Iron Man 3 Villain Was Supposed to be Female, Says Shane Black

Last September, Walt Disney Pictures more-or-less severed ties between Marvel Entertainment C.E.O. Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter and Marvel Studios president and mastermind Kevin Feige, essentially giving the latter creative free reign to run the MCU through Disney alone. While this may sound like dull corporate maneuvering, it has and will continue to have a major effect on the most popular film franchise in the world, as cost-cutting and creative micromanaging by Perlmutter and Marvel higher-ups (as well as Marvel’s now disbanded Creative Committee) had a major impact on everything from Terrence Howard being replaced by Don Cheadle to Edgar Wright abandoning the director’s chair on Ant-Man.

Now straight-shooting director Shane Black (whose brilliantly-hilarious new film The Nice Guys opens this week) has spoken out to Uproxx about his experience making the $1.2 billion grossing Iron Man 3, and a major creative change he was forced to make in regards to lead villain Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). According to Black, Killian was originally meant to be a female villain not unlike the Maya Hansen character played by Rebecca Hall.

“There was an early draft of ‘Iron Man 3’ where we had an inkling of a problem, which is that we had a female character who was the villain in the draft,” says Black. “We had finished the script and we were given a no-holds-barred memo saying that cannot stand and ‘We’ve changed our minds because, after consulting, we’ve decided that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female.’ So, we had to change the entire script because of toy making. Now, that’s not Feige. That’s Marvel corporate, but now you don’t have that problem anymore.”

Apparently both Hall and actress Stephanie Szostak’s roles were radically reduced due to the corporate mandate, and it is well known that Perlmutter was a key agent in keeping Black Widow and other female action figures off of toy shelves. Nowadays, it seems matters of inclusiveness and creative tinkering may no longer be as big an issue at Marvel Studios anymore. 

“Yeah, Ike’s gone,” Black admits. “But New York called and said, ‘That’s money out of our bank.’ In the earlier draft, the woman was essentially Killian – and they didn’t want a female Killian, they wanted a male Killian. I liked the idea, like ‘Remington Steele’, you think it’s the man but at the end, the woman has been running the whole show. They just said, ‘no way.'”

As for the clever decision to turn Ben Kingsley’s overblown Osama bin Laden knock-off Mandarin into a red herring, with media manipulator Killian the real power behind the throne, Black still chaffs at the negative response in some of the darker corners of fandom (a few of whom have given him death threats).

“We didn’t know,” Black says of the fan backlash. “We all thought they’d eat it up because it never occurred to us the Mandarin is as iconic to people as, say, the Joker in ‘Batman.’ They just wanted to see the magic rings shoot lasers. You’d need to take the piss out of it and explain how this can happen. In the comic books, it’s literally magic. It’s magic from outer space. I love the fans. I really want to please them.”

The launch of “Phase Two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 3 pitted brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley and Wang Xuequi, Iron Man 3 was written by Shane Black and Drew Pearce, based on the “Extremis” mini-series written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Adi Granov.