When we saw Joss Whedon on the set of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" this past summer, he looked like he had been beaten up by the movie's robotic bad guy. Bags drooped under each eye, he moved slowly, looked gaunt, and, while giving his answers the characteristically snappy Joss Whedon delivery, the way that countless characters of his have talked over the years in various TV shows and movies, this time it sounded more forced and battle-hardened. We were inside Avengers Tower, which had been mostly destroyed by Ultron (you can see bits of this in the trainer) and it looked like Whedon was part of that collateral damage.

But who could blame him? This was day 72 of the shoot, and there was at least another month of principle photography left to go. He was tired. And he was also under an incredible amount of pressure. Last time out, Whedon's "The Avengers" defied expectations and brought together Marvel's years-long plan in a swift, fitfully entertaining romp that went on to make over $1 billion and is pretty much universally loved. (It should be noted that lodged in one of Whedon's earlobes was a diamond the size of a cat's head; this is the trade off for extreme exhaustion it seems.)

So it is pretty fitting that the first question lobbed at Whedon was, "What was your head like going into this movie and what were you set out to do differently?" Whedon's immediate response? "I'm sorry, I was napping during that." Whedon was forthcoming about what the first movie took out of him, too. "The first one, I was a raggedy... I was a raggedy man when I made that film. It did take a lot out of me. Going in this time, I had to recalibrate my entire existence and throw myself into it more wholeheartedly and say, okay, actually make it harder to make them last, and I'm gonna just invest myself in every part of it -- in every production meeting, every location scout, and every question about a prop that I'd like to avoid, and I might even work harder on the script."

On the day that we were on the set, there was a scene involving a new character, The Vision (played by Paul Bettany), battling a member of the Avengers team. He said that while there was a time when they were working to get the look of The Vision right ("The first tests were very Violet Beauregard"), it came along quickly and was always something that Whedon wanted in the movie (for the final look, Whedon wants audiences to gash, "Oh it's a Vision, my god"). "I wanted Paul to play this part since before I wanted to make Avengers movies. Let's face it, it's about cheek bones, people."

Whedon went on: "Before I took the first job, I said, well, I don't know if I'm right for this or if I want it or you want me, but in the second one, the villain has to be Ultron, and he has to create the Vision. It took me three years before I could tell Paul that I'd had that conversation and after that, I stopped. I was like, that would be cool if there's you know, if you have Ultron, and you have Vision and Paul played him. Um, and, um, and Scarlet Witch and, and Pietro, definitely."

Whedon was referring to the two new members of the team: The Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), which he then elaborated on: "They're from my era, they're very different, their powers are different, it's not all punching. It gives a different palette, we can do more interesting things, it's fun; those things were all, yeah, those were absolutes." Not that his ideas necessarily meant that he was locked into directing the movie. "But then I didn't actually want to make the film necessarily. I was ragged from the first one, and so I just turned off my brain. I was like, do not think of cool ideas for the next one. Just get through this. And after a few months when, you know, they talked about..."

The struggle continued. "This is now something that makes sense in my life; do I have anything to say? And so my agent call, and I was in London, and he called me and said, 'You know, there's a deal that's worth talking about, time to start to think about whether there's a movie.' And I'm going, 'All right,' and I went to a pub and sat down with my notebook, and about forty-five minutes later, my notebook was filled. And I texted my agent 'yup' and I have so many things to say and I was, I was kind of surprised. It took me unawares. It was very beautiful."

And the fact that Quicksilver (as played by Evan Peters) showed up in last summer's "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (in that movie's only memorable scene) apparently hasn't affected Whedon and company's approach to the character. "Not really," Whedon answered. "I mean, there's some things that we now would probably care to avoid just so that we're not... But we were never doing the same version. Obviously, at some point we'll go into slow-mo because, you know, that's what's fun about a super speedy guy. I mean, for me, what's fun about Quicksilver isn't necessarily seeing Quicksilver, it's seeing the Avengers. He's just a very different guy in ours and, and we're just kind of proceeding as planned."

Recently, Whedon was criticized for what many saw as him making fun of "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," a universally beloved sequel. He said that this thought was very much in his mind. "You don't want people to think, Wow, that's part one of something or even part two of something. I have been lambasted for criticizing 'Empire Strikes Back.' I wasn't criticizing the film that I love very much. I was saying, I didn't like the experience of having a movie not end. It's weird for me and kind of disturbing. I need to get everything in that I need from him, uh, and then, you know, if it continues, either I or somebody else will need more. These characters have existed in their iconic narratives for longer than I've been around... which is just really long."

When someone asked how many notes from that original notebook made it into the movie, he answered, "A lot of them, a lot of them. Generally speaking, it's character stuff, really. It's definitely not plot stuff because that's the stuff that, you know, you can pull out of yourself with agony. But the character stuff of, oh, can these people connect and these people can't connect, and we can tear them the part and bring them together, and you know, have this insight into the character, that's the stuff that makes me want to make a film, not oh, and then there's a cool plot twist. I have to have a mind for that."

Whedon later described how much bigger this movie is than the first film. " The cast is bigger. The scope is bigger. You know. We have more to work with. Not that we're trying to spend more. In fact, we're trying to avoid bloat wherever possible. But, you know, with this, we're on a broader canvas. We're in more countries. We have a bigger world to work with, and a bigger world for them just to be in. Once they exist as a team, we have to deal with what everybody thinks about that, and what that means to the world. So it's not as simple as it was."

The writer-director teased more fun stuff for Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, who was somewhat marginalized in the first film ("Something's up with that boy") and the Frankenstein-ish relationship between Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark and evil robot Ultron (voiced by James Spader), saying that there are a lot of Frankensteins in the Marvel Universe. He then added: "There's a lot of people, whether they're trying to do good or bad, who think they have the next big idea. And the next big idea is usually a very bad one." He also, in a question we loved, talked about where the Scarlet Witch falls into the lineage of strong Whedon heroines. "Well, you know, "strong but damaged by power" describes every person in this movie. It may, in fact, describe what the movie is about. You know, the more power that we have, the less human we are. "Her damage pre-dates her power, and, you know, these kids have had a rough history. Is she in an idiom with which I am comfortable? Why, yes sir, she is."

In the weeks and months since we visited the London set, much more about "Avengers: Age of Ultron" has been revealed -- there was the first-look Comic Con footage, the theatrical trailer, a behind-the-scenes tease on the "Guardians of the Galaxy" Blu-ray, and the big announcement that this film would be followed by a two-part third chapter, entitled "Avengers: Infinity War," set for release in the summer of 2018 and 2019, respectively. And if Whedon was thinking about any of this (it's thought that Whedon will not be back for the third film, and that "Captain America: Winter Soldier" directors Joe and Anthony Russo will step in), he wasn't letting onto it.

"There comes a point in filming when you are writing, filming and editing, you cannot make a grocery list. I haven't had a good idea about anything. I'm so excited that I'm wearing underwear, that I got that right today. Every now and then, it'll happen, but right now we're just past the halfway point, and I'm still finessing and finessing and finessing, and I got nothing. So it's, you know, I do this, I go home, I rewrite, I go to sleep. I do this, I go home, I rewrite, I go to sleep."

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" blasts into theaters May 1, 2015.
categories Interviews, Movies