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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Star saviours

High-profile cast of comic-book superhero movie The Avengers bond on set and over dance sessions
The Straits Times - April 25, 2012
By: Melissa Sim
| More
Star saviours Tom Hiddleston plays villain Loki. -- PHOTO: MARVEL
When Hollywood's biggest names take on the world's favourite comic-book characters, the movie set is practically lit by star power.
The stars themselves acknowledge the magic of the moment when they stepped onto The Avengers movie set.
Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Nick Fury, the director of intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D., says it was 'the coolest day' when all the stars converged in character to form a superteam of Marvel comic books' most heroic crimebusters.
'Thor is there in his costume, Black Widow is dressed as Black Widow. It's kind of a great day when everybody's in the same room together,' says the 63- year-old actor, whose famous roles include those in Pulp Fiction (1994), Unbreakable (2000) and, now, probably this.
Besides Thor, the Norse god of thunder played by Chris Hemsworth, and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Avengers include Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Dr Bruce Banner aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
The movie, which is about the superheroes uniting to save the world (what else?), opens in Singapore on Tuesday.
During the shoot, actor Clark Gregg, who plays a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, experienced what he calls a 'double level geek out'. He explains how he walked onto the 'Helicarrier' - S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mobile headquarters - and saw some of his favourite actors.
As a fan of the comics, he was also thrilled by the chance to talk to a real- life Tony Stark and Nick Fury.
'It was a miracle I was actually able to speak,' he tells journalists at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles two weeks ago, the day after the world premiere of this much-anticipated movie.
Even Iron Man himself, the unflappable Downey, 47, says having everyone on set was a memorable event and that was when it dawned on him that they were 'going to make good' on producer Kevin Feige's vision of making an Avengers movie.
The idea for The Avengers first surfaced during the production of Iron Man (2008), when Feige had the notion that S.H.I.E.L.D. could be part of both the Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk (2008) movies. The producers then started finding out which Marvel characters had not been taken by other studios and realised all those characters happened to be in the popular comic-book series - The Avengers, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first published in September 1963.
The comic-book superhero team originally consisted of Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Ant-Man and Wasp. Captain America joined the team in the fourth issue of the series, followed subsequently by Black Widow and Hawkeye.
Johansson's Black Widow is clearly a crowd-pleaser among comic-book fanboys. Even Jackson could not resist quipping he would like to be her: 'I wanna be Scarlett. I just want to be that cute for 15 minutes.'
With so many iconic characters, not to mention big-name actors, the obvious question director-scriptwriter Joss Whedon asked himself was: 'How do you put it together? How do you let everybody shine?'
His answer was to 'let the audience's identification drift from person to person without letting them feel like they are not involved'.
'It's a very complex structure,' adds the 47-year-old film-maker, who also created the cult TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).
Jackson says Whedon got it right: 'The family feeling was there. Joss set up the rules and we showed up and we played by the rules.'
Downey, who let his co-stars do most of the talking during the press conference, which Johansson did not attend, was singled out as the mentor during the movie.
Perhaps referring to Downey's marquee-name status as well as the success of the two Iron Man movies which have earned more than US$1.2 billion (S$1.5 million), Ruffalo says: 'This could have been the Iron Man show, he's always conscientious of that and always making sure that each character was taken care of and had their place.
'That's big and really thoughtful for somebody who is in the position that he's in. He doesn't have to do that.'
Downey's response to such praise is self-effacing, wry and cheeky: 'I offered rides back and forth on my private jet.'
Then he turns uncharacteristically heartfelt. 'Being a worker among workers is kind of where I started out and it was great just to not really have to carry a movie because everyone is really equal in this venture. It's great,' he says, before reverting to his wisecracking ways.
'That will be my last sincere answer.'
That was, in fact, not his last sincere answer.
A key scene in the movie, says Downey, is one where a policeman in the film asks Captain America why he should take orders from him. Then aliens descend on them and Captain America handles the attackers. The policeman sees this, changes his mind and orders his men to do the Captain's bidding.
'The audience really appreciated that. That, to me, is the moment where The Avengers could have fallen flat on its face and people would not be able to suspend their disbelief or get behind it anymore, that was the moment where the movie succeeded,' he says.
Whedon was also all too aware that the estimated $220-million movie, which threatens the end of the world due to the invasion of an alien race, could be 'a ridiculous idea' for a premise.
So he decided that he had to admit that and have fun with it.
'You certainly don't want to be ponderous, you don't want more than two hours of 'it's dire', and my voice is lower than yours,' says Whedon.
He further explains that his other challenge was to film spectacular action sequences that were 'earned, believable, understandable'.
'I didn't want a blur of things crashing around.'
The big destruction scenes sit easily with the humour.
Even The Hulk was given a light touch, although Whedon and Ruffalo say they took a while to do that.
Ruffalo, 44, says a discussion over dinner resulted in a moment in the film where The Hulk and Thor are panting and recovering from a fight scene, then The Hulk simply backhands Thor out of the frame.
This gag received loud cheers from the audience during the world premiere screening.
So maybe Ruffalo's incarnation of The Hulk/Dr Bruce Banner - following Eric Bana in Hulk (2003) and Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk (2008) - will be well received after all.
The actor, who has starred in Shutter Island (2010) and The Kids Are All Right (2010), says he made the mistake of going online and reading some of the fanboy responses to the announcement that he was playing the next version of Bruce Banner.
'I will never do that again. I have never had a role more scrutinised and criticised before I shot a single frame.'
He adds that he based his character on his 10-year-old son 'who has all of this power and force of nature roaring through his body but at the same time, he's expected to not let it get the best of him'.
As The Hulk, he also turned green with envy at his fellow superheroes' outfits.
'It's embarrassing. They are all beautiful and strapping and get to wear really cool clothes. I'm in a frumpy suit that looks like a leotard painted like a Chinese checker board,' he says of the motion- capture outfit he wore as the computer- generated hulk.
Actually, not all the other costumes were cool-looking.
Tom Hiddleston, 31, who plays Loki, the sole bad guy in the film, was not a fan of his get-up. He recalls: 'Trying to swivel 360 degrees wearing a 4.5kg horn helmet is not easy. I'm trying to be this wushu master and the pole gets stuck in the horns.'
And unlike other actors who profess to have a wonderful time hamming it up as screen villains, the English actor says dialling up the menace for his character was also a challenge. 'It's funny how negative energy is exhausting. Having to cultivate Loki's hatefulness every day, having to cultivate his reservoirs of pain... he's just a really, really unhappy guy,' he says.
The actors' camaraderie apparently also translated to super parties for the off-duty superheroes.
They said they bonded over Dance Dance Revolution gaming sessions at Renner's house, roof-top parties at Ruffalo's place and a few nights of dancing in Albuquerque, where the film was shot.
Says Gregg: 'There is a famous text that went out from Chris Evans which said simply, 'Assemble'.'
But he declines to say more about 'the debauched dance-off that happened quite late that night'.
Ruffalo teases with some details. 'I just remember coming into someone's place, with a group of half-naked stuntmen in a hot tub and Scarlett standing over them with a giant ladle, making boy soup...?'
At this, Downey, always the master of ceremonies, turns towards the reporters and says: 'You wanted a story... good work.'
stlife@sph.com.sg

When Hollywood's biggest names take on the world's favourite comic-book characters, the movie set is practically lit by star power.

The stars themselves acknowledge the magic of the moment when they stepped onto The Avengers movie set.

Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Nick Fury, the director of intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D., says it was 'the coolest day' when all the stars converged in character to form a superteam of Marvel comic books' most heroic crimebusters.

'Thor is there in his costume, Black Widow is dressed as Black Widow. It's kind of a great day when everybody's in the same room together,' says the 63- year-old actor, whose famous roles include those in Pulp Fiction (1994), Unbreakable (2000) and, now, probably this.

Besides Thor, the Norse god of thunder played by Chris Hemsworth, and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Avengers include Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Dr Bruce Banner aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

The movie, which is about the superheroes uniting to save the world (what else?), opens in Singapore on Tuesday.

During the shoot, actor Clark Gregg, who plays a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, experienced what he calls a 'double level geek out'. He explains how he walked onto the 'Helicarrier' - S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mobile headquarters - and saw some of his favourite actors.

As a fan of the comics, he was also thrilled by the chance to talk to a real- life Tony Stark and Nick Fury.

'It was a miracle I was actually able to speak,' he tells journalists at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles two weeks ago, the day after the world premiere of this much-anticipated movie.

Even Iron Man himself, the unflappable Downey, 47, says having everyone on set was a memorable event and that was when it dawned on him that they were 'going to make good' on producer Kevin Feige's vision of making an Avengers movie.

The idea for The Avengers first surfaced during the production of Iron Man (2008), when Feige had the notion that S.H.I.E.L.D. could be part of both the Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk (2008) movies. The producers then started finding out which Marvel characters had not been taken by other studios and realised all those characters happened to be in the popular comic-book series - The Avengers, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first published in September 1963.

The comic-book superhero team originally consisted of Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Ant-Man and Wasp. Captain America joined the team in the fourth issue of the series, followed subsequently by Black Widow and Hawkeye.

Johansson's Black Widow is clearly a crowd-pleaser among comic-book fanboys. Even Jackson could not resist quipping he would like to be her: 'I wanna be Scarlett. I just want to be that cute for 15 minutes.'

With so many iconic characters, not to mention big-name actors, the obvious question director-scriptwriter Joss Whedon asked himself was: 'How do you put it together? How do you let everybody shine?'

His answer was to 'let the audience's identification drift from person to person without letting them feel like they are not involved'.

'It's a very complex structure,' adds the 47-year-old film-maker, who also created the cult TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).

Jackson says Whedon got it right: 'The family feeling was there. Joss set up the rules and we showed up and we played by the rules.'

Downey, who let his co-stars do most of the talking during the press conference, which Johansson did not attend, was singled out as the mentor during the movie.

Perhaps referring to Downey's marquee-name status as well as the success of the two Iron Man movies which have earned more than US$1.2 billion (S$1.5 million), Ruffalo says: 'This could have been the Iron Man show, he's always conscientious of that and always making sure that each character was taken care of and had their place.

'That's big and really thoughtful for somebody who is in the position that he's in. He doesn't have to do that.'

Downey's response to such praise is self-effacing, wry and cheeky: 'I offered rides back and forth on my private jet.'

Then he turns uncharacteristically heartfelt. 'Being a worker among workers is kind of where I started out and it was great just to not really have to carry a movie because everyone is really equal in this venture. It's great,' he says, before reverting to his wisecracking ways.

'That will be my last sincere answer.'

That was, in fact, not his last sincere answer.

A key scene in the movie, says Downey, is one where a policeman in the film asks Captain America why he should take orders from him. Then aliens descend on them and Captain America handles the attackers. The policeman sees this, changes his mind and orders his men to do the Captain's bidding.

'The audience really appreciated that. That, to me, is the moment where The Avengers could have fallen flat on its face and people would not be able to suspend their disbelief or get behind it anymore, that was the moment where the movie succeeded,' he says.

Whedon was also all too aware that the estimated $220-million movie, which threatens the end of the world due to the invasion of an alien race, could be 'a ridiculous idea' for a premise.

So he decided that he had to admit that and have fun with it.

'You certainly don't want to be ponderous, you don't want more than two hours of 'it's dire', and my voice is lower than yours,' says Whedon.

He further explains that his other challenge was to film spectacular action sequences that were 'earned, believable, understandable'.

'I didn't want a blur of things crashing around.'

The big destruction scenes sit easily with the humour.

Even The Hulk was given a light touch, although Whedon and Ruffalo say they took a while to do that.

Ruffalo, 44, says a discussion over dinner resulted in a moment in the film where The Hulk and Thor are panting and recovering from a fight scene, then The Hulk simply backhands Thor out of the frame.

This gag received loud cheers from the audience during the world premiere screening.

So maybe Ruffalo's incarnation of The Hulk/Dr Bruce Banner - following Eric Bana in Hulk (2003) and Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk (2008) - will be well received after all.

The actor, who has starred in Shutter Island (2010) and The Kids Are All Right (2010), says he made the mistake of going online and reading some of the fanboy responses to the announcement that he was playing the next version of Bruce Banner.

'I will never do that again. I have never had a role more scrutinised and criticised before I shot a single frame.'

He adds that he based his character on his 10-year-old son 'who has all of this power and force of nature roaring through his body but at the same time, he's expected to not let it get the best of him'.

As The Hulk, he also turned green with envy at his fellow superheroes' outfits.

'It's embarrassing. They are all beautiful and strapping and get to wear really cool clothes. I'm in a frumpy suit that looks like a leotard painted like a Chinese checker board,' he says of the motion- capture outfit he wore as the computer- generated hulk.

Actually, not all the other costumes were cool-looking.

Tom Hiddleston, 31, who plays Loki, the sole bad guy in the film, was not a fan of his get-up. He recalls: 'Trying to swivel 360 degrees wearing a 4.5kg horn helmet is not easy. I'm trying to be this wushu master and the pole gets stuck in the horns.'

And unlike other actors who profess to have a wonderful time hamming it up as screen villains, the English actor says dialling up the menace for his character was also a challenge. 'It's funny how negative energy is exhausting. Having to cultivate Loki's hatefulness every day, having to cultivate his reservoirs of pain... he's just a really, really unhappy guy,' he says.

The actors' camaraderie apparently also translated to super parties for the off-duty superheroes.

They said they bonded over Dance Dance Revolution gaming sessions at Renner's house, roof-top parties at Ruffalo's place and a few nights of dancing in Albuquerque, where the film was shot.

Says Gregg: 'There is a famous text that went out from Chris Evans which said simply, 'Assemble'.'

But he declines to say more about 'the debauched dance-off that happened quite late that night'.

Ruffalo teases with some details. 'I just remember coming into someone's place, with a group of half-naked stuntmen in a hot tub and Scarlett standing over them with a giant ladle, making boy soup...?'

At this, Downey, always the master of ceremonies, turns towards the reporters and says: 'You wanted a story... good work.'

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