ALBUQUERQUE – Saving the world is serious business for a superhero. But when Robert Downey Jr. starts a battle scene on the set of The Avengers, he doesn't exactly have on an Iron Man face.
Just before cameras roll, the smiling actor whispers up a competition with his co-stars — Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow). Whoever gives the most distracting off-camera look to Tom Hiddleston (enemy Loki) wins.
"For an entire take, they are all giving these seductive, come-on faces," Hiddleston says. "I had to fight to keep a straight face."
Laughter, it turns out, is a powerful weapon in the Avengers arsenal as the film hits theaters May 4. The greatest collection of comic-book superheroes ever assembled on-screen brings plenty of humor in the movie — and even more humor off-screen, thanks to Downey.
"We look at him as our quarterback," Evans says. "He's always smiling. And that's infectious."
It was Downey, after all, who got the Marvel movie franchise started as wisecracking billionaire Tony Stark in 2008's Iron Man and 2010's Iron Man 2, which earned a combined $600 million-plus at the box office. Thor carried the Marvel torch last spring with $181 million, and Captain America: The First Avenger followed with $176 million — each signaling good fortune for The Avengers.
"It's great, because with each movie's success, it's like we're still on track," says Hemsworth.
"It's so nice to root for each other in Hollywood," says Downey "I'll just say it. Even with some of my friends, there's an aspect of my psyche that doesn't want anyone to do as well as me. It's part of human nature."
"Intentionally or not," says Downey Jr., "Marvel has created an atmosphere of camaraderie."
On this rare day when the entire cast is assembled, it's clear this camaraderie goes deeper than numbers. "These guys really like each other," says director Joss Whedon. "My biggest problem is to get them to shut up so I can shoot."
Whedon gets his silence and his scene, which allows Downey to get to the urgent matter of asking Hiddleston to judge his contest.
"It was a photo finish between Downey and Scarlett," Hiddleston says with a laugh. "They were giving some serious come-ons."
RDJ is truly the king of seduction.