Completing the award-winning cast of “ Marvel’s The Avengers” proved to be a breeze for the filmmakers. “One of the great things when you make a film that’s been set up like this is that you start the casting process 80% done,” informs producer Louis D’ Esposito.
Leading the cast are Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Tom Hiddleston, with Stellan Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
Every team has a go-to guy when the chips are down and “The Avengers” is no different as they turn to billionaire, industrialist playboy Tony Stark aka Iron Man. One of the cornerstones and fan favorite of the Marvel Universe, the first two installments of the “Iron Man” franchise, starring Robert Downey Jr. have grossed a combined 1.2 billion at the worldwide box office.
“Robert is a tour de force as Tony Stark and he injects that confidence and sense of humor that brought to life and defined the character in the best way possible in both ‘Iron Man’ films,” says producer Kevin Feige. “We wanted to give Robert scenes with all the characters as we knew it would be a lot of fun to watch Tony’s interaction with Captain America, Thor and The Hulk. When Robert walks on the screen, the audiences embrace him in a very big and palpable way; he really is a powerhouse for us and the film.”
Downey shares, “Tony initially thinks forming the team is ridiculous, but being Tony Stark, he is more open to the realm of possibilities that exist in the world of ‘The Avengers.’ Tony already had hints of it from Nick Fury who has been stringing him along for a while about becoming part of a larger universe.”
The director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division) and the person trying to convince Tony Stark to join “The Avengers” team is Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson.
For Jackson, having Nick Fury front and center in “The Avengers” was a welcomed change to the many cameo roles in the other Marvel franchises leading up to this film. “It’s great to be the guy who is the organizer of The Avengers team,” says Jackson. “He’s the guy who has the raison-d’être that kind of understands the threat and has to get them to understand the nature of the threat; that we’re a lot stronger together than they are individually. Using Coulson in a manipulative way to get them to do what he needs them to do is not above Nick’s character. He does kind of fudge the truth a bit to get them to take the bait and join in, and eventually they all do.”
One Avenger who is suffering a little heartbreak is Captain America, played by Chris Evans. Frozen in a block of ice since 1945, Captain America awakes from the deep freeze to find a world he knows nothing about and where all of his friends and comrades have passed away.
“It’s not just that Captain America wakes up in a whole new world; it’s the fact that he has to deal with the emotions of finding out that everybody he knows is dead,” says Chris Evans. “Every single person he called brother on a battlefield is gone and the world around him is a different place. It’s more fast-paced and impersonal because new technologies have put barriers between people. In the ’40s there was much more of a direct and honest sincerity in the way people behaved and I think human interaction helps breed manners. Waking up in modern day is just an extremely different way of life that Steve Rogers now has to get used to.”
“Starring as Captain America was scary and exhilarating at the same time,” says Evans. “’Thor’ had already opened and done very well and so I kept thinking Captain America better open and do well because I don’t want to be the weak link of the ‘The Avengers.’ Luckily the film did well and it was an amazing feeling to see kids’ faces light up when they saw me in the costume. It really was a completely new experience for me, for which I am very grateful. ”
Another newly christened franchise in the Marvel Universe is “Thor.” The film kicked off the summer of 2011 with a bang when it opened #1 at the box with $65.7 million and went on to gross $446 million worldwide. In “The Avengers” Chris Hemsworth reprises his title role as the hammer-wielding Norse god Thor.
Hemsworth explains why family issues force Thor to return to Earth in “The Avengers”: “Thor has conveniently come back to earth briefly because Odin summons dark powers from the universe and it’s very costly,” explains Hemsworth. “He’s come back to retrieve Loki, who’s running madness on Earth and causing a lot of chaos. He also has some questions of his own he wants answered like, ‘How did this happen and where did I and my brother go wrong?’”
The actor continues, “In ‘Thor’ my character learned a whole lot about humility and gained a new respect for humans because they were able to help him discover who he needed to become in order to earn his powers back. I also think he feels very protective of humans now because of his relationship with Jane. Joining The Avengers team is also tricky because he has a personal investment in that his brother Loki is the one who’s causing the chaos and he fears that the others may just want to kill him instead of just stopping him and taking away his powers.”
Helping Nick Fury keep The Avengers on point for their mission is Natasha aka Black Widow. Reprising her role from “Iron Man 2,” Scarlett Johansson was happy to slip back into the sexy suit of her character’s alter ego Black Widow.
“To be honest, I really didn’t know what the future would hold for the Black Widow after ‘Iron Man 2,’” informs Johansson. “I didn’t know how the fans would respond, but to be a part of the Marvel Universe and playing such a dynamic, ass-kicking character is pretty exciting. The first time you saw this character in ‘Iron Man 2,’ you didn’t get to learn much about her because she’s a bit of a slippery fish. She still has many different faces she puts on and, to this day, she still is divisive in that way. In this film, audiences will get to see more of her history and kind of shady past, which to me is very exciting because the darker part of the character was always very appealing to me.”
Black Window sets off to find Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo, who has gone off the grid in order to stay away from anything that can bring stress and conflict into his life.
For Ruffalo, his friend and colleague Robert Downey Jr. was the inspiration he needed to take on the role. “’The Avengers”’ isn’t the type film that I’ve done in the past or that I am usually invited to do,” laughs Ruffalo. “I was a little nervous about it because when Joss Whedon and I first met about the role there wasn’t a script. I thought a lot about Iron Man. I thought about what Robert Downey Jr. did with that part—he is one of my hero actors. I really loved what Robert did; he reinvented the genre. It made me feel like I could fit into that world with whatever it is I do. I had one meeting with Joss, who I liked instantly, so between him and Robert I was in.”
“What appealed to both Joss and I about the character is that he would have a common man sort of feel to him and possess this world-weary charm,” says Ruffalo. “We also agreed he should have a sense of humor about his situation. Based on the last incarnation of The Incredible Hulk, there was the promise that Banner may actually have a little control over the Behemoth. We wanted him to be fun and interesting as Banner and awesome as Hulk.”
Playing Hawkeye is two-time Academy Award® nominated actor Jeremy Renner who says playing a character in the Marvel Universe who is human and grounded in reality was an attractive element that intrigued him.
“Producer Kevin Feige showed me images of Hawkeye from ‘The Ultimates’ and they were very cool, but what I liked more then anything was the idea that he’s a human being with a high skill set who is a bit of a rogue agent. I’ve played a few snipers before and there’s a really interesting mentality that comes along with being a sharp shooter, so I thought it was a pretty fun character to play.”
With the casting process completed, producer Kevin Feige reflects upon his deeply talented cast and his desire to keep their characters grounded in authenticity. “The great thing about the Marvel Universe is that it takes place in the real world; it’s not a fictitious Metropolis,” explains Feige. “A big part of this equation is having a team that can deliver that right balance of emotion so that audiences can connect to the human element of the story. We have been rewarded for making those slightly against-the-grain choices in finding the right actor for the job, whether they’ve ever been in these types of films or not. When I think about the cast in this film from top to bottom, I still get giddy with excitement because they all are fantastic artists who understand what we need in terms of performance and all bring their own unique sensibilities that elevate each of their roles.”
(“Marvel’s The Avengers” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures.)