‘Avengers’: Cobie Smulders gung-ho for stunts, up for sequel duty

May 07, 2012 | 4:14 p.m.
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Cobie Smulders plays S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill in "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)

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Alyson Hannigan, left, Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Jason Segel, and Neil Patrick Harris star in "How I Met Your Mother." (CBS)

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Cobie Smulders, left, director Pam Fryman and creator Carter Bays on the set of "How I Met Your Mother" in 2008. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

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Cobie Smulders, right, and her fiance, "Saturday Night Live" actor Taran Killam in 2010. (John Shearer / Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly)

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Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) in "The Avengers." (Marvel)

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Cobie Smulders arrives for "The Avengers" premiere in Hollywood on April 11, 2012. (Michael Nelson / EPA)

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Cobie Smulders signs autographs at the Toronto premiere of "The Avengers" on April 30. (George Pimental / Getty Images)

Surrounded by a Norse god, a super soldier, a deadly spy, a brilliant scientist who can become an 8-foot-tall rage monster, and, well, Tony Stark, it might have been easy for Cobie Smulders to get lost in the muscle-clad crowd.

But the 30-year-old Canadian actress who plays S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill in the record-breaking blockbuster “The Avengers” made it her mission to create a space for her character among Marvel’s A-listers, which, of course, include Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Chris Evans’ Captain America and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.

“I feel like I was able to hold my own quite well,” Smulders said, sitting down for an interview on a recent morning. “That was really important to me, because I was quite intimidated…. Not only is it a different genre for me, but it’s with some of the most talented actors in Hollywood.”

“The Avengers” isn’t Smulders’ first role in a feature film, but it is her first foray into the world of big-budget action flicks. The bulk of her acting experience comes from her role as Robin Scherbatsky in the long-running CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” and it was her relationship with cast members of that show that led to her landing a part in “The Avengers.”

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Alyson Hannigan, left, Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris star in “How I Met Your Mother.” (CBS)

“How I Met Your Mother” costars Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan and recurring guest star Alexis Denisof had all worked on previous projects with Joss Whedon, the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator recruited by Marvel to direct “The Avengers.”

“I wanted someone there for [S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick] Fury and [Agent Phil] Coulson to deal with, and I wanted another woman in the movie,” Whedon said. “There’s a lot of boys, and I felt the movie definitely needed another strong female presence just to balance it out, and someone at Marvel suggested that we use Maria Hill…. I was like, ‘That’s perfect! That makes sense, because she’s always had a bit of a beef with Fury, so we’ll have some tension there.'”

Whedon narrowed the casting pool down to three actresses. “And then I ran into Aly Hannigan, who just said, ‘You gotta read Cobie! You gotta read Cobie! You gotta read Cobie! You gotta read Cobie!'” Whedon said.

He relented, widened the pool to five and tossed Smulders in the mix.

Whedon wrote a fake scene for the potential Maria Hill to read opposite Samuel L. Jackson (who plays Nick Fury in the Marvel films). Smulders read last.

“In the scene, Fury tells Maria to point her gun at his chest,” Whedon said. “And when Cobie pulled her gun and pointed it at Sam’s chest, I went, ‘Oh God, she’s gonna shoot him!’ Even though I had seen the same scene four times already, and had written it and directed it. She has enormous authority. She can hold her own against anybody.”

Whedon recalls producer Kevin Feige running through his notes on the merits of each of the auditions.

“They were all wonderful,” Whedon said. “And he’s like, ‘And the fifth girl is Maria Hill.'”

Agent Maria Hill is a relatively new character in comics. Created by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch in 2005, she runs S.H.I.E.L.D. when Nick Fury is in hiding after a scandal. She has a tough attitude and a protocol-focused, by-the-book methodology, making her a foil to Fury’s renegade style of leadership.

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Maria Hill in the comics, left, and portrayed by Cobie Smulders in “The Avengers,” right. (Marvel)

“I really got into her,” Smulders said. “She’s like this ballsy chick who comes from this intense, tough background, military background. It’s cool playing a woman who has to be in this really tough world.”

In the movie, Hill works under Fury, though she openly questions his judgment as he defies the World Security Council.

“We have this little contentious relationship,” Jackson said of his character and Smulders’. “I think for a while she was the eyes and ears of the Council, you know, hanging around in S.H.I.E.L.D., telling them what I was doing and not doing, and we brought her around.”

Although “The Avengers” is infused with plenty of Whedon-esque comedy, Maria Hill’s character was a vast departure from the sitcom role Smulders has inhabited for seven seasons.

“I’ve been doing ‘How I Met Your Mother’ for so long, and it’s been so great, and I just feel like it’s second nature at this point,” she said. “I loved the change and sort of taking on the physicality of a different character.”

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Cobie Smulders plays Maria Hill in “The Avengers.” (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)

And physical it was; Agent Hill finds herself in a car chase, at least one explosion and several firefights. Smulders became known on set for her gung-ho approach to stunts.

“She really does all her jumpin’ and flippin’,” Whedon said, noting that she is “extraordinarily physically adept.”

“Cobie’s a very smart and capable individual who was ready to be an action hero,” Jackson said. “She was willing to jump in there and do that tomboy stuff and have a good time. She’s been doing that comedy for a while, and she wanted to be an action girl. And she was great.”

Smulders said her confidence in the action scenes stemmed from preparation. She hired a black belt martial artist who trains SWAT teams in Los Angeles to train her in her home and at a shooting range, she said. Though her “How I Met Your Mother” character is also a gun enthusiast, Smulders had only used guns as props on set.

“I wanted my gun to feel like an extension of my person, and I’m not comfortable around guns,” she said. “So he helped me a lot in terms of officer procedure. You know, how you would enter a building, how you would hold a gun, how you would sort of stalk somebody, how you would take somebody down, how you could roll and draw your gun at the same time, which I got to do in the movie.”

Smulders also wanted to project authority on the helicarrier (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying fortress), so she arrived before the rest of the cast to familiarize herself with the set.

“I was able to have a few days in this huge space, and getting grounded in that was really important to me, and to feel like I was in control of it before all of these huge actors and huge characters came in,” she said. “I felt, on the helicarrier, I ran that whole ship. I was in charge of that.”

So will Agent Maria Hill be returning to her post in future Marvel movies?

“I think so, yeah,” Smulders said. “I’ve signed on for a few more. If they’ll have me, I’m in.”

— Noelene Clark


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11 Responses to ‘Avengers’: Cobie Smulders gung-ho for stunts, up for sequel duty

  1. Anne says:

    So proud that Cobie is going beyond HIMYM! Great job!

  2. horaceaustin says:

    Really enjoyed Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. I hope she’s in the sequel.

  3. John Whorfin says:

    Whedon's previously stated that Smulders was his choice for Wonder Woman.

  4. tomspeelman says:

    Reblogged this on tomtificate and commented:
    Meant to post my thoughts on the Avengers as a comic book franchise and my history with them, but WordPress deleted it. There will be a review of the movie later tonight, but for now, this!

  5. darklighter says:

    Always saw the chick who played Anna Maria on Lost as Hill but Cobie did well. She's just so pretty it's hard to picture her as the Tough Maria Hill.

  6. Sky says:

    She DID get lost. Wow, was she boring. I kept praying Loki would kill her off. Completely useless character, completely forgettable actress.

    • IRONTHOR says:

      @Sky The character could of had more grit maybe… but when you have as many front line stars as Avengers does, you don't want background characters stealing the focus. Don't fault the actress for what was certainly low key by design. With your excessively negative comment, you come off as a pure hater, …if she was so bad why did you take the time to read the article and to post? "I kept praying Loki would kill her off" … seems to have evoked something, for being "boring" and "completely forgettable". Her role reminds me of Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson early appearances, low key, background support character. The same could be said for Hawkeye's showing in THOR. I, like most posters, hope to see more of the actress and the character. I'm not a fanboy, but I at least try to be fair and reasonable when judging within the big picture.

    • Guest says:

      She seems to be in most of the deleted scenes, so I think *a lot* of her character got cut.

    • RAW says:

      stop being a hater and watch HIMYM.

  7. Justin says:

    I agree with IronThor's. You gotta be fair. She is amazingly talented and hardworking women, pretty, perfect figure. What more can a Director look for. I hope she is given her due credits. And wish her success. BTW she is very kind and humane person. Get to know her you may like her…a lot ! :))

  8. macstibs says:

    She's smoking hot! Period.

    Oh yeah – and a great actress!

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