Posted on Monday, April 23rd, 2012 by Germain Lussier
Among the fan community, Joss Whedon has long been a God. Creating Buffy, Angel and Firefly will have that effect. In the mainstream, though, Whedon is still something of an enigma who has yet to enjoy the success of a massive, signature calling card. That’s about to change.
Marvel entrusted their most prized possession, The Avengers, to the writer/director and the results are nothing short of spectacular. The film, which opens May 4, officially announces Whedon to the masses with an experience that’s not only bigger than everything else he’s ever done combined, it’s ripe with Whedon’s signature, sharp wit and charm.
I had the honor of sitting down Whedon to talk about the film including his page-one rewrite of the original script, working in the constraints of the Marvel universe, how Michael Bay and James Cameron influenced the film’s massive action scenes, his love of long takes and more. Check it out below.
/Film: Congratulations on the movie.
Joss Whedon: Thank you.
You definitely pulled it off. I really liked it. What was the one thing you knew coming into it that you had to get right? There are obviously so many expectations and all that kind of stuff.
The fabulous outfits. Actually the fabulous outfits were of great concern to all of us, but I guess that’s a hard question to answer. There wasn’t anything I was allowed to get wrong. It’s not like we could let something side. For me, the biggest thing was going to be tonally “Will these guys all fit in the same movie?” “Can you make a believable film wherein you have all of these disparate characters?”
Was that the reason why, when you came onto theflm and there was already a script [by Zak Penn], you decided to do a rewrite? Because that wasn’t there?
Nothing was there…
You know, I didn’t see anything in that script that I could relate to. It’s very easy just to sort of take these characters and do a greatest hits from the comics and just you know… I knew that this movie was going to have to be built from the ground up. It needed a basis of character and structure that couldn’t rely on a love of Marvel comics. If people who don’t love Marvel comics don’t see this movie, then we are bankrupt. (Laughs)
Now when you came on board… I just talked to Kevin and he said that you had seen IRON MAN 1 and 2 obviously; they were shooting THOR and had given you sort of the beats for CAPTAIN. Did you find that difficult in anyway that you sort of had to adhere to certain things? You are obviously somebody who creates.
You know it’s difficult, but it’s also liberating, because some of the work has been done for you and you know the voice of the person you are writing for and you know the voice of the character you’ve read for so many years. Ultimately the challenges were “How am I coming off of these other films and teeing up these other films and how am I getting enough out there without completely destroying what everybody else is trying to do after me?” That stuff is tricky, but in terms of “Oh, the whole thing has been cast…” It’s not like that was a problem at all.
So how much did you think about the other movies coming up? Did you find that to be restrictive at all? Or did you still feel creative with this film?
Well you know, I’ve done a lot of things wherein you have a set group. I mean as soon as you create a TV show, even if you create it yourself, you’re now working with a set group. I did a run on the X-MEN, I did an ALIEN movie, I did RUNAWAYS… It’s very fun to wander into this world that’s populated by people that you love, to get the chance to write for them. Obviously there’s pure creation and nothing beats that, but this is something that any writer could have the time of their life doing and they let me make my movie, the movie that I told them I wanted to make the first time I realized I wanted to make an AVENGERS movie and it’s exactly the movie that we came out with. So it’s always a creative endeavor or you’re just spinning your wheels.
One of the things that surprised me in the movie is that almost every character has some sort of interaction or a standoff with the other characters, at least the super heroes. Which of those were you most excited to do? Was there a match up you didn’t think you could pull off? I mean you pulled of Black Widow versus Hulk in a way, which doesn’t seem like a fair match in anyway.
Well no, I didn’t want it to be a fair match. I wanted Black Widow to be in big trouble, because it was important to me that when the Hulk turns into the Hulk it’s a bad thing and not a good thing. My regret is the things that I didn’t get to put in and Scarlett [Johansson] kept saying “I don’t have any scenes with Sam. What’s going on? I work for him. We worked together in IRON MAN 2.” I’m like “It’s implied, sweety and the movie is three hours long.”
There was a rumor going around that you had a much, much longer cut.
What was the first cut?
And we took out 45 minutes about as painlessly as you can. There was a moment where I sort of went “Wait a minute, do I know what I’m doing? Am I even in this movie anymore?” But ultimately it’s not about me, it’s about the movie and the more you sort of remove yourself from it and in this case literally, the more you will end up servicing it.
Are we going to see some of that stuff on the DVD?
And a lot of it is stuff that I’m proud of, but I understand why it didn’t belong in there and why we by necessity ended up with the structure we did.
The action in this movie is unlike… I mean you’ve done action before on TV and SERENITY and stuff, but this action is just on another level. What did you do to challenge yourself to reach that and to do this sort of Bay-Cameron huge type of thing?
You know, for me Cameron is the leader and the teacher and the Yoda, because I don’t know anybody who delineates action as well as he does and it’s always about he shows you the parameters, he shows you the problem, and then he shows you the attempt at the solution and he makes the problem worse. It’s a real understanding of cinematic space in his movies and for me it’s kind of dazzling. You know the Bay stuff is ten times prettier than mine, but very much about the sensation over the sort of explanation and for me it’s very important that we know why our people are doing what they are doing and where they are and what the situation is and how I can make it worse. So I don’t think of myself as anything resembling a great action director, but I do love iconic imagery. I do love finding those moments and I do love creating stunts. You have to, because the best stunt and fight coordinators in the world are still going to fall back on some tricks that quite frankly will work for one character, but not for another and keeping ahead of everybody’s power, there were power levels and it was very tricky.
You mentioned that you love iconic moments. This movie is full of them and that’s part of the reason I think I loved it so much, but two of them that I thought were the most interesting were the long takes, the shot in the boardroom where it sort of goes around and flips over and then the action beat towards the end where we sort of see them all in one take. Can you talk a little bit about those? Are they actually long takes? Are they digitally created? How did you conceptualize those?
Well obviously the big battle shot has a bit of digital work in it.
And actually I thought we were going to have to do the long arguing shot digitally. I thought we would have to, but the camera crew was like “We think we can pull this one off.” I’m like “All right, looks good to go.” We actually did it in not that many takes. I will do long takes as often as I can. In a movie like this you really don’t get the opportunity very much, because something’s going to get cut out or you know you have to give yourself these options. The bigger studios kind of want to create the movie in the editing room and I like to do that as little as possible. I like to shoot the movie and nothing else, but also in this we didn’t have rehearsals. You know, we didn’t have a table read. I didn’t have my actors until they were shooting, so I couldn’t be sure around whom I could build a long take, but I did know I had a couple that I felt were integral, one because it was a way of showing how disjointed they all were and one to show how united they all were.
I asked one more question, but it was a spoiler about the post credits scene which we’ll run that after the film opens.
A huge thanks to Mr. Whedon for the great interview. The Avengers opens May 4.