Avengers: Age of Ultron is in theaters now and hopefully you’ve seen it by now! We had the chance to interview James Spader who plays Ultron and Paul Bettany who voices J.A.R.V.I.S. and plays The Vision in the movie.
James Spader on Playing Ultron
If you’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, then you know what an amazing job James Spader did voicing Ultron. Like someone said after the movie, he should just go ahead and voice every villain from now on. But did you know he didn’t just voice Ultron, but was actually on set filming so Ultron had a lot of his mannerisms and expressions? James shared with us,
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, the dialog was all from what we shot on the set doing scenes with the other actors as you would in any film or, you know, in any setting. 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, you know, big sections of the entire film. And even in its sort of formative stages, it was remarkable to see, I haven’t seen the 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.
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 move- 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.
James also shares his first day filming on the set and what it entailed,
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 a- and women and, and so on all sitting around.
And they put me in a fractal suit, which is just a sort of two piece, 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.
They had me go through a range of motions and fingers, 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 and fifteen minutes later, 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 could start getting a sense of what sort of, you know, 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 five-ten. He was very small. He sort of was proportionate height to what, you know, not Chris Hemsworth but maybe an average height avenger might be in proportion to me if I was eight feet tall.
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, 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.
James also shared with us if he had to be convinced to play Ultron or if he agreed immediately.
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.
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. 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, you know, just an array of perverted little movies that I’ve made.
But in any case I wanted, you know, my second son 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. 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, you know, those sort of meetings are always just so brutal and fruitless. And I had said, “Really?” But, I mean, do they, and, and 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 ’cause that’s his fan base, you know? And, so we were sort of looking for, he was looking for something and I was sort of thing.
Then all of a sudden, I don’t know, there’d be things that came along 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.”
They said, “Well, funny you should mention that ’cause we’ve been trying to find the right thing. And so the next thing was a phone call from Joss and, you know, as soon as I spoke to him I said, “What the hell can I bring to, to an eight foot robot, you know? I don’t… 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 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, you know, threatening, intimidating, crazy, funny, quoting Emily Dickenson.
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.
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.
As James mentioned earlier, a lot of Ultron’s mannerisms are his. We also asked if a lot of his own humor was interjected into the character.
Yes. I’m a great believer in chaos. But…no, yes. I mean, I listen in sort of, but I think that’s true in any film or television show or play or, I mean, anything you do. I think that, you know, 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, he’d, you know. But I really was very faithful to what he was writing because he was really writing it so specifically to me.
I think he probably, you know, 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.
Paul Bettany on playing J.A.R.V.I.S. and The Vision
We have always know Paul Bettany as JARVIS. We asked him what his reaction was when he found out that he would be The Vision?
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. 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, “Um,” it’s so quick these days, “Yeah, I kinda do.”
True story. So it was lovely.
Paul also shared with us the difference between just voicing JARVIS and being on-set as The Vision,
I was brought in at the last moment to solve any clarity issues the film had which was my superhero power as Jarvis. Uh, 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 chimed in, “I did not have to cut back on carbs. Somehow amazingly enough, those animators were able to slim me right down.”
Paul also shared about how much of The Vision was make-up and how much was CGI.
It was a lot of makeup, ha ha. 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, it’s all real. From about here forward the prosthetic, well the prosthetic actually stops here, 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 you could still see me express things, ‘Cause we tried having full prosthetic that went over everything and we lost a lot of expression in the face. So thankfully, because that was really, really uncomfortable.
It was such a great experience to talk to both of them! They were both so incredibly nice and James Spader was just as you would imagine him – incredibly articulate and as he was leaving our interview, he said, “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 is in theaters now! Make sure to check out my previous interviews.
Disclosure: Disney provided an all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles including travel, accommodations and activities. All thoughts and opinions are my own.