Interview: Cobie Smulders on playing Agent Maria Hill in ‘The Avengers’

Cobie Smulders at the Canadian premiere of 'The Avengers'. Photo by Arash Moallemi. 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Vancouver-born actress Cobie Smulders has been on the rise to stardom ever since landing the role of Robin Scherbatsky in the hit CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Joss Whedon took notice of the talented beauty and cast her alongside the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johannson in his blockbuster superhero film, The Avengers.

In the film Smulders plays S.H.I.E.L.D Agent Maria Hill and although her part is small, she holds her own and stands out amongst the enormous cast. Criticize This! was lucky enough to chat with the star about the role and how she prepared for it. Read our Q&A below.

Were you a fan of The Avengers before you took the role?

Cobie Smulders: I knew who the characters were and I had seen Iron Man and Iron Man 2. I hadn’t seen Thor or Captain America before I got the job. As soon as I got the call that I was going to screen test with Sam Jackson, I was immediately on the computer. I didn’t know much about S.H.I.E.L.D or Maria Hill, so it was cool to do a ton of research and read the blogs and find out what fans had to say about her. It was also interesting that, because she’s a new character, I was able to take what’s been established in the comic books and with the help of Joss Whedon, add to that as well.

Did you have fun wielding a gun and wearing a skintight suit?

CS: A little bit too much [laughs]. The most important thing to me going into this film was training. And I wasn’t given any. I started doing boxing and Taekwondo and Jiu Jitsu. I hired this great guy out of Los Angeles who trains SWAT teams to help me become more familiar with police protocol and tactics. How you would enter the room with a gun if someone is coming at you and all these things I really wanted to get in my body. I didn’t know what I was getting into and thought I’d be in front of a blue screen and have to come up with a lot of this stuff in my imagination so I wanted to go in feeling like the gun was an extension of my body.

Had you shot a gun prior to taking the role?

CS: I’d shot a prop guns on set. The thing that I learned after spending an hour at the shooting range, which I think I’m never going to do again, was that I had such a great respect for the weapon after. I thought I would go to the shooting range and get all this adrenaline, want a gun, and become a gun enthusiast. And I left going, ‘Nope. It’s not for me.’ I know how they work and I know what they can do and I respect them. In How I Met Your Mother the character I play is a gun enthusiast and they always have me doing goofy things like shooting to the sky or whatever, so I’ve really only seen them as a prop until now.

What was your training routine like?

CS: I had a daily 30-minute routine and I boxed three times a week for about an hour. Then I had the trainer come to my house once or twice a week. It was a lot. And I was still working on How I Met Your Mother. It shifted with my schedule, but that was what I tried to maintain.

How did you find working with Joss and did you have much time with him to work out your character given how large the cast is?

CS: Joss is an amazing man and is very giving. He gives you time even if he doesn’t have it. Especially with me, being one of the smaller roles in a huge character driven project, he was there every step of the way. He wrote the audition scenes, which weren’t in the movie, because he wanted an audition scene with some meaty dialogue so they could see the person doing it was capable. He was there at the screen test, for the wardrobe fittings, during conversations about my bang length. For him to be like that with me you can imagine how that translated to all the other characters in the film. When I went in to audition I hadn’t read the script yet and I signed on really because he was in charge.

You’re playing this character for the first time in a movie where others have had time to refine their characters. Was there a sense of something to prove?

CS: Absolutely. Not only in a new character sense, but as an actor playing alongside really huge actors. I feel like all my answers come back to Joss, but he was really so good at giving me confidence. First and foremost for me was making the fans happy. So when I was doing all this research I took what they said to heart and I really wanted this woman to look like she was in charge. That she was comfortable stepping up to Nick Fury and disagreeing with him. It was also important that she looked like she could take someone down. Sometimes you see these women in movies and they don’t really look like they could do anything to you. It was really important to me to feel and look like she could.

Why did you feel you had to do your own stunts?

CS: I wanted to. There’s something that feels more organic watching a stunt done by you. There’s a feeling of accomplishment doing it yourself. I was a pain in the ass on set sometimes because I’d be doing a scene with Sam and Joss would tell him to shoot twice and me once and I’d question why. Eventually Sam would let me take one of his. I got to do a lot. That whole opening scene is all me. I’m sure there were some stunt drivers, but the only stunt I couldn’t do was when we were on the bridge and the bridge explodes. My stunt double had this wire that was attached to a belt so it could go around her body. And when she got pulled she turned in circles like a sausage roll and then hit the wall and fell on the ground without a mat. She was black and blue and bloody and I was like, ‘Well, I can’t do that’.

Doing TV and film, do you get something different out each medium and do you prefer one over the other?

CS: It’s hard to say. I’ve been on How I Met Your Mother for so long now that that is what I perceive as television. I’m not on an hour-long drama shooting 18 hours a day. I have a very flexible and easy schedule on the show that affords me a wonderful lifestyle in Los Angeles. I’m able to be a very present mother and I’m able to pursue other projects. I also feel that the quality of television is becoming so good that, from an actor’s standpoint, the parts are evening out a little bit. You get to be on a series and do these amazing scenes with these amazing directors and actors and it look amazing because of the cinematography. So it’s hard to say. When How I Met Your Mother is done I’ll probably focus more on doing films to switch it up a little bit, but if the right part came along I wouldn’t turn it down.

The Avengers is currently the #1 film in North America. Read our 5-star review of it here.

Top image: Cobie Smulders at the Canadian premiere of The Avengers in Toronto. Photo credit: Arash Moallemi.

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Brian McKechnie

About Brian McKechnie

Brian McKechnie is the founder and editor of Criticize This! Email him at brian@criticizethis.ca.