Downey and Ruffalo spill the secrets of Iron Man and Hulk in 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron'
One of the first things we saw as we stepped out of our bus on the Shepperton Studios lot outside of London was a golf cart carrying Captain America.
Suffice it to say, spending a day with The Avengers is very strange.
While I've attended set visits for many of the films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I did not visit the set of "The Avengers." I've met each of the individual members of the team, many of them in costume as these characters, but there's something different about being on a set with all of them at once.
Between now and the May release of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron," the mega-sequel to one of the biggest films of all time, we'll have a number of reports from the set, where I joined a large group of journalists to not only watch a key scene from the film being shot, but also to interview pretty much every major member of the cast.
At this point, Robert Downey Jr. has become a familiar face, and I've had many conversations with him about his work as Tony Stark. The latest began with another reporter asking Downey about his reaction to Joss Whedon's script for the sequel.
"First of all… he’s a good writer." Downey loves it when he gets a laugh out of a group of reporters, and when he does, he steers into it, enjoying the reaction. "I always tend to think, generally speaking, is this a movie I wanna see? 'Cause all the fine points are gonna get worked out. There are gonna be so many squeaky wheels along the way, many of them practical and others… creative departures or differences or whatever. To me, this kinda started with the third 'Iron Man,' which is like, 'I'm gonna read the script. Who wrote it? Shane Black? I like it.'"
Another big laugh from the assembled reporters, and Downey seemed energized by it. "I was done with the first draft and I said, 'Cool. I like it.' Kevin was, like, 'Wait, what did you just say?' I'm sure there [were] a bunch of iterations and things that changed over time. I read the second and then the third draft, and he’s continuing to write even as we’re setting up shots. He’s going, 'Oh, I want it to be [this] or I'm bringing back in a line that was in the first draft or whatever.'"
We brought up some comments that Whedon made about how he had many of his ideas for the second "Avengers" even before he officially signed on to make the first film, and asked Downey if he knew where Whedon was heading, specifically with Jarvis, The Vision, and Ultron.
"Not really," Downey admitted. "Honestly, I didn’t really even get to know Joss until we started this movie, because 'Avengers' was so… I don’t wanna say disorienting, but it was a thing where it was like this very kind of well-managed, compartmentalized attempt to do something unprecedented, and I didn’t feel necessarily the stress of it. But I could tell that it was a little bit of a different approach to the process. I remember the first time saying, 'Look, scene one should be Tony.' And he was like, 'Alright, scene one isn’t Tony.' I was like, 'But it should be.' As it turned out, it was really smart the way it all worked out for everyone."
We asked where "Age Of Ultron" finds Tony as the film begins, considering where we saw him at the end of "Iron Man 3." One reporter suggested that the end of "Iron Man 3" saw Tony reach a place where he didn't want to wear the suit anymore, a suggestion that Downey didn't totally agree with.
"I would counterpoint that by saying that I thought the third 'Iron Man' was about him transcending his dependence on the merits of continuing to wear your wound. And I thought that was kind of what Shane and I thought was the real win, was that he throws that thing that had become a dependency away. That was the question I was always asking, like, 'Why doesn’t he get those shards out? It’s dangerous.' So it kinda reminds me of all that stuff, particularly as you get a little older or if you have any existential queries whatsoever. It’s like, 'Why aren’t I dealing with that which is going to destroy me any second anyway?' The armor was kind of an extension of that, and also there were just so many suits. I think he realizes that tweaking and making all the suits in the world, which is what he has been doing, still didn’t work for that thing of his. His tour of duty left him a little PTSD, so his focus is more on how can we make it so that there’s no problem to begin with, so that there’s a bouncer at our planet's, uh, rope. That’s the big idea."
We mentioned another comment from Whedon, where he said one of the big themes in the film is the way power destroys, and we asked how that applies to Stark. "I mean, honestly, I think it’s probably the best thing Joss decided to go after." Downey struggled to find the right way to describe it without giving too much away. "There are a lot of dots that could have connected a certain way… [and] there’s that theme of 'Could it be that we’re the problem and therefore the bad guy?' It’s hard to call Jimmy Spader the bad guy. He’s scary and he’s bright and hurting and all that, but his thought is, like, 'I see what’s wrong here. And guess what? It’s y’all.'"
Downey knows the value of a well-deployed "y'all," and as he rode out the laugh, we asked him about one of the sets we visited, where we saw the aftermath of a party thrown in what used to be Stark Tower, since rebranded as Avengers Tower. "I see it's just leveled," he said. "This guy can't throw a party. I don't know why that never gets old. Maybe it would get old if it happened again, but this time, it just feels like it's the norm. It's like when [John] McClane has to run over the broken glass." He went out of his way to praise production designer Charles Wood before talking about the difficulty of working on the actual camera-ready surface, which he described as "future ice," saying there was a fair amount of slipping and sliding while trying to do stunts and action scenes.
Asked about Tony's relationship to Ultron, he considered his answer. "Every impulse starts off as a positive impulse. Even the impulse to kill starts off as an impulse to change, to rail against, to challenge the authority in a very direct and permanent solution to a temporary problem. Tony's solution… becomes the problem in a way that’s really kinda interesting and also ties in to The Vision."
One of the most revealing things Downey said was about the way the market is in danger of becoming oversaturated by superhero stories, especially ones told at a certain scale, aiming for the same audience. "I feel like there's a half-life to it. Have you noticed just how flooded the market is becoming and likely to become potentially even more so? There has to be a bit of, uh, a transcendence of formula. And so without giving too much away, and why I generally just kinda rubber-stamped it when the first draft came in, was ‘cause I thought, 'Oh wow, it didn’t fall into that trap.' And I read the last page and I got chills for a reason I definitely can’t explain." He seems optimistic about the film overall, and not just because of the script. "There’s a lot of new talent coming in, with Aaron Taylor Johnson and obviously Lizzie Olsen, and just even seeing Paul Bettany within a thousand miles of the set where we’re shooting is just, like, wow. This is gonna be really cool."
I thought it was interesting that Downey talked about how sequels can sometimes struggle with ambition. "There've been a lot of movies that, even if they didn't entirely work, they headed towards something that was new territory, you know. Whether it was 'Watchmen' or the second and third 'Matrix.' I always feel like if you’re a fan of the first one, I don’t wanna hear anything bad about the next seven."
He went back to Bettany, and it was obvious that he's been looking forward to this for some time. "There is no one I would rather have the delight of seeing in extreme discomfort than Paul Bettany." He went on to describe the glee he took each day to watch them applying the various make-up pieces that it takes to transform Bettany into The Vision, and just how stoic Bettany was, no matter how bad things got. "It's the Brit approach to being boiled alive which is just like, 'I apologize, my skin is sloughing off.'"
We talked to him about how Stark's attitude towards Nick Fury has evolved since the end of the first "Iron Man," especially after the events of "The Winter Soldier." Downey said, "Regardless of principles… there is a personality factor there that was represented initially in Colson and then in Fury… friendships that developed under bizarre circumstances that are kind of genuine."