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'The Avengers' Set Visit Interview: Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner

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. We began with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, and now here's our chat with Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner.


Q: Can you tell us what is going on in [the rail yard scene we saw being filmed]? What are you doing?

Scarlett Johansson: What do you think is happening in there?

Q: Well, it seems like there’s some kind of force that’s arrived in New York City and I imagine you guys are there to put a stop to it.

Johansson: We’re avenging something.

Renner: [laughs] We’re fighting, I can tell you that, so it’s hot and sweaty.

Q: Each other?

Renner: Perhaps. We’re fighting together, I think, and we’re having a good time. It’s good fun, a lot of work.

Q: Scarlett, you did a lot of hand-to-hand combat in Iron Man 2. Do you up that or do you take on any weapons in this film?

Johansson: Yeah, there’s a combination of all that stuff. There’s definitely a lot of hand-to-hand combat still, and combination of different fighting styles: gymnastics, Muy Thai, boxing, kickboxing, all of that.

Renner: You do all that?

Johansson: You know I do all that. We use all kinds of stuff: knives, guns, all sorts of things. Yeah.

Q: You each appeared in previous Marvel movies but how much time has passed? Is there anything in this movie where we see the two of you meeting for the first time?

Renner: I can tell you this: There are so many characters in this movie, as you know, that it can’t really go too much backstories of characters. We’re telling a massive story here with a lot of characters in it, so the time is spent on all of us, I guess, saving things [laughs]…

Johansson: We’ve obviously known each other for a long time. We have a very rich history, the two characters, but as far as the timeline, I think it’s pretty much the time that has passed since Iron Man 2 came out, I think a couple years, but since we’ve seen each other, we’ve been working together the whole time.

Q: Since you’re both agents of SHIELD, we assume you’ll work together.

Johansson: Yeah, working together and apart and whatever.

Q: Is this the romance in the movie?

Johansson: There’s no time for romance. We have sh*t to avenge.

Q: So are they paired for most of the movie, your characters?

Johansson: We’re all kind of paired together in different ways. Both of us fight hand-to-hand and we’re just humans with no abilities.

Renner: Yeah, we’re humans.

Johansson: But we’re fighting in a different way than everybody else. We do a lot of fighting on the ground.

Q: How do your characters react to Gods like Loki and Thor?

Renner: Yeah, I ask myself that every day. I don’t know. How do I know Thor? I was going to put an arrow in his head, but I don’t know this guy, do I? It’s a complicated universe, as you guys know…but I think the general overall assumption is that we all at least have an understanding of each other… or a misunderstanding of each other is probably better.

Q: Robert Downey Jr. said that Hawkeye likes to do things on his own, he’s his own guy, kind of like a rogue agent. Can you describe that aspect of the character and how that plays out in the movie?

Renner: Yeah, that kind of plays into being a sniper in general. That’s sort of philosophy of snipers that I hang out on rooftops and trees and things like that by themselves, and don’t really kind of work with anybody else. So that just kind of… even in military, it’s the same sort of thing, so I think it just plays into his character and being a rogue agent.

Q: Tom told us yesterday that Loki has scenes with each of you and the Avengers. Why?

Renner: ‘Cause it’s written in the script. [laughter]

Johansson: [laughs] I think that he has an agenda, and I think the best way to break up a group is by trying to manipulate the situation by going individually to each one of our characters and you kind of see that. He’s playing good cop/bad cop, but with each one of us. I think he’s trying to figure out a way to put holes in the team, trying to figure out a way to disassemble us in some way and manipulate us individually.

Renner: Tom is a troubled boy, but he looks good in his costume.

Q: One of the interesting things about your characters is that neither of you have superpowers. Do they look down on you guys cause you don’t have powers or are you able to step up and stand up to them in fights?

Renner: Well, yeah, initially I thought that it was going to be weird, but then I found out a lot more about… for me, for Hawkeye, I’m like, 'What’s a bow and arrow going to do against the Hulk?' Actually, I have specialized things that I can’t tell you anything really about, but I can put him down so [laughs] it’s pretty cool. Yeah, all we are is humans with high skill sets, and I think what makes all characters interesting is that they all have weaknesses. That’s what makes them human in that regard. What’s Tony Stark without his suit?

Q: Where do we find your characters as the film starts off? Are you still with Tony Stark when we start off?

Johansson: No, my character is sort of on another mission.

Renner: Sipping a mai tai in Hawaii.

Johansson: Sipping a mai tai in Hawaii. No, she’s at work, just the old 9 to 5.

Q: Can you talk about the first day you all were on set together in costume?  

Renner: Weird.

Johansson: Very surreal. Like a dress-up but to the extreme.

Renner: It was strange. Everyday, its strange. I like seeing Hemsworth, because he has his hammer and then he has a latté in his hand [laughter]. To me, that’s a great image.

Johansson: And there’s always this plan that as soon as everything is cut, everything comes off. All our costumes are unzipped, some air conditioning venting unit goes in. Someone is having a wig removed. We all have our various things that we have to do to get comfortable. Everybody looks incredibly uncomfortable until the cameras are rolling and then we all look effin' badass. Then “Cut!” and we’re all like “Aarrrgh… God, this thing, get it off me, it’s awful!!”

Renner: We definitely have it the easiest I think. [Chris] Evans has it tough because he has a headpiece. I think the humility award definitely goes to Ruffalo. Poor bastard’s in a thong or wearing something unflattering and he’s supposed to be the baddest ass.

Q: Is it hard to work off of that knowing he’s supposed to be this giant beast?

Renner: Well, I laugh once in a while and he’s always growling, “Stop it!” but yeah, it’s good fun.  

Q: What about the hierarchy at SHIELD now because you dealt with Nick Fury a lot and you dealt with Coulson, plus there’s also Maria Hill, so who do you each take orders from directly?

Johansson: All of our orders come directly from Fury.

Renner: Yeah, it’s either you obey him or you disobey him.

Q: In the comics, Maria Hill even takes over for Fury, but we haven’t seen her at all here.

Renner: Yeah, I think it stays pretty true to that universe. They’re tied I think with Coulson, Maria and Fury, I think that’s a pretty tight unit there, and then when it comes to jokers like us, they bring us in for special things, just like in the Marvel Universe.

Q: You’re wearing a Motley Crue T-shirt and Downey Jr. was wearing a Black Sabbath shirt so are you guys trying to champion the soundtrack?

Johansson: [laughs] I got it from the Crue, yo.

Renner: I didn’t get one.

Johansson: Oh, yeah? You want one? Yeah, we are. I would love to have some Motley Crue. I don’t know what’s going to be playing. I don’t really know much about Joss’ musical tastes, do you?

Renner: No, I have no idea.

Q: Can you talk about your reaction when you saw the script for the first time? Were you initially sitting there thinking, “Please, let this be good”?

Johansson: Well, the nice thing about our cast is that there’s a silent oath, a support system in some way and all of us are really looking out for one another’s best interests and more when the first drafts came in. I remember going to Comic-Con last year and flying back with everybody, and we were all like, 'We’re in it together!' We had assembled on the plane. So reading the first draft, it’s a huge story with a lot of storylines.

The first draft to me was still very much a work in progress, and Joss wanted everybody’s notes and got all of them, and we all met separately and together and talked about it. Joss was like pulling his hair out, doing these insane drafts on a time crunch, but I think with everybody’s notes and all of us kind of looking out for each other really streamlined it to something that is very coherent.

Renner: Yeah, there’s no bigger fan than Joss of this world, and he’s a really good writer and he had a massive task to write this movie and direct it, massive. I don’t know anybody who could really write this and really put in all the stuff that he really wanted to put in, cause he honors all these characters so much.

Q: After this experience, are you guys championing your own solo films?

Johansson:. I think the whole idea is that you want the audience to be as enthusiastic as you are about the characters and in that, you hope that you’ll be able to take the character farther. I mean, if it was bad-ass and it incorporated the darker side of the character and got down to the nitty-gritty of who she is, I would like to see that movie.

Renner: I’m championing a vacation, is what I’m going to champion.

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Next Article by Derrick Deane

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