a dressing down to Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye? Would Chris Hemsworth be able to maintain his presence as the boisterous and bombastic Thor when facing such powerhouse heavyweights like Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury?

With that in mind, it was a no-brainer when Marvel’s new parent company Disney invited SuperHeroHype to visit the Albuquerque, New Mexico sets where the production had taken over ABQ Studios. We’re happy to say that we were able to get many answers as we joined a group of select online journalists to talk to most of the principal cast including Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson and newbie Jeremy Renner–we even got to see them in action as Black Widow and Hawkeye–Mark Ruffalo, as well as the filmmakers, director Joss Whedon and producer Kevin Feige. While we didn’t get to see or talk to Samuel L. Jackson or new girl Cobie Smulders, who plays Nick Fury’s right-hand Maria Hill, we also got to spend a ton of time with Clark Gregg, whose Agent Coulson first introduced the concept of S.H.I.E.L.D. back in 2008′s Iron Man.

PHOTO GALLERY: View new photos from the anticipated May 4 release!

The results were two crazy days of immersion into the movie world of the Avengers, but before we could go anywhere or anywhere, we had to face Barry, Marvel Studios’ head of security, who made us sign a stack of paperwork promising to keep everything we saw a secret until a time deemed more appropriate, which lucky you… is right now!

Introductions

So where do we begin?

The movie has been described by many of those involved as a “disaster movie” and the gathering of superheroes comes about after an event at the beginning of the movie that endangers the earth and forces Nick Fury’s hand beyond anything S.H.I.E.L.D. has had to face in the past. The core team is Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, but there are a number of new additions to the cast, including the aforementioned Cobie Smulders/Maria Hill. Even so, the character most Avengers fans have been dying to see in action is Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton a.k.a Hawkeye, because he’s been such an important part of the team in the comics since joining the team with Avengers #16.

The guy who knows more about this project and its origins than anyone else is Marvel Studios’ President of Production Kevin Feige, who has spent the last six years building to this movie. We were able to sit down with him fairly early in our visit to talk about the whys and wherefores of making an Avengers movie. The most important thing to know is that while the previous five movies have been builing to The Avengers, and it may have some effect on future movies of the individual characters–a couple which have already been planned–it’s really meant as its own separate franchise.

“We’re looking to replicate that experience that a comic reader had, who loved reading his ‘Thor’ issues and loved reading his ‘Cap’ issues and loved reading his ‘Iron Man’ issues and they always had their favorites and would argue about who’s better and who would win in a fight and occasionally they would get together for an über-event and then after that über-event would go back into their own comic stories.”

“One of the reasons we wanted Joss to come on-board is because he understood the characters and he was not interested in doing a half-‘Iron Man 3,’ half-‘Thor 2,’ half-‘Captain America 2,’ half-‘Hulk Whatever,’” he continued. “He was interested in doing ‘The Avengers: Part 1,’ and from the very first frame of the movie, this is ‘Avengers: Part 1,’ so all of the characters are introduced to the audience as if you’ve never seen them before. Other than that, they’re all new characters coming into the story at certain points, and Hawkeye in the same way, right from the very open.

“I guess we have the most leeway with Tony Stark who enters the movie, you could argue, like the celebrity that he is within that world, but also like the celebrity that he is to the moviegoing public as well. So the story that Shane (Black) is developing now on ‘Iron Man 3,’ while it does not avoid any references to ‘The Avengers,’ it’s very much Tony is back in his world with his players dealing with his issues and is not going to pick up the phone and call Thor or Captain America or anything like that, necessarily. It’s not that won’t happen down the line–it could—but particularly with ‘Iron Man 3,’ a year after ‘The Avengers,’ it’s more about getting Tony back into his world.”

Feige had a lot more to say and you can read the full interview with him below:

Interview with Kevin Feige

The Family Feud

Being that this set visit took place just six weeks after the release of Thor, most of the journalists were already familiar with the first two interview subjects, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, reprising their roles of Asgardian brothers Thor and Loki. (We actually spoke to them before Feige.)

Hemsworth told us that when he worked with Joss Whedon on The Cabin in the Woods (out soon), Whedon handed him a copy of “The Ultimates” trade paperback long before Hemsworth would be cast as Thor. Hemsworth talked about what the other Avengers think of his character. “I think they are all sort of scratching their head,” he said. “There are certainly a few reactions of, ‘This guy thinks he’s a god? He’s got a cape.’ And my reaction to that is, ‘You are wearing a metal suit and you are wrapped in an American flag.’ We all kind of have our opinions, but Joss has said it before: they are all sort of lonely characters in a sense because they are individuals, and because of that, they maybe find some comfort in coming together. As hard as it is, they also probably feel at home in some way.”

What part Loki would be playing in The Avengers wasn’t that well known back when we did these interviews, but Hiddleston told us, “I think Joss loves Loki because he loves complexity and the great thing about Loki is that there is almost no ceiling to his complexity as a character. He is a shape-shifter, intelligent, and he has strategic gifts but he also has reservoirs of pain. I think when you have so much color and heroism in a film like ‘The Avengers,’ it needs to be balanced by a degree of pain I think.” Hiddleston told us that Loki has scenes with each of the individual Avengers, which plays into the way he breaks up the team.

“Loki doesn’t particularly care what the humans think about his dress sense,” Hiddleston said about Loki’s presence on earth. “Let’s remember that he is a god or at least an advanced being visiting these deeply inferior beings called humans. I think that in a way like when Thor first comes to earth, Loki also shares an arrogance about being superior to them. The journey for Thor and that character is to learn humility, so by the end of ‘Thor,’ as played brilliantly by Chris Hemsworth, he has respect, affection, and love for the human race. I’m not sure that Loki has developed that yet.”

We’ll probably run both those full interviews sometime in the next few weeks.

Aboard The Helicarrier

Knowing how much of the movie revolves around S.H.I.E.L.D. and how Nick Fury brings the Avengers together, the most exciting introduction in The Avengers will probably be the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier itself, Fury’s flying fortress which has yet to appear in a Marvel movie. They had built many of the Helicarrier’s interiors on the soundstages of ABQ Studios, and it was literally the first thing we’d see on arrival.

We’ve been to many, many sets over the years and the attention to detail is always impressive, but in this case, production designer James Chinlund had really created something quite fantastic with the Helicarrier’s bridge. While it was highly reminiscent of the “Star Trek” bridge with chairs and monitors on all different levels, stairs leading upwards and downwards to different levels, it also had a distinctive look because it was mostly metal with massive curved pillars supporting pillars and the entire front wall made up the enormous glass windows. The Helicarrier’s main control panel were two glass slabs with diagrams on it that looked like something Tony Stark may have designed. (Is it possible that the Helicarrier was something Stark helped build for S.H.I.E.L.D. since first meeting Nick Fury?)

At the back of the large room was a glass meeting desk and behind it would normally be the giant S.H.I.E.L.D. symbol on the wall, but that had been taken down as part of the plan to transport much of the set to the convention floor of Comic-Con a month later.

The next area we visited were the Helicarrier’s Wishbone Labs, a fairly standard room where scientists studied stuff on microscopes and the like, and we obviously arrived after some sort of large-scale skirmish that left glass everywhere. The lab’s windows were riddled either with bulletholes (or possibly even holes from arrows?) and there’s a scene in the trailer that may explain what had happened there.

The third area of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier we visited was a large holding bay that held the Hulk’s glass cage, again the entire room constructed of solid-looking metal. We walked up a series of grated stairs to the viewing platform and looked down a deep pit with interleafed panels that created a sliding bomb bay door. Surrounding it were four giant robotic claws used to lift something or someone in and out of the bay. Just outside this area, we saw the glass cylindrical case that would fit comfortably into that pit. It was a sturdier construct that you might expect considering it was all glass, but it was heavily reinforced and there were sliding doors, clearly to allow Bruce Banner (or his visitors) in and out as needed when not in Hulk form.

We’re going to take a wild guess that they’re going to recreate something similar to “The Ultimates” comics with Bruce Banner being sealed in this case, but when trouble arises and they need the Hulk’s power, they drop him out of the bomb bay doors into action, which would actually be a pretty cool visual.

This area would be where we’d watch an extended conversation between Tony Stark and Captain America that we’re not sure how much we want to divulge. We learned from this exchange that Loki needs a power source from something and that he’s working to divide up the group, but mostly, they were discussing a member of the team who tried to take on Loki alone and ended up paying for it, “making things personal.” We actually learned a lot from this dialogue scene–having to share four or five headphones between a dozen reporters didn’t make it easy–and it gave us a great taste of Whedon’s dialogue and what it’s bringing to The Avengers.

After watching this scene a dozen times and noting the changes being made in the dialogue each time, we got to sit down with the two actors to get their take on The Avengers.

Downey took point on the interview while explaining how big this movie was. “I remember at Comic-Con a season or two ago, there was all this promise of…this is hugely ambitious. DC has tried to do this before and Marvel kinda said we’re going to do it and formulated a way to do it correctly. Which is where J-Dub [Downey's pet name for Joss Whedon] came in heavily. What it is, it’s just a really good story that could’ve been done a hundred ways wrong and don’t act surprised at how unpredictable it is.”

Since much of the interest in The Avengers revolves around the team dynamics, Downey took on his Tony Stark persona when answering who his character may or may not get along with on the team. “I just don’t like big guys who speak cryptically and act like they understand the language better than me, guys with trippy brothers and all that stuff,” he said as Tony, but then added that he and Cap have something that’s more multi-faceted.

Evans agreed. “Tony’s a little more flash and he’s got charisma and likes the spotlight where I think Cap might be a little more reserved in his desire to be front and center, but they’re both, at their core, heroes.”

“I think without Tony we don’t work,” Evans continued. “He really is the glue in the family. He really is the fire that keeps you coming back. I think at least for this movie, Cap is struggling to find his footing in a modern day. He’s a fish out of water. A little more uncomfortable in his own skin than he normally might be, and he’s not hitting the ground running. Without the charisma and leadership that Tony Stark brings.”

You can read the full interview with the duo below:

Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans Interview

Go to Page 2 for the rest of our set visit, which incudes interviews with Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson, director Joss Whedon and the newest Bruce Banner, Mark Ruffalo!