On Set Interview: Joss Whedon Initially Didn't Want To Return For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron'

On June 12th 2014, I visited the London set of Avengers: Age of Ultron. In October, we posted our on set interviews with Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey JrToday we've been given the green light to publish our interview with Avengers series director Joss Whedon. Here is a short snippet from Joss explaining why he decided to come back for the sequel:

I didn't actually want to make the film necessarily. I was ragged from the first one, and so I just turned off my brain. I was like, do not think of cool ideas for the next one. Just get through this. But after a few months when they talked about, um... This is now something that makes sense in my life; do I have anything to say? And so my agent calls, I was in London, and he called me and said there's a deal that's worth talking about- time to start to think about whether there's a movie. And I'm going, all right. I went to a pub and sat down with my notebook, and about forty-five minutes later, my notebook was filled. And I texted my agent "yup" and I have so many things to say and I was kind of surprised. It took me unaware. It was very beautiful.

Read our whole Joss Whedon Avengers 2 set interview after the jump.

The Avengers Writer/Director Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon Avengers 2 Set Interview

The following interview with Joss Whedon was conducted on the London set of Avengers: Age of Ultron on June 12th 2014. There I participated in with in a roundtable with a group of movie blog colleagues.

What was your head like going into this movie and what were you set out to do differently?

Joss Whedon: I'm sorry, I was napping during that. Um, uh, um, yeah, the first one, I was a raggedy man when I made that film. It did take a lot out of me. Going in this time, I just had to sort of recalibrate me entire existence and throw myself into it more wholeheartedly and say, okay, actually make it harder to make them last, and I'm gonna just invest myself in every part of it- in every production meeting, every location scout, and every question about a prop that I'd like to avoid, and I might even work harder on the script. Um, everything just, you know, there's nothing in it that I'm not going to be a part of- I'm gonna give myself up to it- like a Christian to a lion.

vision-breakout-concept-art

I'm curious about the look of the Vision and how he's going to evolve. Are you still working on how he's gonna look?

No, we make them as close as we can. The stunt guy, we make allowances for the shape of his face and, and padding and things that we're putting on him but they're not meant to look different. Basically, what usually happens is, one of the guys, Ryan or one of the guys on his staff, draws something unbelievably beautiful, and we try to create that in real life, and it takes a long time. The first tests were very Violet Beauregarde. I think it really took a long time to get to a place where we felt like, even though we had a little, we will work on him in post. He walks on [set], and we go, oh, it's Vision, my God.

That was our reaction just walking out there.

Yeah, and of course, I wanted Paul to play this part since before I wanted to make Avengers movies. He's just got, let's face it, it's about cheek bones, people.

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD - Joss Whedon

When did you first start coming up with ideas for the sequel, and were your first ideas the one's you're actually making?

Before I took the first job, I said, well, I don't know if I'm right for this or if I want it or you want me, but in the second one, the villain has to be Ultron, and he has to create the Vision, and then, that has to be Bettany. It took me three years before I could tell Paul that I'd had that conversation, but after that, I stopped. I was like, that would be cool if you have Ultron, and you have Vision and Paul played him.

And Scarlet Witch and Pietro, definitely. They're from my era, they're very different, their powers are different, it's not all punching, it gives a different palettes and we can do more interesting things. It's fun; those things were all absolutes. But then I didn't actually want to make the film necessarily. I was ragged from the first one, and so I just turned off my brain. I was like, do not think of cool ideas for the next one. Just get through this. But after a few months when they talked about, um... This is now something that makes sense in my life; do I have anything to say?

And so my agent calls, I was in London, and he called me and said there's a deal that's worth talking about- time to start to think about whether there's a movie. And I'm going, all right. I went to a pub and sat down with my notebook, and about forty-five minutes later, my notebook was filled. And I texted my agent "yup" and I have so many things to say and I was kind of surprised. It took me unaware. It was very beautiful.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Ultron, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver stand in the wreckage of a lab

Introducing characters like Pietro (Quicksilver), are you always thinking "I'm inserting this character and now I'm building this huge arc that is going to play out over phase three or phase four?"

Yeah, you're aware of that, but you sorta can't be slavish to it. One, I think the biggest mistake in the world of franchising is as it says in Gattica, you know how to be cute and save anything from way back. It's like, don't worry, we can do something next time. It's like, whatever you want, get it in there. Not that we can do everything with every character but you wanna get an arc that's complete. You don't want people to think wow, that's part one of something or even part two of something. I have been lambasted for criticizing Empire Strikes Back, but I wasn't criticizing the film which I love very much. I was saying, the experience of having a movie not end. It's weird for me and kind of disturbing. For me, I need to get everything in that I need from him, and then if he continues, either I or somebody else will need more. These characters have existed in their iconic narratives for longer than I've been around which is just really long.

Age of Ultron extended trailer

Are the ideas you wrote down when you took notes in that pub the ones you're doing now?

A lot of them, a lot of them. And there's some that you're like, this is it; this is the heart of... and then that doesn't work. But generally speaking it's character stuff, really. It's definitely not plot stuff because that's the stuff that you can pull out of yourself with agony. The character stuff, can these people connect and these people can't connect, and we can tear them apart and bring them together, and have this insight into the character. That's the stuff that makes me wanna make a film. Not like, "oh, and then there's a cool plot twist." I have to have a mind for that.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Black Widow comes face to face, palm to palm with The Incredible Hulk

Can you talk about the success of the Hulk in the first film? Did you want to preserve him for the world of the Avengers?

Well, I wasn't the one who said don't make a Hulk film or anything like that. It was, Kevin said to me, we think right now it's good to have somebody who could only be in the Avengers. Everybody loves Mark. He's phenomenal. But the fact that there hasn't been a Hulk [movie] since that Hulk, it doesn't suck. My job is hard enough, you know. Cap's had a movie, Thor's had a movie. Everyone's gone through big changes, Iron Man had a movie, and so I have to juggle everybody's perception of that while still making a movie that you can see having not seen any except the first Avengers, or not even that.

Joss Whedon Seoul apology

You said that the movie is much bigger this time around. So...how much bigger?

I don't remember saying it was bigger. I remember saying it was harder. But it is bigger. The cast is bigger. The scope is bigger. We have more to work with. Not that we're trying to spend more. In fact, we're trying to avoid bloat wherever possible. But with this, we're on a broader canvas. We're in more countries. We have a bigger world to work with, and a bigger world for them just to be in. Once they exist as a team, we have to deal with what everybody thinks about that, and what that means to the world. So it's not as simple as it was.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Tony Stark with an Ultron prototype in his lab

Is there a kind of a Dr. Frankenstein's monster thing happening with Tony Stark and Ultron?

You know, in the Marvel universe, there are a lot of Frankensteins. Steve Rogers himself, is one of the better-looking Frankensteins of our era. There's always an element to that. There are a lot of people, whether they're trying to do good or bad, who think they have the next big idea. And the next big idea is usually a very bad one.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: The Hulk

You talked in the past about how the Hulk is probably one of the harder characters to adapt into a live-action film. How do you handle him getting a bigger role in this film?

[Hulk's] monologue about his childhood is very poignant and lacks pronouns. No. Um, you know, the talking thing is something that I sort of pitch it and I take it away. It's moment to moment. Done wrong, it could kill ya. So, I'm pretty leery about that. But Banner has a significant role, and the Hulk,  we really held back on him for a long while in the first one. And said, there's something terrible coming that you'll love. And what just what makes the Hulk so hard to write is that you're pretending he's a werewolf when he's a superhero. You want to — you want it vice versa. You want to see him, Banner doesn't want to see him, but you don't want Banner to be that guy who gets in the way of you seeing him. So the question is, how has he progressed? How can we bring changes on what the Hulk does? And that's not just in the screenplay. That's moment to moment, because even when they are putting in post mix and temp mix you know, they have a library of two roars. "Aaarrgh! Uuurrgh!" What if he wasn't roaring? I'm angry, and I'm not roaring. I'm being very polite to a lot of reporters, but I'm filled with rage.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Quicksilver in action

You brought in Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch and you have the Vision. That's like a second team, like Hakweye and Captain America in the old comics days. And they're not mutants now. Are you bringing them in with the age of miracles? Is there an explanation for them besides "war technology"?

Baron Strucker's been doing experiments, and he's got the scepter, and he's been using alien tech to do them. It's kind of where I landed with that. But look for an exciting ret-con in Avengers 6!

Avengers Age of Ultron

In terms of coming back for a sequel, now you've worked with this cast and you've had that first experience. Does that help you find the voice the second time around? Are things that you knew that you wanted to do specifically because of the actors?

Yeah. I mean, most of them had already played the parts before even the first one, and it's hard not to hear Robert Downey in your head. He's very distinctive. It's been easier for me to give them what they are comfortable with, and also to let them sort of mold stuff a little bit, you know? There are certain things where I'm like, if you want to make this more your own in some way that I haven't thought of yet, I'm — you know. We have mutual trust, where if I say, I know this feels weird, but I need it. And they will back me. And if they say, I feel like I could come at this differently, I will back them, because we're creating those characters together, and they will always see something that I missed. A  there. Especially when all ten of them are in a room. You know? I've got all of these enormously interesting actors playing enormously interesting characters.  I'm not going to get every nuance of everybody. And somebody will say, wait a minute. Aren't I dead already in this scene? Should I have so many lines? Right, good point. Sorry.

By the way, don't — please don't turn that into a headline. I'm so sick of reading about killing people. [LAUGHS] A joke. Um...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Where's does Wanda fall in the tradition of the strong but somewhat damaged-by-powers characters that you've written in the past, like Buffy?

Well, you know, "strong but damaged by power" describes every person in this movie. It may, in fact, describe what the movie is about. You know, the more power that we have, the less human we are. Her damage pre-dates her power, and these kids they've had a rough history. Is she in an idiom with which I am comfortable? Why, yes sir, she is. [LAUGHS]

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver

We've gotten a glimpse of Wanda and Pietro, and we know that Iron Man and the Hulk are kind of tied together. Was it a very organic way to bring those 2 stories together? I feel they are almost separate stories in a lot of ways.

They did, and that was a concern for Marvel for a long time, but a lot of the working out of the story was how do we get these things to connect. I'm not going to explain that, but it's very important to me that they do feel like part of the same story, and part of the same universe. And they're all... All their origins are all tied up in each other.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Hawkeye running through a snow-covered forrest

In phase two, Hawkeye wasn't around too much, and I'm curious if we're gonna find out what he's been up to in this film?

Um, yeah. We are. 'Cause something's up with that boy. That's all I'm gonna say.

Ultron: "there are no strings on me"

For Ultron you have Spader, who has an incredible presence, which I imagine lends itself to the character quite well. Just how is he acting in a general scene amongst humans?

You mean Spader himself?

Well, and the character of Ultron.

Well, Ultron feels a certain distance from humanity, and the day Spader got here we put on the mocap pajamas, a giant thing with red dots on it for his eye line, giant pack, and a helmet with two cameras in his face with lights to record his performance, he then did a scene with Scarlet. But not look him in the eye because she was looking up in his eye line, and nor could he see her because he had two lights shining in his face, and he had his glasses on.

Therefore, he has a certain distance from humanity, too. And god bless him, he was wonderful. And very game. He has been the whole time. Very interested in the mechanics, to find the humanity. He and I share a genuine love of this version of Ultron, and he has an innate eccentricity in delivery that is everything that I had hoped Ultron would be.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

How is he different from other villains you've seen in super hero movies?

You know, for me, there's always a point where I'm writing where [I go], you know, they're right! The Avengers sucked! Got to do something about that. We got to take care of these guys. Hopefully, you will come out of this, if not agreeing with him, [at least] getting him, and getting his pain, which leads to a lot of damage, and some humor, and how's he different. I mean, villains are different from each other. The important thing for me is he's not this external thing. He's not Independence Day. I'm not criticizing that movie, but I'm saying that it's not like we spent some time on the alien going, oh, I hate that Will Smith! Punched me right in the face! The first day there! When he's in his scenes, you want to feel like he will never understand that he's not the hero.

quicksilver-dofp

With Quicksilver, did the X-Men version of Quicksilver change your visual approach to anything?

Not really. There are some things that we now would probably care to avoid just so that we're not... But we were never doing the same version. Obviously at some point we'll go into slow mo because that's what's fun about a super speedy guy. For me, what's fun about Quicksilver isn't necessarily seeing Quicksilver, it's seeing the Avengers the way he does. And, they really took to the mattresses with that one scene, but he's just a very different guy in ours and I think we're just kind of proceeding as planned.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: The Incredible Hulk vs. Iron Man in Hulkbuster suit

Can you talk about the filmmaker vision and working within a big budget studio film. What is that like for you, working with Marvel? Is there a "you can't say that or do that" mentality?

Well I'm aware of can't do that or say that. I know that I work for Disney. I want children to see this film and not have nightmares about it. I understand the parameters, and at the same time, I don't know of a place that would let me make a film this personal for this much money. Marvel, I feel like they treat the movies, or they have, for me, my experience of it, like they treat comic books, where when a new writer and artist comes, they have their own visual ideas and they, they respect that .... I get to make a movie that's very much about the things I need to talk about. I forget that during the whole process because these characters are so dear to me from before, and they belong to them. But then when the thing shakes out it's very much the movie I dreamed of, and that's why I'm back.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Black Widow

When making The Avengers, you knew right away that Ultron's gonna be the guy. The same with Vision. The twins as well. Are you already trying to plan out in your mind that every character leads to something else. Are you already thinking big ideas for how stuff will connect down the road?

There comes a point when you are writing, filming and editing, and you cannot make a grocery list. I haven't had a good idea about anything. I'm so excited that I'm wearing underwear, that I got that right today. Every now and then, it'll happen, but right now we're just past the halfway point, and I'm still finessing and finessing and finessing, and I got nothing. So it's I do this, I go home, I rewrite, I go to sleep. I do this, I go home, I rewrite, I go to sleep.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron will be in theaters on May 1, 2015.