Titus Welliver may not be a name you’re instantly familiar with, but he has appeared in numerous FTN favourites over the years, from Deadwood to Lost, and even on the big screen in such movies as Gone Baby Gone and The Town. He is an actor whose career spans over two decades, and now he’s managed to add another impressive role to his countless others – Agent Blake in The Marvel One-Shot: Item 47.
FTN: Titus, how did you manage to get a role in, and become part of, a project which relates so closely to such an epic series of comic book movies?
TW: I didn’t audition – I was initially offered the role,” he admits, “because there’s a tremendous amount of secrecy – people are always trying to spoil these things for fans all the time – so it was after a conversation with my manager when I finally said I wanted to do it. They gave me a brief explanation of what it was and I was extremely thrilled that it was a SHIELD agent, because Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD was a title that I read religiously as a kid. I think I was Nick Fury 3 or 4 times for Halloween – with the eye patch and my mother would put this white stuff on me to make my temples grey, I had a little cigar clenched in my teeth – the whole nine yards! (Fury was a grey-haired white guy before The Ultimates comic series by Mark Millar changed him, basing his new look on, ironically, Samuel L Jackson). I’m an old Marvel fan, ever since the 60s. I had a brother who was six years older than I was so I was really introduced to comic books at around the age of three.
FTN: This latest Marvel One Shot is the longest of the three so far, clocking in at twelve minutes, and features an entirely original story which relates to the events of The Avengers. Surely, making Item 47 must have felt like making a TV show or an Indie movie over making a cinematic blockbuster?
TW: It was like making a film, there was a lot of coverage when it came to shooting, usually with TV you have a master and then an over the shoulder and several other shots and then you’re done, but with this there were a lot of creative camera moves so it was really like shooting a feature.
I didn’t get to run around and shoot alien weapons but Lou D’Esposito (director of Item 47) really crafted it and just knew how he wanted it to look so we moved really quickly.
The thing about Agent Blake, the backstory given to me, was that he is a guy who has been in SHIELD for a very long time, he’s a senior data analyst. After the battle of New York he’s given the task of assigning the case of recovering the alien weapon. But what he really wants is to be in the field, in the action. There’s a part of him which has a lot of resentment as he’s sitting in a chair in front of a computer screen. But he’s a very funny character, it’s a short – but there’s enough time to establish his sense of humour. And then to have these two new agents thrust upon him and having the responsibility of training these two people – he’d rather be doing anything than that! It was a tremendous amount of fun, but I think there’s a lot of room should they want to develop that character. Would I like that to happen? Yes, but there’s nothing concrete about Agent Blake’s future at the moment.
SHIELD agents have always been a part of the Marvel Universe – Nick Fury showed up and not only did he have his own title but was in and out of the Avengers and had a very close relationship with Captain America. The agents are just human beings; they don’t have superpowers – but they are supersoldiers! But not like Steve Rogers obviously.
I keep explaining to my kids just how many Avengers there have been from the originals all the way up to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch so it seems like everybody has been an Avenger at one point or another! That’s great and I attribute that to the genius of Stan Lee and his team of writers, they’ve created this universe which is so broad that the characters can cross back and forth into other titles.
FTN: So now that he’s brought Agent Blake to life, what is next for the 51-year-old actor?
TW: I’m getting ready to go and do the sequel to Red (Red 2 will see Titus working alongside A-list stars such as Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren, which gives a sense of how much talent and respect the actor has gained throughout the course of his career). It’s a really fun character and for those people who follow my work it’s not something they’d expect to see me play! It will be a lot of fun and I’m definitely looking forward to it!
FTN: And so are we…
You’ll have to agree that Maximilliano Hernandez is a very unique name. Look it up in the phone book. Google it. You won’t find many people with that particular title. Instead, your search will yield information about the actor behind Agent Sitwell, star of Marvel’s The Avengers (that’s Avengers Assemble to all of you in theUK) and the new Marvel One-Shot: Item 47, which will be appearing on the new Blu-Ray and DVD release of one of the biggest comic book movies of all time. So it’s safe to say that this is a name with real star power behind it.
FTN: But not everyone appreciates the uniqueness of Maximilliano Hernandez – just ask the man who answers to it
MH: It’s cool when you’re an adult, but when you’re a kid you want your name to be Joe,” he laughs, “It’s not even that, you want your name to be shorter. My whole life my friends called me Max! ( But at school, where he initially took up acting in order to cheekily avoid detention, he was frequently forced to write out his full God-given name.)
FTN: However, for a star who has appeared in such shows as Law & Order, Numb3rs and 24, exactly how difficult is it to act in front of a green screen in such an epic CGI blockbuster as The Avengers?
MH: You know, you’d be surprised at how much is actually built. When we did the heli-carrier stuff – everything you saw, every computer bank, it was really there! There were working computers, there was no additional CGI, the only green screen used was for what you saw beyond the windows at the front. So they physically built, in like 16 weeks, a real full scale heli-carrier.
Chris Evans walked in and his mouth was just open. He couldn’t believe it. It was the same for everyone; Robert Downey Jr walked in and was like ‘Oh my God!’ It was the craziest thing. This is really entering another part of the Marvel world, the Heli-Carrier for SHIELD is so iconic at this point – it’s a carrier in the sky! They pulled it off without it seeming cheesy or corny at all and it was really bad ass. Working on something like that, they make it as real as possible, so it immediately puts you in there with the computers and seats and people, nothings fake about that kind of stuff. I think that stuff with Robert flying around, that would be the tougher part, but I don’t get to do any of that stuff!
FTN: Fortunately, Agent Sitwell survives the events of The Avengers in order to return in Item 47. But with smaller roles in other Marvel One-Shots (his biggest appearance was in The Consultant opposite Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson), did Hernandez have any idea that there were any plans for his background character to become more involved in the Marvel Universe?
MH: No, I had done a short for the Thor Blu-Ray and I knew that Marvel wanted to do more of them, and once they did those first two (The Consultant & A funny thing happened on the way to Thor’s Hammer) they knew they were really good. What they had initially done them for was to tie all of the movies together logically because they’re kind of out of order. So that was the original notion and I think on the strength of those first two shorts they realised they had to go a step further. So they kind of let me know and said ‘we’re gonna call you back, we’re gonna do another one.’ So I knew that was going to happen, but I didn’t know to what degree that would be. But then I got a phone call from Louis D’Esposito (The co-president of the company) and he sort of laid out the whole thing like a giddy school kid! And at the end of it he says ‘Do you wanna do it?’. When the co-president of Marvel Studios calls you and he’s as giddy as you are how can I say no? He was so excited! I had no idea who was going to direct it, so I asked and he said ‘I am!’ and I was just like ‘Oh my God, let’s get this thing done!’
Item 47 may be the latest in Marvels One-Shot series, but it certainly won’t be the last – “I think they’re making that part of what they do,” says Hernandez, “There are going to be these little stories which take place between this movie and that movie. It’s very successful for them.”
FTN SPOILER: With Clark Gregg stepping down from his role as Agent Coulson, he has left some pretty big shoes to fill. Could we see Agent Sitwell stepping into a similar role as Agent Coulson in future Marvel movies?
MH: I think my foot is actually bigger thanClark’s! But yeah those are some pretty big shoes to fill. He became an unexpected hero in this entire Phase One series of the movies and what’s funny is that he originally had nine lines in the first Iron Man movie and from there he told me, when I first met him, that if this works out I could be the next Coulson! It was a wild ride for him and he is very generous as an actor and he told me he wanted the same for me.
FTN: But has Hernandez been given that option to step into a Coulson-style role?
MH: I think it all starts in Item 47, this short is not just about continuing the story, it’s about stepping up. It’s about my character stepping up and it introduces me and I come out of the shadows, and I try to do the job as well as he would have. I would love to take on that mantle. Characters from SHIELD immediately ground the character in reality; they add that human element which tells the viewer that this is still happening on Earth, in our world, it’s still connected. And there are people on Earth who support the superheroes. We’re the foot soldiers.
FTN: So with a bright future ahead of him, it seems as though Maximilliano Hernandez could well be a name that we see printed on a movie poster one day soon. But is he up to the task of becoming the next Agent Coulson? The boffins at FTN have cleverly conducted a scientific question to test his mettle.
MH: Which Avenger would I like to be marooned on a desert island with? It’s gotta be Black Widow. It’s a desert island, I mean come on! If it wasn’t limited to the Avengers Id say Mrs Marvel!
Watching a movie like The Avengers certainly raises a lot of questions when it comes to things like believability in film.
Ofcourse, when a motion picture is based on a comic book, certain things are taken for granted ie Iron Man can fly and Captain America can be frozen for 60 years and then be reawakened.
Well, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how many of these fantastical things could actually be possible?
We chatted to Professor Henry Lau, editor of physics.org which is the online guide to physics, who was approached by Disney to come up with ways in which the unreal could actually be possible.
Take for example the Hulk. According to Professor Lau, to achieve the amount of energy it would take to enable our favourite angry friend to leap in the way that he does would take the equivalent power used to enable five Saturn V rockets to launch…. yes, the same ones used to send man to the moon!
Or how about Captain America’s all powerful shield? Cap harnesses the power of vibranium, a metal extracted from a meteorite that crashed in Africa.
In the real world battlefield materials are now getting to the point that they’re becoming increasingly better at dissipating impact energy just like Cap’s shield.
As for Thor and his ability to channel a storm’s energy, companies are already tinkering with artificial lightning, while one particular firm is developing a lightning gun that can stall cars or defuse roadside bombs.
And finally, Iron Man’s suit. This bespoke high-tech exoskeleton not only protects billionaire Tony Stark from harm, it also lets him fly faster than the speed of sound and lift up to 100 tons.
In the real world however things aren’t that far away. US soldiers may soon have robotic exoskeletons of their own which will see them run at speeds of up to 10 miles per hour while carrying 200 extra pounds.
So there you have it. The next time you sit down to watch a fantastical comic book movie don’t be thinking that some of the more wonderful elements are pure science-fiction because they could soon become science fact!
Thank you to Professor Henry Lau for his time. For more on his work please visit http://www.physics.org/.
This interview by Michael Bashford, preview two interviews by Stephen McCulla
Avengers Assemble is available this Monday – Sept 17 – on Blu-ray and DVD.