With her piercing blue eyes, flowing dark hair and engaging self-confidence, actress Cobie Smulders might seem like the perfect choice for an upgrade of the Wonder Woman franchise — that is, if she weren't already working to save the world in Marvel's new superhero ensemble film, The Avengers.
"I'm just really thrilled and grateful to be a part of this," Smulders said. "[The Avengers] has so much history behind it, and there's so much excitement from the fans, so I just really wanted to give it everything I could."
For Smulders, who plays S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, that commitment meant performing her own stunts and learning how to run, gun and fight like a pro. The sheer physicality of her role, Smulders said, was simultaneously one of its biggest challenges and one of its greatest thrills. To make sure she never missed a step, the actress even enlisted the guidance of a Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) professional to help her learn the ropes.
"He came to my house with a bag of weapons," Smulders said, with a smile. "That's great, right? I think, almost more than anything, my goal was to convey that I really knew how to handle myself as an agent who has seen a lot of action. 'Is this how I would solve this problem?' 'Is this how I would hold this gun?' I definitely didn't want to look like I didn't belong."
As Agent Hill, Smulders frequently squares off not only against supervillain Loki (Tom Hiddleston, reprising his role in 2011's Thor) but also against her mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. superior, Agent Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Even as early as the audition stage, Smulders recognized that acting opposite Jackson (an Academy Award nominee for 1994's Pulp Fiction) would be an invigorating experience.
"He exudes cool," Smulders said of her co-star, "You’re trying to step up to Samuel L. Jackson. You’re trying to be at the same level with him, and it is intimidating. But I guess I did a pretty good job! He was just a really great guy all the way through [the audition]."
Smulders also found comfort in the knowledge that the film would be written, directed and wrangled by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Cabin in the Woods), a man known for shaping great stories from seemingly unwieldy ensembles.
"This is pretty much the biggest [film] job that anyone could possibly take on," Smulders said, "and Joss comes across as very mellow and very chill, but he is an extremely passionate man. He’s extremely intelligent, and I feel like he’s the only [person] who could have made this work... He's so knowledgeable about what fans like and about what fans respond to and that’s really the most important thing when making a movie like this."
So far, comic book fans and professional critics alike seem to be responding with overwhelming positivity. The Avengers, which currently boasts a 93% rating on the review aggregating site Rotten Tomatoes and has already raked in more than $218 million overseas, looks poised to be one of the biggest successes of 2012.
"I think there's so much here for audiences to get into," Smulders said. "[The Avengers] isn’t only really funny, it also gives all of these big characters their moments. I felt like I got to know each of them more than I’d gotten to know them in any other [superhero] film that has come out. The guys aren’t bad to look at, either. That will draw the girls in, right there. But I hope they can look at Maria Hill and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and see these strong female characters getting their hands dirty with the guys."
Smulders, who says she has already signed on for inclusion in future Marvel projects, is best known for her role in the hit CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother. It's a series that, Smulders suggests, could reach its end in about a year.
"I don't like to talk about the end of it, because I really do get a little bit teary thinking about it," Smulders said. "It's like a family, you know? I'm not ready to let go of that just yet."
For now, Smulders is more than happy to celebrate her Avengers family, a powerhouse cast that also includes Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Clark Gregg (The New Adventures of Old Christine).
"To be able to be a part of this Marvel universe and play such a great character was something that still has not settled in," Smulders said. "I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity."
The Avengers saves the world on May 4.
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