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Talking Age of Ultron with James Spader and Paul Bettany

Paul and JamesWhile some of my friends were freaking out about our meeting with Chris 1 and Chris 2 during the Avengers: Age of Ultron press day, a dedicated and devoted following were freaking out about James Spader. The man is a legend. And his voice. And Paul Bettany’s voice. Hearing him talk was like having your own J.A.R.V.I.S. in the room. Seriously…both of them could just sit around reading the phone book all day long. If they recorded it, I’d buy it. I’d download their podcast.

As you can see below, James likes to talk. He did let Paul get in a few words. And I honestly think James Spader would have stayed with us all day if they would have let him. Apparently successful PR does not involve spending all of your time with a group of bloggers, no matter how much fun they all are.

Oh, and fair warning…there’s a mild spoiler in this interview. Read at your own risk!

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How did they create Ultron on film?

James: I had multiple sessions doing additional dialog recording. But it really was sort of new stuff to further define, clarify and so on and sort of distill the prism. But most of the dialog that you hear in the movie and most of what you’re looking at, we shot on the set just in a fairly conventional fashion. It didn’t feel conventional at the time, considering everything I was in, but to be able to film it… the dialog was all from what we shot on the set doing scenes with the other actors as you would in any film or in any setting. And I was so pleased because I haven’t seen the final film but I was very pleased that-I saw a lot of footage during post production, so I sort of saw big sections of the entire film-and even in its sort of formative stages it was remarkable to see. I haven’t seen [Ultron’s] face really fine ­tuned because that’s the most sort of precise and infinitesimal thing that they do in terms of trying to take advantage of my expressions and translate them into a metal guy. But I was amazed that I saw,with this magnificent body, and made out of vibranium and all the rest of it, this sort of technological wonder. To actually see my 55­ year old sort of very comfy physique and to see all of my sort of gesture and posture and movements and expression and all of it was there. And then my son did see the film a couple of days ago. And I said, “But how about the face?” And he says, “You know, I see you in the face.” He said, “Amazingly enough, considering it doesn’t really have a nose.” And he said, “I really saw your eyes and your expression and certainly head movements, everything. I saw it all there.” So it was worth it, I guess, to go through all of the arduous process of motion capture. Which is fascinating actually. Do you mind if I tell you just very quickly? Sorry Paul that…
PAUL: No, no, no. No it’s…
JAMES:  But I’ll tell you…
PAUL: I’ll just have a snooze.
JAMES: But I’ll tell you a very funny thing. I’m just excited about it because somebody in an interview just before this had asked specifically about this and I hadn’t thought about it until now. But the very first day that I walked onto the studio lot, before I ever hit a set or anything, within a half hour, I walked into a room and they had cameras set up around the room in different…the room was a big empty room and there were cameras set up around and
there was a bunch of guys with a whole bunch of laptops and women and so on all sitting around. And they put me in a fractal suit, which is just a sort of two piece or, you know, looks like you’re gonna go for a run. But [it] has shapes and colors and things and all over it. And then they dotted up my face and they put a big rig on my back and a big headgear rig that had two sort of antenna that come down that are cameras that are right here with headlights right here, so I’m lit right here. And they had me go through a range of motions and figures. Everything. Head turns and all the rest of it. And then they put it into some program on the computer or something and I stood around for about ten, fifteen minutes… Also set up around the room were these monitors, and in fifteen minutes I could walk in my
outfit into the center of the room and turn my head, move my fingers, go like this, and I could look at a monitor and see a sort of formative stage of Ultron doing everything I was doing. So right from the very first moment I arrived there, I knew what sort of…I could start getting a sense of what sort of physicality would be appropriate for that eight foot robot. And there was a guy there, quite small, who would’ve been proportionate to my height. I’m 5’10”. He was very small. He [was] sort of proportionate height to what-not Chris Hemsworth-but, maybe an average height Avenger might be in proportion to me if I was eight feet tall. And he was wearing a fractal suit-he was a stunt guy-he was wearing a fractal suit and all the gear as well, and they made him do the range of motion and everything else and within 15 minutes he and I would go move around the room and he was as, you know, different character and so I was able to see right away an eight foot Ultron-me as an eight foot Ultron with another actor who’s a proportionate height to what an average size person would be. It was really amazing. So right from the very first moment I was already getting a sense of how to perform for this character.

What was Paul’s reaction when he was offered the role?

Paul: It was sort of vindication, really, because I had done… I had just come out of a meeting with a producer who told me my career was over. And this is a true story-I sat on the curb in Hollywood with my feet in the gutter and my phone went and I looked at it and went, “Hello?” I didn’t recognize the number and it was Joss Whedon. He said, “Do you want to play The Vision?” And I went, “Yeah, I kinda do.”

And how was playing The Vision different from playing J.A.R.V.I.S.?

Paul: [As Jarvis] I was brought in at the last moment to solve any clarity issues the film had, which was my superhero power as J.A.R.V.I.S. What was the difference? The difference was I had to go to the gym. I had to stop eating carbs. I finally got to be on set with a bunch of really lovely, creative, talented people. However, it also means that I have to show up at junkets now, you know? The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
James: I did not have to cut back on carbs. Somehow, amazingly enough, those animators were able to slim me right down.

Avengers254d115735d5f6Did it take any convincing to get James to sign on as Ultron?

James: You know, I had met about two to three years prior to the telephone to me from Joss Whedon, I had met with Kevin Feige and Jeremy Latcham. My agent is also Sam Jackson’s agent, and so she’s very in tune with what’s going on in the Marvel world. And I have three sons and I have never in my entire career ever chosen a film to work on for the sake of my children. And most of the films that I’ve done, they really shouldn’t watch. I remember I took my mother when she was in her eighties to go with me to Sundance to see this film I did called Secretary which is about…And I took my mother and my mother had…
Paul: What a schoolboy error that was!
James: Both my mother and father have sat through some…they’re both passed away… but they both have sat, lovingly, they both have sat through just an array of perverted little movies that I’ve made. But in any case I wanted, you know, my second son was really… and he was about seven. He’s now 21 or 22. I’m terrible at ages, but in any case he was about 18 at the time, something like that, 18 or 19. And he loved comics and loved superhero movies and fantasy and, you know, all that stuff. He just loved it. And then, by circumstance I also at the time I had a
three year old son, again, and he was already sort of raiding his brother’s little figures and little things like that and was excited about it. And I just thought, I just want to make a film for them, you know? So I went in and I sat down with Kevin Feige and Jeremy Latcham and they had reached out to my agent and said, “You know, we’d love to sit down with James.” And those sort of meetings are always just so brutal and fruitless. And I had said, “Really?” But then my agent said, “Kevin doesn’t really meet with anybody unless there really is a genuine interest.” And I said, “Great. Well then I’d love to talk to him.” So I sat down with him and I said, “I just would love to do one of these things and just be such fun.” And I told him the reasons why and I think he really responded to that because that’s his fan base, you know? And so we were sort of looking for the… he was looking for something and I was sort of thing. And then all of a sudden, I don’t know, there’d be things that came along the way over the next like two years or so and, and he would be like, “I just don’t know if it’s the, you know. I know what James is looking for. He wants a really great bad guy and some really great something, you know, and everything.” And so all of a sudden, like, about two or three years after that meeting, Joss Whedon walked into their offices and said, “You know, I don’t really have anyone else for this role except for James Spader.” And they said, “Well, funny you should mention that because we’ve been trying to find the right thing.” And so the next thing was a phone call from Joss and as soon as I spoke to him and he-I’m sorry. I’ve never been able to answer anything in a short and precise-but anyway, I said, “What the hell can I bring to an eight foot robot, you know? I don’t… That’s not my skill set.” And he told me sort of what he was looking for in terms of the character. But he said, “You know, let me send you some­ something to look at because the script is in revisions right now, but let me send you something so you can get a sense of what this character really is.” And he said, “In the comic books, the guy’s just sort of this raging robot. ‘I am going to destroy you’ you know?” He said I really want to extrapolate on that. So he sent me these scenes that were threatening, intimidating, crazy, funny, quoting Emily Dickinson. It was just such a weird, complex amalgamation of things…. And as it turns out, Kevin Feige told me, you know, a couple of days later he said, “You know, Joss-those aren’t even scenes from the movie. Joss wrote those scenes just to send you, so, just so that you’d have a sense of the character.” I thought, what a lovely thing to do, you know, that he just wrote these scenes as this is what this character’s going to be like, an example of sort of who he is. And they were really tailored for that. And he was absolutely right. It was all of that. Just a weird mix of crazy, scary, funny, poetic, you know, just a weird guy.

Avengers2553ee01123defHow did they create the look of The Vision?

Paul: It was a lot of makeup, haha. I would sit in the chair and then you would wait for eternity to come and then you’d be… done. So it was all real. They would have tracking dots on so that they would then move the circuitry on my face and my musculature could move and you could still see me express things, because we tried having full prosthetics that went over everything and we lost a lot of expression in the face. So thankfully, because that was really, really uncomfortable.

Paul and James 2What’s it like having the power to wield Thor’s hammer?

Paul: I’m not sure I’m even allowed to talk about that. I think that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s number one in bold print on my things not to talk about.
James: Now I can say, I think it’s rather impressive.

Is any of James’ humor part of Ultron?

James: Yes.
Paul: And his world view, in fact. Global devastation and James’…
James: I’m a great believer in chaos. But no, yes… I think that’s true in any film or television show or play or anything you do. I think that, if the casting works, you’ve been cast because that person intuitively knows, that director intuitively knows that what they need, you’re going to be able to provide. And he was specifically looking for that. He was looking for that sense of humor. And he was looking for that irreverence in marriage with the other aspects. And so he took advantage of it and we would play with things and I’d make a suggestion. But I really was very faithful to what he was writing because he was really writing it so specifically to me.
Paul: Right.
James: And…
Paul: And if you’re looking for a James Spader type there’s not many places to go, you know. There’s a one stop shop.
James: The reason why he probably walked in to Kevin Feige and said, “James Spader’s who I’m thinking about for this and I don’t really have anyone else on the list,” is because I think he probably, he’d already written to that.


James: Is that it? Oh my God. It seems like we should dump something else and just stay here for a little bit.

James and Paul

Avengers: Age of Ultron is in theaters now.

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Photo Credits: Disney and Jana Seitzer of Merlot Mommy

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