Chances are you’ve already seen Avengers: Endgame by now, if the fact the film is soon set to overtake Avatar as the highest-grossing film of all time is anything to go by.
Some would say it’s deserved: the film, Marvel Studios’ 22nd and the climax of three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a triumph of modern blockbuster moviemaking.
Arguably just as important, however, is the cast, a group of actors who somehow successfully make their various marks amid all Endgame’s sound and fury.
These actors, some of whom have already been with the Marvel franchise for more than a decade, have fascinating stories of their own of course. Here are 20 of them.
20. Robert Downey Jr was introduced to drugs by his father at the age of 6
Before he was the much-loved, clean-cut Hollywood icon Marvel fans know today, Robert Downey Jr experienced a very public battle with drug addiction.
Though Downey flirted with Tom Cruise-level stardom early in his career, this was scuppered by cocaine and heroin use, culminating in a series of arrests and, finally, a court-ordered rehab stint beginning in 2001.
Downey’s drug troubles had begun much earlier than his time in Hollywood, though: in 1999, Downey told a judge he had been an addict since the age of eight.
When Downey was growing up in the 60s and 70s, drugs were all around: it was the time of the counterculture and his father, Robert Downey Sr, was a drug addict and avant garde filmmaker.
In an interview conducted post-rehab, Robert revealed that Robert Sr had introduced him to drugs personally by giving him marijuana when he was just six-years-old.
19. He knows ballet
Robert Downey Jr’s singing and dancing skills haven’t exactly come in much use lately, but the Marvel star has them in spades all the same.
As a youngster, Downey was a real stage kid, attending stage schools including the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in upstate New York.
In these schools, Downey learned to sing and dance, even showing off his tap dancing while performing a number from Oklahama in a 2005 edition of Inside The Actor’s Studio.
This isn’t all Downey can do: at the age of 10, Downey learned ballet while at Perry House private school in Chelsea, London.
Downey insists he was never a great student of ballet, however: “I don’t want to say I did anything correctly at Perry House because the truth is that I spent my whole time there with my nose in the corner, being a moron.
“But yes, part of the studies there required that boys and girls did ballet.”
18. Downey will make around $200 million for his last two Marvel movies
Having been part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the very beginning, Downey has secured himself a hell of a deal with Marvel Studios where pay is concerned.
For each Marvel film he appears in, Downey makes a base rate of $10 million plus a 2.5% cut of the movie’s profits.
This means that Downey has been taking home increasingly large amounts ever since he signed up to play Tony Stark.
Having made an estimated $75 million for Infinity War, which grossed a little over $2 billion at the box office, Downey looks set to make considerably more for Endgame.
With Endgame on course to beat Avatar’s $2.8 billion box office record, Downey’s final MCU film could net him around $100 million, bringing his total for his last two Avengers films to somewhere approaching $200 million.
17. Chris Evans is a Buddhist
Coming from a Boston family of Irish and Italian descent, it’s perhaps no surprise that Chris Evans grew up in a Catholic household.
The Evanses were never devout observers of the faith, however; Evans has since said Catholicism “wasn’t forced upon me and we didn’t go to church every week.”
Nowadays, Evans subscribes to a different kind of belief system, telling the Hindustan Times in 2012 that he started taking an interest in Eastern philosophy as a teenager.
“There was a whole religion that felt the way I was feeling. That’s when I thought, ‘Wow, I think I’m a Buddhist'”.
Evans went on to explain that he “spent three weeks in Rishikesh in 2005 or 2006 at a Buddhist retreat” and that he now attends Buddhism classes in LA.
16. He’s also a serious tap dancer
Chris Evans has a secret: the man who has played the ultra-sincere, uber-masculine Steve Rogers since 2011 is also a huge fan of tap dancing.
If you don’t believe us, just check out this clip of a superbly drunk Evans’ secret being spilled at the Age of Ultron premiere:
Enjoy this video of drunk Chris Evans at the Age of Ultron premiere pic.twitter.com/opIPHvL16O
— PJ (@The_Pauly_V) May 17, 2019
Wade through the garbled English(?) and you can just make out Evans saying that he grew up tap dancing.
It’s true – Evans has been practising tap since he was a kid, with his mother a former dancer who installed a tap floor in the basement of the Evans household.
Since wrapping up his Marvel career, Evans has been taking tap lessons twice a week, something that he says helps to keep him stress-free: “It makes me feel like I’m a part of the music”.
Evans doesn’t just enjoy tap dancing – he believes in the art form wholeheartedly, telling the Boston Globe in 2018 that he thinks it’s due to make a comeback: “Tap is waiting to have its day”.
15. Evans knows all the words to the songs from The Little Mermaid
In a 2011 GQ profile, Evans’ mother admitted that Evans was, even now as a big Hollywood player, still “kind of a big dork”.
The reason? “At 30 he still knows all the words to songs from The Little Mermaid.”
She wasn’t exaggerating: Evans’ Disney obsession is so real, he can sing along to the Mouse House’s 1989 animated classic word for word.
When the subject later came up on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Evans admitted it wasn’t just The Little Mermaid, either.
Naming Aladdin as another Disney whose lyrics he’d memorised, Evans revealed: “To be fair, there’s like five movies you could have named”.
14. Brie Larson has been acting professionally since the age of 9
This year, at the age of 29, Brie Larson finally became a movie star after a lengthy 20-year journey.
Though Larson has only just comfortably become a household name thanks to her introduction to the Marvel-verse, the Captain Marvel star actually began acting professionally at the age of 9.
Having been admitted to San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater aged 6 – she was at the time the youngest person ever to attend – Larson got her first pro acting gig just three years later.
In 1998, Larson played a girl scout on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, while also landing two episodes on the TV drama To Have & to Hold.
As time went on, Larson’s roles became larger – Envy Adams in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Molly in 21 Jump Street – before Room, a Best Actress Oscar and, finally, Captain Marvel.
13. Larson’s first language was French
Born and raised in California, you might think Brie Larson is as American as they come – but not quite.
Born Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers, on her father’s side, Larson is actually half French Canadian.
Homeschooled as a child, Larson grew up in a household that spoke both English and French – though French was the language she learned first.
Larson told The Film Stage in 2013 that, these days, she doesn’t talk much French anymore, despite it still being “in there”.
Things changed for Larson after her parents divorced when she was 7, telling The Film Stage: “as I got older and I started learning more English, I started losing more and more of my French speaking”.
12. Larson trained for nine months to play Captain Marvel
Cast as the first Marvel woman to get her own standalone film, Larson not surprisingly took the role of Carol Danvers/Vers/Captain Marvel seriously.
In all, Larson would go on to spend four hours a day over a straight nine months training to play the character.
In the process, Larson learned judo, boxing and wrestling, and eventually developed the strength to deadlift around 200 pounds.
At one point during her nine-month training, Larson even posted to social media a video of herself pushing a 5,000-pound Jeep along a road.
“I was an introvert with asthma before this movie,” Larson told Entertainment Weekly last year. “And I didn’t know that I had a little Keanu Reeves in me! Who knew?”
11. Benedict Cumberbatch was once kidnapped at gunpoint
When you think of the life of a Hollywood star, you probably imagine it being super glamorous, or at the very least safe and sheltered.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been true 100% of the time for Benedict Cumberbatch, considering the actor was once kidnapped at gunpoint.
In 2005, Cumberbatch was shooting the BBC miniseries To the Ends of the Earth in South Africa’s Richards Bay.
One weekend, Cumberbatch and two friends were driving around Sodwana Bay when they were stopped by gunmen, tied up and bundled into the trunk of a car.
The three were driven for several miles before being dumped out on the side of the road in the South African countryside. To this day, none of them know why it happened.
10. He’s related to King Richard III
You don’t get a name like Benedict Cumberbatch without being just a little bit related to the kings and queens of England.
Cumberbatch is so posh, he’s actually related to King Richard III, who served as England’s monarch from 1483 to 1485.
Cumberbatch is a third cousin 16 times removed from the Crookback king, a fact that no doubt spurred the actor on when he signed up to the BBC’s The Hollow Crown in 2016.
In the second season of the show, Cumberbatch played his third cousin (16 times removed) as written by William Shakespeare.
Cumberbatch feels such a connection to King Richard, he even attended – and read a poem at – Richard’s 2015 reburial service, after the king’s bones were discovered underneath a car park in Leicester in 2012.
9. Cumberbatch’s ancestors were prominent slave owners
Cumberbatch, distantly related to a king and a grandfather submarine officer who was apparently the toast of London’s high society, comes from a background of privilege, to say the least.
To the actor’s horror, his privilege also happens to be at least partially built on Europe’s most shameful legacy.
In 1728, the sugar cane plantation known as the Cleland Plantation, in Barbados, was bought by Abraham Cumberbatch.
This man, Benedict’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, subsequently made his family’s wealth and name through the sugar cultivated by slaves at that plantation.
The Cumberbatch name is considered so toxic in some circles, the actor’s mother once recommended Benedict pick another stage name.
Cumberbatch reportedly considers his role in the film Amazing Grace, about abolitionist William Wilberforce, to be a ‘sort of apology’ for his ancestry.
8. Chris Hemsworth’s brother Liam once almost killed him with a knife
Hard as it may be to imagine the King of Asgard was ever in serious danger, Chris Hemsworth’s life was almost cut short by his own brother, Liam, after the pair got into a fight when they were kids.
Liam, himself a star of the Hunger Games franchise, recalls a youth that was dominated by fights between himself and Chris.
Apparently both Liam and Chris were extremely stubborn children growing up in the Australian outback.
Because he was the smaller brother, Liam remembers that he often had to use weapons to make it a fair fight, but one attempt nearly cost Chris his life.
On this one occasion, Liam threw a knife at Chris. Fortunately for both of them, it landed handle first.
7. Chris had to beat Liam to win the role of Thor
Perhaps Liam wishes that knife had caused a little more damage, because we’re pretty sure he resents his big brother about this.
Far from the always-obvious choice to play Thor, to win the role of the God of thunder, Chris had to first take it from Liam.
In 2017, Chris explained to W magazine that it was Liam who got the callbacks and made it down to the final four or five actors in the running for the role.
Chris, meanwhile, had apparently flunked his first audition, but once he discovered Liam had made the shortlist, Chris shot and sent in another audition, determined to steal the part.
As Chris tells it, it was after the “sibling rivalry sort of kicked up in me” that he worked hard to finally land Thor – which of course he did. Sorry, Liam.
6. Johansson was pregnant throughout the filming of Age of Ultron
Scarlett Johansson’s super-assassin Black Widow does her usual thing in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron – namely take names and kick villainous ass.
What makes this more incredible than usual is Johansson is actually pregnant throughout every one of her Ultron scenes.
To get the Black Widow portion of the film in the can before a bump started to show, director Joss Whedon was forced to bring the filming of many of Johansson’s scenes forward.
CGI and stunt doubles took care of the rest, with Heidi Moneymaker, Johansson’s regular stunt double since Iron Man 2, performing much of the action.
Johansson welcomed a healthy baby girl, Rose Dorothy Dauriac, with fiancé Romain Dauriac in 2014.
5. Karen Gillan shaved her head bald to play Nebula
With the makeup and prosthetics budget Marvel has at its disposal, MCU actors aren’t required to go to great method lengths to physically transform themselves for the part.
Tell that to Karen Gillan, however, after she shaved off her famous red Amy Pond hair for the first Guardians of the Galaxy.
Despite having a relatively small part in the film, to play the chrome-domed cyborg Nebula, the dedicated Gillan buzzed her head clean for the part.
Since Guardians 1, Gillan has let her hair grow out, instead wearing a bald cap for Nebula, but she doesn’t regret the decision to go bald the first time around.
Gillan claimed the experience was liberating: “I feel like I always had this long hair and to get rid of that is a total identity change. To see how people react to that is different – interesting, as well.”
4. In 2001, Mark Ruffalo suffered from a brain tumour which left him deaf in one ear
In 2001, Mark Ruffalo was riding pretty high, having just broken through into the mainstream with the films You Can Count On Me and The Last Castle.
This was also the year he discovered he had a serious brain tumour, having consulted a doctor after dreaming one night that he had one.
The tumour, which required Ruffalo to have brain surgery, left the actor with facial paralysis for a period.
Though the paralysis cleared, Ruffalo remains completely deaf in his left ear as a result of the tumour.
Ruffalo says the life-threatening incident changed him for the better: “After the brain tumour happened, I realised I love acting, I’ve always loved it, I may never get a chance to do it again.”
3. Josh Brolin was such a successful stock trader he almost quit acting
Today, at 51, Josh Brolin is one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood, with three franchises to his name (and a potential new one in Dune).
There was a time, however, when Brolin considered leaving the acting game behind altogether.
Breaking out with The Goonies in 1985, Brolin didn’t make a single movie between 1986 and 1994, only sporadically appearing in TV shows.
Instead, Brolin was off stock trading full-time, making an apparently enormous amount of money over a three-year period.
“Fear and greed, that’s all that there is”, Brolin told the Guardian in 2014. “And I traded very specifically. I found momentum stocks that had room to breathe and I just grab a little of the breath.”
2. Paul Rudd knew Jon Hamm in school, was his love rival
Paul Rudd and Jon Hamm have had very different careers. Rudd came up in the comedy scene, while Hamm shot to stardom as the lead of the AMC drama Mad Men.
Almost unbelievably, long before either of these two altogether different actors became famous, the pair were actually friends back home in St Louis.
Not only were Rudd and Hamm pals back in the day, the two were actually love rivals, with both competing for the affection of the same woman at one point in their relationship.
The story goes that Rudd had the hots for Sarah Clarke – also an actor, who went on to star in the Twilight movies – who Hamm had recently taken to prom.
Rudd tells a story of competing for Clarke’s affection over a board game:
“He seemed like he was a good-looking, athletic guy who possessed qualities I did not possess. We were playing Trivial Pursuit in teams… Jon would want to go right to Yellow, which was History, and I was like, ‘Oh great, this guy is smart, too.”
Don’t worry, they’re buddies now – Rudd and Hamm reconnected on the set of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and have resumed playing fantasy football.
1. Jeremy Renner was a makeup artist before he hit the big time
In Hollywood terms, Jeremy Renner was a fairly late bloomer, only achieving stardom with The Hurt Locker at 38 and first becoming an Avenger aged 40.
Though Renner toiled in independent movies for years prior to his Marvel stint, he also had another, related full-time gig: makeup artist.
In 2012, Renner told Access Hollywood: “I could do makeup because I did theatre… I couple paint and I could draw, so I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll do makeup on girls all day…
“It bought me a lot of free time to go audition when I needed to because I only had to work a few hours a week. I didn’t have to wait tables, so it was actually a great gig.”
When Renner was asked by Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush if he could give him “a smoky eye right now”, Renner confidently responded in the affirmative.