On Saturday, the Avengers assembled -- on stage for a rare group press conference to promote Avengers: Age of Ultron on Disney Studios lot in California.
In attendance were Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man/Tony Stark), Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow/Natasha Romanov), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk/Bruce Banner), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye/Clint Barton), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver), Paul Bettany (J.A.R.V.I.S./The Vision), James Spader (Ultron), writer/director Joss Whedon, and Marvel Studio President Kevin Feige.
The panel was extremely careful not to divulge any spoilers before the film’s premiere date and even joked about a having a Marvel app the studio uses to administer a painful shock to anyone spoiling the movie.
Cobie Smulders was the first to take a question and explained that the character of Maria Hill had a much “bigger job” now that S.H.I.E.L.D. has collapsed. Hill now works directly for Tony Stark and is character that can bridge both movie and television universes.
Paul Bettany cited the key difference in his expanded role from the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. to the on-camera role of the Vision was being able to work face-to-face with a talented cast, but jokingly lamented having to attend press junkets.
One of the key elements of the film is Tony Stark’s hand in the creation of Ultron and the Vision. Joss Whedon addressed how these characters both embody elements of Tony Stark and yet retain their own identities. He saw them as “two sides of the same coin. They’re something beautiful about how they see the same thing and react to it differently emotionally.”
When asked about the challenges of having such a large cast, Whedon said he had to ensure every character received their own through line and moment that remained connected to the movie and its main theme. He quipped it was about “making these guys look good — which takes long time.”
And it was these characters that lured Whedon to return the franchise for the sequel to Avengers. “The thing that drew me back to the movie,” Whedon explained, “was what little moments are there between these characters that I haven’t gotten to do yet? What conversations had they not had? What haven’t I shown? It’s never the big picture stuff. It’s where do they live? How can I get inside their hearts? What’s funny about them?”
Whedon shared Thanos was originally slated to have a larger role in Guardians of the Galaxy and implied the mad god character will be a key player in later installments.
Kevin Feige explained how such a tightly connected universe of films can be daunting with exponentially overwhelming expectations, but added this film featured “the greatest ensemble ever assembled in cinematic history. It is amazing.”
Elizabeth Owen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson briefly worked together previously in last year’s monster epic, Godzilla. Olsen found it beneficial given their roles as the super-powered twin nemeses. It allowed her to feel less intimidated working in a larger group. Taylor-Johnson mirrored her feelings, saying that Olsen’s presence made him feel more comfortable.
Ever representing the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe franchise, Robert Downey, Jr.set the tone for the light mood of the press conference when he replied to a reporter, “I must be mellowing with age, but I want to say this very clearly. The next time I’m not asked the first question, I am f***ing walking out of here.”
Downey Jr. went on to compliment the strength of Whedon’s script and the moments it granted his character. “I think [the script] is great. I said, ‘Let’s go shoot it.’”
James Spader’s performance as Ultron relied heavily on motion-capture to create the film’s robotic chief antagonist. Spader laughed about being unsure what was happening as he was on set in his motion-capture suit. “[The crew] put on this suit. They put on all this gear. I dive out through a range of emotion. And within fifteen minutes, I was watching me walk around a big room — moving and doing this and that and everything else — and watching a formative stage of Ultron on a monitor in front of me. And it just started right there.”
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye character develops further in Avengers: Age of Ultron than in the previous film. Renner remarked he understood Hawkeye’s humanity and skill set. He found the character’s revealed secret in the sequel “endearing” and is “anxious to see where [Hawkeye] goes.”
Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has also evolved over her previous appearances. Johansson elliptically spoke to the state of her character at the end of the film. “[The Black Widow] was hopeful for something. She had this moment of false hope where she felt like she put in the work and there should be some kind of personal payoff.” She added, “She’s accepting the call of duty, even at her own personal loss.”
The panel concluded with perhaps the greatest reveal in the history of Marvel movies: Why was the armor deployment device Iron Man uses against the Hulk called “V.E.R.O.N.I.C.A.”? Whedon answered, “because he used to be in love with a woman named Betty, and Veronica is the opposite of that.”
Avengers: Age of Ultron releases in theaters on May 1.