Avengers: Age of Ultron: Quicksilver mattered by losing control
An on-set Q&A with Aaron Taylor-Johnson about fast and frenetic style
Sometimes it’s better when things don’t go smoothly. Sometimes, what you need is to be frantic and out-of-control.
That was what Aaron Taylor-Johnson needed to make the ultra-fast superbeing Quicksilver fit into the Marvel universe in Avengers: Age of Ultron. As half of the Maximoff twins, seeking revenge on Tony Stark for his decades of arms manufacturing, Quicksilver has devoted his life to protecting his sister, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.
Both owe their aberrant abilities (don’t call them “mutants,” unless you want to invite a super-powered lawsuit) to HYDRA experiments that gave her metaphysical forcefulness and allowed him to become faster than the blink of an eye. But in a movie packed with heroes and villains, Taylor-Johnson says he had his doubts about how Quicksilver would matter — and about how to make “running fast” seem like a cool power.
Adding to the angst, this interview from the set of Age of Ultron took place just as X-Men: Days of Future past opened last spring, giving moviegoers a first-impression of Quicksilver (portrayed by Evan Peters.)
Taylor-Johnson was candid about trying to make the character fresh and relevant, and he said the most important thing he discovered was that making Quicksilver’s speed efficient and purposeful was the fastest way to make him boring.
Losing control was much more interesting …
Entertainment Weekly: Were you already aware of Quicksilver, or did you need to be schooled?
Aaron Taylor-Johnson: I’m not a huge comic book fanboy. I mean, I read these things generally because a lot of [pop culture] is coming from graphic novels and stuff like this. When I sat down with Joss, he was just like ‘There are these two characters I wanna introduce, and one of them I was thinking is Quicksilver.’ ‘Okay. You have to excuse my ignorance. Explain a bit about him. What does he look like? What does he do? What’s his thing?’ Joss says, ‘He’s got white hair and he’s Eastern European. He’s an orphan.’
EW: It’s tricky because Marvel Studios has to share the character with Fox, who just put him in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Taylor-Johnson: [Nods.] Obviously, there’s that whole question of how do you connect the two when there’s the Marvel universe and then you’ve got Fox’s version.
EW: Is there a rivalry there?
Taylor-Johnson: There’s no rivalry at all. It’s just about doing…I haven’t seen X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’ll see it, but not see it from the standpoint of going ‘I’ve gotta do it better than that.’ Or do it differently in any way.
EW: Beause you’re already doing your version.
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, I have no real…For me, it’s not ‘Oh s—, we’ve got this situation.’ I think what we’re doing is from another standpoint. We’re trying to gauge the look and feel from what the comic books are. For the fanboys, they should be pleased in that sense.
EW: Was there anything that made you nervous about playing this guy?
Taylor-Johnson: I remember saying to Joss: ‘The idea that you’re going to bring another superhero into Avengers, from my standpoint, it has to have some relevance or have some sort of real dramatic kind of arc and something that can stand out.’ It can’t just be an add-on.
EW: So what does Quicksilver bring to the story besides superspeed?
Taylor-Johnson: He’s quick tempered. He gets agitated. He’s impatient. But he’s super protective. He had to become a father figure to his twin sister. And they’re very yin-yang in that twin sense. In his power, he’s physical and she’s psychological. You see this beautiful tenderness between them.
EW: They’re their own team, in a way.
Taylor-Johnson: In the comic books, you see she’s always sort of mothering him. He’s like the father figure and she’s like the mother figure. Emotionally, she can stabilize him, and he protects her physically. It’s kind of them against the world. In the Marvel world, they’re in and out of different teams and groups throughout their whole comic book lives. Whether they’ve been in with mutants or whatever…Which I don’t think we’re allowed to say mutants, right? [Laughs.]
EW: Mutants are part of the Fox X-Men license. So no, this movie can’t call them mutants.
Taylor-Johnson: If you look in the comic books, you can see they become part of the Avengers, they leave the Avengers. They don’t like the Avengers, they’re fighting the Avengers. They very much don’t fit in …
EW: They’re on the edge of good and evil…
Taylor-Johnson: They’ve sort of had to be protective and grow up and look after one another. It’s that thing of not trusting anyone.
EW: I like what you said that he’s also quick to anger. I love that everything about him is fast.
Taylor-Johnson: He’s impatient. I always think that just like he’s constantly moving and…I love the tenderness and the closeness that him and his sister have. When you look in the comic books, they’re always touching hands, holding each other. I want to embrace that in that kind of protective ‘I don’t wanna let you out of my sight because I couldn’t bear to live life without one another.’
EW: What’s it like physically playing Quicksilver? Obviously, there’s an effects component to the super speed.
Taylor-Johnson: We did all these tests where they were rigged on a car, and I just f—ing sprint a hundred meters and they film it really quick. And then they can slow it down. And if I hit people, they just kind of go in slow motion. I thought, if I was a sprinter, I should learn how to sprint accurately.
EW: Cutting down on wind resistance and things like that?
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, we were getting the look with the knees high and the hands up in the way [Olympic gold medalist] Usain Bolt would run. Ultimately, he’s one of the fastest men in the f—ing world and he’s a sprinter. So that was the aim, a body shape, a look like that. It had to be streamlined as well. So I trained a lot physically. [Laughs.] It’s tough because you turn up on set and you’re like ‘What am I doing today…?’ Oh yeah, I’m running! I’m running there and I’m running out here! That’s basically my day.
EW: And they’ll add visual effects to that style of movement?
Taylor-Johnson: No! When we played it back, it looked really dull! And then we did one test where Joss said, ‘Just f—ing go mad!’ Flail my arms and that kind of movement, the better it is for their special effects because then you see this body, but it kind of flows. You’ll see a swoop of arm and a leg or a foot or something come up. It looks aggressive.
EW: Does that unlock for you a real-world sense of Quicksilver’s power?
Taylor-Johnson: I mean it’s quite a funny thing because … some of the guys have got powers that are, like, awesome and you think, ‘So… what’s the running-fast power going to be?’
EW: When there’s danger … he’s nowhere to be found!
Taylor-Johnson: [Laughs.] Well, my thing with the speed is just the impact of a nudge makes people fly everywhere. It’s kind of cool. It’s exciting.
It’s Age of Ultron week at EW.com. Check back for more exclusive Q&As from the set of the new Avengers movie.