Exclusive Interview with Marvel Studios Prez, Kevin Feige

In 2006, Marvel Studios made their first official appearance at Comic-Con in San Diego ready to announce new movies based on Marvel Comics characters Iron Man and the Hulk, to be directed by Jon Favreau and Louis Letterier. For Kevin Feige, who had already been involved with most of the Marvel movies going back to X-Men, he knew they had a lot of bad and disappointing previous Marvel movies to get past, including an earlier Hulk movie by Ang Lee. Could the director of Elf turn things around and deliver a movie that lives up to the adventures of Marvel’s characters in comic book form?

Now it’s nearly six years later and Marvel Studios has already proven itself with global hits like Iron Man, which grossed $582 million worldwide, its even more successful sequel and last year’s Thor ($450 million globally) and Captain America: The First Avenger ($368 million). It’s been fairly well known for some time and by almost everyone that all of these characters were being introduced to finally come together for Marvel’s The Avengers and that movie has now come to fruition, directed by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon (another unlikely candidate to direct a big action movie!), and so far, it’s gotten some of the best reviews of any Marvel Studios movie to date. (Our own Scott Chitwood gave it a 9.5 out of 10!)

This seemed like a perfectly good time to get back on the phone with Feige and find out a little more about what goes into making a huge superteam movie like The Avengers work. (Note: We did this interview a couple of weeks back, before we actually had a chance to see The Avengers, which is why we don’t have any specific questions about the plot in case you were worried about spoilers.)

SuperHeroHype: Obviously, we’ve talked a lot over the years. “The Avengers” was announced just a couple of days after “Iron Man” came out, so you had a gameplan that built up to this. What was the most important factor when you started working on “Avengers” proper?
Kevin Feige: Well, the important factor was the movies that came before it, was casting them and getting them right and introducing those characters to an audience in a way that they were intrigued by both the characters and the actors playing them. I think that we’ve done that. Whether people have seen those movies or not, Chris Hemsworth is a known figure now, and (Chris) Evans’ profile’s been up; whether people saw “Thor” or “Captain America” or not, you couldn’t escape the marketing, so some of those characters are on people’s radar now and the notion that all these characters have been in movies you may or may not have seen, and if all joined together into a movie that – and I think when you see the movie, Ed, you’ll tell that you don’t have to have seen any of the other movies to enjoy this one. That’s the genius of how Joss put it together. We always wanted it to be a part one, an “Avengers” part one, and that’s what he’s done. The most difficult part was laying the groundwork, and the most important part of the groundwork was the cast. I think we’ve assembled, in my humble opinion, one of the best casts ever to be in a comic book movie.

SHH: I know Joss was tangentially involved with getting Chris Hemsworth on “Thor,” having worked with him on “Cabin” (which finally came out) and also he had a chance to do some writing on “Captain America.” Was it just a coincidence that he was so involved with the groundwork of building to “Avengers”?
Feige:
The Chris Hemsworth thing was a coincidence, the “Captain America” work was not. That was after he had already committed to “Avengers,” and we had been downloading him with what the script was for “Thor,” what the direction was and the scripts were for “Captain America,” where we saw all these characters going, so he knew what he was inheriting. He did put a little bit of his touches onto the “Captain” script at one point.

SHH: As someone who has been involved with getting up to “Avengers” right from the beginning–I know Favreau at one point was talking about directing it–had it changed a lot as far as how you envisioned it would be?
Feige:
Well, no, not really. The only thing we knew then was that we wanted to try to do it, or that we wanted to try to not only make a “Thor” movie and make a “Captain America” movie and make an “Iron Man” movie, but that if all those movies came out and worked, then we would make an “Avengers” movie starring all of those people. The specifics of it evolved and grew as the years went on and as we would develop it and the timing. It didn’t necessarily work out for any of the filmmakers from the original origin stories to come on board, and frankly, I think it is for the best. Joss has such a unique voice, that as I just said, wanting it to be a part one, wanting it to feel like it’s both the culmination of five other movies, and yet equal parts a fresh and new and original origin story I think was certainly helped by having as distinct and original voice as Joss Whedon’s.

SHH: I have to imagine getting the Hulk right was very important because there had been a couple other Hulk movies. Was the work you had done with “The Incredible Hulk” still useful or did you have to start from scratch?
Feige:
It absolutely is and it’s absolutely canon. If you spend 40 bucks and go to the AMC movie marathon…

SHH: I already have my ticket.
Feige:
Do you really?

SHH: I do, yeah. I’m going to go.
Feige:
That’s awesome. There are a couple of surprises there too, that’ll be fun. No, it is very much canon, and without explaining too much, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner at one point is invited to New York City and says that, “The last time I was in New York, I kind of broke Harlem.” So it certainly is a part of it, but it’s been an evolution of the Hulk character, and finally finding a voice and a place to show off what the Hulk can be, and really incorporating him into an ensemble, not to mention an ensemble as envisioned by Joss Whedon certainly turned out to be the best arena for the Hulk to strut his stuff.

SHH: I know “The Ultimates” has always been an influence as you’ve been developing this, and I don’t want to spoil this, although it was spoiled for me already, but why keep the aliens a secret for so long? They are part of that “Ultimates” universe in some ways, so it’s not that huge a revalation.
Feige:
Well, the truth is, it kind of doesn’t matter, right? I mean, we’ve always said, “Loki’s the villain.” We’ve always said that, “Loki’s going to have an army.” That is the purpose they serve in the movie, as you will see. First of all, the only people who were asking us who the aliens were, were the hardcore Marvel fans that the minute they heard one way or the other what we were calling the aliens would suddenly start to read in all sorts of other things about them. “Oh, it’s the Skrulls. They’re going to do the Super-Skrull leading up to the ‘Kree-Skrull War.’” We just didn’t necessarily want the discussion to move that far a field from what we were actually doing.

SHH: Thought it might have been the Badoon, because at one point, I remember you wanted to make a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie and I thought, “Maybe they were bringing back the Badoon” even though they hadn’t been in the comics for twenty years.
Feige:
Right. Well, they might be coming back to the comics sooner than you think.

SHH: Oh, that would be awesome. The visuals of “Ultimates” was also an influence in terms of Hawkeye’s costume…
Feige:
First of all, “The Ultimates” I think is certainly one of the best comics of the last few decades. I would say tonally they’re different in what we’ve done. Like the Hulk eats people in “The Ultimates” comic. Tonally, they are a different thing, but Joe Quesada and Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch sat down ten years before us and said, “Hey, if we were going to reinvent ‘The Avengers’ for a modern audience, what would we do?” They came up with a lot of great answers to those questions, one of them being, “Nick Fury’s going to be Sam Jackson.” We took a lot of those, and the dynamic between Widow and the Hawkeye’s one of them, the look of Hawkeye is another, obviously Sam Jackson, the fact that Captain America’s costume is more than just a spandex or more than just a spandex and chain mail, fish-scale armor outfit, but is more textured and detailed provided inspiration both for his 1940′s outfit in “The First Avenger,” and his modern-day outfit. Those kind of inspirations, absolutely because again, in doing what we would end up doing 10 years later and going, “Hey, how should we bring this to life in a more contemporary way?” They just came up with a lot of great solutions that we wanted to follow.

SHH: I remember them always saying that “Ultimates” was an Avengers book done for the big screen and influenced by those larger-scale blockbuster.
Feige:
Long before Marvel Studios, it’s always a back and forth between comics and movies-movies inspiring the comics, and comics inspiring movies, not just “Superman” comic inspiring a “Superman” movie, but just comics in general, and aesthetically influencing the look of movies, and then movies in turn – look at the 70s when suddenly everything started to look like “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” in the comic book universe, right? I mean, there’s always been that back and forth.

SHH: I know you’re working on “Iron Man 3,” which you’re going to start shooting soon, “Thor” you’re going start shooting fairly soon. I was surprised by the April date for “Cap,” because six months after “Iron Man,” you have “Thor” and then just five months later, you’ll have the sequel to “Cap.” So the turnaround time on these movies is getting tighter and tighter.
Feige:
But we’ve got “Avengers” this year and then two months later “Spider-Man.” In the past years we had “Iron Man,” and then six weeks later “Hulk.” It’s actually kind of more time between movies if you think about it.

SHH: Right, but “Spider-Man” is being done by Sony, so do you and Jeremy (Latcham) generally split the movies between the two of you at this point?
Feige:
The truth is that’s always the way we’ve done it. Jeremy Latcham is an incredible executive and producer. He just completed “The Avengers” and he’s going onto his next project. Each movie that we work on has a key executive producer along with it. If you don’t know these names, you should. Co-president Louis D’Esposito who’s executive producer on all the movies and who even directed a little something that we’re going to reveal in the coming months. We couldn’t do these movies without him. Victoria Alonso, who was also executive producer on “Avengers” and co-producer on our other films and leads the charge in everything from post-production and visual FX. You may have heard of the name Craig Kyle who oversees the “Thor” movies for me and Stephen Broussard who did “Captain America” and now has just moved to North Carolina for “Iron Man 3.” We have an amazing team and a brain trust in place that allows us to make those two movies a year. You can read some of what Feige had to say about the direction of those upcoming sequels here.

SHH: How about some of these other characters that haven’t been introduced yet, like Doctor Strange and Ant-Man and the Guardians? Are these things still in the works and stuff you may want to do separate from the characters you used in the “Avengers” movie?
Feige:
Very much so, yeah, and I’m certainly not announcing anything, but all three of those that you mentioned are very much in the works and something that we hope to be bringing to the public soon.

SHH: What about the future of “The Avengers?” I don’t know if you want to bring in new characters or just keep the core team. Characters like the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, are they part of Fox’s deal or are they characters you could use?
Feige:
We both have them. There’s a specific arrangement with those two characters that would allow us to use them with “Avengers,” but not discuss or reference their mutant or Magneto-related lineage. They can use them as mutants and as Magneto’s relatives, but cannot have anything to do with “The Avengers.”

SHH: So whichever universe uses them first basically gets to keep them.
Feige:
Yeah. Contracts are always complicated. (chuckles)

SHH: So are you still involved with Fox and the other studios while they’re developing other Marvel movies?
Feige:
Yeah, at various levels, to various degrees. Clearly, they’re all Marvel characters, they’re all our properties, and we do what we can. I mean, there’s various levels of input. We’ve not been shy about saying the Marvel Studios movies take up most of our time.

SHH: Do you still have a lot of the current Marvel creators involved in giving you notes for your upcoming movies as well?
Feige:
Very much so. I mean, every movie we make and every script that we come up with, we pool the creative committee brain trust from Alan Fine, whose name I’m sure you’ve heard, Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley, Brian Michael Bendis, all help us. We pick their brains with our scripts to keep turning it over and turning it over and turning it over to make sure that only the best ideas were made.

SHH: That may have been one of the best residual effects of the “Iron Man” movies is that Matt Fraction is writing one of the best “Iron Man” comics, that have been influenced by the movies .
Feige:
Yeah, I totally agree. He’s been doing good stuff on “Thor” too, but I totally agree with you about “Iron Man.”

SHH: Thanks a lot and hope to see you on the set of some of those other movies soon or at Comic-Con I assume. Are you going to have enough time to bring anything from “Iron Man 3″ to Comic-Con this year?
Feige:
We’ll see, but we’re always there in some capacity.

Marvel’s The Avengers opens in North America on Friday, May 4.