I’m hearing that How I Met Your Mother star Cobie Smulders has emerged as the front runner for the role of SHIELD Agent Maria Hill in the Joss Whedon-directed The Avengers and that a deal could be done before the weekend is out. The role has been the subject of high speculation since Samuel L. Jackson gave it up in an interview with Jimmy Fallon that he would be reading as Nick Fury alongside five actresses vying for an unidentified female sidekick role. That audition happened yesterday. Reports had V’s Morena Baccarin, Jessica Lucas and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as other candidates. Smulders wasn’t completely unknown to Whedon. In fact, he liked her as a candidate for Wonder Woman when he was working on that superhero film. Deadline has learned that the role is Maria Hill, who in the comics was the ruthless interim executive director of SHIELD, who was not above blackmailing and bullying superheros to get her way. She was eventually supplanted in that top job by Tony Stark aka Iron Man. As with all Marvel movies, the deal comes with a pile of options for appearances in future superhero films. She’s repped by UTA and Roar. Marvel Studios starts production in April, which presumably falls into Smulders’ TV hiatus on the CBS sitcom.

The Avengers will be released by Disney May 4, 2012, and it shapes up as the equivalent of a superhero All Star game written and directed by a filmmaker beloved by the geek crowd. Robert Downey Jr brings his Iron Man character, Jeremy Renner is Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson is Black Widow, Chris Hemsworth is Thor, Mark Ruffalo is Bruce Banner/The Hulk, and Chris Evans is Captain America.  Tom Hiddleston is Loki and Clark Gregg reprises the role of SHIELD agent Phil Coulson that he played in the last Iron Man.