When Marvel Studios was looking for the right guy to put the Avengers cast through their stunt paces, it turned to the man who’s spent the better part of the last 45 years taking the falls for the likes of Superman, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne and even Inspector Clouseau.
As the stunt coordinator for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” — available now on digital release, and on DVD, Blu-ray and on-demand Oct. 2 — Greg Powell brings one of the most enviable film resumes imaginable to the table. But he admits that even with his crafting stunts worthy enough to challenge a full roster of the World’s Mightiest Heroes was no small feat, even with Joss Whedon‘s imagination to inspire him.
CBR News: With all of the experience you bring to the table, what was the big challenge of “Avengers: Age of Ultron?”
Greg Powell: Well, it’s the whole film, basically. There’s so much going on and such a busy film for the stunt department. It’s quite a challenge to try to bring out new ideas, because you’re trying to bring something new to the stage. But we try and do that. It wasn’t one particular thing I was concerned about — it was the whole thing, and seeing how we might do better than the last one or anything that Marvel has done before.
What was most creatively stimulating about working with Joss Whedon and trying to achieve his vision for each sequence?
Sitting down with Joss — he’s got some great ideas. He’s way out there with stuff like that, and he throws all these ideas at you, and you try and pick a couple of them and go away, then I think about it with the crew that I’ve gotten. Then we put it to practice. Then we rehearse and then we shoot it on video. We shoot what he wants, then we try and add to that if we can to give him a little bit extra. We take it back and show him, and he may like the stuff, or change it around a little bit to put his little twitch onto it. But he’s certainly got some great ideas.
Who, in that great ensemble cast, was just champing at the bit to do whatever stunt you would let them get away with?
I think with Thor [Chris Hemsworth] and Captain America [Chris Evans], they’re quite physical, themselves. They’re busy on that film as well. Those were the two guys who were always having a go and always, in their rehearsals, sort of kept on top of their game.
Was there a particular stunt or a particular day of shooting that you’re especially proud of, where everything came together exactly the way you wanted?
I think with the Ultron fight on the semi truck with the motorbike stuff there — I was pleased how that turned out. And the train stuff afterwards. It’s all got special moments for me, but I think the fighting with Ultron on top of the semi truck, driving around the streets, with the Cap double and Ultron, which was a stunt man in a green outfit. It was quite pleasing for me to see that done and everyone was safe at the end of it.
What’s been interesting to you with this evolution to this hybrid period of stunts being created though some practical effects and some digital effects?
I think Marvel’s got the good thing for that, because with Ultrons, you use live action with the digital stuff, with all the characters in there fighting with Ultrons, fighting with stunt people in green outfits, and taken over by CG. We’re busier than ever doing that stuff. But I think Marvel’s really got it put together with live action and CG work, and I hope it continues.
Did you solely coordinate, or did you do a couple stunts yourself?
No, no. I coordinate mainly, now. I’ve got a good bunch of guys that I use, my fight guys and my wire guys, but I oversee everything that they do, observe, with my approval. They’ve done a very good job.
You did some stunts on some of the earliest movies in this genre that now dominates the box office, on “Superman the Movie,” “Superman II” and “Superman III” Tell me about that experience and the evolution you’ve seen, from there to doing “Avengers.”
I did double for [Christopher reeves’] Superman, and I remember the wires, for instance, we forever painted them black. But now you don’t have to do that, because they take them out so easy [with computers]. It was just the flying equipment, the harnesses. Looking back at what we’ve got now and what we had then, it’s just unbelievable how things have changed over the years. When we were doing the “Superman” films, it was incredible to do that stuff then, but what we’re doing now is unbelievable.
I was looking at your film stunt resume — which is spectacular so forgive me for just hitting some highlights — and I saw that you worked on various Bond films over the years. That must have been fascinating, to work during different eras in 007 history, from “The Spy Who Loved Me” to “Skyfall.”
Well, one of my family has been on every Bond film since it started. My father, his brother, his brother, me and my youngest daughter are all stunt people. I remember the first time I ever was on a Bond set was 1964, for “From Russia with Love,” so that’s how far I go back, to when I was a young boy making teas and coffees for the stunt guys. That was with Sean Connery — who then later I did “Never Say Never Again” with. Then Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan — and also Daniel Craig. I worked with him as well.
What has it meant to you, over time, not only to be a part of one of the great stunt series in cinematic history, but to have that family connection?
It’s meant a lot. I’m very proud of it. My father was in it, and his brother. I’m proud that my daughter is there, carrying on. When we’ve all finished, she’ll be carrying it on. It’s nice that we’ve all got that connection in one film franchise.
There’s so many iconic properties you’ve been a part of — you’ve worked on an “Indiana Jones” film, you’ve worked on a “Mission: Impossible” film. Do you have a sense, when you get on a movie, “I think this is going to be something special. This is one people will be talking about years down the line.”
Yeah, I think you do. It doesn’t work out like that all the time. I remember doing “The Pink Panther” film years ago after Peter Sellers, because I doubled Peter Sellers’ “Pink Panthers.” When Roberto Benigni took over, he was the funniest! A really funny guy — we were working on the film, we were actually standing there laughing. But when it went to the cinema, it flopped. But we thought it was hilarious while we were working on it. That’s what happens. You’re looking at the stuff live, and it’s totally different when you get it on screen.
Another one you had a long association with was the “Harry Potter” franchise. Tell me about that experience.
Brilliant. I mean, I worked on that for ten years. Daniel Radcliffe was a small boy when he started, and when he left, he was a young man. And same with Rupert [Grint] and Emma [Watson]. I thought it was good for me, because I helped make “Harry Potter” “Harry Potter.”
What would you want to point people to for some of the your favorite examples of your work?
“Interview with a Vampire,” with the vampires being set on fire in the catacombs — the Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt film. And I think “Mission Impossible,” with the train sequence. If you look at today, I’d like to redo that again with how they would do the CG. That would be unbelievable today, that sequence.
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