In director Shane Black’s IRON MAN 3, he (along with fellow co-writer Drew Pearce) bring to life another segment of billionaire Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) on-going saga. In this iteration, our beloved superhero suffers from a crippling crisis of conscious trying to reconcile the man that he is with mythical hero he’s become. Pushing him to figure it out fast is Stark Industries CEO/ long-suffering girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). But before he can work on himself and their relationship, he’s drawn into a mystery by scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and “botanist” Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). Oh… and he’s gotta do a little thing like saving the world with bestie Col James Rhodes (Done Cheadle) from baddie The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) too. And you thought you had a busy life!
At the film’s press conference (held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills), the film’s stars, director and co-writers spoke with us (and quite a few other journalists) about everything from how these Marvel characters have grown since the first film to why Shane Black loves Christmastime to what we can expect in the future of the franchise.
Filmmakers went back to basics in how they approached the character of Tony Stark. This led to a noticeably different (but totally great) shift in tone of the film series. Black explains,
“Our ambition was to have a worthy successor to the two previous films. To their credit, they [Marvel] said, ‘We’ve done THE AVENGERS. It made a lot of money but let’s do something different.’ They allowed for a stand alone film where we got to be more character centric. What was left to tell of his story. To make it more of a thriller, more about Tony and less other worldly – grounded more.”
Downey Jr. adds,
“Shane Black had this Capra-esque departure. A lot of things in IRON MAN 3 were taking risks and unfamiliar territory. And his idea of super-hero running into the heartland of America wound up being a wise choice and a calculated risk.”
Even though her co-star Downey Jr. had worked with Black on KISS KISS BANG BANG, Paltrow had a little trepidation working with Black on this film – mainly due to her loyalty to director Jon Favreau. She explains,
“When I started IRON MAN 3, I was very uncomfortable with the fact Jon wasn’t there directing. Jon cast the movies and he’s responsible, in part, for THE AVENGERS. I know everyone is busy, but it was weird that he wasn’t there directing. As we went on and I really warmed to Shane, he’s so sharp – he’s so smart and his dialogue was incredible. What we started on in this movie – what we didn’t start on in the first two films – was a really excellent, finished screenplay. I think it shows in the film. He took it up a notch. I have an incredible amount of respect for him.”
It didn’t take much to convince Rebecca Hall to do the role as she thought Pearce and Black’s script was so solid. She explains,
“It’s not just about the action. It’s about the repartee and the wit and the dialogue. There was something screwball-esque about it.”
For Guy Pearce, he found it an interesting prospect.
“It was interesting to step into something that already existed. You are aware the visual effects world will be incorporated.”
While writers Pearce and Black were tight lipped on the China footage and what exactly that entailed, Black did joke,
“We left out the giant dragon.”
For Black, whose previous blockbuster action films were all R-rated, giving up the “F” word proved to not be that difficult a decision. He says,
“Coming into this, I wanted it to appeal to a family and have it still be edgy. We didn’t want to pander or make a kiddie film, but we knew very well we couldn’t go beyond the boundaries of PG-13. Basically, I had no problem tailoring it to the audience it’s intended for – as long as you don’t condescend to the audience.”
Drew Pearce adds,
“That’s not to say we didn’t push it a little in the first couple of drafts. We’ve got a bunch of brilliant actors as well. That helps so much. They can give it the swing and feel of grown-up conversation without necessarily having to hit the ‘F’ button.”
Over the three films, Pepper Potts (Paltrow) has really transformed from a secretarial position to running Stark Industries and to wearing the pants in her relationship with Tony.
“I feel really lucky that I got to play Pepper for that reason. One of the things I love the most is that she really steps into her power in all areas. We do see her as a very intelligent, articulate CEO. We see her as an equal in his relationship with Tony – she wants her needs met as well while remaining a supportive woman in his life. It was a great transformation.”
Not only does Pepper get a more substantial arc, Cheadle’s character Col. James Rhodes does as well. As many of you have probably noticed, “War Machine” from the previous IRON MAN film has now been re-branded in this third film as “Iron Patriot.” In fact, the name is one of the film’s running gags. Cheadle says of the growing friendship,
“In this iteration of the film, Robert came up to me and said, ‘Let’s really kick this relationship off and really try to see who these guys are.” I think you see their relationship has really strengthened in this one. They’re friends but they really help balance one another.”
As it’s been previously reported, Pepper gets to suit up in this incarnation. Paltrow drops hints at perhaps a spin-off.
“People really love to see Pepper in the suit kicking ass. In the comics she becomes her own person – Rescue.”
Downey Jr. viewed the biggest challenge of the third film was finding the right villain. And they found that in Sir Ben Kingsley. He says,
“These movies are only ever as good as their bad guys. Once we cast Sir Ben, half our troubles went away. The other half had to do with executing this peculiar and awesome arc.”
Black had a fresh new take on The Mandarin as, interestingly enough, he thought the old version was a racist caricature.
“I thought it was an interesting idea to try to mix it up. If you have a terrorist in a modern world, why not say something about the entire experience of what it would take to create a myth? Surround himself with things like the beard from Fidel Castro and field cap from Gaddafi. Why not make an uber-terrorist?”
Kingsley was quick to add that he formed his character from the written word.
“It’s all in the script. Drew and Shane presented us with a wonderful document. Whenever we do improvise, it’s very minimal. It’s all there. I tried to give the Mandarin in his political broadcasts a rather unnerving righteousness- make him almost paternalistic, patriarchal. That’s where the timbre of his history comes from – his weird iconography. The line, ‘You will never see me coming,’ voices that unpredictability he has.”
Downey Jr. concurs,
“Once we let him off the chain, we found he was a glorious improviser. Drew and Shane had a good document – the story’s really good. The twists are really good.”
As many fans have noticed, one of Black’s endearing hallmarks is his fondness for setting his films at Christmastime. And he continues this with IRON MAN 3 – though Pearce admits to badgering him to do add that in. Black says,
”It just evolved. If you’re working with many characters, one way to unite them is to have them undergo a common experience and there’s something at Christmas that unites everybody. It already sets the stage within the stage – you’re experiencing this world together. Also there’s something pleasing about it to me. We did LETHAL WEAPON back in ’87 at Christmas, Joel [Silver] liked it so much, he put DIE HARD at Christmas. There’s fun to that. It’s a time of reckoning for people. Where you take stock to where you’ve been and how you got to where you now. ”
Screenwriter Pearce adds,
“There’s that interesting thing where you are telling a story about taking characters apart, it almost has more resonance if you put it at Christmas and if you’re also telling a story about lonelier characters as well, then that loneliness is heightened. Plus there was a whole CHRISTMAS CAROL thing we wanted to bring into tonally as well…”
Black finishes the sentence,
“…meeting the ghosts of Christmas past. The sense that Harley is him as a young boy. Just encountering all these things that are coming to him like they are a fever dream when he’s at his lowest point.”
After the final reel spools, many Marvel fans will wonder where the franchise is headed. Downey offers his response.
“The future is uncertain. We could never could have known what and who was gonna come together for the third IRON MAN. Usually the third of anything struggles to meet the first two, let alone the first one. In all earnestness, things are in flux right now. Marvel has their plans and we’re all living and growing. We’ll see what happens. A lot of these things tend to come out of creative discussions. Wish fulfillment happens pretty quick in the Marvel universe.”
IRON MAN 3 opens on May 3.