At an April 12 press conference, two days after the Hollywood premiere of The Avengers, Robert Downey Jr. let slip that the stars of the film were reuniting that very night to shoot one last bit of footage for the movie. Here, in an excerpt from a piece originally published the day the movie opened, we share the origin of the now infamous shawarma scene. For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012: Behind the Scenes coverage.
So, if you’ve seen the movie, you know that in the climactic New York battle against the alien invaders Iron Man does something selfless and noble and nearly loses his life for it. As he tumbles back to Earth, he is rescued mid-plummet by the Hulk, who breaks the fall by surfing down the side of some buildings and deposits Iron Man’s limp form on the pulverized street below.
EW, coincidentally, was on the New Mexico set of the movie during filming of this scene, in which Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Evans’ Captain America rush over and Thor rips off Iron Man’s mask to reveal an unconscious Tony Stark.
In the original script (SPOILER ALERT — and, do I really need to keep saying that at this point?) the billionaire awakens with a start and asks, ”What’s next?”
But during filming, Downey is notorious for pushing for variations and felt that line could be something snappier. Whedon agreed, and penned several new versions of the scene in a notebook the day of shooting. ”Peek behind the curtain,” Whedon told EW, showing us the scribbles. ”It was one line — now it’s three pages.”
Those new lines were the seed that led to the last-minute scene, though no one knew that at the time — not even Whedon. Otherwise, he surely would have shot the post-credits sequence before his cast scattered and had to be reunited by the movie’s premiere.
What was in those pages? “Please tell me nobody tried to kiss me,” Stark says, looking up at a looming Thor and Cap. That line made the finished movie, but others didn’t. There were several other variations in which Stark congratulates his fellow Avengers on winning the battle, and then — realizing it’s not over yet — wearily begins making suggestions about how much time off they’re going to be owed.
The line that made the final cut was a slightly more random one: Stark learns that there is more fighting left to do, and says fine, as long as the others agree to hit a good shawarma restaurant he knows in the neighborhood. (I guess after spending all that time in the Middle East, Stark developed a taste for Arab slow-roasted meats.)
We’re not doing justice to the jokes here, but Stark’s other cracks seemed to be a little funnier than the shawarma one, which seemed a little obscure. Of course, that changes dramatically if you pay it off with a scene of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the re-humanized Hulk all grabbing an after-work bite at said restaurant.
And that, dear readers, is what Whedon and Marvel realized after the fact, too.
When The Avengers is over — and we mean over-over, when the last credit has rolled — we cut to the gang sitting silently around a table, munching on pitas like any colleagues who have just put in a lot of overtime. In the background, restaurant workers quietly clean-up debris in the apocalypse-adjacent eatery.
And they say… nothing. After saving the planet, they are spent. It’s basically an awkward kind of funny.
You can find bootleg clips of the scene online, but why do that? You’ve already seen the movie, right?
We join The Avengers reunion already in progress [for an exclusive roundtable that would become an EW cover story].
It’s the day after filming the new scene — weirdly, two days after the premiere — and Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner are seated at a conference table in the Four Seasons Hotel, joking about the look of their respective LEGO figurines. Mark Ruffalo is playing “Hulk SMASH!” with a few of the Hasbro toys scattered across the table while Joss Whedon looks on. We’re waiting for the rest to arrive.
Robert Downey Jr. has just entered the room, and immediately begins mocking the prosthetic that Evans needed to hide his beard for the scene. (Evans also, you’ll notice, covers his face throughout that footage by resting his cheek against his hand.)
“Where is Chris Evans? Getting his face replaced?” Downey asks.
Evans hasn’t arrived yet, but that doesn’t hold back Downey. “Chris, why the long face? Chris, why the WRONG face?” Downey says as the other guys laugh.
Ruffalo shakes his head, his lips pursed. “Oh no …”
“I felt so bad for him!” Hemsworth says, wincing. He makes a swallowed sound, like someone trying to speak through glued-shut lips.
Downey twists his face into an Elephant Man snarl. “Hey guys, I am not an animal,” he mutters.
Pah! Out of nowhere, a rocket from an Iron Man toy fires just past Ruffalo’s head, nearly hitting the real Iron Man beside him.
“What the f–k did you just do?” Downey asks, still giddy.
Ruffalo is still turning over the toy, trying to figure that out. “I just shot myself,” he shrugs.
Whedon, who has been silent this whole time (making ixnay eyes because THERE’S AN EW REPORTER SITTING RIGHT THERE) finally gives up, and tells Downey: “Thank you for having every reporter ask me what we were shooting.”
“You’re welcome,” Downey says, unapologetic about revealing plans for the scene at a press conference the afternoon before.
Whedon was exaggerating, of course. Not every reporter had asked that question … yet.
“So what were you shooting today?” your friendly neighborhood EW reporter inquires.
Whedon squints his eyes, like Mr. Peabody when he’s fed up with Sherman.
Downey opens his arms. “Carnival barker!” he declares. “Last night, I just wanted to make sure the excitement was there.”
Whedon breaks into an impression of what he’s been dealing with all day: “’So I hear you’re shooting a scene?’” he says in the voice of a curious reporter. Leaning back and twiddling his thumbs, the filmmaker offers his fake-smiley response: “‘I’m sure I don’t know what you mean!’”
Then Whedon decides to tell them how it turned out. “We actually went through it as you guys left. It’s awesome. We found three bits, beginning, middle, and end, and the end one was just supreme.”
“So it’s [going to be] the last 30 seconds?” Ruffalo asks.
“They. Are. Tired,” Whedon tells him. “And then at the last second, he is just like [CHOMP],” the filmmaker says, gesturing toward Hemsworth and miming a big bite from a stuffed pita.
“I thought I might be sick, by the way,” Hemsworth says. “I ate one [pita] each take, you know! And by the end, I was like, Whooooaaa …”
“Hello, sir!” Evans says cheerfully as he enters the conference room — unaware that his prosthetic-covered lower face, and the difficulty he had speaking, are the hot topic.
“Not without my beard,” Downey says, mumbling like his jaw is wired shut.
Suddenly Renner, who has been low-key this entire time, breaks into a Chris-Evans-with-prosthetic-make-up Buffalo Bill impression from The Silence of the Lambs: “‘I’d f–k me!’”
Downey, as you can imagine, just loses it.
Evans laughs along like a good sport, but it was probably easier on him when the other Avengers had their faces stuffed with shawarma.