James Spader

Submitted by on Oct 20, 2015

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’: James Spader builds an idiosyncratic villain

Ultron, played through performance capture by James Spader, is the villain in Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” (Marvel)

Ultron, played through performance capture by James Spader, is the villain in Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” (Marvel)

It takes a special sort of actor to embody a towering robotic villain with the ability to make Tony Stark lose his cool, but if anyone can fit that bill, it’s James Spader. The respected Emmy-winning actor (“The Blacklist,” “Boston Legal”) whose extensive filmography includes projects directed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, David Cronenberg and Steven Soderbergh, among others, joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the iconic comic book antagonist Ultron — a character that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige suggested might have a larger role to play beyond just the new sequel.

Hero Complex caught up with Spader on his last day of filming “Age of Ultron” to learn what it’s like to inhabit such an unusual character and what drew him to the role.

What interested you in playing Ultron? He’s certainly not your conventional villain.

Ultron, played through performance capture by James Spader, is the villain in Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” (Marvel)

When Joss first called me and gave me an idea of what I could bring to the character, what he was looking for with the character, I just got so intrigued. He wrote a couple of one-off scenes to give me a sense of this character’s voice. I liked the idea that he had this very strange, conflicted, dangerous and volatile character wreaking havoc in the world of the Avengers who has a very eloquent argument for his misbehavior. That’s the thing that’s probably most intriguing, that dichotomy. The fact that he is behaving very, very badly, yet he’s got a very eloquent explanation for it all, or rationale, some of which even if it’s articulated well is quite psychopathic or delusional.

Did you do any comics research?

Joss … made it very clear that this story was using the character within the comics simply as a launchpad and that this version is a broad extrapolation, so no, I didn’t. I worked entirely from script … It’s all script and conversations with Joss and imagination. Unless I’m playing a character that has a historical precedent, I work from script.

The motion capture suit makes for an unusual costume. Is it distracting to wear a Lycra suit with a head rig while you’re trying to deliver a performance?

You have to get used to it in the same way that early in your career you have to get used to cameras and lights and cables… . I’ve loved it, it’s been so entirely new for me. I have tried to find that throughout my career, things that feel brand new, even if it’s sometimes the world that you’re inhabiting that just feels so foreign. I like things that allow me to explore a corner of my imagination. And this is one of them. And also the process is so completely new to me that has been exciting to see… . Ultimately you’re handing a performance over to others to then extrapolate on.

James Spader attends the Hollywood premiere of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” on April 13. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

Seeing the character rendered, did that help anything click into place for you?

Yes, posture, physicality, what separated him from other robots, how human he is, where the lines are blurred between his human elements and his technological or created elements.

Would you say the physicality is the greatest challenge with this role?

No. That’s certainly part of it, but very often that’s more about trying to incorporate, or trying to inject myself, into something I can’t replicate… . The most challenging and the most interesting part of it has been what it always is with any character you play, that’s to figure him out. He’s got very interesting rhythms in terms of how his mind works. He’s very volatile and his mind often arrests itself and redirects very, very swiftly. He’s a very strange and idiosyncratic and complex guy. Trying to discover those things has been a fun challenge. I really have loved doing that.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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