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Robert Downey, Jr., Marvel Studios’ President of Production Kevin Feige, Writer/Director Joss Whedon, Samuel L. Jackson

In less than a decade, Marvel Studios has done the impossible, bringing together several of their motion picture franchises into single release.

Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige shepherded this vision starting with 2008’s Iron Man, which starred Robert Downey, Jr.  A last minute tag at the end of the film introduced Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., setting the stage for what was to come.  Following Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers concluded what is now being referred to as “Phase 1” of Marvel’s cinematic universe.

Now, with Marvel’s The Avengers having become the third-highest grossing film of all time, “Phase 2″is ready to begin with Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon signing on to Avengers 2, as well as developing a S.H.I.E.L.D. television series and iconsulting on the next series of Marvel films.

The following interview is edited down from several studio released articles, but nevertheless gives some interesting insight into the origins of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and includes quotes from Downey, Feige, Jackson and Whedon.

When did you come up with the idea of joining these iconic Marvel Super Heroes together for Marvel’s The Avengers?

Kevin Feige: The idea came during the production of Iron Man when we had the notion that S.H.I.E.L.D. could be part of both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. We started looking at the list of characters in the Marvel Universe that hadn’t been taken by other studios: Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye and Black Widow and I thought, ‘Isn’t that interesting; all of these characters happen to form one of the most popular comic book series: The Avengers. When the idea of a Nick Fury cameo started coming up, we called Samuel L. Jackson and he thought it was a cool idea. It was his enthusiasm about it that led us to shoot the end credit scene. He says to Tony Stark, “You’re part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet.” Well, that line was also Marvel telling the audience as well.

How long have you known Marvel’s The Avengers was going to happen?

Robert Downey, Jr:  Back in 2007, when I was cast in Iron Man, producer Kevin Feige said to me, “You know what? This is all going to lead to somewhere… We’re going to do something unprecedented in entertainment and we’re going to make an Avengers movie. We’re going to bring all of the franchises together.”

Samuel L. Jackson’s cameo was hugely popular…

Kevin Feige: Audiences loved the cameo and the buzz about Nick Fury began. We did it again on The Incredible Hulk and the reaction once again told us that The Avengers was going to work. Our plan then became to build it one superhero at a time because it was really important that we introduced all of the characters in their own franchises first before putting them together in The Avengers.

What went through your mind when you heard that news?

Robert Downey, Jr: I would get nervous and excited about it, but then I’d get doubtful. By the time Chris [Hemsworth] and Chris [Evans] had launched their individual Super Hero franchises with success and charisma, and by the time we had Mark [Ruffalo] for the Hulk, I realized, ‘Wow, this is really going to happen.’ And I was incredibly excited.

How much research did you do for this role?

Samuel L. Jackson:  I’ve been reading the Fury comics since I was a kid. I remember when it was Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos in the War World II war comic books. That’s when I was introduced to him, and then I moved on. Then all of a sudden, I pick up an Avengers comic book and I was like, “Hey, that’s me!” It’s amazing. It’s great.

How did you ensure the directors of each of the Marvel movies were all working towards the same common goal for The Avengers?

Kevin Feige: The truth of the matter is simple: we go out of our way to find the perfect directors for our movies, whether it’s Jon Favreau on the first two Iron Man films, Louis Leterrier on The Incredible Hulk, Joe Johnson on Captain America or Joss Whedon on The Avengers. We let our filmmakers know that they need to focus on their movie and they need to make the best movie they can. And then it’s our job to make sure that seeds are planted. Joss, of course, inherited the most in terms of being the writer and the director of The Avengers. He had the biggest task in weaving it all together. However, what I discovered was the fact that all of the directors loved the idea of bringing the Super Heroes together. They all had their hand in what The Avengers has become and they were all open to the idea that they were playing in a huge, shared sandbox. It’s like a creative campus where all of these amazingly talented people come in and add their own piece to the Marvel cinematic world.

What was your biggest challenge in bringing Marvel’s The Avengers to the big screen?

Kevin Feige: The biggest challenge was two-fold. Firstly, is the movie going to be able to live up to the expectations of the people who love The Avengers and have read the books for decades and decades? If you’ve read the books and you love the books, you know how great the interactions of these Super Heroes are and you have mammoth expectations for the project. You also have to make sure that it doesn’t seem utterly ridiculous that a guy from outer space, a billionaire with a suit of armor and a guy who turns green when he gets upset could all fit into a movie together for people who have never read the books – and that’s where Joss Whedon came in. He was able to weave together their stories in a really great way.

How did you get involved with Marvel’s The Avengers?

Joss Whedon: I’ve known [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige for a number of years and I knew this project was coming up, so I was eager to find out more about it. I’ve been reading The Avengers since before Kevin was born, so this project was extremely appealing. However, I wasn’t sure I’d actually do it until I became incredibly intrigued by the proposed story of the movie. I became so obsessed that I couldn’t shut up about it!

Why did you become so obsessed with the movie project?

Joss Whedon: I am a huge fan of what Marvel has established. The films they have released are extremely informative, useful and fun – but when they first came to me, Thor and Captain America were not even close to being finished. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, you have all these moving parts, but how can you possibly bring them together?’ Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America don’t seem like they could co-exist, and ultimately that is what intrigued me and made me think, ‘This can be done and this should be done.’ These people don’t belong together and wouldn’t get along, and as soon as that dynamic came into focus, I realized that I actually have something to say about these people.

How tough was it to balance the script between the Super Heroes to ensure they all had their moment to shine on screen?

Joss Whedon: It was very, very tough. It was difficult to ensure structurally that everybody matters in the narrative and isn’t just there to have a funny line and a bit of cool action. I also had to make sure that whatever they do with their particular skill set is correct for their level of power. There are so many stunts in the movie, but you have to make sure, for instance, that there’s something Captain America could do, but not Thor. You have to make sure that you are always respectful of the characters.

What were your initial thoughts when you met the rest of The Avengers cast for the first time?

Samuel L. Jackson:
To be honest, I knew nearly everybody in the cast. I’d worked with the majority of them before. I’ve done films with Jeremy Renner and I’ve worked with Scarlett Johansson. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth were new to me, but I worked with Hemsworth’s wife, Elsa, because we worked on Snakes On A Plane together. I know Mark Ruffalo from different places, too, so working on this project has been great for me because I like all of the people involved. We had fun.

How did Mark Ruffalo get involved in the movie? 

Joss Whedon:
We were looking for the right actor for this iteration and Mark was definitely on my radar. I think he’s such an open, honest, intelligent everyman; he seemed like the perfect guy for the role – but he doesn’t look like the wimpy scientist that they usually draw in the comics. I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way Marvel is going to go for this.’ However, one of the first things Kevin Feige said to me was, “How about Mark Ruffalo for the Hulk?” I was overjoyed. The Incredible Hulk was the most difficult task in the film, both structurally and in terms of animation – but I am really proud of him.

How much did you enjoy sharing the spotlight with the other Super Hero actors of Marvel’s The Avengers

Robert Downey, Jr:
It was nice to not really have to carry a movie. I think everyone really, really, really, really is equal in this venture. That’s wonderful. It’s great. You know what? The real die-hard fans, of which I’m an honorary member, have been wondering and imagining if something like The Avengers was ever going to happen. They get their wish this year.

What was the atmosphere like on set?

Samuel L. Jackson:  There was a big family feeling on set. Joss set up the rules, and we showed up and played by the rules. We had a great time doing that and it was cool to be in that space where we could show the audience that these guys have superpowers, but they have normal attitudes, too. They get annoyed with each other and they argue about petty stuff. They can be smart asses, they can be heroes and they can also be jerks – but they all eventually find a way to love each other.

The cast reported a genuine excitement on the set of the movie. Can you take credit for any of that?

Joss Whedon:
I will take credit for all of it, because that’s what I do! No, seriously, making a movie is an exhausting process – but the cast has been great because they were able to have a lot of fun with the project. There is a little bit of a geek in all of them and a little bit of, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this.’ Also, because it’s a movie with so many characters, nobody had that tough a filming schedule. Well, apart from me, because I had to direct every scene.

What do you think of the humor of Marvel’s The Avengers?

Robert Downey, Jr:
I think Joss Whedon did a great job with the humor. What everybody captured for their character was exactly the right tone. At a certain point, without killing it, you tip your hat and we didn’t take it too seriously because this is essentially a comic book movie, but you buy into the reality of it. I think everyone has their moment in the movie and Joss did a good job of finding everyone’s frequency.

How mammoth was the task of bringing all of these Super Heroes together?

Kevin Feige: It was certainly difficult, but at the same time we’ve been planning this for years and years in advance – much longer than a typical live-action movie would be worked on. All of our prep work on Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America incorporated plans for The Avengers, including negotiations with the talent. When we cast Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in Thor, and when we cast Chris Evans as Captain America, they understood they would be doing two movies in a row. When you pre-plan it in this way, you can accomplish anything.

Why do you think the movie worked so well?

Samuel L. Jackson: Joss knows more about the comic book genre than most people, especially within this particular franchise. He has an understanding of the relationships of the characters and he understands the Marvel world. He put the story and the characters together in a very unique and wonderful way.

THE AVENGERS was released on BLU-RAY 3D, BLU-RAY, DVD, DIGITAL & ON-DEMAND on September 25, 2012.
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