Joss Whedon: Making latest ‘Avengers’ film ‘a little bit broke me’

May 12, 2015 | 8:00 a.m.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is dominating the box office, earning more than $312 domestically so far. But when director Joss Whedon was in the thick of production on the Marvel sequel, he was terrified of failure.

Whedon — previously best known for creating cult darling TV shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” its spinoff series “Angel,” the sci-fi Western “Firefly” and the short-lived “Dollhouse” — hit box office gold with his 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers,” the first tentpole film in Marvel’s mega-franchise.

Joss Whedon waves during an event promoting "Avengers: Age of Ultron" in Seoul, South Korea on April 17. (Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

Joss Whedon waves during an event promoting “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in Seoul, South Korea on April 17. (Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

“Avengers” was praised for its wit, warmth and careful balancing of its all-star superhero roster. Before that film’s opening, Whedon said he had mixed feelings about the possibility of directing its sequel.

“You know, I’m very torn,” Whedon told Hero Complex in 2012. “It’s an enormous amount of work telling what is ultimately somebody else’s story, even though I feel like I did get to put myself into it. But at the same time, I have a bunch of ideas, and they all seem really cool.”

After “The Avengers,” Whedon made “Much Ado About Nothing,” a Shakespeare adaptation, and was tapped to helm “Avengers 2” soon after. With the bar set high, the pressure began to mount.

Hero Complex sat down with Whedon before the opening of “Age of Ultron” to talk about working with Marvel, grappling with self-doubt, and the differences between making “Avengers” and “Age of Ultron.”

Before “Avengers,” most of what you’d directed was on television. What was it like the second time around, having already done an enormous blockbuster movie?

Harder! I thought it would be easier. Production was lovely. I had an amazing crew, and there had been an Avengers movie, so people knew what I was trying to do. The first time around, my editor Lisa Lassek, Kevin Feige and myself, I think those were the people who knew what I was trying to do. There was one dolly grip who had read a comic book. … Even the actors sometimes were like, “We have no idea what he’s doing, but he seems to want to do it very badly, so we’re going to go with it.” And God bless ’em, they were very trusting, even before. And then they saw, and they were like, “Oh, that’s how that works.”

Joss Whedon, left, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios)

Joss Whedon, left, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of “The Avengers.” (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios)

So this time, there was a lot more understanding and trust going in, and my crew in England was phenomenal, but then the weight of the thing, the weight of the last thing, of this not just being the next thing that happens — I wanted this film to be its own movie. I wanted it to be better, if possible, than the first one — not that the first one was the best movie ever made, but I wanted to do better, just be better at shooting. I wanted to work harder on the script. I wanted to spend more time just really working every aspect of it, because why go again if you’re not doing something new? And I shot it very differently, and all of that became sort of a burden where I was like, “I want to make something great!” And then I heard that voice in my head every time, “But is this a great idea?” And suddenly I had doubt that I don’t usually suffer from. And meanwhile, the studio’s gonna have some too, because everything’s riding on this all of a sudden. And it became a problem in a way that nothing else has. And it was a hard movie to make on top of that. So being paralyzed by either indecision or the weight of responsibility? Not useful, don’t have time for your paralysis, son, snap out of it. This was the hardest work I’ve ever done. And if it worked, yay! But I’ll always look at it and go, “I don’t know, Joss, could you have done better? You could have done better.”

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Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, left, Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Chris Hemsworth as Thor, left, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Evans as Captain America in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Pietro Maximoff in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, left, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans Steve Rogers in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Ultron (voiced by James Spader), left, and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, left, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Iron Man's Hulkbuster suit (Robert Downey Jr.) versus the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), left, and Dr. Cho (Claudia Kim) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, left, and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment: Marvel)

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Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), left, and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), left, and one of his mercenaries (Bentley Kalu) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Thomas Kretschmann as Baron von Strucker in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), left, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) assemble in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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The heroes of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron," from left: Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Dr. Cho (Claudia Kim), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

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Chris Evans as Captain America, left, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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The villainous Ultron Prime (voiced by James Spader) in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, left, and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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Chris Evans as Captain America, left, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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Chris Evans as Captain America, left, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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From left: Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Chris Evans as Captain America in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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From left: Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Don Cheadle as James "Rhodey" Rhodes in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

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Elizabeth Olsen on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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An actor films on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are seen on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Director Joss Whedon and star Aaron Taylor-Johnson on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Actors in motion-capture gear on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are seen on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson is seen filming 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' in Pont-Saint-Martin on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix / Getty Images)

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Jeremy Renner is seen filming on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix / Getty Images)

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General view of location of 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' in Pont-Saint-Martin in Aosta, Italy, on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

Is there anything Kevin Feige or the studio could have done to help you with that?

You know, they were great. Because Kevin knows what he wants, he understands what I do. But I pushed them. I said, “We’re going to have these crazy dream sequences. We’re going to go to a farm and hang out for a while. We’re going to do some things that are really left of center. We’re going to  give you more action than you’ve had in any of your movies. We’re going to give you a bigger movie than you’ve had. But. I’m also going to get a little funky.”

I was kind of ambitious with this. Again, I’m going to have a long scene where we talk about being sterile in the middle of an action movie. Some of it was a fight, and some of it wasn’t, because they said, “OK, you know what? We’re terrified, but you know, you’ve earned this.” There are battles I lost, there are battles I won, but most of it was you know, was us just going, “We’re just going to keep working this, just keep working the problem and making it better.” And I had Jeff [Ford] and Lisa, my editors for the first one, who are just mavericks and are very responsible for the stories making any sense at all. Those two, they saved my life so many times. They’re storytellers. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

It’s weird because the first one was very, very, very, hard. This one was much harder. It a little bit broke me.

Scarlet Witch actress Elizabeth Olson, director Joss Whedon and Hawkeye actor Jeremy Renner on the set of Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Entertainment)

Scarlet Witch actress Elizabeth Olsen, director Joss Whedon and Hawkeye actor Jeremy Renner on the set of Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” (Jay Maidment / Marvel Entertainment)

So you’re not going to use your down time to make “Twelfth Night” right now?

Let me tell you how bad things got for me. I was like, “I am not doing anything like that, I’m not even going to think of a limerick. Every time I think, ‘Oh, I have time to create,’ I’m gonna be like, ‘OK, good. What’s wrong with the movie? What do I need to work on? What ADR isn’t finished? What do I need to think about? Let’s write a memo about this? How can I get a better version of this? Just keep pushing.’ ” And at some point, Kevin and Jeremy [Latcham] jokingly kind of said, “Oh, it’s a long weekend, are you sure you don’t want to maybe make a Shakespeare movie?” That’s how burnt I was. They were like begging me to make a Shakespeare movie because they were like, “It makes him happy, he might calm down.”

I’m still in that phase of like, “But wait, I have notes!” I can’t let go. I feel like, “Oh no, everybody’s going to see my failure.” But I am proud. I worked really hard. I’m proud of everybody in the movie, I’m proud of everyone who worked on the movie. … This child may be insane, but it’s mine. It’s like Ultron. It may try to kill you all. But I love it.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


4 Responses to Joss Whedon: Making latest ‘Avengers’ film ‘a little bit broke me’

  1. James Belushi says:

    Major props to Joss. Great movie, the moment of them charging in slow motion as seen above is when the theater erupted. I'll never forget the reaction.

  2. Victor says:

    Whedon is a beautiful man and probably the most genuine filmmaker today.

  3. michelle says:

    I find it really strange that these interviews are being published now, after the backlash. Can't you give a date when they actually happened? Why wait until 12 May to publish this, if the interview took place before the movie opened? It sounds like Joss Whedon addressing his detractors.

  4. trase says:

    Very much enjoyed AoU, and I continue to adore Joss. I am still very happy we named our farm and goat herd in honor of Firely/Serenity! Keep up the great work, Joss. :)

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