Joss Whedon is a superhero. A Marvel superhero, that is
The writer and director behind Marvel's The Avengers helped alter the comic book-movie genre forever when his film went on to become one of the most beloved superhero movies of a generation, not to mention earn itself the distinction of being the third highest grossing movie of all time.
And he did it all without even wearing a cape.
Now he's back for the sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron (in theaters May 1, 2015), and when we met him on the film's London set earlier this year, Whedon was hard at work like some kind of nerdtastic movie surgeon, piecing together a rad fight scene between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and a new character called the Vision, played by Paul Bettany.
When he wasn't right in the thick of directing a scene, we got Whedon talking about the monster Marvel sequel that's bound to be one of 2015's most... well, talked-about movies.
Here are Joss Whedon's eight most revealing quotes.
1. The sequel is much bigger
"The cast is bigger," says Whedon. "The scope is bigger. We have more to work with. We have a bigger world to work with and a bigger world for [the Avengers] just to be in. Once they exist as a team, we have to deal with what everybody thinks about that, and what that means to the world. So it's not as simple as it was."
Here's who's back from the first Avengers: Robert Downey Jr.(Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (the Hulk), Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Cobie Smulders and Stellan Skarsgard.
And here's who's new: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), James Spader (Ultron), Thomas Kretschmann (Baron Wolfgang von Strucker) and Paul Bettany (The Vision).
2. Avengers: Age of Ultron existed before The Avengers came to be
Here, Whedon jokes that he came up with the Avengers sequel before he even began work on the first one.
"Before I took the first job, I said, 'Well, I don’t know if I’m right for this or if I want it or you want me, but in the second one, the villain has to be Ultron and he has to create the Vision, and [he] has to be Paul Bettany.' It took me three years before I could tell Paul that I’d had that conversation."
In the comics, Ultron was originally created by Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man, though the film suggests Ultron will be born following a failed experiment on the part of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Expect Age of Ultron to still connect to the Ant-Man story in some way, though, as that film arrives in theaters two months after Ultron, on July 17, 2015. See teaser are for Ant-Man below.
3. It's kinda like a Frankenstein story
On the creation of the film's villain, Ultron:
"In the Marvel universe, there's a lot of Frankensteins. Steve Rogers himself, one of the better-looking Frankensteins of our era. There’s a lot of people, whether they're trying to do good or bad, who think they have the next big idea. And the next big idea is usually a very bad one."
Bonus Set Report
We interviewed Whedon on the set of Tony Stark's renovated Manhattan apartment, damaged during the first Avengers movie and now deemed Avengers headquarters. Tucked inside Stark and Bruce Banner's second-floor laboratory (pictured below), we sat surrounded by notes and blueprints (like a whiteboard featuring upgrades to Hawkeye's outfit and gear), as well as some kind of Frankenstein-like bed -- former home to Ultron, Stark and Banner's "next great idea" -- that had been destroyed. And Ultron? He was nowhere to be found.
4. Everyone is strong, but damaged with power
"'Strong but damaged by power' describes every person in this movie," explains Whedon. "It may, in fact, describe what the movie is about. You know, the more power that we have, the less human we are."
5. Especially the Hulk
Whedon confirms that the Hulk will have a more significant role to play this time around, then spoke about how you approach such a complicated character.
"What makes the Hulk so hard to write is that you're pretending he's a werewolf when he's a superhero," Whedon says. "You want it vice versa. You want to see him and Banner doesn't want to see him, but you don't want Banner to be that guy who gets in the way of you seeing him. So the question is, how has he progressed? How can we bring changes on what the Hulk does?"
Bonus Plot Info
One of those changes will come in the form of a potential romance for Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo. How will a new love impact the man who's living with a monster inside of him?
6. Meanwhile, Ultron is the ultimate villain... or is he the ultimate hero?
Unlike other Marvel supervillains, Ultron is this complicated all-knowing force that actually thinks the Avengers are the bad guys.
Explains Whedon, "Ultron feels a certain distance from humanity. When he’s in his scenes, you want to feel like he will never understand that he’s not the hero. Hopefully, you will come out of this... if not agreeing with him, (then) getting him, and getting his pain, which leads to a lot of damage, and some humor."
Here's what Ultron looked like in his first comic book appearance as part of Avengers #55, circa 1968.
7. And James Spader is doing a tremendous job bringing him to life
According to Whedon, Spader has done wonders with the role.
"[He's] very game and has been the whole time," he says. "Very interested in the mechanics of the mechanics, and of finding the humanity. He and I share a genuine love of this version of Ultron, and he has an innate eccentricity in his delivery that is everything that I had hoped Ultron would be."
8. In order to capture Spader's performance, he had to wear the craziest gear
Whedon tells us they used all of Spader -- and not just his voice -- in the creation of Ultron. Describing the wild gear his actor was required to wear for Ultron, Whedon says it included...
"...a giant thing with red dots on it for his eye line, and a giant pack, and a helmet with two cameras in his face with lights to record his performance."
When all is said and done, here's what Ultron will look like in the film. He'll start off like this...
...And he'll eventually evolve to look like this...
Sometimes filming a movie as monumental as this makes it so even the biggest directors in the world almost forget to wear their underwear in the morning.
Jokes Whedon, "There comes a point in filming when you are writing, filming and editing, and you cannot even make a grocery list. I haven’t had a good idea about anything. I’m so excited that I’m wearing underwear -- that I got that right today!"
For more, check out our interviews with Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo from the set of Avengers: Age of Ultron, in theaters May 1, 2015.