|JON FAVREAU TALKS 'IRON MAN'|
The director rockets through an exclusive Q&A to kick off the biggest events of 2008
By Rickey Purdin
Posted December 30, 2007 3:05 PM
The usual buzzing of industrial noise and high-tech activity in Tony Stark's private, futuristic workshop gives way to dim, cold silence. Only one figure remains stoically perched behind a workbench at the center of the pale, concrete room.
But it's not the man commonly found in the Iron Man armor—Robert Downey Jr. has the night off after days of portraying the vapid playboy turned humanitarian hero. Tonight, it's the man behind the hero's theatrical release who still toils over Stark and the futurist hero's alter ego.
Taking a break from calling the shots on the new "Iron Man" movie, which drops in theaters on May 2, 2008, director Jon Favreau seems to find it as relaxing as his lead character does to tinker with the scientific props on the bench in front of him.
But if Favreau can relax now, a few hours after he stopped filming for the day, it's only because he's so comfortable with how well he's planned. His cast may be the best ever assembled for a big-budget comic book film—with Downey leading Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges, and the Iron Man armor created by special effects master Stan Winston, and based on the artwork of comic book superstar Adi Granov—creating a groundswell of enthusiasm for the film when fans got their first glimpse.
"I didn't want to reinvent it," says the director of the early armor in the film. "It's not like the glowing Superman fiber optic suit. I really am embracing what it is. First we got the Mark I [armor] out, which we took a little bit of leeway with because in the books it really doesn't make sense that he would make that out of spare parts. But we wanted to keep the personality of it. Everyone was like, 'Holy sh--, that's so cool!' So immediately we were like, 'What's going to happen when they see the Mark III [armor]?'"
Strap on your repulsor rays, tighten your jet boots and prepare for excitement, as Favreau discusses the Armored Avenger's big-screen debut.
WIZARD: It's interesting you're shooting "Iron Man" on a set located where Howard Hughes used to house his big planes, especially since the playboy aspect of Hughes was such a basis for Tony Stark in the comics.
FAVREAU: Yeah, I know. That wasn't lost on me. We figured that we'd get some of the good spirit from the Hughes legacy here. [Laughs]
You've mentioned Iron Man is a self-made hero, in a way, like Batman who creates himself and his own superpowers.
FAVREAU: I think in Marvel movies especially you look at the personal life of the character in the microcosm, and then you sort of look at the macrocosm of the climate of the world. There is a supervillain doing something. There is a problem in the world that has to be fixed. Otherwise, life as we know it will not exist. But then also in the character's personal life, there is that sort of thing that happens, too. And what's nice about Tony Stark is that he's a guy who's got all the flash and glamour of "Tony Stark: billionaire, inventor, genius and playboy." You get to play the fun of that, but then you also get to explore what that might leave to be desired and how he's flawed and how he grows and changes through his captivity. And when he comes back, how does he become Iron Man? So it's what those steps in the journey are that get us to the point where we understand who he is and what he stands for and how he's changed.
You've been known more for dialogue and character pieces; how's it been doing a film with this much action?
FAVREAU: There is a guy named Phil Neilson—if you hear something blow up, he's on the other set blowing things up. I don't want to sit here and pretend that I have a lot of action experience. I think that I can tell a good story. I think that cinematically I can make something compelling. But what I'm bringing to the table is more of the humanity of the story and forcing rules on the story as well where it doesn't feel like two completely different films. The trick is to bring up the human story to a world where it feels like it's a comic book and it fits into the genre. And then keeping the action aspect of it, I won't say restrained, but hold it up to a certain standard of reality where there's a broadness that you expect in a comic book movie, but it's not like just doing whatever the hell you want because it's a movie and everyone just wants to eat popcorn.
One of the major points of interest in this film, in terms of a broad appeal, was the announcement of Robert Downey Jr. as the lead. What was the thought process there in casting him?
FAVREAU: When we cast Robert—when he was approved and we got him to be in the movie and Marvel gave us its okay—it completely freed me because I knew that I was 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 and a life of experience where he really feels like there is a lot of Tony Stark in him. That's so much better than trying to teach someone to pretend that they are funny or pretend that they are smart or pretend that they're talented or pretend that they've lived with fame and lived with all of the challenges and benefits of it.
In terms of comic book storytelling, what lessons did you take from, not just Marvel movies, but from comic book movies in general?
FAVREAU: I think that ["Batman Begins" director Chris] Nolan is just really reinventing the genre yet again. I really liked the first "Batman" movie. The Tim Burton one was very exciting. But [Nolan was] able to hit reset and make it fresh again; that was exciting to me. That said, the sky is the limit for who you could get. It's nice that you have all of these guys coming out of independent films who don't resent big movies. As you see Peter Jackson, Chris Nolan [or] Bryan Singer finding a way to bring integrity and a sense of fun to these big movies where you feel like you're watching a good movie and it's not one that a director is doing apologetically—they're doing it because they love it and they're excited by it.
For the design of the suit, we know comic artist Adi Granov was involved. How did that relationship start?
FAVREAU: Adi had actually contacted me through MySpace because I set up a little group, or actually even before the group, just when I put my [profile] up he contacted me to be my friend. He said, "I thought that you might want to meet me. I'm the guy who did all the drawings that you have on your website." I was like, "Oh, I would love to talk to you!" He was really excited to get involved. He was doing some drawings for us. We flew him out here and he met with [our set artists] and we all sort of collaborated together in finding a suit that could be made practically, to be worn, so that it wasn't always a cartoon.
Aside from the reactions to the suits, has anything else about this whole process so far surprised you?
FAVREAU: I'm surprised that I'm on schedule. That's the biggest surprise. I'm also surprised by the amount of freedom that I've gotten from Marvel.
Why are you surprised about that?
FAVREAU: Well, because there are certain things that Marvel is very meticulous about and there's a definite formula to the way that the action is done. Marvel has been very involved, but they're a small crew. So we could sit in the trailer with the Marvel guys, with the producers and the actors, and talk about what the scene should be about based on what we've shot and learned and there is a flexibility in the material. There's a real sense of freshness and discovery in this project.
What's your reaction to the rabid fan base surrounding comic films in general?
FAVREAU: When you work with Marvel, you know that there is a fan base of core fans that are going to pay attention to what you're doing. If you're doing a good job, those fans will be very vocal and word will spread. I mean, if you have "Catwoman" they will put the pillow over the head of the movie and make sure that it never sees the light of day. But if you have a "Dark Knight" or if you have any of the myriad of quality movies that come out, the word will get out there and people will start to pay attention to it.
One of the elements in this film that fans started paying attention to is the fact that you cast Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes.
FAVREAU: [Producer] Avi [Arad] was talking to him even before I had been hired on. So by the time I had come in, he had brought in Terrence and it's hard to argue with casting Terrence. He could've been Tony Stark if we had gone a little bit of a different way from the books. I think he's got those types of [acting] chops. People don't think far enough in the future. They have a great movie and then they say, "How do we do it again?" That's the difference between a sequel and a chapter. So, in looking at chapters, where can we go? You can go "War Machine" with Terrence Howard. We could go a lot of different ways with this cast.
So you would come back to do more of these films?
FAVREAU: If the experience was as good as this I would do another one. It's really hard to say at this point. That journey is 10 years, but I could see working on this thing. I think it's been fun and great and hopefully it gets easier as it goes on and as you get it down.
You think this stellar cast would come back for more?
FAVREAU: I asked Robert what he wanted to do in his career now, and he said that he wanted to make movies that were good and that people were going to see. That seems very simple, but it's a pretty profound statement. Actors want to be in movies that are good and that they're proud of. You want to do a movie that's going to be part of the culture. "Pirates of the Caribbean," that's like "The Sopranos." Everyone knows what you're talking about and you've seen it and it's impacted lives and has created a cultural ripple. That's something that you can't always get with an indie [film]. Sometimes that happens with something like "Swingers," but usually it doesn't.
Have you gotten any advice from any other comic movie directors?
FAVREAU: I went to the set of "Spider-Man 3" visiting Sam Raimi, and just seeing certain things go so slow because they have to and certain things going really fast, but not getting freaked out when you have 400 people sitting around waiting for one guy to hang a light [helped]. Coming from independent films, knowing how to pace it and do it because of being on budget, I've figured out how to do that. This movie, though, is huge. I don't think that I've ever been on sets like this. I mean, I had a small part in "Batman Forever" and I saw the Bat-cave and all of that stuff and it was really cool. But even "Daredevil" wasn't of this scale. Nothing I've been on has been of this scale.