Kevin Feige isn't as well known to general audiences as director Joss Whedon, but it's hard to imagine "Marvel's The Avengers" existing without him. As the Marvel Studios president, Feige is the architect of the current onscreen Marvel universe, a series of moving parts, stars and egos that hits a peak with Whedon's coming summer blockbuster. Whatever your opinion of this run of Marvel movies -- from "Iron Man" to "Thor" and "Captain America" -- you have to be impressed that Feige and his collaborators actually pulled it off.
Late Thursday night -- following the premiere of "The Avengers" in Los Angeles and a busy day of junketing -- I spoke to Feige about the process that led us to one of the most anticipated movies of the last decade. The guarded executive also pretty much confirmed that another Hulk movie is not in the cards. But, more than anything, Feige was excited about what lies ahead for Marvel Studios. Understandably, he was tight lipped on subjects like the possible casting of Ben Kingsley in "Iron Man 3," but when I broached the possibility Captain America having a new sidekick -- specifically the character of Falcon -- in "Captain America 2," things got interesting.
When Feige called, he was still dealing with the fallout from a comment that Robert Downey Jr. made about filming a brand new "Avengers" scene that night. It was debunked by Whedon, but not co-star Mark Ruffalo. "We’re shooting a scene tonight," Ruffalo was quoted as saying by Indiewire's blog The Playlist. "I’m not sure exactly where it’s gonna go. All I know is that someone came in with the costume and said, 'Here’s some wardrobe. We don’t know where you’re going to be or what you’re doing.'"
I'm guessing that you're a little late because you were out there filming that new "Avengers" scene that Downey was talking about?
That new Avengers movie!
Oh, even better!
We're shooting "Avengers 2" today. Yes.
It seems like a quick turnaround, but I can't wait.
[Laughs] You never know what we're going to do.
How are you feeling right now? I mean, this whole process is quite the accomplishment.
Yeah, but the truth is, I'm the kind of guy who always looks forward and always looks ahead to the next mountain. And, in this case, it's "Iron Man 3," which starts in five weeks. And the next "Thor" film which is at the end of this summer. But, I will tell you, there were moments during the screening, watching it with the biggest audience I've ever seen it with -- frankly, going insane at certain moments -- that were very, very satisfying.
So you don't really get time for a victory lap.
No, not really. But I'm greatly anticipating seeing this movie with a real audience, a paying audience, and seeing it. That's what it's all about. I mean, the long hours and pulling your hair out -- and if you ever see me, you realize i pull a lot of my hair out. But it's all about the experience that we want the audience to have in the theater. And when they do respond the way you wanted them to -- or, sometimes, beyond what you expected them to -- that keeps you going for the next two or three years that you're pulling your hair out.
There are so many moving parts that led up to "The Avengers." Are there any scenes in the prior films that you regret? That painted you into a corner?
[Pauses] There are not a lot of them. The truth of the matter is, we were very concerned about painting ourselves into a corner -- and didn't do it. And if we found a fork in the road and had a really cool idea, one of which paints us into a corner and one of which would just progress the story we need to tell the movie, we always went in the direction of telling the story we needed to tell. I will say that the Tony Stark cameo in "The Incredible Hulk" required us to [laughs] get ourselves out of a corner.
We do not follow up on that scene in the narrative in any of the subsequent features. But, for fans, which are really the only people going, "Hey, wait a minute. What about when Tony Stark walked into the room and talked to General Ross?" There's a short film on the "Captain America" DVD that wraps that up and explains that. So, all the dots are connected and most of them didn't paint us into a corner. But I would say that is probably the closest one that almost did.
There's been a strong reaction to Hulk in "The Avengers."
I know that the two Hulk movies were disappointing financially compared to the other Marvel movies, but is there any part of you thinking, Maybe we can give another Hulk movie a shot?
Well, no. This was the other shot. Right? I mean, this was the third appearance of Hulk and everything that we had and were going for, we put in to Hulk's appearance in "Avengers." So, I love that people are saying that and are feeling that way about Hulk, but mission accomplished at this point. And the way we go forward, we'll see. But it was a long road to get to this point. Although, I will say, after the screening, I heard various arguments over who was their favorite. Which is my favorite thing: Arguing what was the favorite moment or character. And the fact that so many of them are saying Hulk feels very, very good. Where we go next, we'll see. But we'll be very careful about it and deliberate -- as we were in how we wanted to bring him back in "Avengers."
From your perspective, are you ever like, "What's he saying now?"
Well, not really. What he says about Captain America and "Avengers" is positive. He's incredibly proud of them and I think he's actually the best of all of the cast members of articulating the importance of the character. He speaks about Steve Rogers with a reverence that the biggest fans speak about Steve. I actually love that about Chris.
If you could poach one character from DC, which one would it be?
Heh, well ... I don't know, exactly. The obvious answer is Batman.
But I get the feeling you like some of the secondary characters.
I'm not going to name any particular one, but I will say there are times when -- and I'm going back years and years -- when I was very jealous of some of the Vertigo titles. There was some neat stuff going on. And some obscure stuff that could be interesting,
I'm going to word this delicately…
When you look at superhero films that you don't have anything to do with, can you see problems before they even happen? As in, "Boy, I wouldn't have done that." In other words: Can you see it coming when a superhero film doesn't do well?
Well, no. There's a fun pastime in Hollywood of second guessing people, questioning decisions, rolling your eyes and predicting the worst. And I try to stay out of that as much as possible. The truth of the matter is, I give every movie the benefit of the doubt until I actually watch it. And when I sit down to watch it, I try to watch it as a fan. I go to the movies and I watch them in a real theater. I don't watch it at a screening or at an office with a pen and paper in hand to study it. And when you watch as a fan, with your popcorn and everything, I don't get upset at any of them -- this is here to entertain. So I really try not to. Is that a good enough answer? [Laughs.]
Ben Kingsley's name is out there as a possible villain for "Iron Man 3."
There are rumors online that we're in negotiations with Ben Kingsley.
For a character that you can't reveal?
Well, Marvel doesn't confirm any of our casting until it's all completely done. And, even at that point, not talking about the characters is something ... I love that there's a "Star Trek" movie in production right now and I have no idea who the new characters are or who the villains are. I would love to be able to follow that mold for the next few movies that we make.
You should sign Benedict Cumberbatch.
Exactly! To play whoever he's playing in "Star Trek," which we don't know!
Sign him to that contract. "I don't know who you're playing in 'Star Trek,' but you're playing that character for me as well." I have a feeling it doesn't work that way.
[Laughs] Who knows? We've chartered a lot of new ground. We could do that as well.
Captain America always has a sidekick. In the next "Captain America" movie, is he going to have a sidekick?
It is interesting that you ask that question. And I'm not going to give you an answer. But I will give you kudos for pointing that out and recognizing that.
When I was younger, my dad had a bunch of Cap' comic books from the "Captain America and the Falcon" era.
[Pauses] That was a fun era.
You're a vague guy.
And no comment to my accusation about you either?
OK, I get it. I realize that you have to be vague.
I'm impressed with questions that are more relevant than others. And those are relevant.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter
PHOTOS: "The Avengers" Los Angeles Premiere