Hollywood is full of overnight success stories, but you'll be hard pressed to find someone who became so monumentally successful, so quick, as Kevin Feige. After landing a job with producer Lauren Shuler Donner right out of college, he served as an associate producer on the original X-Men, which helped shape the superhero genre into what it is today. After producing a number of other Marvel movies such as Daredevil, Hulk and Fantastic Four, Kevin Feige was named president of Marvel Studios in 2007, where he became the driving force in starting what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This weekend, the 11th MCU movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron (CLICK HERE for my full review), hits theaters, and if the early box office tracking is any indication, this Phase Two sequel will shatter even more records than its predecessor, Marvel's The Avengers. I recently had the chance to sit down with Kevin Feige to talk The Avengers and all things Marvel in an exclusive interview. Here's what he had to say below.
It had to be such a monumental task, just trying to top the last one. There were just so many incredibly huge moments in this. I'm curious about how much you guys wanted to up the ante right away? Did you know going in that this had to be as big as humanly possible?
Kevin Feige: No, quite the opposite, actually. It frankly, just kind of turned out this way. One of the guiding principals, and one of the things that (writer-director) Joss Whedon said when he came back, is that 'We don't have to top the spectacle of the first movie. We don't have to top the action of the first movie. We have to top the story of the first movie, the character interactions of the first movie.' We want to go deeper with the relationships, because, to us, that's the best part of the Avengers films. We can see them all with great action, most of them, in their own individual movies. What's fun about The Avengers movies is they're all together, and we get to see people who are not usually together in their other movies. But, then you also have to say, 'Well, they need a reason, because they can all handle themselves fairly fine when they're by themselves, so why would they need to get together?' Ultron was always a favorite of ours. We discussed on the set of Marvel's The Avengers, that if we get to do this again, it's got to be Ultron. Then you have all these Avengers here, what do they go up against that's more than Iron Man saying, 'OK I'll take care of it,' or Cap going, "I've got this. You guys go back to the hotel.' It needs to be big, to do that. It needs to be very, very big. So, it has turned out that is a bigger spectacle than the first movie, but we actually came to that, through the character side.
Was Vision always planned for this sequel as well?
Kevin Feige: Yeah, I would say soon after Ultron. We talked about Ultron, and how Tony, in the Cinematic Universe, different from the comics, would be responsible. It makes the most sense. He's dealing with J.A.R.V.I.S., he has an A.I. already, how would that spawn into Ultron? Again, because of the genesis of Vision in the comics, how Vision could come out like that, and the utterly perfect, 'I will claim to have planned this all along' that the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. happens to be the perfect actor to play Vision. It's one of those things where the stars aligned.
I loved his whole look. Ever since he was announced, fans have wanted to see Vision, and then he pops up in that last trailer. I assume you want to show everyone Vision, but at the same time, pull it back as well.
Kevin Feige: There are two things. One, yes, as you develop a marketing campaign, make sure you release big things and get enthusiasm high, but you have to have somewhere to go. The first trailer can, sometimes, be a year apart from release, so you need to have somewhere to go. And, sometimes, visual effects aren't ready, and you're still developing a character or a look or a visual effect. With Vision, it was all of those things. He was finalized rather late in the process, and we wanted to hold something back.
You had said in a lot of other interviews that both Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) would have much bigger roles in this. It was so great to see their characters grow so much, and I think Hawkeye has the best line in the movie, the bow and arrow line. I think that, by far, got the biggest laugh in the theater I was in.
Kevin Feige: Oh, great.
Since those two are the only ones without their own stand alone movies, did you want to make sure right away that these two characters get showcased because of that?
Kevin Feige: Yeah, and I think that was also fun for Joss Whedon, because he was putting it all together. He'd go, 'OK, where is he in Iron Man 3? OK, I'm inheriting this aspect, and what happens in Cap 2? OK, that changes that.' That's one of the reasons we did that in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was so that things in this Avengers would be much different than in Marvel's The Avengers. But, with Hawkeye and Hulk, he wasn't inheriting anything. He could just go right from the first one and develop the second one, which is exciting for him.
I really loved Linda Cardellini's role and that whole story, and I'm kind of shocked that it was actually kept a secret.
Kevin Feige: Oh, good. You know, some movies don't have any big secrets. Guardians of the Galaxy didn't have a big twist or anything outside of the movie itself. Sometimes you have something like (Iron Man 3's) Ben Kingsley and The Mandarin, and we'd be doomed if that got out. With this one, it was that. We talked with Joss Whedon early on, and we said, 'We don't want to let people know where he goes. We want this to be an unexpected moment, an unexpected surprise.'
Kevin Feige: Yeah, it was Ultron and Vision, as sort of the combo-platter discussion, and then we talked about Wanda and Pietro, very early on. Joss wanted to get new blood in there. The Avengers is about a shifting roster, all the time, and we want to start establishing that in this film. Also, the notion that heroes can come from anywhere. That's a theme that runs through Marvel in all ways. It's not just a teenager in Queens, or a billionaire in New York, or a God from another planet or a soldier from the 40s, but people who were disgruntled, people who were upset, people who fell on the other side of the tracks for awhile. How many Marvel characters started out against the team they eventually join? We hadn't really done that before.
This is also much more of an international affair than the first one, but we also see how the rest of the world reacts to the Avengers, and they aren't quite as beloved.
Kevin Feige: Certainly in Sokovia, and often as a direct result of the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., those people don't make a distinction between S.H.I.E.L.D. or Hydra or The Avengers. To them, it's just people who are wreaking havoc. But it all works out in the end (Laughs).
I was at the press event in October when you announced the whole slate, and it was amazing because I spent that whole day doing stories based off that half-hour presentation. What I'm curious about is, what's the next big announcement you have coming up?
Kevin Feige: Well, it's hard to top that one, only because that was so far-reaching. There will be writer announcements in the next few months and director announcements, some other cast announcements in the coming months, as we begin to solidify that plan we talked about in October.
I believe you start shooting Captain America: Civil War later this month. Are there any surprise characters in that one that fans will want to hear about?
Kevin Feige: Certainly not anything that we can talk about today, but you know, I think it's fun when, even people like you, whose job it is to read every little thing, still have a few little surprises when you see the movie, and it's not easy to do that.
Another thing I really enjoyed was Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). I know it's a rather small role, but I thought he just killed in that scene.
It seems that we haven't seen the last of him, so is he coming back for Black Panther then?
Kevin Feige: You know, we certainly put him in there for a reason, with the intention of seeing him again. Let's put it that way.
I know he was coming on board to work on the motion capture with Mark. Was that how you cast him? Since he was already there for the motion capture work?
Kevin Feige: More or less. Ulysses came up later in the development of the story, and we started putting cast lists together for it. I don't remember who it was at first, but it came up that Andy would be great. And, how exciting to see him as himself, in a movie like this, which hasn't happened as much lately. And, he's just as good, whether he's in mo-cap or just a full-on performance. He's amazing.
What do you think the big thing fans should take away from Avengers: Age of Ultron when they get to see it in theaters?
Kevin Feige: Well, I hope, as you've talked about today, they take away some surprise, and how the characters have evolved and what the characters go through, and some excitement, to experience that again and to see where they go in their next adventures.
That's my time. Thanks so much, Kevin.
Kevin Feige: Thank you. Good seeing you.
Kevin Feige's Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters nationwide on May 1. CLICK HERE to check out my full review of this massive sequel before heading to your local theater this weekend. Be sure to check back on Sunday to see how Avengers: Age of Ultron fares at the box office.