Date: April 28 2012
Saving the world is serious business for a superhero. But when Robert Downey Jr starts a battle scene on the set of The Avengers, he doesn't exactly have on an Iron Man face.
Just before cameras roll, the smiling actor whispers up a competition with his co-stars - Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow). Whoever gives the most distracting off-camera look to Tom Hiddleston (enemy Loki) wins. ''For an entire take, they are all giving these seductive, come-on faces,'' Hiddleston says. ''I had to fight to keep a straight face.''
Laughter, it turns out, is a powerful weapon in the Avengers arsenal. The greatest collection of comic-book superheroes ever assembled on-screen brings plenty of humor in the movie,which opened this week - and even more humor off-screen, thanks to Downey.
''We look at him as our quarterback,'' Evans says. ''He's always smiling. And that's infectious.''
It was Downey, after all, who got the Marvel movie franchise started as wisecracking billionaire Tony Stark in 2008's Iron Man and 2010's Iron Man 2, which earned a combined $US600 million-plus at the box office. Thor carried the Marvel torch last northern spring with $US181 million, and Captain America: The First Avenger followed with $US176 million - each signaling good fortune for The Avengers. ''It's great, because with each movie's success, it's like we're still on track,'' Hemsworth says.
''It's so nice to root for each other in Hollywood,'' Downey says. ''I'll just say it. Even with some of my friends, there's an aspect of my psyche that doesn't want anyone to do as well as me. It's part of human nature. Intentionally or not Marvel has created an atmosphere of camaraderie.''
On this rare day when the entire cast is assembled, it's clear this camaraderie goes deeper than numbers. Director Joss Whedon says: ''These guys really like each other. My biggest problem is to get them to shut up so I can shoot.''
Whedon gets his silence and his scene, which allows Downey to get to the urgent matter of asking Hiddleston to judge his contest. ''It was a photo finish between Downey and Scarlett,'' Hiddleston says with a laugh. ''They were giving some serious come-ons.''
Stark's penthouse is a wreck. Overturned designer chairs and broken glass from massive windows cover the expensive flooring, which sports gaping holes. Apparently, hosting a battle between good and evil can be messy. Though the actual location is a New Mexico movie set rather than the New York skyscraper portrayed in The Avengers, Downey still takes the destruction of his character's pad very personally.
''I'm not even done designing Stark Towers, and already it's destroyed. I was still making tweaks!'' he says, before adding slyly, ''It all kind of reminds me of the '80s.''
On the bright side, the superheroes have assembled in the room and seemingly cornered the evil Norse god Loki. As Hawkeye points a bow and arrow directly at Loki, he gets backup from Iron Man, Captain America , Thor and Black Widow. Even Ruffalo, who won't be fully transformed into the massive Hulk until special effects are added in post-production, glares down at Loki from a table. Whedon knows that this is an Avengers money shot. ''I've had this in my head for a long time, seeing all of these guys together and just the power of the thing,'' he says. ''It's like boom! They are here.''
This is what fans will demand of the spectacle, which has been watched closely since its inception and is expected to pack one of the most powerful box-office punches of the northern blockbuster summer. To get it absolutely perfect, Whedon shouts out directions - ''Chris Hemsworth, raise your hammer much more slowly on this one'' - and replays the scene, with the off-camera Hiddleston feeding the same line to the other actors to get them started: ''If it's all the same to you, I'll have that drink now.''
They hear the line enough that Downey finally asks: ''Do you want me to actually get him a drink? Maybe we can do that for the director's cut.'' The laughs continue in Johansson's trailer, where she commiserates with Renner about their superhero attire.
''To see us all in our latex catsuits with staffs and shields, it can be surreal,'' she says, not bothering to wipe away the blood on her forehead from the previous battle scene.
The bizarre collection of costumes, from the flowing capes of Norse gods to the shield and patriotic bodysuit of Captain America, is something Whedon makes light of in the screenplay, which he co-wrote. ''There's a level of absurdity that started in the first Avengers comic,'' he says. ''You have to plant a flag in it, otherwise the audience will.''
Ruffalo and his mates don't need their costumes for the next shot, which has the camera focused on Loki. But Hiddleston needs something to play against, so the off-camera Evans throws on a gray sweatshirt and Johansson dons a silky black robe. As Hiddleston crawls through shards of glass (actually small pieces of rubber), he repeats the line about needing that drink, this time for the camera.
''That last line, a little more regret, a little more exhaustion,'' Whedon calls out. Hiddleston repeats until he nails the scene. He is rewarded by Downey handing over a long-overdue cola in a cocktail glass from Tony Stark's bar. ''You've earned that drink, buddy,'' Downey tells him. ''Congratulations.''
The Avengers is now screeening.
Review: Page 36
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