Avengers, reassemble! With the help of Marvel comic-book artists we unmask the biggest superhero cast in the business…
‘‘It’s an extended family’’
ROBERT DOWNEY JR (IRON MAN)
This is your fifth film as Tony Stark, with more to come. Why do you keep returning?
I love the people. This time around I felt like I got closer to the cast, and Joss and I are pals.
How do you keep Tony fresh?
With the first Avengers film, Tony was becoming a team player, and with Iron Man 3 it was him transcending his dependency on the tech that’s keeping him alive. So I thought, “OK, now what?” But there’s the matter of a certain wormhole that opened over New York.
Ultron [voiced by James Spader] is Tony’s peacekeeping software, which then decides to wipe out humanity. Tony always seems to be the driving force behind the villain. What’s he doing wrong?
I don’t know, but maybe it’s convenient because he’s the guy who’s presumably technologically responsible. He can take a bit more risk with defects of character, so as it happens I think he’s a good guy to have around to do dumb and/or bad things.
What was it like working with your old mate James Spader?
He was the first person I saw off the boat when I got to LA and he took me under his wing. I’ve certainly borrowed from his style more than a few times over the years. I think another great full circle thing is Paul Bettany coming in and giving us a dose of Jarvis via [new android Avenger] The Vision, because he’s essentially been with me from the beginning.
How does Stark Tower look this time around?
I walked on the stages and I said, “Wow, this is really impressive.” The floors look beautiful. They’re so slippery, though, that it also added an unforeseen amount of excitement and danger to walk three steps.
Does it help that most of you know each other much better now?
When you’ve been at something for some time, there is a sense of extended family. Everyone’s definitely carrying more of their weight.
So what is it about Marvel that attracts such incredible talent?
It’s the ultimate stage for a big, fun movie. And it’s one thing to be able to have success here and there, but this is unprecedented. It’s like any way the river has gone it’s wound up finding people who wanted to drink from it. I guess the big idea also is that there’s something that makes everything feel connected.
What’s your dream audience reaction?
I just hope people say “Wow”. This movie is incredibly fun and thoughtful and has great themes and there’s a whole bunch of new people, so that’s my seal of approval.
‘‘Men in tights is a great equaliser’’
Scarlett Johansson (black widow)
What was different about this one?
Well, it’s been a few years, so people’s lives have changed. People got married, had children. Everybody’s a bit ‘all grown up’. We always joke that we’re the oldest superheroes.
You were pregnant for much of the shoot. Was it disappointing to miss out on some of the stunts?
Oh, I had my chance a couple of months later.
Do you find it a bit weird when you see your stunt double wandering the set?
No. I’ve been working with Heidi for years. Heidi Moneymaker – that’s her real name [laughs]. I think she’s inspired by my take on the character, the emotional depth. I, in turn, am inspired by this fighting style.
Does it get a bit macho on set?
You’d be surprised at how un-macho male actors are. They’re actors. All of us are extremely emotionally delicate, regardless of gender. Once you put men in tights, it’s a great equaliser.
You get to do more films than most characters, but would you like to have your own?
The thought of doing a stand-alone film is exciting and daunting. The most appealing thing would be to look towards the origin story. It could be a dark, Soviet espionage-type story.
With your musical career, have you ever thought about pitching a theme tune?
Like a Bond movie? No, but it’d be exciting. I think I’d have a hard time pitching it to [Marvel boss] Kevin Feige, knowing him, but you never know.
There are so many films, maybe he’ll give you a chance.
You’d think that, but each of these films is like Kevin’s little baby. If he’s finishing post on another film, I actually get jealous when he’s not on set. Like he’s neglecting us for his other child [laughs].
Chris Evans said there was plenty of fun to be had off-set while you filmed in London. Did you get to join in?
No, there’s no fun for me [laughs]. I did a lot of stuff during the day. I spent a lot of time in Kensington Gardens. London is always such a fun city to be in – now I actually got to enjoy the daylight hours.
‘‘Superman? I’d crush him’’
Chris Hemsworth (thor)
Was it more fun the second time around?
It was great. The first film felt like the first day at school, all this nervous energy. This time it felt like a high-school reunion.
Are you excited that Spider-Man looks like he’s joining the team?
I swear to God, I don’t know whether he is or not. I’ve heard that spoken about, but I have no idea. I feel like it’s you guys and the rest of the world that find out before we do, honestly. When people online were saying that they were recasting Thor as a female, I was the first to call up and say, “Um, really?”
Are there any humans vs gods cliques in the cast?
[Laughs] My character’s the only god, so I’d be alone in that party. I could be losing a bunch of friends if there were cliques.
Much of the film was shot in London. Any good nights out with the cast?
Chris Evans led the charge, everyone except him has kids – and responsibilities. So he was living his life, it was great.
Are you going to miss Tom Hiddleston and Thor’s rivalry with Loki?
Initially I thought, “How will Thor operate without him?” It’s the yin and yang of that character’s universe. But, with this ensemble there’s this whole new dynamic. Each character brings something different.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of Hollywood’s most ambitious projects – do you feel it deserves more plaudits?
That’s up to someone else to decide. But I don’t worry too much about that – I just pinch myself and feel fortunate to be part of it.
Are there any characters from the DC comic-book universe you’d like to steal?
Superman’s pretty indestructible. I’d probably lean more towards him than Batman.
And in a fantasy face-off between Thor and Superman, who’d win?
Yeah, I’d crush him.
‘‘It’s a fun, sh*t-talking crew’’
Jeremy Renner (hawkeye)
How was it with the gang reunited again?
It was a lot more fun. It’s always fun doing these movies – the physical aspect and getting in costume – but being part of a gang in a real way made it more exciting. There’s a comfort level with everybody.
If it felt like a school reunion, were Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen (who play new Avengers Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) the new kids at school?
There’s certainly that, being together again. They were fantastic, having them in. It’s a very jovial, sh*t-talking, fun crew.
Will Hawkeye have a bigger role this time around?
Yeah, it was very welcome on my end and lots of fans want it too, wondering who Hawkeye is and what he’ll be like having been in a few movies already. I was excited as everybody else, as was Joss, trying to work out his sense of humour, how he spoke, everything. In a very real way we get to see Hawkeye properly for the first time.
Did you always hope to one day play a superhero?
No, I don’t think so. That’s why I thought Hawkeye was a way into it, because he’s just a man with a high skillset, no superpowers. That I can relate to.
When you landed the role did you throw yourself into comic-book research?
I read some things, I didn’t dig into a whole lot because of the nature of what they were telling me with the alternate versions of everything; it’s a very complex world and I didn’t need to fill my brain with stuff that wasn’t going to be addressed in the films.
Could Hawkeye have his own film?
After seeing this movie I can see that being a possibility. Before, I didn’t get him, I wasn’t sure what was going on. I certainly like the character a lot more now, the potential for things. Will that ever happen? I don’t know, it’s above my paygrade. But they can’t wait too long – I don’t want to be 55 and in a pair of tights.
‘‘Ruffalo had to wear a onesie’’
Chris Evans (Captain America)
How do these films compare to when you’re the lead character?
It’s a lot more work. That’s really the only difference between the two films. It’s the same character and it’s usually the same group of people. Marvel did a great job of bringing back a lot of the same crew and even a lot of the same characters. Even the Captain America characters. The main difference is the workload. When you’re doing an Avengers movie you get a lot more days off, which is nice. When you’re doing a Captain America movie, you’re pretty much there every day.
Do you ever wish that Cap was not as nice as he is?
Of course. I mean, that’s what makes all characters interesting – their flaws, their concepts, their struggles. Cap is such a good man, a magnanimous man, a selfless man and, as a result, he carries a lot of that turmoil. You don’t always get to make mistakes and that’s an entertaining aspect of portraying the character, so yeah, I would love to see Captain America flawed. I think they’re moving that way. Certainly with the next Captain America film there is a lot of struggle.
So the ice is melting a little bit?
Yeah, definitely. All I can say is that he’s going to be struggling a little bit; things aren’t going to be so clear and he’s going to have to lean on his morals and values to find the right answer. With the next film, they’re going to do a very good job of making the right answer difficult to find. Nobody is right, nobody is wrong and decisions have to be made that are going to leave some people unhappy. I think that messes with the concept.
You’ve moved into directing as well. How would you fancy taking on a Marvel film?
Oh God. I don’t know how they’ve pulled it off. It’s such a challenge and so evolved and there are so many people that you have to collaborate with. Given the scope and the size of the film I don’t know if I have the power.
What about the rumours that you’ll quit acting after Captain America/
Oh no. I did an interview and said that once I’m through with Captain America I’d like to focus a bit more on directing. Never ever did I say I was quitting acting, but somehow that was the headline – that I was retiring. I love acting and I will always act. I just meant that in my immediate future, the thing that I’m most interested in is directing.
Is there any costume envy on set?
Everyone has different challenges. I mean, Ruffalo has to wear this kind of motion-capture pyjama onesie which looks incredibly comfortable, but he also looks incredibly foolish, whereas Hemsworth and I get to walk round looking incredibly cool but it takes about an hour to go to the bathroom. So there’s a trade-off.
So that’s Captain America’s weakness? Give him lots of water to drink and he’ll be incapacitated for an hour…
‘‘Hulk is our generation’s Hamlet’’
Mark Ruffalo (the hulk)
Was the first film a step into the unknown?
Totally. I wasn’t sure I was the right guy for the part. I was struggling with it quite a bit. It was very much the way Bruce Banner felt when he landed on the helicarrier [laughs]. With the second film I felt much more at ease.
Is it tougher for you than the others, acting in front of a green screen?
It’s been a learning experience. It’s all your imagination, almost nothing is real. So you’re making that muscle stronger, learning how to work that way, but it’s also incredibly satisfying.
Hulk doesn’t get to wear an outfit. Do you wish you got to wear some of the costumes?
The first time, definitely. Not so much now. They’re having to walk with a little portable air-conditioning unit to cool them down – I’m kind of happy that I don’t have to wear one.
Who got it the worst?
Whose costume were you most jealous of?
Are you hoping for a solo Hulk picture?
Sure. I think there’s some work that needs to be done getting the rights to it, but I’d love to see it.
Were you a fan of the Eighties TV show with Bill Bixby?
I watched them as a kid and again with my son.
Do you draw inspiration from his take on the character? Or, for that matter, Eric Bana’s and Edward Norton’s depictions of Banner?
Yeah, the ethos of that TV show is really strong. That loneliness is in him, as is his charm and unassuming qualities – all things we’re playing with in this version. Hulk is my generation’s Hamlet – we’re all going to get a shot at it.
Did you incorporate any fancy wrestling moves from Foxcatcher into your performance as Hulk?
The training I went through in Foxcatcher did help me for the kind of movements I was doing in this. It’s very physical doing the Hulk.
It must be surreal for your children, watching their dad turn into a monster on screen...
It scared the crap out of my six-year-old daughter. She ran from one end of the aisle across people’s laps to get to me, jump on my lap and say, “No Papa, don’t scare the nice lady. Why are you turning into this big green man?"
Avengers: Age Of Ultron is at cinemas nationwide now