Where did that confidence come from?
I’m the least confident person in so many ways. But I believed that if somebody gave me the chance to tell a story, I would tell a story [well enough] that the person who gave me the chance would get their money back. Somebody once asked me if I have anything like faith, and I said I have faith in the narrative. I have a belief in a narrative that is bigger than me, that is alive and I trust will work itself out. [Buffy star] Sarah Michelle Gellar once said, “I’m not sure where we’re going with this [story line],” and I said, “You don’t have to trust me, trust the narrative, we’ll find our way back.”
For an atheist, was it an intentional metaphor when you had scientist Bruce Banner in Hulk mode beating the hell out of “puny god” Loki?
The fact that I got to write “puny god” made me very happy. That was me rubbing my fingers together in a Burns-ian super-villain fashion. Ultimately I did it because it was right for the movie, but yeah, that was fun for me.
What’s the origin story for landing The Avengers?
I had been telling stories that were clearly superhero-team stories for many years, writing and directing them on a smaller scale. And at same time Kevin Feige was slaving away at Marvel, then was eventually put in charge of it. We sat down to talk about a script they had and what I would do with it. I wasn’t even aware there was a possibility I could be called upon to [direct]. The more I thought about it, the more I fell in love with it. Everyone was like: “Why did they pick you?” But I fit the Marvel profile perfectly — I had vision and passion and I was cheap.
Earlier this year, there were reports that you were getting paid $100 million for Avengers 2. Why was it important for you to go online and refute that?
It bothers me. I think it gives people an impression of who you are that is not one I’m comfortable with. It’s something I’d live with if I had that much money. But, you know, I’m rich. I’m making the second movie. Does anybody think I’m not getting paid? But it’s not anywhere like what they’re talking about.
Do you feel people would think less of you if they thought you were paid that much?
Yeah, I think they would. I do feel like it indicates a certain removal from reality that I hope to avoid.
Did you get any vindicating calls after The Avengers came out about your other projects you’ve labored over that got passed to other writers — from X-Men, to Batman to Wonder Woman?
Nobody called and said, “Gee would should have made your movie.” There’s no indication they should have. The stars aligned with The Avengers. Life’s too short to dwell on the things that didn’t happen.
You’ve described Avengers as not a great film but “a great time.” What do you think you could have done better?
When I think of a great film, I think of something that’s either structured so perfectly like The Matrix or made so lovingly like The Godfather Part II. There was haphazardness in the way it comes together—not just the people, but the scenes. I don’t think you’d look at it and go, “This is a model of perfect structure.” You’d go, “This is working.” I like it. I’m proud of it and I like its imperfections. The thing I cared most about—making a summer movie like the ones from my childhood—is the thing that I pulled off.
Have those feelings affected your approach to the sequel?
I want to be clearer about how I engage the audience, and where I take them. I want more control visually, more time to prep it. Not that I didn’t dictate every shot—I did. But there’s only so much you can do when you’re making a summer film when the ball is already rolling as fast as it was when I got in. Why do it again if you can’t do it better?
Ironically, the moment of your Avengers success is the same time you proved you didn’t need the giant corporation anymore with Much Ado About Nothing, which you shot in your own house.
The thing is, I believe in both. I love Hollywood movies. I want to see big stars in big spectacles. But I also like the fact that we’re in a place where any schmo can do their thing, and obviously I’m a particularly privileged schmo. But to feel as comfortable in both worlds, I dunno, isn’t that like every goddamn dream? I’m not doing the commercial thing, and then I make my art—The Avengers is as much of an artist as I am, and I approach it with the same kind of passion.
Will you follow up Avengers 2 with your version of Hamlet, which you’ve been working on for 15 years? I’ve heard it’s dark and controversial.
That’s a giant endeavor, and I’m not planning any giant endeavors. I feel like some of the family stuff in [Hamlet] is even more twisted than we give it credit for. [My version] is no darker than any other vision, in certain respects. If everything works out according to plan, S.H.I.E.L.D. will be on when the movie is over and then I’ll already be too busy.
This time you’re returning to TV with Marvel, the 800-pound hulk, backing you up. How has this experience been different?
There’s a certain amount of trust with the Marvel brass. It doesn’t mean carte blanche, nor should it. Because they’re not watching me as carefully, because I don’t have to justify what I want to do to them, I have to make sure I can justify it to myself. So I’m not just going “This sounds cool and nobody says I can’t, so wheeeeee, look at me fail!”