Kevin Feige has the most enviable nerd job ever. At least in the film business. He had his hands in every single Marvel theatrical film since X-Men in 2000, and has directly produced and shepherded the Marvel Studios in-house films since being named Marvel’s President of Production in 2007.

The interview kicked off when I asked if there were any topics he preferred we didn’t discuss for spoiler reasons. As an example I tossed out that Marvel had initially seemed to be shrouding the identity of the Chitari (Loki’s alien army).

Kevin Feige: You know, the truth is they were not intentionally shrouded. From the very first trailer Loki says he has an army. I think it was more so fans making it seem mysterious trying to guess, “Is it Skrulls, is it Kree, who is it?”

Josh: And the Skrulls are currently occupied outside of the Marvel Studios universe, correct?

Feige: Yes, Skrulls have a big connection to Fantastic Four. So there are some contractual limitations about who can do what when it comes to Skrulls. Though that is not why we didn’t do Skrulls. There is already enough going on in this movie.

Josh: You wanted to focus on Loki.

Feige: Exactly.

Josh: Do you actually remember the moment that someone first tossed out the idea of, “Hey, you know what? We could maybe build up a bunch of franchises and then tie them all into an Avengers movie!”

Feige: I would say it happened in stages over the course of production on Iron Man. We were tasked with making Iron Man and Hulk into movies, by ourselves, in 2006/2007. And we were not owned by Disney at that point – we were our own company – and if those movies did not work we would have lost a lot. And the studio would not exist right now. It was sort of a go-for-broke mentality that we had. And we believed in the way we wanted to tell the stories, and how we wanted to bring Tony Stark in particular to life. So that was the only thing we were working on, the only thing we were focused on. And during development – I don’t remember who it was – but some of the writers asked, “Hey we want to have an agent who is sort of trailing Tony Stark, and is asking questions to add an air of mystery and global consequence to what he’s doing. Can we use SHIELD?” And I said, no no, you can’t do that. I said that as a knee-jerk reaction because that is what I would always say when people writing Fantastic Four or X-Men or Spider Man or whatever – I’m not saying they all asked for SHIELD, but many of them would ask for something that wasn’t in their contract. So my knee-jerk was no no. But then I thought, oh wait, you can! Of course you can! It’s ours! We have it!

And that’s when Agent Coulson was added to Iron Man, and having fun with what SHIELD stands for and that sort of thing. Then it was shortly after that, that I was meeting with Sam Jackson’s people, just as part of a general Hollywood meeting, and his people asked, “Anything for Sam?” And I said, “You know, actually, in the comics they draw this character Nick Fury to look like Sam.” And they said, “Yeah, Sam loves that. He loves all those comics.” So I asked if he would want to come and put on an eye patch and work with us for a few hours. They said he’d totally do it. So I said to Jon [Favreau, director of Iron Man], let’s do this Nick Fury thing. We’ll have him come to Tony Stark’s house at the end of the credits. We didn’t know if it would work or if people would care, so we didn’t want to muck up the movie itself with it. That might be confusing, like, “Who’s this guy?” But we did think that for any fan hardcore enough to sit through six minutes of credits, they’d get a little bonus of Nick Fury telling Tony that he’s part of a bigger universe. And everybody went for it, whether they knew who Nick Fury was or not because they knew who Sam Jackson was! What the heck is he doing walking in at the end of this movie?!

And when Robert [Downey Jr] agreed to do a similar thing at the end of The Incredible Hulk, it really solidified. Oh my god, these different movies, with different kinds of trailers and commercials and attitudes, but they’re connected? And that picked up so quickly and people were so into it that we thought, wow, this could work. I think at Comic-Con 2006, somebody asked if there could ever be an Avengers movie. And I said, well, I don’t know. But if you look at the characters that Marvel Studios has the rights to — Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Nick Fury. And the audience started getting very excited by that notion. I had no idea we could actually do it when I said that in 2006. But after the release of Iron Man, that opening weekend, Marvel sort of called and said, “Okay. How many movies do you want to do, what order do you want to do them, let’s do them.” So we announced the following Monday all these movies and release dates. A couple of them shifted from the original announcement. But now here we are in 2012.

Josh: You mentioned how Nick Fury from The Ultimates looks like Sam Jackson. Did you need to get his blessing for that?

Feige: I don’t think so. I mean, that was all [the Marvel publishing people.] That was Joe Quesada, Mark Millar, and Bryan Hitch saying, hey let’s update Nick Fury. Wouldn’t it be awesome if it was Sam Jackson? And it was awesome! And clearly that’s why we reached out to [Jackson]. It was all worth it too cause Sam is just such a cool guy to work with. He’s up for anything. Walk into Tony Stark’s place? Sure. Walk in to Thor? Sure. Meet Cap in Times Square at the end of Captain America? Sure. And he was so gracious about all that, I said we gotta give him his moments in Avengers. This has got to be the pay-off to all that stuff. And damned if he isn’t great in the movie. I think it is the best he’s looked in a movie in years. He looks like one of those expensive collectables come to life! Sitting in a screening last night, when he comes out with that rocket launcher, the audience went nuts.

Josh: Speaking of the audience going nuts… let’s talk about Hulk. Without subjectively going into Incredible Hulk or Ang Lee’s film, the one thing I keep hearing from critics and normals alike after they see Avengers is “finally they got Hulk right!” And he steals the whole film.

Feige: I think Joss [Whedon, writer-director of Avengers] is much more eloquent about this than I am, but Hulk is seemingly more suited for an ensemble piece were he can be the loose canon, the unpredictable bad boy. You can’t get the same kind of moments necessarily when its a stand-alone movie and everything is on [Bruce Banner’s] shoulders. Joss just said this earlier today: Bruce Banner spends all his time saying, “I don’t want to turn into the Hulk, I don’t want Hulk to come out.” But the audience wants the exact opposite! Obviously that is part of the nature of Bruce Banner and that is a part of The Avengers, but he has evolved to a point that he wouldn’t have been able to if we hadn’t taken him through The Incredible Hulk. Now we find him a little more at piece with it all. And it’s not until he meets Tony Stark and exposed to the other heroes of the Avengers that he is willing to go for it – in that moment that we won’t spoil here.

Josh: Is there any work on the Incredible Hulk 2 now that the character has stolen The Avengers? Or is he being kept as a supporting player now?

Feige: There is a possibility. Our deal with Mark Ruffalo would allow it.

Josh: But nothing currently moving forward?

Feige: No.

Josh: Because Loki is the villain this film almost feels like Thor 2. At what point was it decided that Loki would be the foe for The Avengers?

Feige: From day one. That was one of the things we told Joss about. Because it just made sense to us. It made sense that we were going to spend so much of the Thor film doing not just an origin of Thor but an origin of Loki. My favorite Marvel villain had always been Magneto. I love Magneto. I think he’s great in the comics, I think Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender are great in the films. He’s just incredibly interesting. We always saw Loki as having similar potential, with the audience feeling for him but not agreeing with his way of thinking. Particularly I loved Loki from Walt Simonson’s run. I like how tortured Thor is about his brother. That is all interesting character stuff, stuff that for any of our movies we sit down and try to explore with the villains. But its all already there with Loki. Also, you know, Loki happens to be the character that is wreaking havoc in Avengers issue #1 that brings all the Avengers together. They did it in a very different way in the comic, but I like that legacy. So there were so many things working in Loki’s favor.

Josh: I won’t lie to you, I’m already dying for Avengers 2. I demand to know when I’m going to get it.

Feige: If we do an Avengers 2 it will be after [Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2]. They have to grow, they have to change. What they’ve gone through in this movie will impact their state of mind and where they stand in their next movies. Then whatever they go through in those movies is going to affect where we meet them in the next Avengers film. But I think people will be surprised to see, as we go forward – particularly in Iron Man 3 – the notion of how singular the stories can become. Iron Man 3 is a very singular Tony Stark story. As is Thor 2. Cap, who is stuck in the modern day with no friends or family, there will be some revelations of who is still alive from his days in WWII, but SHIELD and Nick Fury are kind of his confidants right now. So of all these movies, Captain America 2 will be most closely associated with Avengers.

Josh: Last question – the Marvel Studios’ films differ in many ways from the regular Marvel comics. Do you guys have some kind of bible you are building to keep track of what is very specifically the Marvel movie universe?

Feige: Yeah, we’ve got documents we label MCU, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And we do have a number of people who keep track of all that. And those same people are the ones who oversee the comic tie-ins. Right now there is a four-issue series call Fury’s Big Week that takes place in the MCU. And for people who really want to dig deep there is a lot of connective tissue in those comics that connect the movies even further. Basically all the time that occurs between the movies and any of the scenes that are off camera in those movies are in that storyline.

Joss Whedon on set.