Joss Whedon on Assembling ‘The Avengers’By DAVE ITZKOFF
Zade Rosenthal/Walt Disney PicturesAs you may have gleaned from his fantasy TV shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” or his work on comic books like Astonishing X-Men, Buffy and Fray, the director and screenwriter Joss Whedon is a comic-book guy through and through. That might make him the ideal filmmaker for a project like “The Avengers,” the Marvel Studios movie (opening May 4) that brings together Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and many others.
Zade Rosenthal/Walt Disney PicturesA profile of Mr. Whedon in this weekend’s Arts & Leisure section looks at him in a season that will see the near-simultaneous release of “The Avengers,” the biggest movie he’s ever made, and “The Cabin in the Woods,” a multi-leveled horror film he wrote with its director, Drew Goddard, and may be more emblematic of his ability to work on smaller scales with smaller budgets. In this first part of an excerpt from that interview, Mr. Whedon talks about how he was recruited to “The Avengers” and the challenges he faced making it.
Q.Growing up, were you always a Marvel Comics guy?
A.Everybody’s bi-publishing-curious. I tried a little DC. I dabbled in college, it’s a phase. But yeah, I’m a Marvel guy, first and last.
Q.Kevin Feige, the Marvel Studios president, had told me you essentially won the “Avengers” assignment with a single e-mail.
A.They – they being Marvel, and most they being Kevin – know exactly what they need, so they really do let you make the decisions. And there was only one point of conflict, in terms of what they needed.
Q.What was that?
A.It’s about the villains. I kept trying to add one. And they weren’t behind it. I feel like we made it work but that was the only thing we disagreed on.
Q.And that character was –?
A.[teasingly] A specific figure. I wanted to have another guy in the mix, somebody who was up to their level, because I have all these strong guys! That was trouble. They felt the structure worked without it and it would be too much. But apart from that, everything they wanted, I completely agreed with. It’s like, “We want the Avengers not to settle their differences through talk.” O.K., good. I’m for that, too. It’s a superhero movie. Superheroics must take place.
Q.Marvel had previously approached you on other film projects. What happened in those cases?
A.I was interested in “Iron Man” when it was at New Line and then one day I thought, Do I really want to be in development on a movie? And I just backed out. Honestly, I think Jon [Favreau] did a better job than I would have. And you can tell the DNA of “The Avengers” – no paternity test needed, “Iron Man” is the daddy. “Iron Man” is where our reality comes from, even when it becomes fantastical.
Q.How did you pitch “Avengers” to them in that e-mail?
A.I was like, I don’t know if I want to make an “Avengers” movie, so I’ll give you some ideas about where I think you might go with it. If it’s about the origin of a team that doesn’t make sense together, and they really don’t, then you have to use the “Dirty Dozen” model, which is an hour and 40 minutes of training and 20 minutes of Nazi-killing. So I laid out my ideas, the biggest one being, I think it’s a war movie. That’s the only way you can make these people feel like they might lose. You can’t just create six exact matches but slightly bigger, six Abominations – you can’t do that. What you can do is put them through so much that you get that feeling of, I don’t know what’s going to happen to them – they might not all come back from this. And I felt it even more strongly when I watched “Black Hawk Down.” I was like, O.K., that’s the movie I want to make. My first memo was 3 or 4 pages, and from that, they started to get excited about what I was saying and I started to get excited about what I was saying. I was like, Oh, this actually sounds fun. These people are broken. I can write about these people. They’re tortured and strange.