Last month when I was in LA for the Avengers: Age of Ultron press junket (which is now in theatres everywhere!!) I had the opportunity to conduct a Paul Bettany and James Spader interview.
Paul Bettany is an interview you don’t get often. JARVIS hasn’t made his way to many press junkets so it’s a superb opportunity to speak with Paul Bettany in the flesh.
James Spader has a history of playing the ultimate bad guy. He’s quirky, he’s fun, he plays creepy well, he’s so incredibly talented. And you know it’s been a marvelous 17-minute interview when the James wants to “dump something else and just stay here for a little bit” longer with your group. That is the penultimate compliment to your group of influencers and to your interview skills and to the caliber of people and level of professionalism you have shown during your interview and time with the talent. Clearly we were a fun interview for Paul Bettany and James Spader, and they were a fun interview for us. Read to to learn what Paul and James had to say about CGI, motion capture, karma, and more.
On being Ultron
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. 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. The dialog was all from what we shot on the set doing scenes with the other actors as you would in any film. And I was so pleased ’cause 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 face really yet fine-tuned ’cause 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.
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 gestures 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 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, uh…
PAUL: No, no, no. I’ll just have a snooze.
JAMES: 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. 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 sort of a two-piece or looks like you’re gonna go for a run, but 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 then they put it into some program on the computer or something. Also set up around the room were these monitors, and in 15 minutes I could walk in my outfit into the center of the room and turn my head, move my fingers, 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 could start getting a sense of what physicality would be appropriate for that 8-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, sort of proportionate height to what, not Chris Hemsworth, but maybe what an average height Avenger might be in proportion to me if I was 8 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 a different character and so I was able to see right away me as an 8-foot Ultron with another actor who’s a proportionate height to what an average-sized 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.
We always knew you as JARVIS. What was your reaction when you found out that you would be The Vision?
PAUL: Well, it was sort of vindication really because I had just come out of a meeting with a producer who told me my career was over. And this is a true story. And 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 [made a motion to the universe with his middle finger], “Um”—karma is so quick these days—”Yeah, I kinda do.” True story. So it was lovely.
How is it different for you on set? In the other movies where you’re playing JARVIS were you there interacting with the other actors?
PAUL: God no. I was brought in at the last moment to solve any clarity issues the film had, which was my superhero power as JARVIS. What was the difference? The difference was I had to go to the gym, 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.
Did you have to be convinced to play Ultron or were you “in” the moment he asked you to play the character?
JAMES: I had met about 2 or 3 years prior to telephone call 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.
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…
PAUL: They really shouldn’t, shouldn’t watch.
JAMES: I remember I took my mother when she was in her 80s to go with me to Sundance to see this film I did called Secretary. 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, my second son, 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 all that stuff. He just loved it. And then by circumstance I also at the time I had a 3-year-old son, 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.”
Those sort of meetings are always just so brutal and fruitless. I had said, “Really? Do they?” And 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 ’cause that’s his fan base.
And there’d be things that came along along the way over and he would be like, “I just don’t know if it’s the part James is looking for. He wants a really great bad guy.” And all of a sudden about 2 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 ’cause we’ve been trying to find the, 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 way…But anyway I said, “What the hell can I bring to, to an 8-foot robot? That’s not my skill set.”
He told me sort of what he was looking for in terms of the character. But he said, “You know, let me send you something to, to look at ’cause 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 Dickenson.
It was just such a weird, complex amalgamation of things. And I just read that and… And as it turns out, Kevin Feige told me 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, just so that you’d have a sense of the character.” I thought, what a lovely thing to do, 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.
How much of The Vision was makeup and CGI?
PAUL: It was a lot of makeup. 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. From about here forward the prosthetics, well the prosthetic actually stops here [frames the edge of his face] and then this was painted purple.
But they would have tracking dots on so that they would then move the circuitry could be on my face and my musculature could move and, and you could still see me express things, ’cause we tried having full prosthetics that went over everything and we lost a lot of expression in the, in the face. So thankfully, because that was really, really uncomfortable.
***WARNING: SPOILER ALERT***
Stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie and you care about what’s coming next…
What’s it like being the only other superhero who can wield Thor’s hammer?
PAUL: I’m not sure I’m even allowed to talk about that. I think that’s number one in bold print on my Things Not to Talk About. If you want another question I will…
JAMES: Now I can say, I think it’s rather impressive.
James, you have always played the bad guy we love to hate in so many of your films.
JAMES: You don’t hate him.
Bad buys you love to hate. But with Ultron, is there any part of your humor in Ultron?
Okay. ‘Cause we definitely see your mannerisms.
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 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. And if you’re looking for a James Spader-type, there’s not many places to go. It’s like there’s a one-stop shop.
JAMES: And I think 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 ’cause 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.
Avengers: Age of Ultron—New Trailer
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is now playing in theatres everywhere!
I’ve been invited to LA courtesy of Disney for a media event. All opinions are my own.
- INTERVIEW Ming-Na Wen Talks Animation for Pencils vs. Pixels - November 23, 2023
- The Marvels Easter Eggs - November 10, 2023
- INTERVIEW: Bay Dariz and Phil Earnest Talk Pencils vs Pixels - November 1, 2023