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You’ve got to hand it to actor/director Jon Favreau: he knows how to impress the 6000 plus fans at Comic Con’s Hall H and impress them he did. But for Favreau, the pressure is on with his larger than life Iron Man sequel that hits theatres next summer, as he explained to PAUL FISCHER following the panel.
Q: You rocked hall H Jon.
JF: Thank you. Boy, it was scary coming in. That’s the problem. Remember that Bugs Bunny where Daffy Duck drinks the gasoline, lights himself on fire and it blows up and everybody claps? It’s like what do you do for an encore? Last time around, we put it all out there because we had a lot to prove.
Q: You were the underdog two years ago.
JF: We were the underdog. We were sandwiched, if you remember, the first time I showed the stuff we were sandwiched between, on I think Thursday at the Paramount panel, everybody was waiting to see Indiana Jones. On the other side was Star Trek and they kinda just stuck us in there and we knew we had to fight our way. We were the runt and we had to fight our way to get the attention. This year it’s ridiculous but even then it was 100s of properties that were trying to fight for attention. To emerge as one that was talked about was not a fait accompli by any stretch so we knew we had to show a lot of footage. This time, if you look at what other films with established franchises do, they tend to just come, do a little, sort of soft pedal the event, just show up as a sign of respect and don’t do too much, maybe give away a shirt or something. I want every time that I come here, I bring what people expect.
Q: How did you avoid the trap of sequels adding too many villains and characters?
JF: Well, we had to walk a fine line. I think you’re good for number two. Two seems to be the charm because you got your origin story out of the way. You can add some complexity to it and you have room, because you don’t have to tell the origin story, to introduce the characters. When you get to number three, you can get hidebound. You’re like a beached whale sometimes because you have so much, you collapse under the weight of the complexity that you’ve created. We looked at the successful sequels that we liked. I’m not talking about Two Towers or films that are chapters based on novels or Harry Potter. I’m talking about true sequels. The two that we liked the most, this was me and Kevin Feige talking, were Wrath of Kahn and Empire Strikes Back. Those were the two that we said, “They did it right. Now let’s look at what they did right.” There were so many others that didn’t feel as good as the first but for those two, what we found was that it really gave room to explore the characters and the villain plotlines were very simple but the stakes were very high. The less you get bogged down in complexity, the more you could really let the audience enjoy what they really like which are the relationships. Two years later, I know I’m a pretty savvy audience member, I don’t remember the dynamics and the subtleties of it. It’s not as precious to me as it is to the filmmakers. So it’s putting yourself in the seat of the audience and saying, “What do they want to see more but you want to go bigger.” You go from Alien to Aliens and then you want to show them the characters that they’ve invested in and how they’ve changed and change those dynamics by introducing new characters. Don’t just add to the action but throw the relationship into a little bit of a curve ball.
Q: Do you have double responsibility to set up part of The Avengers too?
JF: Yeah, I think that’s fun. I think it’s inevitable and The Avengers might be the thing that helps rescue us from the inevitable sequel slump that you get into because you’re throwing everything on its ear. It might be a failed experiment or it might be something wonderful, but it allows you to add complexity in an organic way where you’re culminating with something bigger as opposed to trying to play out and not repeat the same story over and over again.
Q: How do you avoid overloading on villain origin stories?
JF: It’s very true. With Empire, what you do is you reveal layers of what the larger villain is. We’re not feeling any pressure right now to rush to the whole Mandarin sub-throughline.
Q: But that’s still intact?
JF: It’s still intact. We’re consistent with it. We know where it’s going but I think audiences are pretty sophisticated. I watched the whole first season of Lost and of Heroes not having to know every thing about what was going on but I felt there was a consistency to those worlds. So in this case, with Mickey, we definitely did want to have an origin story because we wanted an origin story to shadow and mirror Tony because he’s introduced this technology into the world and how does that affect the world? We’re dealing with an arms race. That’s what Iron Man has always been. The thing about an arms race is, when you stop, the world doesn’t. You have windows of opportunity to change the world in good ways while all the bad forces are paralyzed and what happens when those other superpowers emerge. It changes your tactics. Iron Man is dealing with as much as he can based on saying, “I am Iron Man.” And what that has meant is to keep the world at bay with that new technology and who he was and how that changes now with the emergence of Mickey.
Q: How much pressure was on you to deliver the goods?
JF: I didn’t feel any pressure. Maybe I’m oblivious but the only pressure I felt was really the people in this room and to the fans. Unfortunately, the way sequels work is they market them and sell them based on the first one. If you have a successful film, they could run it into the ground and sell your second film based on the first one. So commercially, you have a safety net. The trick is, as a filmmaker and somebody who loves the movies that I make and the source material, I don’t want to fall into that trap. So the pressure is completely self-imposed. I want people to like this movie as much, if not better than the first one. That’s the game of chicken I’m playing but there’s a safety net knowing people will check it out. People stay away from our weekends with other movies. It’s going to get marketed well. It’s going to properly get its shot to do business but the success of the first one that I really appreciated wasn’t just that people went to see it. It was that people were charmed by it. We wanted to make a charming film that didn’t lose track of what we did the first time around and that’s my job. In bringing new cast members in that were consistent. You talk about ensemble writing, it’s bringing an ensemble that can be stewards of their character because we change stuff. Writing on these movies is something that’s a living, breathing thing and I want to give us the freedom that if we discover something in one scene, we can change a scene in the next act to support that.
Q: Why the new writer?
JF: Well, I love the first two sets of writers that I had worked with. Robert had a very good relationship with Justin. We found somebody who can help bring a voice to him but the writing is such a collaborative process, it’s not like I wrote Swingers, we shot Swingers. This is like here’s the basic story. Here’s the basic scenes. Here’s the basic structure, here are the basic set pieces. Let’s start drawing and storyboarding these moments. Now, how do we connect all of this and then the last step is the actual writing of it. But I have the whole story in my head by the time the script actually emerges.
Q: Will you have a story by credit?
JF: It’s part of directing. As a writer, I think it’s unfair because of the amount of work that the writers do do. I think that everybody has their role but everybody overlaps. Justin Thereoux shot some footage for me. Robert wrote a lot of his own stuff and was involved with the story process from the beginning. Gwyneth comes in. Everybody improvises.
Q: How fluid was it? Was the script lot?
JF: They never are. We locked script last week when we shot the last scene.
Q: Justin was rewriting the whole time?
JF: He was rewriting the whole time and he shouldered a tremendous burden in conforming to what our new ideas were and then us giving him new ideas and then changing it, him doing it and then ultimately improvising oftentimes.
Q: What’s the intensity factor with Robert and Mickey together?
JF: Mickey and Robert didn’t work together a lot and Robert had really gone out of his way to get Mickey involved. They were on the tour for the awards season last year together. They kept popping up at the same events because they were both nominated. So Mickey was definitely very, I think, appreciative that Robert fought so hard to get him, as did I. So off camera there was a lot of mutual respect and appreciation but of course on camera, they’re two strong forces that definitely squared off against one another.
Q: What did Mickey and Scarlett add to the game?
JF: Well, Scarlett brings a new - - not only works us towards The Avengers but also changed the dynamic between Robert and Gwyneth. One of the other traps you don’t want to fall into is just repeating the same dynamics and turn it into Hart to Hart. You don’t want it to be Moonlighting. You don’t want to have the same thing over and over again. It’s not a television series but I don’t know that you would like it for these guys. It’s a movie so you have to change things and you have to create a beginning, middle and an end so that it doesn’t just feel like an episode in a series of films. So by introducing her, that changes their dynamic. Scarlett appears in their life and has, as you can see, just a tremendous presence. With Mickey Rourke, I didn’t want to just have two guys in robot suits hitting each other again. I wanted to have a different type of villain that used the same technology, existed within the same framework and rules of our world, but that was going to present not just a challenge physically but also in how dark he was and also how he’s related and how his fate and Tony’s fate are connected.
Q: How do you have time to act?
JF: I pushed it a little too hard this time. I was shooting I Love You, Man the week this movie came out which was very weird to be on the phone with Jeffrey Katzenberg, sitting getting ready to be on the set of a movie sitting in like a small trailer as a supporting player on a low budget comedy. It was just a surreal experience. Then Couples Retreat I was writing. I was supposed to direct that. Vince had the idea. He was producing it. We were both going to star and I was going to direct but because Iron Man’s release date was coming so fast, I couldn’t. I worked on the script for about a year and had to put it down during the strike even, and then came back to it. Then I had to start working on Iron Man, so Vince rewrote it and Peter Billingsly, who’s been a collaborator with us, directed it. I got to carve out the time in the schedule to act in it but just I went from project to project to project, as did Robert, and it’s a little overwhelming. I’m going to have to try to find time in here somehow.
Q: Is the thought that Avengers is the third Iron Man or is there an Iron Man 3?
JF: There’s an Iron Man 3. Here’s how I know. When they make the option deals, they include Iron Man 3. So I know they’re planning on 3. Whether that would be before or after Avengers, they’ve announced that Avengers is next but they pushed back The Avengers once which I thought was encouraging. It would certainly - -
Q: Does that give you more time to breathe?
JF: It does and my involvement has yet to be determined on that project. Remember, you have to take into account what Thor is and you don’t know that until the film’s locked. You’re not going to know about Thor for two years, what that really means. And Captain America, they haven’t even started prepping yet. So there’s a lot of discovery that has to take place before you can understand what Avengers really is.
Q: What’s your place in that process?
JF: We talk about it and really Iron Man is their flagship franchise right now that we’re making a sequel for. It’s the one that’s informing the others the most so I feel like I’m chopping my way through the jungle and Avengers will eventually be an oasis somewhere down the line. I’m pretty much hands on day to day just on Iron Man but I think they’ll learn from what I’m discovering now that will inform the next one.
Q: Couples Retreat looks hilarious.
JF: I hope so. I haven’t seen it yet. It was very funny on the set so hopefully it’ll work out well.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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