Vancouver-born actress Cobie Smulders is best known for playing Robin Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother, a popular sitcom that, all things considered, hasn’t inspired a lot of nerdish devotion.
Nevertheless Smulders has jumped on maybe the biggest nerd event of the year: Marvel’s superhero orgy The Avengers. Alongside a team of elite superheroes, Smulders plays the straight-arrow Agent Maria Hill, tasked with gathering the team and keeping them on task to save the world. Saving the world isn’t easy, but then again neither is acting alongside Robert Downey Jr. and trading witticisms with Samuel L. Jackson. We spoke with Smulders before the movie’s premiere about keeping calm in a storm of ego and special effects.
The Avengers "team" is joining up for the first time, but did you still feel like the "new girl"?
Yes, it was extremely intimidating. To join the team while still being a commanding presence was challenging. I just tried to not fall apart in front of Robert Downey Jr. and everyone else ... my character [S.H.I.E.L.D Agent Maria Hill] has to boss them around! I think she doesn't agree with everything that's going on, she's a bit of a naysayer in the group. Joss chose me, and that gave me confidence. He knows what he's doing, he's a fanboy. So I took a lot of solace in that.
Did they prep you on the character's history?
No, I was kind of left alone. Clark Gregg [Agent Phil Coulson] got sent this massive book detailing the history of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel. After hearing that I called the producers, like "Where's my book?" [laughs.] So I scoured the internet, talked with comic books vendors, tried to find as many books with Maria as possible. Did all the research myself.
Your character interacts a lot with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Tell us about working with him.
I thought he would be a bit closed-off but he was very nice. I realized he's been in like every film ever made, and is one of the highest-grossing actors of all time. We were on the huge helicarrier set with hundreds of extras and I asked him something like "Who would rescue us if we fell off?" And he said "I could bust out my lightsaber." I thought it was a weird non-sequitur until I remembered "You're a fucking JEDI!"
We get a lot of questions like "Who has the biggest ego?" "Who freaked out on set?" And I understand why people want to ask things like that, but everyone really stepped up. Every character got their moment, all the actors felt like their characters were served. I don't know how he did it, but he did.
You're known for your comedy roles. Has this more serious, action-oriented part inspired a change in your career path?
Whenever the cast gets a break from How I Met Your Mother there's like this rush ... what can I do to challenge myself? This was the best possible job for that. I enjoyed shaking off that sitcom feel and getting grounded in something else.
The film has some funny moments, but they don't really come from your character.
I didn't want to have those zippy one-liners. I was happy doing shoulder rolls, shooting and chasing people. That was such a cool change for me. The script was originally bookended with an interrogation of Maria, and Joss and I joked about how much emotion I would have put into that; "Oh my God, it was terrible! These bad guys just kept coming, and there was nothing we could do!"
Do you have any idea where Maria will be going in future Marvel films?
I don't think she'll ever [become] an Avenger, but if you read the comics ... she takes over S.H.I.E.L.D in one story line, she goes off with Tony Stark / Iron Man in another. A lot of different places to go. The studio knows the movie is going to be successful but not how successful, so it may be a very hard story to follow.