Black Widow is in mama-bear mode. Mark Ruffalo has his fingers in his ears, trying desperately not to Hulk out as Scarlett Johansson fires a pistol at a robotic menace that is shooting up the bar where they’re hiding. Or, wait a second …
Is that her?
“We only serve real Scarlett here,” deadpans Avengers: Age of Ultron writer-director Joss Whedon. But that’s not exactly true.
The 29-year-old actress is several months along in her pregnancy, but her gunslinging heroine character is not—so in this scene (set in the penthouse of the former Stark Tower, now Avengers headquarters) her growing belly is safely hidden by a billowing, high-waisted cocktail dress.
“We’re not avoiding any of the danger because the stuntwomen do the danger—as has always been the case,” says Whedon. “She’s very central to the movie and when we heard [about the pregnancy] we scheduled things around that. She’s not going to spend the whole movie carrying groceries. We didn’t trim any scenes. We’re like: We’ll make it work.”
It’s not clear when the official movie still above was taken, or if it has been doctored, but if it were shot around the time of EW‘s set visit to Age of Ultron in late May, some visual effects work would be necessary to make it clear that Black Widow isn’t with child. (Those leather cat-suits don’t hide very much on their own.) Apart from digital wizardry, some old-fashioned techniques are also being used: “There’s a lot of close-ups,” Ruffalo says. “It’s not too hard at all.”
Also, at least three stunt-double dopplegangers (about triple the normal number) are on hand to step in whenever the action gets too intense. They look remarkably like her at first glance, but the doubles each have a telltale pattern of dots on their faces—guides for visual effects artists to graft the real Johansson’s face onto their bodies.
Johansson gave the okay to EW visiting the set and watching her scenes, but she declined to be interviewed. Throughout the morning of shooting, she seemed in good spirits — laughing and joking with the cast, often hanging out between scenes with her stunt doubles, kind of like the Alpha Scarlett.
“It’s always funny. You walk by, ‘Hey Scarlett, oh. Weird. You’re not Scarlett at all. Sorry.’ A lot of fake Scarletts around,” says Chris Evans, who worked with her closely on Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Johansson also gets to do at least a portion of the ass-kicking. “She’s just been great. It really hasn’t slowed us down at all,” Evans adds. “She’ll be running around, diving and jumping and doing these things and you’re like ‘She seems like she’s got this.”
If anything, Robert Downey Jr. says her condition has made the dysfunctional super-squad story feel a little more carefully planned and less grueling for everybody.
“There’s the element of just God’s grace with Scarlett getting knocked up because that just civilized the whole thing right away,” jokes the Iron Man actor. “This is not going to be a massive grind. It’s not possible. We have to accommodate the latest news from headquarters, which is: ‘Oh my God, Scarlett Johansson is going to have a baby!’”
In the scene mentioned above between Black Widow and Bruce Banner, it really is the actual Johansson—not a double. And ironically, as the pregnant actress blasts away at an off-camera menace, it’s her co-star, Ruffalo, who is on his back doing labor-like breathing exercises.
“He’s trying not to Hulk out,” Ruffalo says. “He knows all the science of his body—what does anger, what does excitement do, physiologically speaking. You can’t have deep breathing and anxiety at one time. So he’s worked on controlling this stuff, he knows what he has to do to do it while it’s going down. I’m just laying in there because I don’t know how else to be. It’s basically like she said: ‘Do not go green.’”
When she’s not on camera, the Black Widow actress is the one being carefully watched by her castmates and crew. “Yeah, they’re very protective of her, and they try not to put her in any difficult situation,” Ruffalo says. “She’s pregnant, and she’s showing, and everyone loves and cares for her, so …”
But when Whedon calls “action,” Black Widow goes on the defensive. “In their relationship, she protects him,” Ruffalo says. “She kind of becomes his bodyguard, in a weird way. And he goes with it. I mean, Bruce, he’s a pacifist, man.”
It may be good parenthood training: Always better to prevent a tantrum than to reason with a kid who’s Hulking out.
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