With the script of Marvel’s The Avengers containing several major fight sequences, stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell set up a facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his stunt team could come every day to stretch out together, go through hand and weapon drills, and choreograph the fights in the film. The facility also gave cast members access to train with fight choreographer Jonathan Eusebio and learn the various fighting techniques required for their roles. All the training paid off immensely as the filmmakers were thrilled to see the actors performing confidently in all the fighting sequences.
For Scarlett Johansson, the experience she had on Iron Man 2 proved to be an invaluable reference in her preparation for Marvel’s The Avengers. “Stunts and fights are a huge part of my work on this film, and being able to have a fighting style that audiences remember from Iron Man 2 is awesome,” Scarlett explains. “Jonathan Eusebio created and choreographed the style and look of the movements and Heidi Moneymaker, my stunt double, helped me learn them. What they both did for me is so important because it is just as much a creation of the character as whatever dramatic work I put into the job.”
“We wanted to make Black Widow very fluid and acrobatic,” says fight choreographer Eusebio. “Wushu, a Chinese fighting style, works well for her body mechanics. It’s very graceful but requires a lot of strength and flexibility. You are also going to see Black Widow executing more sacrifice throws and using a variety of weapons. The game has changed and so has her skill set. She had to learn entirely new things, and for her to deal with the various weapons like the ones we gave her was very difficult. She trained very hard and pulled off great performances on game day.”
Scarlett agrees with her choreographer’s view on the high difficulty level of learning the new fighting techniques. “We definitely embraced Wushu a lot, and there’s definitely more weaponry. It was a bit complicated because I could pick up all the hand-to-hand movements pretty well, but then he would say, ‘Oh yeah, here’s this giant staff you have to be holding while you’re doing the movements.’ So I am like, ‘Wait a minute, I had all those movements down and now I’m fighting with a 20-pound giant stick?’ I have to be honest—the first time I saw what they had in mind, I was like, ‘I’m never going to be able to learn this.’ So it’s just a lot of failures until you get it right, but boy do those failures hurt sometimes!”
“Scarlett did an amazing amount of training in preparation as well as during production,” says R.A. Rondell. “She came to the stunt gym on a regular basis and really worked hard with Heidi and Jonathan to learn all of the new moves and fighting techniques. She had a great base from what she had learned on Iron Man 2, so we were able to hit the ground running and teach her much more complex moves and sequences and add weaponry into the mix.”
“Scarlett worked so hard on the film to keep in great shape, and that’s not easy when you have to go to the gym at 4 a.m. so you can be in makeup at 5 a.m.,” says executive producer Patricia Whitcher. “On other days, she would go straight from the gym to stunt training and then go work a full day, so it’s not all glamorous like people think. It’s really hard work to pull off these kinds of moves in a convincing fashion so that the audience sees it’s really Scarlett in there fighting.”
Another stunt-gym attendee was Tom Hiddleston, who had to learn the most fight sequences of any cast member for his epic battles and action sequences. For Tom, it was all about putting in the practice time so when it came time for him to step on set and square off against Captain America or Thor, it was like second nature.
“I have bruises all over my body, but it’s called The Avengers, and if it wasn’t action-packed, we’ve failed to do our jobs,” Tom says. “We have the greatest stunt team in the world, led by R.A. Rondell and Jon Eusebio, so the first thing I did when I got to Albuquerque was hit the stunt gym. I started going through the movements and as I did more and more, I started reconnecting to the character because I believe how you move informs everyone of who you are.”
The actor continues, “I love shooting action because my brain switches off and it’s almost like a dance once you get the moves down. All you have to do then is add in the emotion of throwing or catching a punch, and it almost becomes a very Zen-like experience. So by the time you get to the day of shooting a fight between Loki and Captain America, hopefully the preparation and training kick in and it becomes about the simplicity of execution.”
Another challenge for Tom was his wardrobe in the film, which looked amazing but weighed him down significantly during action sequences. “The stunt training was my way of evolving Loki from who he was in Thor and creating a new sense of danger in that he is physically stronger and more dangerous,” he says. “I did all kinds of martial arts training: Wushu, boxing, lots of stick and staff work, knife work, and hand-to-hand combat. There were also a lot of daily repetition drills that condition your body and muscle memory. That’s how you learn to jump off a building, fly through the air, barely miss Chris Hemsworth’s head and get slammed to the ground on your back, pick yourself up, and repeat the same motion 12 times over the course of a day in a costume of leather and metal that weighs 40 pounds.”
Thor and Loki square off against each other for an intense brother-against-brother battle on the balcony of Stark Tower. “We were trying to design the fight so it had a big-brother-versus-little-brother mentality,” says fight choreographer Eusebio. “Thor wants to take Loki home without harming him, while Loki wants to approach the fight with deadly intentions. As the fight continues, emotions escalate and the stakes get bigger. Thor becomes really angry, and the fight becomes very brutal at its conclusion.”
Tom Hiddleston expands on the battle of brothers: “Each of us has a particular weapon and skill, and in this fight it’s Loki’s scepter up against Thor’s hammer. Thor uses his hammer like a boxing glove and Loki uses his scepter in more of a Wushu way. But after a little bit, Thor drops his hammer, Loki drops his scepter, and it’s just two brothers fighting sloppy and nasty.”
Chris Hemsworth explains how he approached learning the choreography for the scene. “The thing about fighting on film is that you have to ratchet up the intensity as opposed to the speed. So we were just taking it beat by beat in super slow motion with no emotion, and then as the moves start to sink in, you can speed it up to what it needs to be.”
Both Tom and Chris enjoyed doing many of their stunts. “As a cinephile and movie lover, I get such a kick when you see an actor flying across the screen, and you know that it’s the real actor who’s done the stunt,” Tom says. “I hate when they just cut around a stunt double and you just see the back of the actor’s head. I don’t want to see the back of my head, so I am always ready to get in there and mix it up with the stunt team.”
“I enjoy doing my own stunts when I can because I know it adds so much to the final product,” Chris adds. “You get the blood pumping and adrenaline going, but the reality is that you can be super-athletic, but there’s no real athletic ability that prevents you from smashing headfirst into a wall sometimes. It’s just one of those things that hurts a bit, but you get up, brush yourself off, and do it again. It’s fun and certainly breaks up the day.”
For director Joss Whedon, seeing his actors’ willingness to do as many stunts as possible ultimately adds many more layers of performance to the finished product. “The more I can show my actors’ faces during action sequences, the more audiences will be invested and root for our heroes,” he says. “The minute you see a shot that is obviously not your actor is the moment audiences disconnect from a scene. I was very fortunate that we had an amazing stunt team and that so many of our actors worked their butts off in preparing for the film and stayed dedicated to putting the time in at the stunt gym when we were shooting. I really think they are all going to be very happy when they see those scenes cut together.”