ComingSoon.net/Superhero Hype! talked to Iron Man director Jon Favreau on the set of the film last year:
CS/SHH!: It’s kind’ve cool that you’re shooting in Howard Hughes’ old plant…
Jon Favreau: Yeah, that wasn’t lost on me. We figured we’d get some of the good spirit from the Hughes legacy here.
CS/SHH!: What’s the reason for the PG-13 rating on “Iron Man”?
Favreau: I think you want it to be entertaining for everybody. You want it to be appropriate for kids but not geared towards kids – and I think PG-13 is that good balance where you can have violence, real life-and-death stakes. It’s something I’d be comfortable bringing a younger 13-year-old kid to. But, it’s tough. These types of movies you want to be good for everybody and if you skew too young you sometimes disappoint adults and if you make it too dark and too violent – with too explicit language or sexuality to it – the kids out there that want to see this thing… I have a six-year-old who’s dying to see the movie, I don’t want to see anything in there that’s going to make me, as a responsible parent, uncomfortable thinking he’s going to be repeating something in school or seeing something that’s going to freak him out too much.
CS/SHH!: Have you kept Tony Stark’s alcoholism subplot out of the film?
Favreau: Honestly, I’m being dictated by the story of the books, so, he the “Demon in the Bottle” [story] happened in the ’80s and “Iron Man” came around in the ’60s, so [that story] happened much later. What you really grasp for in success, if you’re lucky enough to make more than one of these movies, is what happens to the character. What has to change so it doesn’t feel like just a serialized hero who just goes through different fights and different bad guys? How does he progress through the story? The good part about an origin story is that you have a whole Joseph Campbell journey that the guy goes through in becoming a hero. The problem is, you have so much story to tell that it starts to get clogged up with too much stuff and you end up rushing through beats or villains. The problems with the second and third films are, you’ve got great villains and you know who the hero is – but how is he different from the beginning and end of the movie? As a storyteller, I look for that whole progression and character, what’s the mythology of the character? What’s the myth you are telling? That’s what makes it entertaining, I think.
CS/SHH!: What are the fights going to be like with that big iron suit? Did that dictate how you filmed them?
Favreau: As far as what the technology you use, we really have all of the options. We’ve got ILM. If you’ve seen the last “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie… I feel quite comfortable they could make it look good. And then you’ve got the Stan Winston suit to help make it feel real and connect things. You gotta do a little bit of the shell game with the audience – real one shot, fake another shot, and not let them know where one shot becomes real or digital until the left brain is so locked up worrying about it that their right brain can enjoy the movie. You have to be innovative in the action. There are a lot of movies I’ve seen and enjoyed where I couldn’t follow the story, but because the action was so innovative, I was entertained, I was excited by it. For these films, you’re working on the action long before you’re working on the dialogue. Working with storyboard artists, with writers, actors, producers, the studios…
CS/SHH!: What is this story and character about for you?
Favreau: The story, for me, is about a guy who’s got everything. In every movie you’ve got to start off with “Something is rotten in Denmark.” Something is out of balance in the world. In Marvel movies, especially. You look at the personal life of the character, the microcosm, and then you look at the macrocosm of the climate of the world – a super villain doing something, there is a problem in the world that needs to be fixed or life as we know it will cease to exist. What’s nice about Tony Stark is he’s a guy who has all of the flash and glamour – Tony Stark is a billionaire, inventor, genius, playboy and then you get to play the fun of that. Then you get to explore what that might leave to be desired. How is he flawed? How does he grow and change in his captivity? When he comes back, how does he become Iron Man? What are the steps in that journey that gets us to the point where we understand who is he, what he stands for and what has changed?
CS/SHH!: Can you talk about Jeff Bridges’ role…is he Iron Monger? He’s said in the past that he plays a mentor in the film…
Favreau: Here’s the bottom line. We’re making a Marvel movie, this time Marvel is making its own movie. Also, I feel as a filmmaker, I want to stay true to the books. I’ve been working on this thing a year, it’s going to be another year before it comes out and if everybody figures everything out along the way, by the time you’ve seen the movie, you feel like you’ve seen the movie already. So we try to put in enough twists and turns to have something you guys will not know about as we go forward. But, by the same token, because it’s Marvel, I want to stay as true to what the broad strokes of the comic books are. Is Jeff a mentor to Tony Stark? Yes, that’s sort’ve the relationship we found between Bridges and Downey that would be good. Is it still Obadiah Stane? Yes he is. Are there certain expectations people might have who have read the comic books for several decades based on who it is? Are they going to wait for another shoe to fall? I think they will. If you’ve done your homework on the books, it’s going to serve you well when you get into the movie ’cause we’re doing it too.
CS/SHH!: You’re taking on a film with a lot of action set pieces and that’s a bit different for you…
Favreau: It is, we have a great second unit. There’s a guy named Phil Neilsen who’s directing second unit, probably as we speak. If you hear something blow up, it’s him blowing things up. We’ve been very lucky to have a group of people who are good at developing and calling the action. I don’t want to sit here and pretend I have a lot of action experience. I think I can tell a good story. Cinematically, I think I can make something compelling. What I’m bringing to the table is more of the humanity of the story. Enforcing rules on the story as well where it doesn’t feel like two completely different films. There is the possibility it goes from “Swingers” to “Power Rangers” and everyone goes, “What am I watching?” So the trick is to bring the human story to a world where it feels like it’s a comic book. And keeping the action aspect of it – I wouldn’t say restrained – but hold it up to a certain standard of reality that you have a broadness that you expect in a comic book movie but it’s not just like, do whatever the hell you want because it’s a movie and everybody just wants to eat popcorn.
CS/SHH!: What does Robert Downey Jr. bring to the role? It’s an unusual choice…
Favreau: When we cast Robert, when he was approved and Marvel gave it its okay, it completely freed me because I knew we were halfway there to having a movie that I could be proud of. I can’t think of anyone better than him. He brings a reality, a humor, a panache, a life of experience where he really feels like what he’s bringing to the table… There’s a lot of Tony Stark in him and that’s so much better than trying to teach somebody to pretend that they are funny, or that they are smart, or that they are talented or pretend that they’ve lived with fame and all of the challenges and benefits of it.
CS/SHH!: Jon, you look much different than we last saw you…has the job been that stressful?
Favreau: I wanted to lose some weight for a role. I’m 40 now, and I just had a baby less than a year ago and I did the math and I’m like, I gotta take care of myself.
CS/SHH!: In terms of tone, what lessons have you learned from not just Marvel superhero movies, but comic book movies in general?
Favreau: I think [Chris] Nolan has really reinvented the genre yet again. I really like the first Tim Burton “Batman” movie, it was very exciting. But the caliber of cast Nolan was able to get, the level of storytelling and the sense of fun that was maintained with a character I thought was completely picked over by the time they did their last movie. The fact that they hit reset and started over excited me, it, for me, said that the sky is the limit for who you could get. A filmmaker with that background, it’s nice to see these guys coming out of independent films finding a way to bring a sense of integrity and fun to these big movies where you feel like you’re watching something good. But it’s not where the director is doing it apologetically, they’re doing it because they love it and they’re excited by it. I get to play with all the toys, build the suits, do the CG, build all of these great sets – for me, I think that’s what it’s all about. When I’m working with Gwyneth and Robert, I would be working with them in the same way if I had written a spec script and was shooting it for a million bucks. You bring that same sensibility to it and hopefully, it all comes together so it feels like it’s of one movie, but yet it’s not insulting to smart people and it’s not inappropriate for me to bring my kids to.
CS/SHH!: Talk about the design of the suit itself…
Favreau: We had some artists that we had hired to work on it. Phil Saunders and Ryan Meinerding had worked on various suits that we had, Phil I had met on “Zathura,” Ryan as I was developing “John Carter of Mars” – they’re great artists. They have a whole department that’s overseen by Mike Riva, production designer. I really gravitated toward the Adi Granov stuff. Adi had actually contacted me through MySpace and said, “I figured you might want to meet me, I’m the guy who did all of the drawings on your website.” He was really excited to get involved. He did some drawings for us, we flew him out here and met with Phil, Ryan, Mike and the Stan Winston crew. We all sort’ve collaborated in finding a suit that could be made practically, to be worn, so it wasn’t always a cartoon. Also, when you tend to have practical things, it tends to keep the CG a little more honest. If you have to make a cut to a suit that you made practically to something virtual, you now have a litmus test.
CS/SHH!: What elements of the suit, in the design process, needed to be retained?
Favreau: The more you could. I don’t want to reinvent it, it’s not like the glowing Superman fiber-optic suit. I’m really embracing what it is. First we got the Mark I out which we took a little leeway with because in the books it doesn’t really make sense that he would make that out of spare parts, but yet we wanted to keep the personality of it. Everyone was like, “Holy sh*t, that’s so cool.” Immediately we thought, “What’s going to happen when they see the Mark III?” What happened when we showed the Mark III was, “This is great, it’s just like I saw it in my head.” And that’s a very hard thing to achieve, because everybody sees different sh*t in their head. Then everyone was like, “Oh, but that’s clearly a CG suit.” All of a sudden, they saw the suit with a real guy in it. Of course, it could do different stuff in CG than it can in real life. Then that becomes the difficulty. You don’t want him moving around like RoboCop and then he flies through the air and looks like Spider-Man. That’s the balancing act we’re playing.
CS/SHH!: What has been the most challenging scene to shoot to date?
Favreau: When we were out at Edwards Air Force Base we got the great C-17s, the Raptors, and all of the stuff. The logistics of that were very hard because there are things you can’t point a camera at there. There’s a flight line, they’re testing state-of-the-art experimental aircraft there and we’re thinking we’ve got all of the best stuff there. But, there are hangars you can’t even go near.
CS/SHH!: Is there anything about the filmmaking process on a film like this that’s surprising to you?
Favreau: I’m on schedule, that’s the biggest surprise – because I bragged that I’m on schedule always on every movie that I’ve been on. Always on budget, always on time, but on this one, there’s going to be curveballs and so much out of my control, so the fact that we’re on schedule… I’m always surprised by the amount of freedom I’ve gotten from Marvel. Because there are certain things Marvel is meticulous about and there’s a definite formula to the way action is done. When it comes to the scenes between the people, they have very good actors, Marvel has been very involved. But they’re a very small crew. You have Kevin Feige and Jeremy Latchum who is executive producer, and they’re here because “Hulk” hasn’t started yet. So we could sit in the trailer with the Marvel guys and with the actors and talk about what the scene should be based on what we’ve shot and learned. There’s a flexibility to the material. In a lot of ways there’s a lot of freedom to try things different ways and bring a certain humor and humanity to it. There’s a lot of freshness and discovery to it.
CS/SHH!: With Marvel tackling this film, was there any concern on your end about whether you could do it?
Favreau: I was ready for the challenge. My last experience was developing “John Carter of Mars” which we did a bang-up job on. Beautiful artwork. The writers did a great script for us. Everybody loved it, I think [the studio was] just scared of that genre or the material or the fact that they had “Star Trek” coming out next year. Not only did they not greenlight it, they let the rights lapse thinking that this was not a project anyone would care to do. Now you have Brad Bird, [John] Lasseter and Pixar, thankfully, picking it up and that thing is going to be huge. If they’re as true to the source material as we were, they’re going to have a phenomenal movie. This is the type of story you need. The last experience before that was “Zathura” where we worked hard and got a movie that was well-received, but was not really supported. It was the best-reviewed movie Sony had that year, and there wasn’t one billboard up, they didn’t even print up posters. So, it was very disappointing that we came in at the end of a long string of flops over there at Sony between “Stealth” and “Zorro” – by the time we came out there wasn’t really a game plan to release the film. Fortunately, it’s out on video and people are liking it. But I didn’t want that to happen again. When you work with Marvel, you know that there is a fanbase of core fans that are going to pay attention to what you are doing. If you’re doing a good job, those fans will be very vocal and word will spread. Right now so many people try to create this sense of a grassroots something on the internet and try to force it. You can’t force it, it has to come organically.
CS/SHH!: Can you talk about the casting of Terrence Howard?
Favreau: Yeah, he’s great. Avi [Arad] was talking to him before I had been hired on. So by the time I can on, he brought in Terrence and was…it’s hard to argue casting Terrence. He could have been Tony Stark if we had gone a different way, a little bit different than the books. I think he’s got those type of chops. In success, where do you go with these movies? I think that’s where people fall short, they don’t think far enough in the future, they have a great movie and say how do we do it again? And that’s the difference between a sequel and a chapter. So, in looking at chapters, where could we go? We could go War Machine with Terrence Howard and we want to. We could go a lot of different ways with this cast that we have.
CS/SHH!: Are you on board for three films?
Favreau: If the experience is as good as this, I would keep going. It’s hard to say, but I think it’s fun and great and hope it gets easier as you go on and you get it down.
CS/SHH!: With the quality of actors you have, how hard is it to convince them to come back for two or three other films?
Favreau: I think if they’re experience is good, which it has been so far based on what everyone’s told me – maybe they’ll say something different – but I’ve made it fun. I asked Robert, what do you want to do in your career now? He said, “I want to make movies that are good and that people are going to see.” It seems pretty simple, but it’s a pretty profound statement. Actors want to be in movies that are good, that they’re proud of, but there’s nothing more frustrating than making a movie that is a featured title on Netflix and is one where you say, “Oh, I really wanted to see that one.” You want to do a movie that is part of your culture. “Pirates of the Caribbean” you reference like “The Sopranos.” Everyone knows what you’re talking about. And you’ve impacted lives, you’ve created a cultural ripple and that’s something you can’t get always with an indie.
Iron Man opens in theaters on May 2.
Source: Ryan Rotten