LOS ANGELES – Just because Robert Downey Jr. is not suited up as Iron Man doesn't mean he can't invoke an emergency Avengers Assemble meeting. "Thor, Cap, Hulk," Downey calls out, waving his fellow superheroes in with outstretched arms. "Bring it in."
With that, Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America) and Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk) huddle with Downey, their arms locked around each other. It's the sheer power of this united foursome that has audiences clamoring to see The Avengers, which has already collected a phenomenal $281 million in 39 countries, and which looks to flex serious box-office muscle in the USA as it opens today.
"These guys are known as the core four," says Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the plan to bring the ultimate superhero collection to the big screen (hatched even before 2008's Iron Man).
"Getting Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and Iron Man in one room — that's why we made this movie," says Feige. "Whether they are fighting each other, or the bad guy, seeing these guys clash was the appeal."
Sure there are other stars in the film. But as Downey notes while taking a seat at the table, even the specially-made 3-D Avengers glasses are all about fearsome foursome : "You don't see any Black Widow glasses out there, do ya?"
While the group displays some serious compatibility issues onscreen in The Avengers, no punches are thrown during a spirited superhero roundtable with USA TODAY. In fact, they are downright deliriously happy the day after the star-studded Hollywood premiere, the first time each had seen the movie. It was such a success that the private after-party celebration was a bit too much for Evans, who refuses to take a mystery drink that Hemsworth whispers is "hair of the dog."
"I have too much in me still from last night," sighs Evans.
But any post-celabratory fuzziness aside, Team Avengers are game to discuss everything from nightmare outfits endured through the four-month shoot (including Ruffalo's one-piece Lycra tracking outfit, which impressively transformed him into the Hulk through the magic of computer graphics) to dream additions to the crime-fighting team.
Q: Between Lycra outfits and Iron Man suits, those are some serious duds. Who had it worst?
Evans: I don't know about misery. You try to keep a healthy amount of perspective on these shoots. It wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world.
Downey: By the way, we shot in Albuquerque and it was hot. If there was a night shoot, Hemsworth was there. Every fight he got in was at night and outside.
Ruffalo: And it was like 120 degrees at night.
Downey: Ruffalo has got his Capezios on. And Ruffalo and I — give us tech stuff to say and either one of us could have a meltdown. Yet, we like talking fast. So it was kind of like living in oblivion sometimes. Saying something like "Gamma rays are detected in the immediate area" could take six hours. (Looks at Evans) And you're mildly claustrophobic, aren't you?
Evans: Yeah, a little bit.
Q: The Captain America suit makes you claustrophobic?
Evans: You just know you can't get out of it.
Ruffalo: It's his helmet. They strap it on. It takes 20 minutes to put it on and 45 to take off.
Hemsworth: Well, try wearing a long blond (expletive) wig. Talk about claustrophobic. My God.
Downey: (To Hemsworth) By the way, for all the wig meetings we had and I was looking, I never noticed a moment, not one, where I thought, "That's not a good hair moment for you."
Hemsworth: I did.
Ruffalo: Wait, that was a wig? Come on!
Hemsworth: In the movie. Sure.
Hemsworth: Well, that's good that you didn't know.
Downey: And every 12th day or so they would see me wrenched into a completely uncompromising (Iron Man) suit made for someone 6-foot-5 — the stunt guy.
Hemsworth: As impressive as the suits look on screen, if you fall over, you cannot get back up, let alone fight an army of aliens.
Q:But we're agreed Hulk had it worst?
Ruffalo: Walking on set with my little leotard was particularly humiliating.
Hemsworth: One of the funniest things — I don't know if this will be an outtake — but there is a scene where we all turn to Ruffalo and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) says, "Now might be the time to get angry." Normally he Hulks out and kills a bad guy. But in one take, Mark yelled (an expletive), ran the whole length of the set and dove into a car.
Ruffalo: It was a big beast coming.
Hemsworth: He was in the leotard. That was the funniest thing. It will be the opening of the DVD extras.
Ruffalo: The first day of the leotard I said, OK (expletive), get a good laugh. Let's just get it out in the open. There was a lot of snickering and off-color jokes about the leo part of my tard. I don't think that needs explaining.
Q: There's a big death in The Avengers. It does bring the question, how do you want to go?
Hemsworth: (Thinking) Hmm.
Ruffalo: I can take a beating.
Evans: Wait, Thor's immortal, isn't he?
Hemsworth: No, he's a demigod. (To Downey) By the way, it was when you said it in the movie that I realized that I was not a god.
Hemsworth: Seriously, I was going around saying, "Yeah, Thor's a god." And you're like, "demigod." I had to go ask someone.
Downey: I don't know how we want to die. We just don't want to be recast.
Ruffalo: Please, no more Hulk recasting.
Hemsworth: No, you're safe, man.
Downey: To be recast is to die in the Marvel universe.
Q: Did you ever dream of being a superhero?
Hemsworth: I dream about trying to pull (the outfit) off.
Evans: I dream about failing at it. Oh, God, that it doesn't work out. It's more nightmares. Of course I have them.
Hemsworth: We all do, don't we?
Downey: Actually, all of our superhero dreams have come true.
Q: Did you ever stay awake thinking this Avengers idea just might not work?
Hemsworth: As far as the costumes go, films are about larger-than-life and fantastical characters. Being on set here, I felt like I fit in somehow. Normally you walk on the set and you're the only one in a ridiculous costume. But here it was like this is a Halloween party and I wore the right thing. I was with my peeps. (Downey guffaws.) If I had worn jeans and a T-shirt it would have been awkward.
Ruffalo: That's what I felt during the whole movie.
Hemsworth: You had a leotard.
Ruffalo: You guys were all looking so great and I was either in my rumpled David Banner suit or paper shoes.
Q: With all the star power on set, do you keep the egos in check? Was there a team-unity pep talk needed?
Evans: There doesn't need to be a pep talk. My opinion is fact. These movies wouldn't have happened if Iron Man hadn't been a big success. This guy (Downey) was like the dad. His attitude was so fantastic on the set. So there was this instant unity.
Downey: This was a very controlled shoot because it was a complicated pregnancy. It needed to be managed so that we made sure the mom was OK, and that we got the kid to the incubator. Me and these guys, we could have brought it to another level? Yeah, we could have the baby in the tub. And almond milk. And it would have been a disaster.
It's that thing where how can the highest good be done? It's to make compromises that are really uncomfortable in the short term. And have faith. Which sucks. Because day to day on these schedules you just want to get your ya-yas out where you go home and say, "Dude, we nailed it." But often on Avengers we went home and said, "I think we kinda got it." So last night seeing the jokes land made it all worthwhile.
(Looks at Evans) I really wished you'd stayed. You see he got red-carpet fever and didn't stay to watch the movie. Because all of his stuff on screen, the audience howled.
Q: What was it like to see it all last night after shooting disjointed scenes?
Ruffalo: Damn satisfying.
Hemsworth: There's one big shot where they did a 360 circle around all the Avengers. At the time, that was all green screen. I was thinking, "Wait a second, why didn't we shoot this in the middle of New York? This is the shot." But last night it got the biggest applause. It worked. Whether you doubted it at the time, (director Joss Whedon) pulled it off.
Downey: As long as the defects are not glaring. And the movie is not without defects. I still cannot exactly tell you what the bad-guy plot is. During the course of the journey, as long as you don't leave me with these lingering questions, so that I feel like you are being sloppy. But with the difficulty and complexity of it all, I don't like to say this, but I was humbled by it.
Q: If you could draft one new member to the Avengers, who would it be?
Hemsworth: (Jean-Claude) Van Damme from Bloodsport. A big kick to the alien head.
Evans: I'm thinking Salma Hayek.
Hemsworth: Why's that, Chris?
Evans: She can carry my shield.
Hemsworth: You might have to carry hers.
Ruffalo: I think Wolverine would be cool.
Hemsworth: I know different studios own all the stuff, but wouldn't it be cool to have Spider-Man and Wolverine come in? Split the takings.
Evans: That would be awesome.
Q: Do you make friendly wagers about your upcoming solo projects like Thor 2, Captain America 2 or Iron Man 3?
Hemsworth: I have that going on with my brother (The Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth). I don't need it with the team. It's gonna depend on how this film does. There's no official wager. It's an underlying competitive brotherly thing, which is, of course, all built in love. So far he's done pretty damn well.
Downey: No offense to Liam, but Chris is the original gangsta.
Q: Now that the Avengers have assembled, can we go back to individual stories like Iron Man 3, Thor 2?
Evans: If they can bring us together they can break us down. The real obstacle was making this happen. Going back to the individual stories — a piece of cake.
Downey: We've got it all figured out. Trust that there is a plan. And that it all makes sense.
Q: What excuse would you have not to come to your fellow Avenger's side?
Evans: There could be dozens of reasons of why you couldn't be around.
Hemsworth: Doctors, dental appointments. Family issues.
Ruffalo: Fighting your own battles somewhere.
Hemsworth: Lucky that's not my responsibility. But I'm sure they will come up with some sort of clever way to have this all happen.
Q: In the meantime, will you have moments to call out 'Avengers Assemble?'
Downey: Probably at a kid's birthday party when they didn't expect it. That would be fun. I wouldn't call it out unless I had set it up in advance to have the Avengers actually there.