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'The Avengers' Set Visit Interview: Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans

Last summer Fandango was among a small group invited to set of Marvel’s The Avengers, where we toured the film’s massive soundstages and enjoyed lengthy, nerdy conversations with Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Incredible Hulk), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Joss Whedon and Marvel's chief geek Kevin Feige.

We’ve already told you about 10 awesome things we learned from the set, and we’ll be running all our interviews throughout the month leading up to release. To kick things off, check out our chat with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans below.

Q: In your own words, can you talk about the story and what this film's about?

Chris Evans: Sure, it's about these superheroes coming together. It's the initial formation of the Avengers.

Robert Downey Jr.: Here's what I think it's about. I remember at Comic-Con a season or two ago, there was all this promise of…this is hugely ambitious. DC has tried to do this before and Marvel kinda said we're going to do it and formulated a way to do it correctly.  Which is where J-Dub [Joss Whedon] came in heavily. What it is, it's just a really good story that could've been done a hundred ways wrong and don't act surprised at how unpredictable it is. 

Q: We've seen Tony Stark in California for so long, so how does the story shift to New York?

Evans: It takes place in New York, pretty much. 

RDJ: Which means Tony has some project there.

Q: Yesterday we were talking with Chris [Hemsworth] about how some characters might not exactly get along with other characters.  Can you talk about who Cap and Tony both align and clash with?

Evans: (laughs)

RDJ: Yeah (speaking like Tony now), I just don't like big guys who speak cryptically and act like they understand the language better than me. Guys with trippy brothers and all that stuff. Whereas we [Cap and Tony] have something that is multi-faceted.

Evans: It's layered.

RDJ: Why is it layered?

Evans: It's got depth.

RDJ: Where does the depth come from?

Evans: Well, I think they're heroes in their own right. Tony's a little more flash and he's got charisma and likes the spotlight where I think Cap might be a little more reserved in his desire to be front and center. But they're both, at their core, heroes. Even though Tony is kinda flash and hot s**t, he's still a hero. He's still a good man. It just takes the duration of the film to see eye-to-eye and see that in one another.

Q: Can this scene be seen as an anachronism?

RDJ: Well, here's the thing. I was just thinking, it seems to me that the logical progression from the lessons Tony learns from War Machine and Iron Man 2, it seems that he kinda picked up, expect that now there's this extra layer now that he's connected to this dark legacy so it's almost like dealing with Frankenstein but Frankenstein has lessons that you actually haven't learned yet.  And so it's really easy to be like, "Oh you have bolts on your neck."  But I think it's probably the toughest relationship to find the right arc for.  And you're catching us here in one of the transition points. Because usually we wouldn't be hashing out a problem together.  We'd be more on the verge of demonstrating the differences in our moral psychology.

Q: Who would you say is the heart of the team?

Evans: I was really going to say [Downey].

RDJ: I told them to write it that way.

Evans: I think without Tony we don't work. He really is the glue in the family. He really is the fire that keeps you coming back. I think at least for this movie, Cap is struggling to find his footing in a modern day. He's a fish out of water. A little more uncomfortable in his own skin than he normally might be. And he's not hitting the ground running. Without the charisma and leadership that Tony Stark brings --

RDJ: Well…maybe you're right.  (Laughs)  I think that's the other thing too. I think Joss [Whedon] and Kevin [Feige] and the other creative team has been able to do, is that nothing is definite. I remember one of my earliest concerns was, haven't we done this group of superheroes together but it's a dysfunctional family thing before? And it's transcended that in a bunch of ways. Obviously, there's only one person whose name is Captain and if you have a squad of people, there's a time when his prowess in things that have to do with actual strategy and military stuff…I mean, this is essentially a war we're trying to avert. So that's really valuable.

Q: [To RDJ] You were known as something of a tinkerer on the first two Iron Man movies. Can you talk about your involvement and if you're still tinkering or is it more steady?

Evans: We did some tinkering today.  I mean, Downey's renowned for being able to work on the fly. And so is Joss. They're both very good and have incredible instincts. So if something does need to change, their anchor is so solid. You feel safe to try what's on the page, but also try other stuff. Because when you have these guys guiding you in your exploration, you can unearth some really interesting things.

RDJ: Yeah but for the most part, once we finally got the final edition of the storyline, it wasn't broke, so we didn't have to fix things. So in between this and doing the Sherlock and Iron Man movies, no one asked me, but I'm kind of a producer. Which is tough when you're getting your make-up done and they're not actually paying you to be a producer. So on this, it's actually been a relief. It's nice when the car kinda drives all by itself.

Q: Robert, is there a throughline for Tony in this movie and an arc that may be picked up in Iron Man 3?

RDJ: Sure. Yeah. Someone's gonna have to figure that out.

Q: Is there something you guys have done in this film that you didn't get to do in the solo films that really excites you?

RDJ: "Working with Robert Downey, Jr."…  And really, me getting work again. It's just pretty…  [To Evans] What do you get to do?  You get some crazy fights.

Evans: I mean it when I say, I get to work with Robert Downey, Jr.  I look around sometimes and… Doing Captain America was strange because you look around and your'e the only superhero walking around.  The first day you came to this set and Hemsworth's in his cape and Downey's got the armor on and … Just on a personal career level, the stuff that I've been able to do on this movie…this has been the most geeked out I've felt on a movie set.  I literally come sometimes and get truly, truly excited about coming to work.  That's a good feeling.

Q: What's it like to have Joss as both writer and director on set?

RDJ: Here's the good thing. I'm changing too. I'm looking at the back nine. I'm a little more mellow. I don't need to tear up the sides and throw them against the wall to tell them we need to improve this. I just say, "We can do this." But I might do that on Iron Man 3 just because I'm used to doing that. But for Joss, it's that he's really quick. And he's incredibly responsible to what his job requirements are to the letter. So we could say, there's a scene at the end that unites Thor, Cap and Tony and it needed to say a lot and it needed to not be just one line but it couldn't be two pages either. So he said, "Gimme a second." And it's not like, "Let's hash this out together." I'm getting better but I wouldn't mind getting together and spitballing until lunch and then we'll come in with the right thing to shoot. But instead it wound up being four lines and he gave us I think three pages of options. So the guy is really like a machine but it feels organic.

Evans: That's a great way to put it. As a writer, he's so amazing. The banter is so witty but it's not like… sometimes you might have a witty payoff, but the setup is so obvious. His setup lines are seamless. They work, it's right. 

RDJ: I hear he likes to dance.

Evans: On the weekend he's like, "We're gonna go dancing!"  I'm like, "Dancing?…"

RDJ: I don't know why I don't get invited to these parties.

Evans: I didn't get invited to the dance party either.

Q: How does Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye fit into the dynamic? It seems like he's more of a company man.

RDJ: Well, he's a SHIELD guy but he has his own arc in this and, not to give it away, he's largely doing his own thing. There's a lot of stuff going on and it all makes sense and then once in a while, we all are together in one place. If it all makes sense so that when we're all together in one place you go, "How did that happen? They just did a photoshoot in the middle of the movie…" But somehow it all does. 

Q: Can you talk about the new features for the Cap and Iron Man suits?

RDJ: I don't think so. I don't know, I'm wearing tracking dots.

Evans: I can pee freely now, which is great!

RDJ: "Cap's new suit, by I.P. Freely!"

Evans: Literally, it's a world of relief. The suit itself is fantastic. It's much more…

RDJ: That's Alex Burn. A great costume designer.

Evans: Yeah, she's something else. But yeah, it's great. It makes action sequences a lot easier. The last one was kinda like very utilitarian so everything seems like it has a purpose but it's very difficult to move in. The cowl is tricky on this one. On the initial Cap film it was just a helmet. This one actually looks much more like the comic book. It looks amazing. A little toastier. But it all looks great.

Q: Tony's past is connected to Cap in some ways.  Does that dynamic play out in the film?

RDJ: Could you imagine if you met your long-lost brother that was, at one time, your dad's favorite and all the sudden you sit down together. And he doesn't really want to hang out but there's business.

Evans: There's a lot of meat on the bone there. A lot to chew on. And hopefully it's enough to last, even into sequels. It's a complex thing. There's a lot of layers to it.

Q: Who gets to first shout "Avengers assemble!"?

RDJ: Most of those things - people saying things at the same time as they realize it or all those things .. I think there's a password, you're all omitted, like you're not allowed to say them. [To Evans] Does someone even say "Avengers assemble?"

Evans: I dunno.

Q: The other day we were showin a giant Hulk cardboard cut-out. How do you work with Hulk? Do you act against a cut-out?

Evans: We've done a few scenes so far with Ruffalo doing the motion-capture stuff. So when they do that they put him standing on a table for the scene. And then they bring out that cardboard cut-out for special effects to take textures and things like that.

RDJ: I tried to have that in my contract for every scene. And there was some sort of passive rebellion.

Q: Does the Hulk always rampage around or can he be mellow when you need him to be?

RDJ: Well, he's on a lot of growth hormones right now. Yeah, but I think Ruffalo was really the right guy at the right time. To me, The Hulk, of all the Marvel characters, has been the toughest nut to crack for some reason. Maybe it's because of the TV show and people are like, "They got it right."  But if you go back and look, I was crazy about that series. And it has merit. But what the creative team largely did was bring something that felt new but was also much more interesting.

Q: Comic fans always talk about what would happen when Thor's hammer hits Cap's shield. Is that something that could be explored in this movie?

Evans: [sighs] I don't want to give anything away…

RDJ: I wanna know!

Evans: There are a lot of characters who have to interact.  So I'm sure Joss has explored all kinds of possibilities. 

RDJ: I can tell you that there is a sequence where Black Widow and I both get stuck inside her suit. And for certain shots they had to use a wide angle lens. That's probably the one thing I've never gotten to do before.

Q: What's it like for Captain America like to wake up in the modern day?

Evans: That's one piece of the puzzle. Waking up and the evolutions in technology and stuff like that. There's stuff like cell phones and internet and computers. That's one piece of it.  But the real thing he struggles with are the changes in society. Morals and values and the way people interact. Those are the things that really matter. I think that's why he struggles with Tony at first. Because Tony is the epitome of modern. Flash and current and hip and now. Cap is kinda stuck in his old mentality and his old way. Even the jet and all the technology of SHIELD and Tony's suit, that does blow his mind but the thing that he's really at odds with is the way people interact and the current state of things.

Q: Is it possible to fit what everyone wants to see in an Avengers movie in this Avengers movie?

Evans: I think it's a well that will keep on giving.  This film will have no fat. 

RDJ: That was the thing to. Not so much what to put in it but what to omit. Not necessarily so we can do it later but I think that some of the biggest and smartest choices were things that weren't included.

The Avengers hits theaters on May 4th.

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Next Article by Derrick Deane

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