Exclusive: Director Jon Favreau Talks Iron Man 2!

With some of the best superhero movies of the last decade being sequels from X2 to Spider-Man 2 and of course, The Dark Knight, there’s a lot of eager anticipation to see what director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. would do to make Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 2 better than their 2008 blockbuster hit Iron Man.

Having Downey returning as Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow as his assistant "Pepper" Potts may be enough for some, but the comic book mythos is being expanded with the introduction of Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Sam Rockwell as Stark’s business rival Justin Hammer and a new actor playing Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes in Don Cheadle… and by the end of the movie, he’s wearing armor as well! Of course, Favreau himself gets to play Tony’s bodyguard "Happy" Hogan, and he gets to do more in the sequel as well. (You can read our first fairly spoiler-free review of the movie here.)

There’s no question the adoration comic book fans (and those "others" who don’t read comic books) had for the first movie guarantees the sequel will be even bigger in terms of box office, and it really takes a strong filmmaker to be able to withstand all the pressure of so much anticipation to do what needs to be done to make a strong sequel that stand on its own merits. It’s doubtful that Favreau had such pressures when he directed Made, the 2001 thematic sequel to his breakout movie Swingers, but he certainly had a lot to live up to with this movie.

Earlier this week, SuperHeroHype had a chance to talk with Favreau for probably the fifth or sixth time since he embarked on this journey back in 2006, although for the first time since Iron Man became such a huge hit. Unfortunately, we hadn’t seen the movie yet and didn’t have that much time, but we tried our best to ask some of the more pressing questions.

SuperHeroHype: There are so many expectations for this movie, I have to imagine that it has to be like when The Beatles finished "Sgt. Pepper" and they had to make another record. How do you approach a sequel like this when there are so many expectations?

Jon Favreau: Well, you know you dance with who brought you like they say, but change your game up. What did people like the first time? They liked the tone, they liked the sense of humor, they liked Pepper and Tony, so those are the things we knew that we wanted to make sure we expanded upon that. But there was room to have more action. A lot of time was spent when he was in captivity and the action was kind of personal in the origin story, unfortunately for us, so that left a lot of room. We had about 700 digital shots last time, now we have like 1400, so we sort of doubled up on everything. Because the first one wasn’t really that big in scope, even with doubling it, it still doesn’t feel overwhelming for the film. It feels like probably enough action but not too much. And then we added some characters, too, and we needed a good villain. That was something we did have last time, and we knew that with number 2, you actually had a shot. Certainly on superhero movies, often times, number 2 is the best, so we knew that there was a way to succeed. If you do a sequel to a comedy it’s tough. I can’t think of any where the sequel is better, but a superhero movie… you can argue that "X-Men 2," "Spider-Man 2," "Dark Knight"… those were all better than the first. So I wanted to keep the plot simple and as we added characters, not to add storylines. I think that’s where superhero movies can go wrong, too, is if you have too many villains, then it becomes overly-complex. Here, all the characters we introduced, we start them apart from each other, but then the stories slowly combine until you work towards the end and it culminates with one big (moment) where the storylines intersect, as opposed to have four and five threads that you have to follow through the whole film.

SHH: All the filmmakers I’ve spoken to, they’ve said that once the origin story is out of the way, it’s much easier, and I was surprised that you didn’t go for a story from the comics and make a movie out of that.

Favreau: We had a little bit of that, you’ll see. People ask about "Demon in a Bottle," and although we steered clear tonally of how dark that went. If you look at the way that Rhodey gets his hands on the suit, we definitely borrowed what happens from a character perspective, but we wanted to keep the tone the same as the first film. We didn’t want to make it an exploration of the darkness of the human soul, but we definitely showed Tony’s dark side a bit in our words. There weren’t a lot of really good Iron Man storylines. It was more good ideas and characters and relationships, and that’s where we drew inspiration.

SHH: I think a lot of people were surprised by the decision to use Whiplash as the villain, until they saw the footage at Comic-Con and it was the coolest thing in the world.

Favreau: Yeah, when they first saw the picture in the paper, they were like, "What the hell is that?" and then they saw what we did visually and that added to it. What we definitely wanted to avoid is just having the whole franchise be people in suits hitting each other. That’s good, but you want to have some variation, and a lot of it was about how do we get Tony out of the suit? And the idea of racing in Monaco seemed to be a really… I’d been to Monaco years ago, and it really sparks your imagination and evokes the old James Bond movies, which is something we draw inspiration from as well. It allowed us to get Tony Stark in a vulnerable position where he’s not in the suit and on the world stage, so he can be publicly humiliated, and it allowed Mickey Rourke to come out with all of his tattoos, and his muscles and his hair and gold teeth and everything. He’s such an iconic figure that we made him part of a suit, and it also gave us an interesting weapon to use and allowed us to use practical FX and cut real cars up and flip real cars, and have that marry up with the CGI. That’s always the trick is to really don’t try to use full CGI more than you have to, so we save a lot of that for what you can’t do any other way, like the flying and all the tack stuff. So we did a lot of the stuff in Monaco practical and used most of our digital work to combine it with the plates of Monaco and put the actors in there.

SHH: I remember when we spoke two years ago, it was always the plan to have War Machine be a part of the sequel. Now, you have a new actor playing Rhodey at this point. How hard was it getting Don Cheadle into the vibe of the first movie? It would probably be a strange shift when someone watches the two movies back-to-back.

Favreau: Yeah, well they’re doing that now. A lot of the midnight shows start with "Iron Man" beforehand. Fortunately, the genre gives a certain amount of permission. Nobody really batted an eye on "Dark Knight" when they did it with Katie Holmes. It’s part of the thing. People get it and it’s two years apart usually. We address it with one line when we first introduce Rhodey and we played it at Comic-Con. He walks into the hearing and when (Tony) says, "I wasn’t expecting to see you here," and (Don) says, "I’m here, deal with it, let’s move on," which works for the character and it sort of works for the audience. It’s not outside the reality but it’s a little wink, and then we ignore it from then on and we just let Don Cheadle be Don Cheadle. Fortunately, it is Don Cheadle and he’s a high horsepower actor, and he makes the role his own and he’s fantastic. Continuity is always preferable but in this case, it worked out very well fortunately.

SHH: I was talking to Kevin Feige a couple of days ago and we were talking about the casting of these movies like with "Thor." Besides Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, there are a lot of unknown names and faces. For this, you have a really star-studded cast with Scarlett and Mickey just coming off his Oscar nomination. Was there any point where you thought it would be good to find someone new for certain characters?

Favreau: No, I think they’re doing that with the other franchise, with Captain America and with Thor, and I think that’s a matter of… in the discussion with launching a superhero franchise, the thought is that your $20 million star is the hero, the suit or the special FX, and it’s not as star-reliant. That’s certainly the way we first discussed doing "Iron Man" but then when Robert Downey and I sat down, I thought, "This should be the guy." It became about working within the resources that they had, but Robert was willing to make great sacrifices to be in the first film, so then after Robert came on board, other cast members slowly gravitated to the franchise, so you had a star-studded cast, but that had more to do with my relationship and Robert’s relationship with those people as opposed to a mandate from Marvel. As a matter of fact, they pointed to the Fox paradigm whereby which the movies made money, but they drew their talent from younger, less known and more attractive stars and that’s worked well for them. They figure they’re going to break the stars with the movies. Tobey (Maguire) definitely. Although he was well known in the independent film community, he definitely broke out with "Spider-Man," so I think that’s more what you’re going to see is breaking younger newer faces, and having some established actors in supporting roles. That seems to be the paradigm for most… I wanted to emulate more what was going on with Nolan’s film.

SHH: I know you’re off to make "Cowboys & Aliens" next, but has Marvel talked to you at all about doing a third "Iron Man" movie? I know you had planned to wait until a third movie to introduce The Mandarin.

Favreau: Yes. I think you gotta introduce Mandarin in the next film. Fortunately, what’s happening now is that we kept our films very tech-based in 1 and 2. We exaggerated technology, but beyond that, it’s kind of a real set of circumstances. The politics and everything reflects reality. When I read Marvel comic books, I lived in Queens and they were fighting in Queens and it was in New York. That is what made Marvel different, so I really liked the idea of using a real backdrop. Well, now as you start adding elements from the books that people have come to accept in reading comics and you’re asking them to accept those things in the movies, "Thor" is going to have the challenge of introducing magic and the supernatural, so as that starts to expand on the rules of the universe that we established, that might open the door for a magical Mandarin type character. I don’t know what’s happening yet. I don’t know what "Thor" is going to do and what "Captain America" is going to do and "Avengers" is going to do.

They’ve asked me to be an Executive Producer on "The Avengers" and I’ll help the director, whoever it is, as much or as little as they’d like. Marvel gives directors a tremendous amount of freedom. I’ve had a lot freedom in casting and creatively, as long as I worked within the parameters budgetarilly, so I’ll be there to help as much as the director would want me to. But then "Iron Man 3" is years down the road, and that has to reflect the reality of what’s been established not just in "Iron Man" 1 and 2, but in movie time, between this film and that film, is "The Incredible Hulk"–the one that was last year, for timing sake is after this movie–"Thor," "Captain America," and "The Avengers." I haven’t had to inherit anybody else’s backstory yet–it’s just simply what we chose to use or not use from the comic books–so I’m feeling like I’m passing the baton and after all those movies are done, it’s time to sit down and discuss if there’s something I can bring to it, if it’s something we want to do together, but that’s way down the road."

Iron Man 2 opens in the United States on May 7, but if you’re one of the lucky folks who lives anywhere else, you probably have already seen it! You can also read what Favreau said about his next movie Cowboys & Aliens here.

Source: Edward Douglas