The Avengers are brutal to each other in this 2012 interview By Anthony Breznican
April 09, 2019
In 2012, Entertainment Weekly sat down with the stars and director of The Avengers. We only published an abbreviated version. The full conversation pulls no punches.
“Hey, remedial class! Sit! Stop having fun!”
That’s how EW’s sit-down with the original Avengers began seven years ago, as writer-director Joss Whedon entered the conference room full of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes … or at least the actors who were bringing them to life.
Mark Ruffalo scooped up one of the action figures scattered around the room. “Hey, did you do these?”
“No, I had nothing to do with them,” Whedon said.
“Hulk Smash!” Ruffalo declared, making his bright green mini-me pulverize the an Iron Man doll.
Enter: Robert Downey Jr. — in real life, Tony Snark.
“Where is Chris Evans? Getting his face replaced?” The Iron Man actor says as he picked up a Captain America mask and pulled it over his face.
Just the night before the actors got together to shoot one last-minute scene for the movie before release — the now-famous post-credits joke with all the battered heroes sitting around, quietly eating shawarma.
Evans had grown a beard for another role, and he couldn’t shave it. So Team Marvel had to cover his lower face with a rubber prosthetic. The end result was … nightmare inducing. (That’s why Captain America is eating while resting his hand over his cheek.
Evans was not yet in the conference room to defend himself, but that didn’t stop Downey from mocking him. “Hey, Chris why the long face?” Downey said, taking off the Cap mask. “Hey Chris, why the WRONG face?”
Ruffalo could only sympathize. “Oh no … no …” the Bruce Banner actor said, trying not to laugh.
“I felt so bad for him!” Chris Hemsworth said.
Downey walked to his seat, cupping his hand across his mouth and mumbling, imitating Evans — who couldn’t talk with the prosthetic. “Hey guys, I am not an animal!” Downey said.
Pah! An Iron Man wrist launcher toy fired a missile fired a missile that ricocheted toward Downey. “What the f— did you just do?” he asked Ruffalo.
Ruffalo lowered the Iron Man toy. “I shot myself.”
Whedon stared daggers at Downey. The leak about the post-credit scene had been his doing. “Thank you for having every reporter ask me what we were shooting today,” the director said.
“You’re welcome,” Downey answered, unapologetic.
That’s where Entertainment Weekly began asking questions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Yeah, Joss, what were you shooting today? JOSS WHEDON: [Squints eyes]
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: [Pointing at self] Carnival barker. Last night, I wanted to make sure the excitement was there.
WHEDON: [Imitating reporters] “I hear you’re shooting a scene?” [He purses his lips in a fake smile.] “I’m … sure I don’t know what you mean!”
DOWNEY: [To EW] You never heard any of this.
MARK RUFFALO: This is like The Last Supper!
DOWNEY: [Taking a seat] I’m sorry … last question? [The table goes quiet.] Works every time!
So, what’s the most common question you guys have been getting?
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: “What’s it like to work with Joss Whedon?”
RUFFALO: “What’s it like to work with Sam Jackson.”
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: “So who has the biggest biceps?” [Rolls eyes] Shoot me.
JEREMY RENNER: Or “What was Scarlett wearing under her catsuit?”
RUFFALO: Oh, come on!
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Ugh. I got that question so many times. “What kind of underpants were you wearing?” I’m like, what kind of underpants are you wearing!
Robert, what do you wear inside the metal suit?
DOWNEY: [Brightening…] Cash! [Laughter] FYI, I’d just like to start this off by saying Mark Ruffalo, three times today, has called you “Josh Whedon.”
RUFFALO: [Rehearsing] Joss, Joss….
WHEDON: Mark Ra-FUEL-oe is one of my favorite actors.
DOWNEY: Every time Mark runs out of gas, he Ra-FUEL-oes!
RUFFALO: Oh, no. I’m sorry.
WHEDON: You Ruffalized my name!
CHRIS EVANS: [Enters] Hello, sir.
DOWNEY: Not without my beard!
RENNER: [Imitates Evans’ prosthetic voice by breaking into a Buffalo Bill impression from Silence of the Lambs] I’d f— me!
DOWNEY: [Abruptly stops laughing, turns to EW] Seriously, last f—ing question. On a movie like this, I know you all have stunt doubles, but there are a lot of things blowing up and death defying leaps. What kind of battle scars are we dealing with?
HEMSWORTH: You had some, didn’t you, Renner? Something serious?
RENNER: I sprained my neck. It’s sad. I sprained my own neck.
JOHANSSON: Taking his socks off, basically.
RENNER: Sad. Pathetic.
Robert, didn’t you say that if you fall over in your Iron Man suit, you’re not supposed to put your arms out? DOWNEY: Yeah, you’ve got to tuck ‘em in, or you’ll break your arms.
WHEDON: Hmm … I’m thinking of a really funny sequence based on this.
DOWNEY: Think about it though: you start falling forward, and every instinct is to break your fall, not go – TUCK! [Screams as he lurches forward]
JOHANSSON: And faceplant.
Sounds like you ran a pretty safe set, if nobody else has any wounds.
WHEDON: I hope so, but the [assistant director] really ran it. I was a figurehead. I slept through it. I’m not sure who most of these people are. You’re The Defenders, right?
JACKSON: I had an awful rash from my costume because the neck was too high.
JOHANSSON: Ooh, here we go …
WHEDON: Oh my GOD!!
JACKSON: Hey, I filed workman’s comp for that. [High fives Ruffalo] I’m still getting paid.
DOWNEY: [Leans forward, trying to find an opening to speak]
Robert, you have a question?
DOWNEY: [Shaky voice] Uh, my question is for Sam? Um, the eyepatch thing is crazy, right? Because it’s really troublesome to obscure half of your vision for that many hours a day.
WHEDON: Wait a minute … I heard, like, first day, “The eyepatch is really throwing him.” That’s what I kept hearing. But you could see through it?
JACKSON: No, I can’t see through it. But you know what happened, we’d been flying from Toronto to New York, did the Time Square scene with Chris [for 2011’s Captain America], and then came straight to Albuquerque [for The Avengers], so I only had two hours sleep.
I was trying to remember those lines, and I learned them on the plane, but when I got there, I put the eyepatch on and I could only see half the page in my head. That’s what kept f—ing me up. I didn’t figure it out until halfway through the day. I had to go, take the sides, cover my eye, and relearn the lines.
RUFFALO: Come on … You have a photographic memory?
JACKSON: From that point on I had to learn the lines like this at home [puts hand over eye] or close one eye and learn the lines.
WHEDON: [Laughs] That’s awesome!
JOHANSSON: Was it like, you didn’t know what your face was doing?
JACKSON: No, there was just something in my brain that wouldn’t let me learn it with two eyes and then put the patch on and remember them. It was f—ed up. Crazy.
WHEDON: My favorite was when we were on the [helicarrier] bridge and you came down that raised center aisle, and then I moved it. You know it’ll be better for the shot if we put it over here on the ledge to the left. And you’re like, “Yeah, next time cover your left eye and do that!”
JACKSON: [To Ruffalo] I was having a great time the other night, watching that first scene, where you’re talking about those f—ing gamma rays.
JOHANSSON: Me too … Me too …
[Apparently, this was a scene in which Ruffalo repeatedly blew his lines.]
RUFFALO: [Laughs] Hey, that cut together! I’d flown from Toronto to L.A. at that point. I had two hours of sleep. It was my first day at work and I had all these scientific words to say
RUFFALO: And it was [playing opposite] Sam Jackson.
Whedon: Who neglected to mention, he couldn’t remember a damn thing on his first day.
RUFFALO: He did though! I ran over and hugged him and said, Sam, I love you, man. I’m having a hard time doing my lines in front of you. And he was like, “Motherf—er, you should have seen me yesterday!”
JACKSON: I owned up!
RUFFALO: He did. And after that, it was almost there.
WHEDON: You’re very close to getting it, by the way. So close.
RUFFALO: I’ve been working on it. We’ll have to do Avengers 2, just so I can get those lines right.
I wonder if [Marvel Studios] is planning something like that! Whedon: [Sarcastic] I don’t see them going for that. I don’t see why they would want to do that.
I wanted to ask Robert … You kicked off this franchise with Iron Man, and— DOWNEY: I thought you said I got kicked off it. I thought they were going to fire me right now. It’s about time.
I hate to break it to you. WHEDON: Well, we voted, and here’s your torch.
Tony Stark unifies the group in a way, even though he comes in and agitates them. He almost unifies them by annoying them. Do you … serve that role in real life?
DOWNEY: In the industry? Yes. [Laughter] I guess so. I saw the movie Wednesday, shot the movie last year, and now kind of see, really for the first time, what it all means. It came together really nicely. For all of us, it was just a big exercise in faith and trust in Joss’ vision for this thing. I’m so happy that the night before last we walked the red carpet, went to the premiere, left, and everybody said that really worked. We went home, like, Phew …! Otherwise, [lunges toward Whedon] I’d be gunning for you motherf—er.
[Sits back] I’m sorry, I’ll never say “motherf—er” with Sam Jackson in the room again.
JACKSON: It’s okay, I have different ways of saying it when I hear other people say it.
DOWNEY: How would you rate my version?
JACKSON: [Nodding] You’re there…
I remember when I visited the set last summer, almost every one of you said your character is desperately lonely or broken. So which of these characters is the most psychologically messed up of all?
Whedon: [Raises hand] … Oh, the characters …! Well, they all come from you.
RUFFALO: It’s got to be Hawkeye.
[To Renner] You think? RENNER: Oh, I couldn’t tell you.
DOWNEY: See! The trauma is buried so deep! But Hawkeye’s origin story is horrible. It’s nothing but trauma.
WHEDON: Black Widow’s got some deep, deep stuff going on in her past.
JOHANSSON: Yeah, we all have a little bit of trauma.
RUFFALO: You’ve got “a little red on your ledger.”
JOHANSSON: Way to call it back, Mark!
Jackson: [Laughs] I’d have to say it’s the guy from the ‘40s who’s never had a lap dance.
DOWNEY: How was it going from a lapdance to set every morning?
Seriously, do you think Captain America is the most messed up of the bunch?
EVANS: Uhh, certainly not the most. Everyone has their own baggage, and that’s why it was an uphill battle to try to marry all the conflict of all these individual characters. I couldn’t say I had the most. But, you know … I had some.
He’s kind of the most idealistic of the bunch, isn’t he?
EVANS: He might be the most cynical. He might be the most disillusioned, but that doesn’t mean he has the most baggage.
WHEDON: The thing about Cap is he’s got this weird thing where everyone assumes, Oh he’s from the ‘40s and he’s so idealistic. Three weeks ago it was World War II [for him]. That’s one of the most appalling things men have ever been through. People assume he’s very naïve. He’s definitely out of touch, and going, “I don’t know if I can make a difference here. I don’t know if I belong here.” But he is extremely badass, and very dark in his place. He’s still in that war.
JACKSON: And you can’t get s— for a bar of chocolate and a pair of stockings these days!
WHEDON: Because he brought that with him. In the ice he was holding stockings and chocolate.
RUFFALO: [Imitating Cap] “This is gonna be great when I wake up!”
These movies connect more if there’s something going on below the surface of the action . What do you think The Avengers says about people, human nature, or our times that resonates beyond just having a good time at the movies?
WHEDON: Well, obviously, Hemsworth here can explain that to you.
WHEDON: I actually want to field that. I feel like I have a little bit of the Cap aesthetic, as our culture feels like it’s disintegrating slightly, and as our economy is disintegrating not slightly, this idea — which is very old-fashioned — of community, of people working for each other.
This idea of manhood is not being better and above everybody else, but a man is somebody who is part of a community, and part of a family and part of something bigger. Part of an idea. That’s gone away. The thing about The Avengers for me is about bringing that back. We’re all isolated, we’re all dealing with our own problems. I don’t mean the actors — although, I mean … I could tell you stories.
They all have these enormous problems, but the beauty of the thing is that they realize that the way to work those problems out is to subsume themselves in something that matters more.
I remember on set, Mark, that you said something like The Avengers reminded you of a kind of fractured America, where people are on all these different sides, but come together in a common cause. Do you still feel that way? RUFFALO: Yeah, I think it’s a good analogy for where America is, in a weird way. All these people who say, “I’m gonna do it my way, this is the right way, I don’t want to hear from anybody else.” In the end, nothing gets done. Eventually, these guys get past that and fight a common cause. Sam?
RUFFALO: I just wanted to wake you up.
JACKSON: [Feigning confusion] What? Huh? Yes, I believe that!
HEMSWORTH: They all do have to put aside their individual interests and objectives, and work out how they fit into the team. The first half of the film is about them trying to fulfill their own goals, and that doesn’t work out too well. They end up destroying things, and each other. Finally, they get along. Any community or family, can’t be defined by an individual. It’s by the actions of the group.
So, it’s a communist message, is what you’re saying.
Most of you have played these characters in previous movies. I think Mark is the one exception. What did you feel you needed to read or study as homework for The Avengers? EVANS: Luckily, Joss did a pass on Captain America, so he had a pretty healthy understanding of who the character should be. On this film, we already saw eye to eye. When we met prior to filming, I didn’t want to get in the way. I just was like, Listen, I trust you. You’re the fanbase. You’re who I’m worried about offending, so whatever you are happy with I’m happy with. I just tried to follow suit and not f— s— up.
JOHANSSON: For me, most of the challenge was really physical, learning all that wushu nonsense.
WHEDON: That nonsense saved your life!
JOHANSSON: [Laughs] That was most of the work I had to do. When Joss and I first met, we talked. He met with each of us individually before the script was finished…
WHEDON: To try to set them against each other, so I could control them.
JOHANSSON: Divide and conquer! When the script was in its infancy, and ideas were just forming, we all met with Joss to talk about what we wanted to see in our character. It was very endearing, actually. I remember Joss and I talking about how my character has this really painful past and she was probably trained against her will. That skillset she has assembled was forced upon her, and he actually got kind of misty eyed. I was so—
WHEDON: It was allergies.
JOHANSSON: I found it to be so endearing actually. It was very charming. And what we wanted to have for the character was have her not be just this righteous warrior, which she’s not. She was a mercenary. But she’s very loyal, and she’s someone who had to use her loyalty as a means of erasing in her mind a lot of painful memories.
WHEDON: You had done some research too, because when we met you knew more about her actual history from the comic books than I did.
JOHANSSON: That’s what Wikipedia is for. [Laughter] I just did that in the car ride before the meeting.
[Hemsworth nods] Wikipedia come in handy for you too?
WHEDON: Chris can’t read, so… [Laughter]
HEMSWORTH: Luckily, comic books are just pictures! [Laughter] Actually, for The Avengers it was you [Whedon] and Drew [Goddard] on Cabin in the Woods. The first comics I read were The Avengers; not even individual Thor stuff. That was my introduction to it.
Did you know you would be Thor at that point? WHEDON: He found out while we were shooting.
HEMSWORTH: I was auditioning then. You called [Thor director] Ken Branagh.
WHEDON: Yeah, I did. I called Ken.
HEMSWORTH: You said, ‘Give him the f—ing job.’
WHEDON: It was, “Just to get him off our set!’
[Across the table, Jackson plays with a toy replica of Thor’s hammer, triggering a loud lightning sound he can’t stop.]
JOHANSSON: Sam! Put the toys down!
HEMSWORTH: [Points at toy] That was my research, as a matter of fact!
I remember on set you were about to shoot a scene near the end of the movie, and one of the prop guys handed you the tiniest Hasbro hammer as a joke. And you charged out in front of the cameras with it. HEMSWORTH: [Laughing] Yeah, that was the safety prop version.
WHEDON: [Fake whispering] He can’t carry the big one.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, it’s CGI!
Jeremy, did you feel obliged to study Hawkeye’s comic history?
RENNER: I did. I studied and talked to Joss, but the backstory doesn’t mean dick-all to me if it doesn’t apply from page one. I have to serve the story. I have to do it as authentically as I possibly can. I was kind of hamstrung from the get-go because no matter what I did, it didn’t matter. Something happens in the movie where all that goes away.
We’ll just say “He’s not himself for a part of the movie.”
[Seven-year-old spoiler alert: Hawkeye is a brainwashed minion of Loki’s for the first half of the film.]
RENNER: It’s tricky, really tricky to find any route or reason. Yeah, he’s not himself. I had very little time to connect to anything real. I understand sniper mentality, and that came very easily. He’s not part of the team, as far as I was concerned. Most important is his history with her [Black Widow]. That’s all I could grab onto. But that was enough for me. By ‘sniper mentality,’ who do you mean? RENNER: There’s strategy behind it, but it doesn’t pertain to this movie. It’s very meticulous and kind of terrifying the way they think. That’s what makes him an interesting character. He’s sort of inward.
JACKSON: What’d you say? N-word, what?
RENNER: [Confused] Inward, yeah.
JACKSON: Huh? Oh … inward. Oh! [Laughs.] I was like, “Jesus, what the hell? N-word?”
WHEDON: [Hawkeye] also has extraordinary patience.
WHEDON: [To Downey] Patience, not so much with you.
DOWNEY: [Blinks at him]
WHEDON: Tony, I mean.
DOWNEY: [Sits up, turns to Renner] Are you f—ing done? [Laughter] I thought the story should revolve around me from beginning to the end.
WHEDON: This is going to turn into a therapy session.
The way you’re playing Tony Stark is changing the way Marvel is presenting him in the cartoons and comics. DOWNEY: I guess so. So much more of it makes sense to me than doesn’t. Moving forward on Iron Man 3, why don’t I just call up my [Avengers] pals because we got another problem here?
RUFFALO: So true!
Mark, what did you study about the Hulk to get into his skin? RUFFALO: I spent a lot of time with [Hemsworth]. [Laughs] Our first rehearsal together was an hour of wrestling and throwing each other around a padded room.
HEMSWORTH: It was cool.
RUFFALO: And we talked a lot about Bill Bixby’s David Banner, and so I got the boxed set …
JACKSON: David Banner’s a rapper.
RUFFALO: And a damn good one, by the way.
JACKSON: From Mississippi.
WHEDON: They call him “David” on the TV show.
JACKSON: Oh. My bad.
WHEDON: No, their bad.
RUFFALO: Their bad. It’s Bruce! And then I watched the TV show with my 10-year-old boy who, after the third episode, turned to me and said, “Papa, he’s so misunderstood.” I’m like, that’s it! My 10-year-old is the little Hulk, and he has all the Hulk force of nature streaming through his body and we’re all running, saying: “No, you can’t do that. Stop that. Put that down. Stop hitting your sister!”
DOWNEY: “Get your hand off your doniker!”
RUFFALO: [Points at Downey] Did he just say that? [Laughs] Sam?
JACKSON: I watched David Hasselhoff — and decided I was not going to do any of that.
Very good choice! WHEDON: [Explaining to the others] He played Nick Fury, David did. In a low budget movie.
RUFFALO: He did?
JACKSON: David Hasselhoff was Nick Fury, he was!
WHEDON: He wasn’t available, so we got Sam.
JACKSON: I called up John Shaft to show me where I could find one of those leather coats. I got the coat and I was good to go. I would have called Odin, because I really liked that eyepatch he had. Dope ass.
HEMSWORTH: Golden kind of thing.
Bolted onto his face? WHEDON: Stan Lee and eyeballs, man. [Shrugs.]
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, it was just stuck on there. He had no strap to that.
JACKSON: But it was nice, though. But I couldn’t afford it. I’m not a playa like that. S.H.I.E.L.D. would not spring for the platinum patch.
If you had your character’s powers, what real life issue or problem would you solve? WHEDON: Hulk smash poverty?
HEMSWORTH: It doesn’t really work that way.
RUFFALO: Can Hulk smash fracking? Or Hulk smash fossil fuels? It’s hard to smash your way out of stuff on the way to a positive outcome.
WHEDON: We tell these stories in which there’s a problem we can solve with our superhero fists because the bigger problems can’t. They take time and millions of people and lots of dedication, and can’t be done in the space of a movie. What’s really out there is a whole lot scarier than that alien army. Let’s face it — that [alien] army is kind of dumb anyway. They come on their jet skis and with their sticks…
HEMSWORTH: They have muskets!
WHEDON: And they think they’re gonna win?
JACKSON: To New York of all places! They shoulda gone to New Orleans, at least get some drinks and music.
Since we talked about you studying up on your Marvel history to one degree or another, which character would you add to an Avengers sequel? WHEDON: [Sarcastically] I think we need to get some more men on the team.
HEMSWORTH: Yes, there are too few of us.
That’s a good point. There are a lot of female superheroes in comics, but why are there not more on film? [To Whedon] For several years, you were attempting to make a Wonder Woman film. WHEDON: Studios will tell you: A woman cannot headline an action movie. After The Hunger Games they might stop telling you that a little bit. Whatever you think of the movie, it’s done a great service. And after The Avengers, I think it’s changing.
JOHANSSON: A lot of the female superhero movies just suck really badly.
WHEDON: The suck factor is not small.
JOHANSSON: They are really not well made, and already you’re fighting against the tide. There are a couple that have worked-ish, don’t you think?
HEMSWORTH: Angelina Jolie tends to do it pretty well, as the dominant female.
JACKSON: They got to get The Pro to the screen!
WHEDON: See, that is the problem. Sam is the problem!
JACKSON: I love that book!
WHEDON: [Reluctantly] The Pro is hilarious.
JACKSON: The Pro’s hilarious. [To the others] You ever see or hear of it?
JOHANSSON: No, what’s The Pro?
JACKSON: It’s about a hooker who gets super powers!
JOHANSSON: [Pauses] That is exactly the problem right there.
WHEDON: That’s why I wasn’t going to bring up The Pro!
JACKSON: It’s a totally dope book, though.
JOHANSSON: I’d have to wear pasties to greenlight any of these movies. So you think they focus too much on the sexuality of female action characters?
JOHANSSON: I think they’re always fighting in a bra, so while it might be exciting for a still photo, it’s ridiculous. One of the most exciting things about [The Avengers], is in my opening scene the first thing you see is my character getting punched in the face. Everybody’s like, damn, it’s nice to see a girl get the s— kicked out of her.
JACKSON: They also want to know where you get that no-bruise make-up.
WHEDON: Wait, you need to let her finish this thought, or this is going to transcribe really badly.
JOHANSSON: And then Sam Jackson talks more about the g-string!
JACKSON: No! F— no! I’m in one of the best woman-action-movies ever f—ing made. The Long Kiss Goodnight.
DOWNEY: Damn right.
JACKSON: Geena Davis f—ing kicks ass in that. She is totally dope in that one.
JOHANSSON: There are good ones. And Geena Davis is the perfect woman to be that.
JACKSON: They just had no idea how to market that f—ing movie, at that time.
JOHANSSON: But I do think superheroine movies are normally really corny and bad. They’re always like, fighting in four inch heels with your [hefts chest] like a two-gun salute.
HEMSWORTH: [Meekly] There are a few [women] in X-Men.
JOHANSSON: [Smiles at him] We’ll get more.
If each of you could switch roles with someone else at this table, who would it be?
JACKSON: Joss. I want to be in control.
WHEDON: [Ruefully] You don’t want to be me.
RENNER: You’d have to think of the costume you’d have to wear.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, I’d switch to Mark’s character because you don’t have to wear armor.
JOHANSSON: He wears pajamas!
HEMSWORTH: Every time there’s a fight, you disappear and it’s done digitally.
WHEDON: You want the tiara made of balls? Okay.
HEMSWORTH: I’ll take it! You want the suit made of rubber?
RUFFALO: [To Downey] I fancied your suit the whole time.
DOWNEY: [Angrily] You want to be wearing Capezios in 90 degree weather, sir?
JOHANSSON: Yeah, the man had his little dance pants on [inside the armor].
RUFFALO: You’re right, I thought you looked good.
DOWNEY: Can you believe all this merch? This is what it’s all leading to. [Pushes button on a Captain America doll, which speaks: “Watch my back, kid!”] “Wash my back?”
HEMSWORTH: At least that’s your voice. Mine is an American!
EVANS: You know who that is? That’s my younger brother! On the first Captain America, they were like, “We need you to pick a voice double for your toy.” They sent me six voices, all horrible, and I was like, “Why not use my brother. He’s an actor and he sounds like me.”
[Downey pushes the button again, and the Cap doll says: “Avengers, stand and fight!”]