In 1994, I had my first play produced as part of a one-act theater festival here in Los Angeles at the Met Theater.  The festival was cast by Risa Bramon Garcia, who was one of the biggest casting agents in the business at the time, and one of the other plays that was produced as part of the festival was "Betrayal By Everyone," by Kenneth Lonergan.  That was eventually expanded into "This Is Our Youth," and the play put both Lonergan and Mark Ruffalo on the map.

During the festival, I made time to see the play that Ruffalo was in several times, and he earned a nickname among the people working on the fest:  Baby Brando.  There was a crazy intensity to his work that had people talking about him, and it didn't surprise me at all to see him continue to work with Lonergan in the years that followed.

When we sat down to talk about his work in "The Avengers" the other day, he was paired with the lovely Scarlett Johansson, and when I brought up the Act One festival, he was excited to talk about that time.  The nickname, though, was news to him, and Johansson took visible pleasure in being able to use that as ammunition in the teasing that seems to be a constant between the cast members of this film.  He did a Brando impression for her even as she started busting his chops about his work in the "thea-tah," and by the time we rolled tape, they were both laughing and kidding around.

One of the things that is sort of remarkable about "The Avengers" is just how funny it is, even as they keep the stakes front and center, and it's also kind of amazing how the film balances all the character work and storylines.  The Black Widow, as played by Johansson, was fairly underwritten in her first appearance in "Iron Man 2," and from the first scene she appears, it's obvious that she's got a much more focused and interesting character to play.

For Ruffalo, he's the third actor in three films to play The Hulk, but the first to actually play both Banner and The Hulk all the way through.  It's an impressive double-act, and one of the best scenes in the film involves the Hulk's first appearance in the film and the Black Widow trying to get away from him.  For both performers, it's impressive work, and it makes sense for the two of them to be paired for these conversations.

We'll have more of the Avengers here on HitFix for you as we count down to the release of the film.

"The Avengers" arrives in theaters May 3, 2012.