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Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany on the Differences Between a Whedon & Russos ‘Avengers’ Movie
Written by Allison Keene

Last summer, I was invited alongside a group of journalists to visit the Atlanta, Georgia set of Avengers: Infinity War. You can read a more in-depth account about my experience on the set here, but suffice it to say that it was indeed epic. The amount of star-power in this movie is mind-boggling, and over the next several weeks I’ll be publishing interviews with the cast and creatives behind it all. They couldn’t reveal much in the way of specifics, of course, but it was really fun to just see their banter and interactions — which is really the crux of what the Avengers movies are all about.

So much has happened in the MCU since we visited Pinewood studios, but when it comes to the story of Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch / Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), things are very grounded. Since Vision as an Infinity Stone in his head, things are becoming very perilous for these two characters who have fallen in love. But Bettany and Olsen also talked to us about how open, creatively, Marvel has been when it comes to actors taking ownership of their characters, and the difference between a Joss Whedon and a Russo Brothers’ Avengers movie (with some jokes along the way):

QUESTION: In the scene we just observed, you guys get off the Quinjet, and Vision seems a bit hurt. What happened to him?

BETTANY: Oh, I just had some really bad brain freeze. … I had a really bad, I got a curry on the plane. … I got skewered.

OLSEN: In front of a kabob shop.

BETTANY: In front of a kabob shop, which is ironic. … And these bad guys are trying to get the stone out of my head and so Wanda and I fought them off and then we’ve ended up here for surgery. I gotta get fixed up.

You’re like the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz when they’re putting him back together?

BETTANY: Just a little bit like that.

What can you say about both of your characters, and what they’ve been doing between the events of Civil War and now?

OLSEN: We have stayed separate teams, and the people on Cap’s side have been fighting more rogue missions. Hence, we all look a bit different to suggest being in hiding, and we’ve been trying to — within that time — find points of meeting in different places in order to try and forward our relationship.

Is there anything else you can say about your characters’ relationship?

BETTANY: I think that Vision’s been on this quest to understand what being human is, and I think Scarlet Witch [has] in a large degree helped him figure that out and what love is. [Sings] “I wanna know what love is?” It’s in the movie, that’s the scene the paparazzi [shot]. “I wanna know what love is?” Yeah, so they’re trying to figure that out […] they’re very much in love at this point.

OLSEN: Soulmates.

For Paul, I imagine since you carry one of the stones that you’re going to have a significant arc in this story. Obviously without giving too much away, can you give us what we can expect from Vision’s story?

BETTANY: It’s gonna be kinda of a significant arc ‘cause I got one of the stones in my head. That’s about all I’m allowed to [say]. No, there’s some really bad dudes who want the stone from my head and that’s a problem for Vision.

What would happen if they got it, hypothetically?

BETTANY: Well, that’s a very big question and one that troubles…

OLSEN: That we explore in the movie.

BETTANY: Yeah. One that troubles Vision and Wanda a lot.

How does Vision go undercover?

BETTANY: Well, you either travel to different Mardi Gras around the world or Halloween, you’re golden —  Halloween, it’s his night out — or you discover the ability to change your appearance with nano-technology.

How much would you both say that characters are dealing with the fallout of what happened in Civil War?

OLSEN: I think in a different way, not so much about the last movie and their own sagas, but this is definitely the most emotional arc I’ve done in an Avenger film, that’s for sure.

BETTANY: Yeah.

OLSEN: ’Cause when we’re talking about Vision becoming human, we’re talking about their relationship, and it’s a pretty grounded arc.

BETTANY: And significant. [Laughs] Yeah, I think it is the most emotional. Also, the cost and the danger that we’re all facing becomes more important than certain beef that people had in the past because it’s so desperate. The point of the Avengers, and by extension mankind, it’s fraught with danger. So I think old grudges are buried and put off until next time.

How would your characters describe Thanos? What do you guys think of him?

BETTANY: He’s such a dick.

OLSEN: I don’t really know yet. We haven’t really figured that out ourselves yet. Right?

BETTANY: Yeah.

OLSEN: We haven’t really gotten to that bit in the exploration, but he’s not a good guy. We don’t necessarily want to be his friend. You don’t want to be his friend.

BETTANY: You don’t want to be his friend, no, but you can admire… He has an ambitious goal.

OLSEN: Yes, he sets his goals very high.

BETTANY: He sets his goals very high.

OLSEN: I think [Josh] Brolin is doing a really cool job creating an interesting villain, because he doesn’t really come across… he seems he’s defending it quite well.

We’ve asked the rest of the cast how they relate to Thanos and how they feel about him, and they were talking about it in very abstract ways, but for your characters it’s actually very personal because if Thanos gets what he wants your romance would end. Who knows what would happen to Vision. So from that point of view, does Thanos perhaps frighten your characters more than the rest of the team?

BETTANY: He is, like I said, I think he’s a real dick. [Laughs] I just found out what it means to be human and now this Thanos guy … yeah, I don’t know. I think for everybody the stakes are so high that I think that it’s…

OLSEN: As bad as bad can be.

BETTANY: As bad as bad can be.

With the relationship between Wanda and Vision, is it comforting to have one person on the team you can rely on in a different way than with the others?

BETTANY: Yeah.

OLSEN: Oh yeah! Yeah, that is fun. It just feels like you have something really specific to work with all the time. And that feels nice. There’s like an anchor point to everything, which is what you’re constantly looking for when you’re doing these movies. What anchors you to a grounded reality? And you have that throughout the whole film. You have your partner, your life partner with you by your side, and that creates a different kind of stakes, as well.

The Guardians [of the Galaxy] come into this film and, obviously, cosmic villains. Do these cosmic characters and the other-world stuff, does that make Vision want to quest beyond understanding humanity, realizing, “Holy shit there’s so much more out there now”?

BETTANY: Yeah, I don’t know. I think he’s already thinking that way already. I mean, he’s a smart fellow, the Vision. So I think he’s already thinking that way. Frankly, being that you have to have a face for the quest to save humanity, well why? Well, because it’s the person that you love […] I think about love and understanding what love is. I think you can see by the end of the movie on a much grander scale a love of life.

With Scarlet Witch, specifically, there was an alternate scene in Civil War and it was, at least in my recollection, the first time a Marvel character had actually acknowledged the fact that she can alter reality as opposed to moving things with her mind. So are we going to start to see more tricks from her now beyond the telekinetics and the force fields?

BETTANY: You’ll have to wait and see.

How does this movie differ from a Joss Whedon Avengers movie? As an actor, does it feel different in this one as opposed to Ultron?

BETTANY: Yeah, they’re really different. … It’s not that one is better than the other.

OLSEN: The biggest difference is that Joss wrote everything. When he writes them, he plays every single character in, like, a cabin and he does the fighting sequences as much as he can and then he writes it. I think the main difference is that the Russos delegate, and they trust everything that they’ve delegated things to. Not saying Joss didn’t, but that’s a lot of pressure to be a director and then go home to also do rewrites for the next week. So I think it’s just, as it gets bigger, things become more specific to different departments, and I think it allows maybe even a freedom within the dialogue sometimes…

BETTANY: Yeah absolutely.

OLSEN: … because there’s a space, some of us have the ability to step out and not be on the page. Not saying that one’s better than the other, because Joss knows these characters better than maybe each one of the individuals do because he lives it and breathes it, and the Russos at the beginning of filming are like, “You’re in control of your character. If there are things you think we missed, please participate, please say.”

BETTANY: They really want you to be a collaborator and it’s great. There’s a huge upside for that. For them [the Russos], when you’re dealing with so many characters and actors to have two of them, and it’s brilliant because you can play one off against the other.

OLSEN: “Anthony told me this.”

BETTANY: “He did?” “Yeah, he really did.” “Okay.” So that’s useful. Or like, “Your brother’s a bit of a dick isn’t he?”

Have you guys made suggestions about your characters?

BETTANY: Oh yeah, I think everybody does all the time, and Marvel has really been open to that, surprisingly.

OLSEN: I think it would be shocking to anyone else who talks, writes, or talks about… people say it’s not a creative environment, you just are a pawn, and they make it the most creative environment it can be within its parameters.

BETTANY: Also there are people with very clear vision. So they’re able to hear you and yet maintain the course of the ship. I found it really open and creative and genuinely interested in what you would like to happen and have happened with your character.

Can you reveal any specific examples?

OLSEN: Well, like a general specific, we have already shot part of the end, but we haven’t shot some things that happen before, and there are just things that happen where you’re like, “You know what? Let’s create a string and when we go to the scenes we haven’t shot yet, let’s create something that will reflect that later.” … And people notice it or they don’t. It’s just good to have.

BETTANY: I think the success of the Marvel films comes from the fact that they’re made by fans. They really love those characters. When I first came out dressed as Vision, Kevin Feige nearly cried. I didn’t grow up reading comics but they make you fall in love with your character. They really do. Their love for these stories is really infectious and you become really invested, and there’s a lot of invested people beyond the financials of it all. They really want to do a good job, and I think fans really trust that if they bend things that they’re in safe hands — that the story is in safe hands because I guarantee you it’s made by geeks. This movie is made by geeks. They love them, they feel it when they’re talking about it.

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