In June we had the opportunity to visit the set of The Avengers: Age of Ultron and meet with most of the film’s core cast. On our first full day we walked through sets, spending most of our time in The Avengers Tower but we’ll be talking about that in the future.
In a large empty stage with a large group of journalists, Mark Ruffalo joined us, walking in while sporting a grey motion capture suit under his sweats. The actor has a unique role to play as the only Avenger who motion captures his character’s alter ego, essentially portraying two characters in the film. Thanks to improvements in motion capture technology and a a script that throws Banner for an emotional spin, we’re going to see a lot more of The Hulk.
The interview covers everything about Bruce Banner’s relationship with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and and finally fitting in, Hulk losing control, battling Iron Man, and working alongside new and far more dangerous heroes and villains. We also chat about working with Andy Serkis and improvements (and increased importance) of motion capture technology.
During a set visit on The Avengers, Ruffalo’s first time working with Marvel, he had his phone and excitedly took it out to show images of the Hulk to journalists before publicists took it away. So that topic came up as the first question as a joke.
Do you have your phone with you to show us more stuff?
Mark Ruffalo: I don’t have my phone with me. They, they purposely left pockets out of my costume for some bizarre reason now. Maybe that’s it.
So you got the script and you were noticing that the beginning has you in relationship with Scarlet. Were you like this is gonna’ be a very tough job.?
MR: Uh, we don’t have a relationship – What kind of relationship?
We heard that there was a closer relationship between the characters? [Laughs]
*Looks at unit publicist* Did you tell him that?
Oh yeah I’ll – I’ll play, I’ll play along. Yeah, yeah. There’s a really important relationship between [laughs]…. Um I was just happy that I was in the movie at all. And any scenes that I got to be with her were a big bonus.
It seems like the response to The Avengers, the way the Hulk was handled and the way that Bruce was handled, it feels like Marvel finally figured how that character – and you guys were finally able to make the definitive Hulk. This time around what is the balance between Banner and Hulk and is there a still s struggle to unleash him now that he’s a hero?
There’s more of him and I think there’s still [LAUGHS]… I, I don’t think he’s – Banner and Hulk have kinda come to a détente. [LAUGHS] We left the last one with this idea that you know I’m always angry and therefore I have some control over it but like anger, when you think you have control over it, you absolutely don’t. And so there’s still a wrangling going. There is a confrontation [LAUGHS] brewing between the Hulk consciousness and the Banner consciousness that I think we’re starting to head into right now.
We got a really good idea of the relationship between Tony and Bruce in Avengers and in Iron Man 3 it’s hinted that it’s continued. We’ve heard that they both have an extremely important role in the creation of Ultron. That seemed like a very core relationship. Can you talk about that?
Yeah, basically Tony took the orphan banner in, into the fold. I was just made aware of where my apartment was in the, in the Stark Complex, the Stark Tower. And I think they’re working. I have a lab and Banner’s working on a lot of stuff, and Tony’s working on his own stuff and they complement each other. You could tell that when into this film that they’ve been working together and they’ve gotten even more of a short hand together and really know how to work well together. So that’s been built out quite a lot and it’s fun. It’s cool, it’s cool. [LAUGHS]
As a followup, yesterday we talked about Hulk fighting Tony as the Hulkbuster. Is that sort of a test to see if you guys can stop the Hulk?
Oh, you mean like, “Hey, hey let’s see if we can” It’s a little bit like Cool Hand Luke that way.
“You think you could beat me and then I’ll beat the crap out of you” and then I beat the crap out of him [LAUGHS]. It’s kinda like that, but not totally like that. It has a surprise, a little twist to it as well.
*Looks to unit publicist to see if that was okay to say and is told it was*
You and Joss did a really good job developing Banner for the first movie. And we haven’t really seen him much since then. Coming into this movie, do you know where you want to go with him?
I think he’s trying to become more a part of a group. I don’t think he’s ever felt like part of a family or part of something. He’s always sort of been on the outside or on the run or trying to shun humanity. [LAUGHS]
But now I feel like he has the idea that maybe he is part of something and he’s trying to really be a part of something and feels more comfortable with the fantasy that he could actually be a part of something. But I still think it’s a struggle for him and I never think that he quite has it under control.
But I think in this version he’s sort of as close to having a normal life as he possibly could – which might include… some romance. But, you know, is that ever possible for Banner is really the question.
Cap, Thor and Iron Man had their own movies to develop their characters. Do you have to do that in this movie? Is it harder to do that in the movie?
Well, I think the mythology Banner is just kind of known because of the other movies. We’re sort of building off of them but it’s similar. He’s on the run. He doesn’t wanna’ turn into the Hulk. All that people want him to do is to turn into the Hulk.
[LAUGHS] And so I think that it’s not as uphill a battle as introducing a completely new character. And you know the nature of these movies; There’s 8 of us and you’re sort of – I kinda’ worked it out. It’s 10 minutes of screen time for each of us. And then if we include the bad guys… And so it’s hard [LAUGHS] to really do a lot of character development in it, but I think this movie goes even more into that than the last one for everybody. And so, you’re sort of playing catch up, but also I think you wanna’ be ambiguous enough not to cover too much ground so that you have somewhere to go if they ever do wanna’ do a standalone. Another standalone.
We heard that Andy Serkis was somehow involved in the early stages of this one which is fascinating as performance capture gets more and more advanced each year. What’s that process been like for you? And how much more you is there in the Hulk?
We’ve done a lot more with the motion capture and because the face capture and the motion capture can now be put together. You just got a lot more latitude as a performer. So Andy’s been working on this new frontier of taking motion capture and instead of the actor just being a place holder for CGI that it becomes more of a collaboration and that the Actor really can add performance to it. The last one we were trying to do that but it was difficult.
Now the technology is taking another step forward. Andy has created a kind of space and this new attitude towards motion capture that honors the Actor a bit more than it was in the past. And not that there was dishonor, it’s just organic process of making those two things work really well together in the context of a production of another movie that has a first unit going and a lot of importance is put on the first unit, but now they’re starting to look at motion capture in a equal sort of way. That’s what Andy’s after. That’s what I’m after.
And so I see the motion capture as this incredible new place for us to go in performance that we never had before that’s more like kind of a puppeteering. You know you’re no longer are constricted by the attributes that you have as a person your age or weight or size. None of that matters anymore. And so there’s this whole exciting place to go that is kind of unknown.
It’s almost like going back to your theater roots.
It’s very much like theater because it’s all imagination. You don’t have a forest in front of you in the theater. You don’t have a castle, but you have to put that there for yourself. And so whatever theater training I had is very, very much in tune with this oddly enough.
The oldest form of acting all of a sudden meets the newest form of acting. And they’re very compatible to each other. But it’s very exciting. Andy has really done a lot to make it so the Actor’s driving it.
One of the things they we were talking about yesterday was Scarlet Witch sort of being able to call out the demons of the Avengers. And it was your character that–
That’s a bad trip.
[LAUGHS] Is she able to just call up the Hulk and control him?
It’s not – it’s – she – she’s able to bring out the worst in us. [LAUGHS]
And there are people in our lives who can do that. And somehow when you’re an Actor you tend to gravitate towards those people. But it’s like Sid and Nancy. She’s the Nancy. She’s everyone’s Nancy. [LAUGHS]
Of all these new characters that are in this movie is there someone that excites you the most that you really think is cool and that audiences will really freak out about?
I love the new kids on the block. I love Wanda and Pietro – Quicksilver. They’re cool. They’re really cool, the characters.
How about The Vision?
The Vision is The Vision. He is so dope. And uh, he’s my baby. Yeah, he’s pretty incredible. And the idea of him and where he comes from and he’s very independent. He is a really great character . Yeah, people are gonna’ love the Vision. And Ultron’s amazing. He’s amazing. It’s really good.
How much one-one-one time did you have with James Spader?
We had a lot of scenes together as a group. I don’t have really – I have a couple of one-on-one things with him, but I love him. He’s great. And he’s, he’s gonna’ be – it’s like King Lear. It’s great.
Do you get as much enjoyment watching Paul Bettany being tortured as Robert [Downey Jr.] seems to?
All I know is I’m happy that I walk in and I leave the trailer and I can go back an hour later and Paul Bettany’s still in make-up. [LAUGHS] And I’m 46 years old. That makes me feel good. [LAUGHS]
Sorry Paul. But you should see him. He’s a specimen when he walks onto that thing. And he’s like the perfect man. He’s the Vision.
I’m curious about this cool little house party that goes on in this movie. Are ever the Hulk there?
Banner. They mostly – indoors I have to be Banner. That’s kind of the rule. It’s like “leave your shoes at the door.” It’s like leave your Hulk at the door.
Yeah they don’t like him being… Hulk still has a little bit of an ADHD kid thing going on. [LAUGHS]
In the first movie Hulk has two amazing lines. “I’m always angry” and “Puny God.” Does he have anything like that in the sequel? Any one-liners?
We’re sorta’ still working that out. He will. We’re just kind of trying to figure out. There’s a couple of different places to do it, but he’s not gonna’ have a soliloquy. Not yet anyway. But we’re working for that. Joss has a couple ideas where to put –
Has he told you the lines yet?
No. That’s the thing, but I kinda’ know where we’re headed with it, but he hasn’t given me the line yet.
Talking with Joss Whedon yesterday he told us one of the dominant themes in the film is the idea of being destroyed by power. And obviously there is a lot of power that exists in Bruce Banner. I’m curious how you see the theme kind of affecting the film overall and towards Bruce.
The essential struggle that he’s having – throughout his life [LAUGHS] probably – but specifically in this is that he does have that destructive side of him. That’s not gonna’ ever go away. You could live a fantasy that that might be under control but ultimately you know that might just be a fantasy for him. And so that conflict is always gonna’ be there, that there might never be a resolve to that. That’s because that power is really destructive.
Is he still constantly searching for that solution?
Yeah, he wishes he could find it. There’s no doubt about that, but it’s like you get to be a certain age and you’re like – You have to start to practice radical acceptance or you just keep banging your head up against the same wall. And I think he’s starting to get to that place where he’s like, “Okay what do I – how do I live with this? How do I make it work for me? How do I manage?” It’s like management. It’s like having a slipped disk.
I was curious about that. We saw a lot of labs. I’d imagine a lot of scientists there. I’d imagine the Hulk would be the number one priority. Tony wouldn’t even want to lose the Hulk. It’s kind of weird.
No, Tony’s mantra is like, “Embrace it, dude.”
Because the Hulk us useful to the team?
Yes, in little doses. So he’s like a nuclear bomb you know. It’s tough to get very tactical with it. I think it’s a matter of management and control really at this point rather than just like shutting him down completely.
Plus the Hulk is – the weird thing about the Banner/Hulk relationship is [LAUGHS] how the more work they do into it, the more he turns as the Hulk the more established the Hulk becomes in his identity. And so you have these two identities that really wanna’ dominate the other. And so it’s not getting easier to refer one or the other to be the dominant driver.
Can they co-exist?
I don’t know, it’s tough. [LAUGHS] But they’re gonna’ have to work it out ‘cause they didn’t – you know there’s serious tension there and it’s only growing.
Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” stars Robert Downey Jr., who returns as Iron Man, along with Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk. Together with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and with the additional support of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill, the team must reassemble to defeat James Spader as Ultron, a terrifying technological villain hell-bent on human extinction. Along the way, they confront two mysterious and powerful newcomers, Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Pietro Maximoff, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and meet an old friend in a new form when Paul Bettany becomes Vision.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron releases in theaters on May 1 2015, followed by Ant-Man on July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on July 28, 2017, Black Panther on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 on May 4 2018, Captain Marvel on July 6 2018, Inhumans on November 2 2018 and Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 on May 3 2019.
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