THE AVENGERS Set Visit Report: Tom Hiddleston & Clark Gregg Interviews

The upcoming ensemble superhero film scheduled to hit theaters in May 2012 will feature Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) returning as Tony Stark/Iron Man along with Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America and the rest of Marvel's famous team.

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Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1963, Marvel’s The Avengers brings together the mightiest super hero characters as they all assemble together on screen for the first time. Continuing the epic big-screen adventures started in Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s The Avengers is the super hero team up of a lifetime. When an unexpected enemy emerges that threatens global safety and security, Nick Fury, director of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster.

Tom Hiddleston is back as the God of Mischief Loki in The Avengers. Also returning is Clark Gregg, who entered the in 2008's Iron Man as the original supporting character S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson who has now become very important to tying all of the individual films together by way of crossover cameos.

"It’s pretty spectacular," said Hiddleston, who continues his descent into villainy after the end of last summer's Thor"It’s a funny one because I really am a piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle that Kevin Feige is in charge of.  I suspected that I might be in The Avengers [while filming Thor], but I didn’t know in what way, in what capacity, to what extent, or how big my role was going to be really until I read a draft that Joss Whedon had written, printed, and sent out in February or March of this year.  But it feels great.  It is so exciting.  It is so rare as an actor to be allowed the chance to revisit a role and to go back to a character that you already built, lived inside, and understood.  To take it further to another stage is a huge privilege.

"I think Joss loves Loki because he loves complexity and the great thing about Loki is that there is almost no ceiling to his complexity as a character.  He is a shape-shifter, intelligent, and he has strategic gifts but he also has reservoirs of pain.  I think when you have so much color and heroism in a film like The Avengers it needs to be balanced by a degree of pain I think.  Joss and I sat down for a long time at the end of Thor and he said, “Tell me everything about living inside of this man for 6 months.  Tell me what makes him tick.  Tell me what keeps him up at night.  What are the nightmares of his soul?”  We just shared all of our ideas from Norse mythology, the comics, and things that I developed with Kenneth Branagh.  He loved it and he loved all of those ideas.  He loved all of Loki’s damage and that somewhere at the bottom of Loki’s credentials as a bad guy he is a searching spirit.  He is a damaged soul searching for the answers to something.  Why does he exist?  What is his role in this universe?  He isn’t just someone who is evil for the sake of being evil.  He has complicated reasons for that. So I think in terms of how The Avengers come together…when you are making a film, there are so many superhero films, and there are so many films about the end of the world, and you have to think, “How can we make this distinctive and unique? What I think Joss has done so brilliantly is that he has made it about the healing power of being part of a team.  So each of The Avengers have their own individual pain.  Loki has his own pain too and somehow by bringing them together their pain is eased by being part of a team, which I think is a unique selling point for this particular film."

"I think somewhere between the end of Thor and the beginning of The Avengers Loki has been to the Marvel equivalent of the 7th circle of hell.  At the end of Thor you see him let go.  He lets go of the spear, Asgard, and the need of his brother and father’s affection and approval.  He has bigger plans now.  I think there is a degree of self possession in Loki in The Avengers, which was missing in Thor.  As in, the Loki of Thor is a confused and damaged prince.  Meanwhile, the Loki of The Avengers is somebody who understands his own power.  He understands his own anger and is able to probably, I would say, suppress it.  So you see that in a way he is more mischievous.  Loki is the god of mischief and I think that the way Joss has written Loki in The Avengers is that he is a mischief."

In The Avengers Loki will take many forms, including controlling the minds and actions of Avengers team members in an effort to make them fight against each other. "He takes what he has learned from Thor a bit further, you know?  There is a degree of disappearing and reappearing, a degree of mind control, and there is a degree of self duplication, which throws a spanner in the works for people who think that he is more predictable than that," he explained, while trying not to give too much away.

One thing Loki won't do, though, is attempt to hide his godliness from the Earthlings he wishes to rule over, "Loki doesn’t particularly care what the humans think about his dress sense.  Let’s remember that he is a god or at least an advanced being visiting these deeply inferior beings called humans.  I think that like in a way when Thor first comes to earth Loki also shares an arrogance about being superior to them.  The journey for Thor and that character is to learn humility.  So by the end o Thor, as played brilliantly by Chris Hemsworth, has respect, affection, and love for the human race.  I’m not sure that Loki has developed that yet."

What Loki tired and failed to do in Thor, uplift himself in the eyes of this father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and brother Thor, is still crucial to his continued story arc in The Avengers. Hiddleston noted that even after bringing down death and devastation in this film, there is still room for Loki's redemption:

"The thing about Loki is that he is still…I am trying to not spill into some sort of cackling two-dimensional villain.  I am trying to retain all of the complexity that I worked so hard on the first film.  It would be such a shame to just play someone who is just all evil.  So I think there is still possible redemption at the bottom of him.  I just think that it is hidden.  He is a lot harder spirituallyand he is less vulnerable.  He is more powerful and he is infinitely more dangerous and more self possessed.  He is a tough nut to crack."

"I think he is so smart that he has thought of everything.  I’ve referred to him before as a kind of chess master.  I think that he is 10 steps ahead in the game.  He plays everyone so beautifully.  He plays them better than they know I think.  But there is a flaw at the bottom of him, which is that he is motivated entirely out of selfishness and a need for approval.  I think that is ultimately his flaw."

The Avengers will act as the culmination of one story arc and both begin a new one while allowing the central heroes to go back to their own respective solo projects. While Thor 2 is prepping to begin production this year and there's still no word yet whether Hiddleston will return for it, he remains hopeful that his turn as the now fan favorite character will be welcome into future films:

"The first time I read the script I was…it’s a rare thing when you can read a script in one sitting and you haven’t looked at the watch or you’ve gone to make a cup of tea.  I got to the last page and I thought to myself, “That is amazing.”  Somehow Joss had managed to reintroduce characters that we all love, make them seem fresh, make them see new, and then having them all together without weighting any particular character more than the other.  It was really…as just a feat of writing I was so impressed.  If they keep Joss on board for another one…I think, yeah, let’s hope there are more."

After being a part of the Thor cast, Hiddleston has shown his ability to discuss a film at length without spilling too much information or specific details. The same goes with The Avengers, and any question regarding Loki's possession of the Cosmic Cube -- the glowing blue weapon teased at the end of Thor and called the Tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger -- was met with ambiguity:

"I will quote Sam Jackson at the end of Thor.  Stellan Skarsgard’s Erik Selvig says to Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury “What is it?” and Nick Fury replies “Power, doctor. If we can figure out how to tap it maybe unlimited power” So I think that is what attracts Loki to the cube. "

Clark Gregg is another Avengers movie cast member who has had his fair share of press gatherings (or "tightrope walking" as he calls it). Being that his character S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson has so far been the "glue" that binds the first three solo films together, a torrent of spoilery questions are always thrown his way in an effort to hammer out details about the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. While he does go into detail about where his character is at this point in movie continuity, don't expect him to let slip major plot points:

"We know that he has had to deal with the advent, with the arrival of this rather large fellow from Asgard in THOR and you know I don’t think they know much… Coulson doesn’t a have lot of exposure to Loki, he just gets to see The Destroyer, do you know what I mean? So he learns a little bit about Thor and where he comes from, but I think a lot of it still remains mysterious. I guess what we know about the Avengers is there is a reason why all of the heroes that we have been meeting from Thor to Captain America and everybody, they need to work together and because Coulson is, in my mind, kind of a cross between the world’s most persistent bureaucrat, a secret ninja assassin, and really the guy who kind of wrangles the rock stars at Lollapalooza is mostly what it feels like. His job is definitely to get all of the rock stars onto the stage at the right moment. It’s kind of like a very muscular version of Sci-Fi Woodstock I think is what the Avengers is. But that’s really from my point of view. They say to the gravedigger, “What’s HAMLET about?” and he says “It’s about this guy who digs graves” and I think very much that’s how I look at The Avengers from Coulson’s world. It’s about “How do you bring these very dispirit personalities…” They are from different worlds you know? One’s a god and who isn’t always so god-like. It’s really kind of about wrangling. I think of Phil Jackson a lot, because I think the way you coach Kobe is probably really different than the way you coach Powell.

"Every time I get a new script I get to find out more about his day-to-day life and what goes on and what his relationships are and in the early days of IRON MAN I think at first he really was just this… he seemed to be just this guy who really wanted to have a meeting with Tony Stark and was getting blown off all of the time and I kind of loved that about him that he was this bureaucrat hiding in plain sight who ended up having some real game and a secret and I think in THE AVENGERS it… and to a certain extent in THOR when Nick Fury details him to go handle this mysterious hammer that shows up in the desert and I think the way we see him deal with the arrival of the Destroyer, it doesn’t seem like it’s his first clam bake if he’s willing to walk out to that giant monstrosity with the spiky shoulders and the tight fitting suit and no face with flames and kind of be like “Excuse me, you are using unregistered weapons echnology.” It made me think “God, what the hell else has this guy seen this month that he is this casual about that guy?” I think that really gets extended here, that some kind of mind bending stuff starts to go down and I guess one of the cool things about THE AVENGERS is it feels like… It feels like maybe no one has ever seen anything like what’s about to go down here, but Coulson is deliciously hard to ruffle."

Aside from Director Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Gregg is the only main character in Marvel Studios' film so far introduced who works for S.H.I.E.L.D. In this film that will change with the introduction of Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and several yet to be named agents. What is still up in the air is where Coulson lies in terms of rank/hierarchy within the clandestine organization:

"Speaking as Coulson, it’s unclear. I feel like there are other formidable S.H.I.E.L.D. elements and they don’t have Coulson’s connection to some of these people and you know I think what I like about what seems to be going on is there are differing opinions about who is where on the hierarchy and I think that’s some of what goes on in the movie."

While it's already been made clear that Coulson has a much larger role in The Avengers, it's nice to get further word from Gregg himself that his character gets in on the action (both on and off the Helicarrier). When asked if audiences will get to see him "kick some ass", Gregg enthusiastically responded, "Hell yeah!"

Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) returns as the iconic Tony Stark/Iron Man along with Chris Hemsworth (Thor) as Thor, Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger) as Captain America, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) as Hawkeye, Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are Alright) as Hulk, Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2) as Black Widow, Clark Gregg (Iron Man, Thor) as Agent Phil Coulson, and Samuel L. Jackson (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) as Nick Fury. The star studded cast of super heroes will be joined by Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) as Agent Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as Tom Hiddleston (Wallander) and Stellan Skarsgård (Angels & Demons, Mamma Mia!) who will both reprise their respective roles as Loki and Professor Erik Selvig from the upcoming Marvel Studios’ feature Thor. The Avengers is scheduled for theatrical release in the US on May 4th, 2012.

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