Meet the Avengers

We talk to the stars behind the superhero team.

by Sophie Monks Kaufman

The heavens opened, spilling down gallons of rain upon the hundred odd journalists heading to Claridges for the Avengers Assemble press conference. My white T-shirt took the most punishment, transforming my look from serious professional to unlikely competitor in a wet T-shirt contest. At least this was an honest way of communicating my feelings towards Robert Downey Junior, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and – heck – Scarlett Johansson.

As if having these scandalously attractive people in the same room wasn’t exciting enough, there was, of course, the hysteria-inducing reason why. Avengers Assemble, Marvel’s superhero ensemble debut, prompted grown men to ask giggly fanboy questions. Delighted amusement rang out after every half- funny line. Laugh’o’meter readings suggested we were watching comedians at the top of their game.

Notably absent was the man of the hour, Joss Whedon. Perhaps this was good as his ears wouldn’t so much have burned as caught fire with all the praise. Producer Kevin Feige got the ball rolling by gushing about how easily Whedon made sure the backstories, kick-started in Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and the comics themselves, neatly segued into Avengers Assemble. “Luckily our director and writer extraordinaire is really, really good at assembling all that material. He just goes, ‘Oh, you do it like this!’” said Feige, whose later ferocious snarl of “no spoilers” suggested that he doesn’t take the softly-softly approach by default.

Tom Hiddleston, our charming British stake in Avengers – even if he does play loco villain, Loki –had a characteristically eloquent way of putting his appreciation of Whedon’s working style. “All you want as an actor is to collaborate. Everyone here has a degree of ownership about the characters they play and he’s very respectful of that possession We’ve all lived under the skin of our characters for some time so he was constantly asking, ‘does this feel right?’ ‘Does this feel true to you?’ ‘Is this in your voice?’ Most of the time I was just turning up and saying my very brilliant lines which he’d written on my behalf.”

Even Scarlett Johansson, who turned into her sardonic Ghost World character to field a tedious question about dieting, became earnest when it came to Whedon. Asked whether there had been much discussion about ensuring the Black Widow’s status as a kickass female she responded. “I think Joss is gender blind in some ways. He wants his female characters to be dynamic and competitive and assured and confident because he celebrates those kinds of strong female characters. He’s just a charming fellow that way. “

Lest the room turn into a solemn Whedon worship temple, jokers Downey Junior and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) were on hand. The latter won the press conference with the deadpan response, “I’m severely jet-lagged. I have no idea what you just said.” Meanwhile, RDJ joked about appropriating a Black Sabbath T-Shirt from the Iron Man set and generally oiled the wheels in a manner not dissimilar to Tony Stark.

The most touching contribution came from new kid to the franchise, Mark Ruffalo, who gave a baleful account of taking the online temperature after he was cast as The Hulk. “I was overcome by a moment of very poor judgment early on by going online and seeing the response to me coming in as the new Banner. I won’t do that again. It wasn’t glowing. I found the fans’ exuberant passion to be very… brutal.”

“I hope you’ve amended that,” he continued after the sympathetic laughter had died down. It carries less weight but I hope you’ve amended that too.

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