At Marvel Studios' "The Avengers" press conference the stars of the superhero film franchise came together to discuss their characters, joke with their cast mates, and unanimously praise their favorite scene in the whole film: when Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo, de-Hulks and winds up naked in front of veteran character actor Harry Dean Stanton.
"How come it's only Harry Dean Stanton that got to see Mark Ruffalo naked?" Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) demanded to know as producer Kevin Feige and co-stars Ruffalo, Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury), Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) cracked up.
Setting the informal tone for the conference, Ruffalo took the initiative to speak about his attempts to differentiate Bruce Banner from the previous Edward Norton and Eric Bana incarnations.
"I've never had a role more scrutinized and criticized even before I shot a single frame!" Ruffalo laughed. Telling reporters he rented the Bill Bixby "The Incredible Hulk" TV series at "Avengers" director Joss Whedon's request, Ruffalo found his inspiration for the role in a more personal source.
"I rented those with my ten-year-old son, and after the third episode he turned to me and said, 'Papa, he's so misunderstood!'" Ruffalo recalled. "I basically based my character entirely on my ten-year-old boy, who has all the force of nature screaming out of his body while at the same time having everyone around him telling him to fucking control himself!"
As ardent Marvel fans know, "The Avengers" is the culmination of years of Marvel Studios' planning, first teased all the way back in 2008 when the after-credits scene in "Iron Man" introduced audiences to Jackson's Nick Fury recruiting Tony Stark for the "Avengers initiative." Bringing together the stars of Marvel's main film franchises including Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk, "The Avengers" also features popular comic book heroes Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and a beefed up role for the fan-favorite Agent Coulson, for good measure. While that many characters could have easily overburdened the film, Downey and the cast praised Whedon's ability to jump from character to character without shortchanging the story.
"It was nice to not have to carry a movie, I think everyone is really equal in this venture," Downey said as Feige nodded in agreement.
"My big fear was that the whole thing would collapse under its own weight, that we'd spend so much time on costume[s] and super powers and special effects that these characters and these actors wouldn't get the chance," producer Feige, who also serves as Marvel Studios' President, said. "My biggest interest in the Avengers is the interaction between the people. Looking at Joss' body of work -- his characters never, ever get lost; those are the moments that shine. That was to me why he was by far the best choice."
"I think Joss did a good job finding everyone's frequency," Downey said, attributing the success of the ensemble to Whedon's wit. "Whether the wit is funny or whether it is actually being able to hold the whole myriad of ideas and notions that you have to get right for 'The Avengers' not to be bunk -- that is what he accomplished."
For Downey, the "Avengers" movie was an even bigger deal as it was his starring vehicle, "Iron Man," that first introduced the Avengers idea to moviegoers.
"Going back to 2007 when I was cast in 'Iron Man' and Kevin Feige said, 'This is all going to lead to where we're going to have all these franchises come together and we're going to do something unprecedented in entertainment, we're going to make this Avengers movie,' I remember I'd get nervous about it and excited about it and doubtful of it," Downey said. "By the time Chris [Evans] and Chris [Hemsworth] had individual franchises with success and charisma, and by the time we had Mark [Ruffalo] I was like, 'Wow, this is really going to happen!'"
Speaking about their individual franchises, Captain America actor Evans said part of the reason he enjoyed playing the unfrozen super soldier was it was a change from his usuals roles, such as the funny and egotistical Lucas Lee in "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" or the funny and egotistical Johnny Storm in the two "Fantastic Four" movies.
"I am used to cracking jokes and being a wiseass, so it's nice to play it straight a little bit. I think this film, more than the first 'Captain America' movie, Steve Rogers has some issues and conflicts and some trouble with the fact that he is a man out of time," Evans said. "He wasn't born a superhero, this didn't happen to him by accident, he was chosen, and for those reasons and values and morals he puts other people, other causes ahead of himself."
While Evans enjoyed Cap's soldier mentality, Hemsworth believed the driving force behind his Thor was the personal anguish derived from the conflict with his brother Loki, the main villain in "The Avengers," as played by actor Tom Hiddleston.
"Thor's from another planet and I guess his motivation through the conflict and the villain was far more personal than the rest of them, because it was his brother. It was nice to have already shot that film and had that relationship with Tom," Hemsworth said of the cosmic sibling rivalry.
The Australian actor also saw Thor as different from all the other Avengers as as the hero has the least impulse control of the bunch. "I like the visceral sort of gut instinct that Thor has, and there's almost a childlike quality in the sense that if he believes something or wants to do something, he says it and does it!" Hemsworth said.
With a laugh, Hemsworth told reporters that while Thor's motivation was personal, "In life, if either one of my brothers tried to take over the world or the universe, I'd have to step back and see how I'd feel! But that when we did, 'Thor' became relative -- let's not get caught in playing gods, let's be truthful, you have brothers and how would you react to that?" Hemsworth said.
The actor added that he felt Thor's approach to Loki was "that kind of thing where I can give my brother a noogie and tell him off, but no one else can."
"Don't you feel that Liam is trying to take over you box office? Doesn't he need to be corrected in some way?" Downey asked as Hemsworth and reporters laughed, citing Hemsworth's real life brother and "The Hunger Games" co-star Liam Hemsworth.
"He's gotten a few bruises currently from me!" joked Hemsworth as the audience laughed again.
Touching on his own character, Downey said what he likes best about Tony Stark is that his character is still in the middle of growing as a person.
"He didn't set out to do anything noble, so he's in transition, so there's something a little more Han Solo than Luke -- and also the fact that he can pull of wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt for the better part of the film!" Downey laughed.
Offering his two cents, Jackson told reporters, "I just like the fact that Nick Fury believes these unique individuals deserve the love and admiration of the world, who pretty much owe everything to [them] because there are hard things out there bigger than us."
Comparing the mood on set to the Rat Pack or The Little Rascals, Jackson continued, "We all know each other and we all laugh together, and when we all saw each other in [the film] it was like, 'OK, we're actually going to do this, this is going to be a lot of fun.' It's almost like an 'Our Gang' movie -- 'Hey, I've got some costumes, I've got some film, I've got a studio!'" laughed Jackson. "We just decided we were going to have fun."
Looking over the conference table, however, Jackson confessed he had a bone to pick with Whedon and the improv-happy Downey.
"Why does Robert get to say all this nice, cute shit? Every time I would say something, [Joss] would come to me like the line police: 'You can't say it's, you have to say it is,'" Jackson said as the actors and Feige laughed.
Getting in the last word, Jackson summed up the heroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents in the film as the ultimate dysfunctional family.
"Joss set up the rules and we showed up and played by the rules of that world. Certain people have license -- he's the rich, smart-ass guy, he's the little guy with the big words who might turn and fuck you up at any moment, he's trying to make him do it like the bad little brother," Jackson said.
"It was fun to do that -- and allow an audience to see these guys have super powers but they have normal kind of attitudes, they get pissed at each other and they argue about petty shit, they can be smart-asses and they can be heroes and they can be jerks but eventually they're going to find a way to love each other."
"The Avengers" assembles in theatres May 4.