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May 27 2012

How Cobie Smulders was cast as Maria Hill in "The Avengers." From L.A. Times Hero Complex (also run in print edition on May 25).

"And when Cobie pulled her gun and pointed it at Sam's chest, I went, 'Oh God, she's gonna shoot him!' Even though I had seen the same scene four times already, and had written it and directed it. She has enormous authority. She can hold her own against anybody."

Whedon recalls producer Kevin Feige running through his notes on the merits of each of the auditions.

"They were all wonderful," Whedon said. "And he's like, 'And the fifth girl is Maria Hill.'"

I loved the photo side by side with the cartoon of Maria Hill, she really is a very good match. But I wish they had given her more to do in the movie!
Nice quotes. I enjoyed the back story about her casting.
"the movie definitely needed another strong female presence just to balance it out"

Two strong females is all that are necessary to balance out eight strong male characters, and neither woman has super powers?

That's power!
Yeah, it is a bit of a bummer but I bet they were bogged down by some logistical problems, like not being able to introduce characters with too complex of an origin story without previously being featured in the film.

Apparently Whedon needed to argue to even have Black Widow as a female hero presence, though I'm not sure how many drafts existed between him removing Wasp and them contemplating not having a woman at all.

As for Hill though, I wondered how many more scenes she had that might have been cut aside from her bookending intro/outros. I did not realize that the World Security Council subplot existed at all. I did get the impression she was slightly contentious about some of Fury's priorities but it seemed like she was still willing to follow orders after presenting the other side.

(Also it seems a little wonky if Phase 2 seemed to be Fury's priority in the evacuation as well as the WSC's desires later in the film yet she presented the counterview?)
I'm sure when this gets to DVD, we'll get to see a lot of the outtakes.

This is the process with most things that are done well, though - to plan for far more than actually gets presented in the end. It will keep us guessing and discussing for years. Maybe Joss will grace us with doing Avengers 2, and we'll see more of it - or maybe it will show up in the comics, and those of you who can afford them will get to see more of the back story.

The one thing that does make this someone else's movie and not Joss's (even though it was his script and directing) is that Joss would have included more female characters. If you look at the ratio of female to male main characters in his series, it's pretty even. Granted, "Firefly" had one more male character than female, but I bet, given time, Joss would have evened that out (plus the only character with superpowers was female).

(Then again, "The Cabin in the Woods" had only three females in prominent roles, plus one Big Damn cameo, but six males in prominent roles. That's the standard ratio in most media entertainment and imagery. 2 males to 1 female. Maybe Joss forgot. For now, I'll blame Drew, since he directed.)
Nebula1400, given how "Cabin in the Woods" comments specifically on why certain conventions are *exactly* the way they are, maybe the giant evil gods demanded the male-to-female ratio :)
Yeah, given that the premise of Cabin was that there really is just the one "The Girl Who Lives" pretty much any more girls would just be subject to grim deaths. And in Dr. Horrible there was just "the one girl" or with Dollhouse that series featured more women who too would mostly be there to experience various horrors.
Really cool story, wonder who was the fifth actress in contention (as was reported back in 2011, the names included Cobie, Morena, Jessica Lucas and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, wonder who's missing.

As I commented on one or a few of the review thread, I assume she'll probably be taking over some of the role that Coulson's role was in the solo movies.
I don't think we've seen the last of Agent Coulson...
Aww, now I wish there had been another character they could have cast Mary Elizabeth Winstead as.

Surprised the article didn't make any mention of the other Joss/Cobie connection, that she was his intended for "Wonder Woman". Really, that should get rubbed in Warner Bros/DC's face pretty steadily.
I'm pretty sure the next thing we'll be seeing her in is Cap 2. That should be an interesting film.
Yeah, the Aly-promptedness of the reading doesn't really seem to jibe with Joss' earlier comment about her being his first choice for Wonder Woman. Either he was kidding about the WW casting, or he's telling a fib about Avengers casting so as to NOT rub it into WB/DC's face. Saying "Well, I had her picked out for years as someone who had the potential to rock everyone's world, but the WW thing just didn't work out..." exposes untold thousands more new folks to that sad chapter. I think Joss is a bit more classy than he necessarily is brutally honest when it comes to working diplomatically with big studios, so he minimized the big neon sign (entirely visible to all denizens here) pointing to the lost potential in the WW movie that was never to be.
Well, I will agree that Joss is, himself, too gracious to rub their faces in it for probably the same reason that he didn't speak ill of the proposed "Buffy" reboot. But, y'know, this is theoretically a piece of journalism, right? I think the reporter is the one that blew it by not having either not having known about that part of the Cobie Smulders/Joss Whedon connection or having declined to ask either of them about it.
There's also a racial disparity in The Avengers; nearly everyone with a speaking part is white. Of course Joss had no choice about this for the characters who were carried over from previous movies.

The cartoon of Maria Hill shows a woman who does bear a remarkable resemblance to Cobie Smulders, save for eye and skin color. One or possibly two of the five actresses who read for the part are of African descent, not good odds for casting a black actress.

Joss's TV shows and movies to date do not come close to reflecting the racial and ethnic makeup of the United States or the world. In Buffy, the location of Sunnydale justified that. In Serenifly, it was downright strange given the premise.

Judging from results, I think Joss's number one casting criterion is talent. People who are referred by other people always have an edge in getting a call, as this article illustrates, so the existing racial makeup up of the pool tends to perpetuate itself. Nevertheless, it's possible to cast a TV series primarily from non-white actors without sacrificing quality; five seasons of The Wire prove that.

[ edited by janef on 2012-05-28 21:54 ]
Well, Kenneth Branagh cast Idris Elba as Heimdall on account of awesomeness, FWIW.

I don't see any controversy in not race-changing actual existing characters, though, for the pure sake of a more diverse ensemble. Joss can immediately turn around and point at Marvel on that score. Now, they maybe could have used more characters of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but that's a separate complaint (Falcon is actually star of one of my favorite comics, where he has to get rid of a huge bomb in New York, can't remember what title it was in though).

EDIT: BTW, Falcon's power even originates from the Tesseract. And he could have flown Hawkeye up to the roof instead of Tony? He's not the most impressive superhero, to be honest, as guys for whom flying is most/all of their thing typically aren't, but I liked him. His wiki makes an (ironic) point, he only ever first became an Avenger because of a quota and quit rather than be a token, only staying with them when they needed his abilities.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2012-05-28 22:06 ]
If we want to talk about race-changing, what color did Nick Fury start out, hmmm?
Fury was changed for the sake of Sam fanboyism on their part -- that paid off quite well, and which as a motivation goes, I would place above feeling they had a quota to fill. It is to Marvel's credit that, as I referenced, when they played with quota-chasing by having that as the basis for Falcon's Avengers invite, he quits almost immediately.

My point is simply if they were going to go demography shopping for "Avengers", their remedy is to bring in those actual characters, not to arbitrarily change an existing one. I consider it far better to think that sort of change is purely whimsical when it happens -- I would be disappoint if Heimdall was changed for any reason other than Idris Elba being such a powerful presence. Falcon is right there; Black Panther is right there.

Not for nothing, but surely anyone who might lament that Maria Hill wasn't cast as minority character is also tacitly saying they'd have been happier for Cobie Smulders to have not had the job. Just sayin'; that part could end a big deal for her career post HIMYM.
Not for nothing, but surely anyone who might lament that Maria Hill wasn't cast as minority character is also tacitly saying they'd have been happier for Cobie Smulders to have not had the job.

I mean... I guess? I'm not really shedding too many tears if a star of a major network sitcom loses out on a movie role to an equally talented minority actress who otherwise mightn't have gotten any chance at all.
Only one person can get the job; everyone else loses out. My post was not about whether Ms. Smulders deserved the role.

It happens that this particular casting decision illustrates a pattern that has been fairly consistent in Mr. Whedon's work in live media, both when he has a great deal of control over artistic decisions and when his control is limited. JW makes an extra effort to see that women are well represented. He makes somewhat less of an effort to see that people of color are well represented.

By all reports, he pushed for the inclusion of an additional female character in the movie. He could have had a twofer, since the character he added was black in the comics. That he allowed his casting person to send him a group of mostly white actresses to read for the role, and wound up casting a white actress, seems to indicate that the race of the character wasn't very important to him.

By the time of the next census, white people will be a minority in the state of California, as they are in the world. Maybe more of the movies coming out of Hollywood will reflect this.
That he allowed his casting person to send him a group of mostly white actresses to read for the role


He did?
It is also worth noting that, Maria Hill's race/ethnicity seems to be pretty amorphous. I can't find anything that commits one way or another on the subject, not even Marvel's wiki, so it seems very much in he eye of the beholder, and the pencils/inks/colors. But what is easy to find are side by sides of Maria Hill art and Cobie in costume, and the similarity is pretty decisive. "Race change" and particularly the cloying term "whitewash" assume as settled that which appears to actually be pretty ambiguous.

But my point really doesn't change -- looking around the set and judging a character's necessity (or an actor's appropriateness) by the color of their skin, and not the content of their... well, character, is a vaingloriously misdirected effort. Especially since there really is no limiting principle to it; why should Joss ever cast any white people in anything, for that matter? Did Gabrielle Union get to read for Buffy, did Meagan Good get to read for Echo? Because the same premise that says it is a shame Cobie Smulders got a part that could have gone to a minority actress applies indistinguishably to every character.
It's time for some Robin Sparkles levity.

Come on Iron Man
Come on Thor-y
Let's go save the world
From the Chitauri
Put on your bow and arrow
And your green rage monster suit
Here at S.H.I.E.L.D., kicking ass it what it's all aboot.

That's ok we're gonna beat up Loki anyway
We're gonna eat the shawarma 'cause we saved the day!
I think the problem is that in any particular case it's of course ridiculous to say that X minority actor should have been cast over Y non-minority actress. Including in the case of Smulders--if Joss really was blown away by her performance, then that should be the end of the discussion re: Maria Hill.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work on a macro scale. You keep making these decisions on a case by case basis, and then you zoom out and suddenly you've populated a world with almost entirely white people.

It comes down to the same principle, for me, that made Buffy. No, it's not a big deal if there's one horror movie where the women aren't particularly strong. If you asked that creator why, he'd probably say it amplifies the scariness of the bad guy, or something. And then we make another movie where the leads are all men, and there aren't any women whatsoever--"Well, that's the story I wanted to tell, and I'm not going to compromise my art just to keep things balanced gender-wise."

And then suddenly you have a whole lot of movies either lacking women, or lacking strong women, and we're right back where Joss started.

[ edited by Jobo on 2012-05-29 19:04 ]
Besides, Cobie IS a minority! She's Canadian! j/k - please don't hit me.
Jobo, you said what I was trying to say, but much better.

Simon, a previous poster said five actresses read for the part and named four of them. I looked up the photos of the ones I didn't know and concluded that three of the named four were white. That would make a majority of five.
KingofCretins, if Joss had cast anyone else as Echo, the show would not have been made. I only watched Dollhouse the once, but my recollection is that it was one of Joss's better shows in terms of casting nonwhite actors in major parts.
KingofCretins Gabrielle Union couldn't have read for Buffy, because the basic premise of Buffy was about rewriting "that blonde girl" that always gets killed in horror movies. Joss was taking a staple Hollywood archetype and turning it on its head. Sidebar, Gabrielle Union got to chill with Claire Kramer and Eliza Dushku in "Bring It On". Not relevant, but I think it's a fun fact.

P.S. Charles Gunn was the first black character in the core cast in a Whedon show. Honestly, after the way he was handled, you can't complain that Whedon's works are whitewashed.

Sorry for the alliteration.
Simon, a previous poster said five actresses read for the part and named four of them.


I missed that.

because the basic premise of Buffy was about rewriting "that blonde girl" that always gets killed in horror movies.


In a "what might have been", Charisma was late for the reading for Buffy which means we missed out on the possibility of having a Latina actress as the lead.
And not even a blonde one. See, there's no bottom to it. Echo, too, Eliza or no Eliza -- I mean, just because it was sort of broken as a vehicle for her, what excuse is that? It's still work that could have gone to a minority actress! She could have just coproduced it? See... no bottom.
I may be a huge fan of alternate history, but an non-Eliza lead playing Echo is about as likely as Emperor Nixon of the Third Roman empire.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work on a macro scale. You keep making these decisions on a case by case basis, and then you zoom out and suddenly you've populated a world with almost entirely white people.


This is true. It's one of those times where I'd like to see a study how shows of Buffy's era compares to shows today in terms of racial makeup. I suspect it's better but not by much.
"Simon, a previous poster said five actresses read for the part and named four of them."

That isn't the same as saying he "allowed his casting person to send him a group of mostly white actresses". The casting director deals with the smaller and background roles. The Director decides who to audition and who to cast for the starring roles. Joss didn't "allow" the casting person to pick the five people he had to chose from. The fact that he added Cobie in shows that.

Also, Joss could not have cast a minority actor as Echo. It was already Eliza's deal, she was already the star and Joss created the show for her. I suppose he could have taken his idea, that he came up with with Eliza, and gone to another network but that would have been a pretty bad thing to do.
zz9, thank you for the correction on the casting process. Practically everything I know about the movie and TV business I learned on fan blogs such as this one. You have taught me something I didn't know.
Also the article said that he had "narrowed the pool down to 3". And then added Cobie as a fourth (the article says fifth, either the three or the fifth is a typo, doesn't really matter which). The chances of him just having the 3 (maybe four) people before Cobie to choose from are slim. Probably started with a fairly large group and Narrowed it down.

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