Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a man who knows what he wants. More impressive, he was a boy who knew what he wanted to become. Best known as the disarmingly dorky superhero Dave Lizewski in the Kick-Ass films and the brawned-out star of last year’s Godzilla reboot, Taylor-Johnson started acting at the age of six. While his fellow tots were snug in their beds, he was treading the boards in London’s West End.
Taylor-Johnson was no child star, however; he was a child actor, an important distinction for the earnest, contemplative boy from Buckinghamshire, England, who has built a diverse career, role by interesting role. After acquainting himself with the craft through one-offs in Brit television and little-seen indies, he started alternating the aforementioned American action flicks with high drama, as in his breakout turn as a baby John Lennon in Nowhere Boy and as the romantic lead in the period epic Anna Karenina. Such a bounty of nuanced parts, all nabbed by the tender age of 24, must inspire jealousy in the hearts of more typecast Hollywood hunks—and that’s before he was chosen for the biggest action extravaganza of the year.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (in theatres now) has one of the most no-first-names-required casts of all time: Downey Jr.! Hemsworth! Johansson! Evans! Ruffalo! Renner! Taylor-Johnson adds his double-barrelled moniker to the Marvel marquee as Quicksilver, a.k.a. Pietro Maximoff, a mercurial mutant born with the ability to run faster than the speed of sound. The last instalment grossed more than $1.5 billion; this highly anticipated sequel features the Avengers facing off against super intelligent automaton Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who wants to destroy all of humanity.
Taylor-Johnson may be pumped to be part of a big summer movie, but he’s not a promotional robot. When asked how long he is obligated to shill for the film, he replies cheekily, “All my life.” Quicksilver is a package deal, part of a comic book twin-set created by industry legend Stan Lee. His sister is Scarlet Witch, a.k.a. Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen in the film. “They’re very much yin and yang,” the actor says about the on-screen siblings. “You never really see them without one another.” Taylor-Johnson was drawn to the humanity behind these super-beings. “They’re troubled—very dark and very troubled. All they have in the world is each other,” he says. “They’ve lost their parents; they’re in a bit of a dark headspace.” That darkness added intriguing—and, for Taylor-Johnson, necessary—depth to a potentially cartoonish character: “They’re the two that kind of stir up some chaos within the Avengers and are a force to be reckoned with.”
Taylor-Johnson was stoked for the challenge of the part. Still packing the 40 pounds of muscle he’d gained to play the manly-named military man Ford Brody in Godzilla, he headed into Avengers-level training. There was much running of the breathless, lung-bursting sort (sprints, hill starts), not to mention hours spent lifting weights in the gym. The result? Too good. Three months into training, Taylor-Johnson sent director Joss Whedon a few snaps of his further-buffed bod. “Too bulky,” came the reply. “They wanted me a bit more streamlined, so I stopped doing upper-body stuff and worked more on legs,” he says. The subject of his transformation and enviable ability to go from shredded soldier stud to lean supe in the span of a few months is not the actor’s favourite topic of discussion. The details have to be extracted with gentle persistence before being abandoned altogether. He calls it the “boring stuff” and proclaims he hasn’t been to the gym since last August.
Taylor-Johnson perks up when asked how he got into Quicksilver’s head. He talks about acting with the same intensity that a computer geek talks code. For him, performing is an exercise in imagination, where he considers everything from the character’s metabolism (“What if he could be eating all the time because he’s burning so many calories?”) to how his superpower translates into his personality: “He’s quick-witted; he’s arrogant; he’s kind of impatient, quick-tempered.”
His own life has progressed at a Quicksilver-like pace. Off-screen, he married his Nowhere Boy director, Sam Taylor-Wood (Fifty Shades of Grey) at 22. (They each took the surname Taylor-Johnson.) In short order, daughters Wylda, 4, and Romy, 3, joined a brood that also includes his wife’s daughters from a previous marriage. Such a rich home life has made the actor choosier about jobs. “I’ve been on many films where you deal with people that are really difficult or just aren’t nice people to be around,” he says. “You know that saying, ‘Life’s too short’? It really is, especially when you’ve got a family. I’d rather spend my life and time with them than with someone that’s being an ass.”