The press junket for Avengers: Infinity War stands as one of the most surreal moments in a town that seems to thrive on them. 20+ A-listers gathered together, along with directors Joe and Anthony Russo and designated Man with the Plan Kevin Feige. (Chris Evans and Karen Gillan were not present due to commitments on other projects; Evans is performing on stage in New York and Gillan has directed a new film at Tribeca.)
Jeff Goldblum (who is not in the film) served as master of ceremonies: pulling names on ping-pong balls out of a tumbler to determine who would field a question. To top it all off, no one but Feige and the Russos had actually seen the film – not the press and not the stars – and with no one willing to divulge any of the film’s secrets, getting any substantive information proved a unique challenge. Everyone handled it differently. Leticia Wright praised her character’s scientific skills and hoped that young woman would take it as inspiration. Elizabeth Olsen mused on a theoretical indie-style romantic drama between Vision and the Scarlet Witch. Chris Pratt punted and talked about bass fishing… and still managed to make it hysterical.
And yet all of them were very aware of how unique this film was – in sheer scale if nothing else – and how they’ve seen the MCU develop from a single movie about a single character to the juggernaut dominating pop culture today.
What follows are the highlights of the junket, on stage and off, featuring seven of the almost two dozen professionals present. (Edited for time and content.)
Question: One of the most important aspects to the success of the MCU has been keeping the spirit of the original comic books intact. How do you approach that? How do you keep the Marvel DNA alive in the midst of a studio filmmaking process that trends towards watering content down?
Kevin Feige: You’ll be surprised to hear, but it’s the actual comics. Every one of our movies starts with that, beginning with, “hey, do you think we could make an Iron Man movie?” all the way up to Infinity Gauntlet. That starts with reading the comics we love, and then pulling images directly from them. We’ll literally rip the pages out and put them on the wall as we work through the development process. There’s dialogue lifted directly from the comics, that are the words to the writers and artists who created these characters.
With Infinity War, in particular, there are so many characters and so many storylines from previous movies to tie together. And if you look at the omnibus – the big chart we used to keep it all organized – there are tons of dog-eared comics pages and Post-It notes full of moments from the comics. After people have seen the movie and digested the movie, we can talk more about the specifics for this one. They mostly involve Thanos, and Jim Starlin’s work on that character. But you’ll see it.
Q: How do you go about the task of putting all of these characters on the screen together in a way that works as a story?
Anthony Russo: When we began to develop this movie, we took a picture of every single character who’s been in the MCU, and hung it up on the wall, all around us. We basically spent months and months and months talking about where we could go with each character. How we could draw them through this story. Every one of these characters has been on a very specific journey through the MCU to arrive at this moment.
It was a very long creative process: thinking about where we can take the story, where we could take the characters, how we can combine the characters in creative ways. It was one of the most fun creative exercises I think I’ve ever been through in my life. It was just us sitting in a room for months, telling stories about these characters… 99 percent of which didn’t make it into the movie.
That was our process. We thought about every character in the MCU and how we could move them all forward through this.
Q: How do you keep the characters in the center of a move like this? How do you keep that humanity in something so large and impressive?
Don Cheadle: One of the great things about movies like this is finding the characters in the story, and continuing a character’s journey through multiple stories. You don’t get many opportunities to do that in a movie. Rhodey ended Civil War on a down note, obviously, and these movies give you a chance to explore that without closing the book on the character. These are big, spectacular movies, and all of us get blown away by the effects when we first see them just like you do. But it comes down to these characters and their personal journeys. As far as Rhodey goes, I’m glad that we get to see his journey continuing, and see the character come back from what happened in Civil War.
Zoe Saldana: I’d agree. For all of the spectacle and action and entertainment in movies like these, we wouldn’t be here in the MCU if it weren’t for the emotional beats that all of these relationships carry. For my part, that involves the relationship between a parent and a child. Karen Gillan isn’t here, but I can speak on her behalf. We had so much fun together, and with Josh Brolin exploring those dimensions. You take away the special effects and the purple and blue and green skin, and it’s two children dealing with a complicated and difficult father. Which is very, very human.
Q: How do you juggle the specifics of your characters with limited screen time?
Anthony Mackie: A wise man once said that “some men need an hour to make their presence felt. Others can do it in an instant.” There’s a cliché: there are no small roles. And these characters, because they’ve had so many movies to develop their arc, give actors the opportunity to compress a great deal into a very short amount of time.
Q: What was the most difficult scene to perform?
Chris Hemsworth: I’ll take this one. The first day I had was Thor meeting the Guardians; the scene in the trailer. They all knew each other. I didn’t. So I was kind of the new kid. I got all those nervous butterflies in my stomach. That was a fun scene, because you kind of got that energy in it. Thor’s meeting these characters for the first time too. So you look for that energy and you use it in the scene. I had a lot of fun working with the Guardians crew here.
Q: How does the energy on set change with so many actors involved in such prominent roles?
Paul Bettany: Well snitches end up in ditches, and all of the best anecdotes are the ones I can’t tell anyone about. We’ve been making these movies for a long time, and we’ve all be through this experience together. It’s a unique experience for actors to be able to work with the same people again and again and again. We’ve all gone through real life stuff together. People have had children. People have gotten married. People have gotten divorced. A lot of real life stuff has happened. In the process, we’ve all become fast friends. I’ve never been on a set where people choose not to go back to their trailers, but hang out on the set and make fun of each other. It’s been a real privilege.