In case you haven’t already seen my other #AvengersEvent interviews and behind-the-scenes looks, I was invited to Los Angeles to participate in the Avengers: Age of Ultron press event, where I got to see the movie early and interview the people involved in making it, including James Spader (“Ultron”) and Paul Bettany (“Vision”). Travel and accommodations were covered by Disney and Marvel, but all thoughts and experiences are my own.
Note: This post does discuss spoilers. Please proceed with caution if you have not yet seen the movie.
And, really, if you haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron in the theaters, what are you waiting for?
I read a press release before the movie came out that discussed the decision to make Ultron the villain in this new Avengers installment. Despite the fact that Thanos was featured in the end sequence in the first Avengers (note: he makes another quick appearance in the credits of Age of Ultron!), writer and director Joss Whedon explained that “it was always going to be Ultron for this film.” Now I’m just excited to see what they have in store for Thanos in the 3rd Avengers…or should I say, what Thanos has in store for the Avengers?
As soon as James Spader and Paul Bettany walked through the door into our interview room, I was convinced that Marvel made the right choice in casting both men in their parts as Ultron and Vision. The first thing that became almost instantly clear? James Spader loves to talk. He is an entertaining, thoughtful man of many words…and although he is much more upbeat than the character he plays, I could see how his personality came out in Ultron.
Because James Spader doesn’t actually act in an Ultron suit (he’s had to be pretty tall and skinny to fit into that costume!) his part consisted primarily of voice over recording in a studio. However, they analyzed James’ movements and expressions to develop the computer-generated character and it’s very apparent that a lot of James’ personality carried over.
James said, “I was amazed that I saw with this magnificent body and made out of vibranium and all the rest of it, this sort of technological wonder. To actually see my 55-year-old sort of ‘very comfy’ physique, and to see all of my gestures and posture and movements and expression…All of it was there.
My son did see the film a couple of days ago. And I said, ‘But how about the face?’ And he said, ‘You know, I see you in the face.’ He said, ‘Amazingly enough, considering it doesn’t really have a nose. I really saw your eyes and your expression and certainly head movements, everything. I saw it all there.’ So it was worth it, I guess, to go through all of the arduous process of motion capture, which is fascinating actually.
The very first day that I walked onto the studio lot, before I ever hit a set or anything, within a half hour, I walked into a room and they had cameras set up around the room and there was a bunch of guys with a whole bunch of laptops and women and so on all sitting around.”
“And they put me in a fractal suit, which is just a sort of two piece, you know, looks like you’re gonna go for a run, but has shapes and colors and things and all over it. And then they dotted up my face and they put a big rig on my back and a big headgear rig that had two sort of antenna that come down that are cameras that are right here with headlights right here, so I’m lit right here.
And they had me go through a range of motions and fingers, everything, head turns and all the rest of it. And then they put it into some program on the computer or something and I stood around for about ten, fifteen minutes and fifteen minutes later, I could walk in my outfit into the center of the room and turn my head, move my fingers, go like this, and I could look at a monitor and see a sort of formative stage of Ultron doing everything I was doing.
So right from the very first moment I arrived there, I could start getting a sense of what sort of physicality would be appropriate for that eight foot robot. And there was a guy there, quite small, who would’ve been proportionate to my height. I’m five-ten. He was very small. He is sort of proportionate height to what an average height Avenger might be in proportion to me if I was eight feet tall.
He was a stunt guy, and he was wearing a fractal suit and all the gear as well, and they made him do the range of motion and everything else and within 15 minutes he and I would go move around the room and he was as a different character, and so I was able to see right away me as an eight foot Ultron with another actor who’s a proportionate height to what an average size person would be. It was really amazing.”
From Jarvis to Vision
Paul Bettany has been the voice of Jarvis, the loyal Butler to the Stark family…and now a “virtual butler” to Tony Stark, since the first Iron Man movie. Although we never see Jarvis but only hear his voice, I’ve always considered him one of my favorites. He’s so likeable and loyal…a constant. I was curious how I’d react to the body-less Jarvis “becoming” the physical Vision. My husband put it best after he saw the movie last weekend, “He looks exactly the way I pictured his voice.” The transition from Jarvis to Vision is flawless.
Paul Bettany told us about the day that he found out about his new role as Vision. “It was a sort of vindication really because I had just come out of a meeting with a producer who told me my career was over. This is a true story. And I sat on the curb in Hollywood with my feet in the gutter and my phone went and I looked at it and said, ‘Hello?’ I didn’t recognize the number…it was Joss Whedon. He said, ‘Do you want to play Vision?’ And I went, ‘Um,’ it’s so quick these days, ‘yeah, I kinda do.’
True story. So it was lovely.”
We wondered how different different this latest movie was for Paul, since he was interacting with the other actors in a totally different way than he was in previous movies as a voice character.
Paul explained, “(In previous movies) I was brought in at the last moment to solve any clarity issues the film had…which was my superhero power as Jarvis. What was the difference (with Age of Ultron)? The difference was I had to go to the gym. I had to stop eating carbs. I finally got to be on set with a bunch of really lovely, creative, talented people. However, it also means that I have to show up at junkets now, you know? The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
James piped in, “I did not have to cut back on carbs. Somehow amazingly enough, those animators were able to slim me right down.”
One of our bloggers asked James if he had to be convinced to play Ultron of if he was excited about the role instantly.
James said that he had met with Kevin Feige and Jeremy Latcham 2 or 3 years prior to receiving the call from Joss Whedon about the part. And since his agent is also Samuel Jackson’s agent, she is very in tune with what’s going on in the Marvel world. He said his 3 sons were also a factor in deciding to play this role.
“I have never in my entire career ever chosen a film to work on for the sake of my children,” James said. “And most of the films that I’ve done they really shouldn’t watch. I remember I took my mother when she was in her eighties to go with me to Sundance to see this film I did called Secretary….”
Paul laughed, “What a schoolboy error that was!”
James said, “Both my mother and father…they’re both passed away…but they both have sat, lovingly, through an array of perverted little movies that I’ve made. But in any case…my son loved comics and loved superhero movies and fantasy and all that stuff. He just loved it. And then, by circumstance I also at the time had a three-year-old son, again, and he was already sort of raiding his brother’s little figures and little things like that and was excited about it. And I just thought, I just want to make a film for them, you know? So I went in and I sat down with Kevin Feige and Jeremy Latcham and they had reached out to my agent and said, ‘You know, we’d love to sit down with James.’
Those sort of meetings are always just so brutal and fruitless. But my agent said, ‘Kevin doesn’t really meet with anybody unless there really is a genuine interest. And I said, ‘Great. Then I’d love to talk to him.’ So I sat down with him and I said, “I just would love to do one of these things and just be such fun.’ And I told him the reasons why and I think he really responded to that ’cause that’s his fan base, you know? And so we were sort of looking for…the right thing.
There’d be things that came along along the way over the next two years or so and he would be like, ‘I just don’t know if it’s what James is looking for. He wants a really great bad guy.’ And so all of a sudden, about two or three years after that meeting, Joss Whedon walked into their offices and said, ‘You know, I don’t really have anyone else for this role except for James Spader.’
And they said, ‘Well, funny you should mention that ’cause we’ve been trying to find the right thing.’ And so the next thing was a phone call from Joss and as soon as I spoke to him and he… (I’m sorry. I’ve never been able to answer anything in a short and precise…) But anyway I said, ‘What the hell can I bring to an eight foot robot, you know? That’s not my skill set.’
And he told me what he was looking for in terms of the character. ‘You know, let me send you something to look at so you can get a sense of what this character really is.’ And he said, ‘In the comic books, the guy’s just sort of this raging robot. ‘I am going to destroy you’ He said, ‘I really want to extrapolate on that.’
It was just such a weird, complex amalgamation of things. And as it turns out, Kevin Feige told me, a couple of days later he said, ‘You know, Joss, those aren’t even scenes from the movie. Joss wrote those scenes just to send you, just so that you’d have a sense of the character.’ I thought, what a lovely thing to do, that he just wrote these scenes as this is what this character’s going to be like, an example of sort of who he is. And they were really tailored for that. And he was absolutely right. It was all of that. Just a weird mix of crazy, scary, funny, poetic, you know, just a weird guy.”
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Vision has quite a unique, not-quite-human look. We asked Paul how much of Vision was makeup and CGI?
Paul said, “It was a lot of makeup, ha ha. I would sit in the chair and then would wait for eternity to come and then they’d be… done. So it was all real.
They would have tracking dots on so that they would then move the circuitry could be on my face and my musculature could move and you could still see me express things, ‘Cause we tried having full prosthetics that went over everything and we lost a lot of expression in the face. So thankful…because that was really, really uncomfortable.”
And perhaps the best quote from the entire interview, after we had taken our quick group photo:
James Spader: “Is that it? It seems like we should dump something else and just stay here for a little bit.”
And then James Spader clapped for us. Way to make a bunch of bloggers feel pretty cool.
Be sure to check out the rest of my Avengers posts:
- Avengers: Age of Ultron Spoiler-free Review
- Jeremy Renner and Cobie Smulders Dish on Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Producer and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige Chats About Avengers: Age of Ultron
- When Joss Whedon says cross your arms, you cross your arms (and other Avengers-speak!)
- That Time I Was Sandwiched Between Thor and Captain America (Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans Interview)
- Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch Join The Avengers: Exclusive Interview With Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen
- Avengers: Age of Ultron Coloring Pages #Printables
- Avengers Easter Eggs
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