In case you didn’t already know, Joss Whedon and the folks at Marvel Studios didn’t make James Spader wear a robot costume on the set of the Avengers: Age of Ultron. Instead, his character, the titular robotic menace, will be brought to life with the magic of performance capture, which means that Spader spent most of his time filming in grey pajamas covered in little ping pong balls. But just because he didn’t actually look like an evil robot on set doesn’t mean that his appearance didn’t help him further get into character.
It was director Joss Whedon who dropped this bit of cool performance info on us while we were visiting the set of The Avengers: Age of Ultron this past summer with a small group of other film journalists. Discussing the inner workings of a character like Ultron and how he will be adapted from the comic book page to the big screen, the filmmaker noted that there is an importance distance that Ultron feels between himself and humanity, and that the performance capture process actually did something to enhance what James Spader was doing – but literally distancing the actor from humanity. He told a story of the Sex Lies and Videotape’s stars first day on set, which involved doing a scene with Scarlett Johansson while wearing a stupid amount of equipment:
" The day Spader got here we put on the mo-cap pajamas, a giant thing with red dots on it for his eye line, a giant pack, and a helmet with two cameras in his face with lights to record his performance. He then did a scene with Scarlett, but could not look him in the eye because she was looking up in his eye line. And nor could he see her, because he had two lights shining in his face, and he didn’t have his glasses on. Therefore he has a certain distance from humanity too."
Working under these high-tech conditions isn’t always the easiest transition for an actor – particularly a veteran one like James Spader. For example, Sir Ian McKellen was very vocal about how much he disliked all of the technology being used on The Hobbit when he first got to set. This wasn’t an issue on the set of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, however, as Joss Whedon remarked that Spader was game for everything the production threw at him and he handled it like a pro. Said Whedon,
"God bless him, he was wonderful and, and very game and has been the whole time. He’s very interested in the mechanics of the mechanics and finding the humanity. He and I share a genuine love of this version of Ultron, and he has an innate eccentricity in his delivery that is everything that I had hoped Ultron would be."
We’ll be able to see James Spader’s Ultron come to life – with a complete lack of strings – when The Avengers 2 hits theaters on May 1, 2015.