Director Jon Favreau talks "Iron Man"

Following the "Iron Man" movie panel Saturday afternoon at WonderCon in San Francisco, director Jon Favreau met with members of the press to discuss the film in greater detail. CBR News was on hand to meet with Favreau and get the full details on what fans can expect to see on screen.

Favreau began by discussing the appeal of comic book movies in general, and what he tried to accomplish with "Iron Man."  "[The film] has to attract people who don't know anything about the comics, or who don't know anything about the character," Favreau said. "So we sort of walk everybody through everything that happened. I think we also limit things a bit, make things a little bit more plausible, so that people don't look at it and say, oh it's just a comic book movie anyway, anything could happen. And then we also have a cast that is a little bit more broadly appealing, people might give us a chance who wouldn't normally come to a Marvel-type film. But for the fans, we wanted to have enough stuff happening in there that it seems like we were either reacting to or by making a choice to go against what their expectations might be, based on the comics. So we always said, okay, here's a suit that was in [the film], how do we tip a hat to the suit that wasn't in? In the books, Iron Man was in this country, he was in Vietnam -- well let's make it Afghanistan now, that seems consistent."

Other changes from the source material are more drastic. "In the case of Jarvis, we decided to not have it be an Alfred-type butler but take a leap there," said Favreau. "And I'm sure there's certain things that, you know, we will be crucified for and there will be certain things that we'll be celebrated for. I'm sure we have our own version of the organic web-shooters here somewhere," he laughed, referring to the controversy ignited among some Spider-Man fans when the filmed version of that character debuted nt with mechanical web-shooters he'd invented, but rather with an organic solution built into his body.

As those who have seen the "Iron Man" trailer know, there is a vein of humor underneath the action, a function of Robert Downey, Jr.'s charismatic Tony Stark. "I think in the casting of Downey and the way we handle the tone of it, it sort of has that irreverence that the old-that I always associate with the Marvel brand, and that is a reaction to the very earnest, you know, black and white iconic flawless heroes of the day," Favreau said. "Stan Lee had a given attitude, even to the way he would answer questions in the letters to the editor. So we tried to maintain that without ever undermining the stakes or the reality of the situation. We never joke about the danger. But we do treat things in maybe an unexpected way. With Downey he always wants to take a left turn."

Favreau had effusive praise for his star actor.  "He's my guy because he's going to make the movie that I'm proud of. He's going to make it a good movie," the director said. "I like that kind of likable asshole that he can play. I gravitate to that in my writing and my voice as a filmmaker. I like the guy that, on paper, you don't like. The guy you don't like but somehow you do, that's a fascinating dynamic to me. And I know Vince [Vaughn, who starred in Favreau's self-penned breakthrough hit "Swingers"] does a great job with those types of roles. There's something about that humor that works for me and Robert's one of the few actors that can really be likable and you can really load him up. You can load those saddlebags up with a lot of shit.

"That speech he gives about the missiles, saying, 'I don't like the weapon you never have to fire-I like the weapon you have to fire only once. That's how dad did it, that's how America does it, it's worked out pretty well.' That's a tough mouthful. We came up with that on the set. And we said-we've pushed it this far. Well, it's before he's gone through his transformation as a character. And he pulls it off in a way that's better than the takes that weren't that. He pulls it off in this sort of way that's kind of blas� and doesn't understand what his weapons are doing. It's a game to him, it's a big video game, and it looks like one. We filmed it that way. Then you turn around and show that one of his mortars, with his name on it, blows up and almost takes him out and kills serviceman. And he thinks, wait a minute, and it becomes a little bit of 'A Christmas Carol.' He plays that progression in a real emotional way. That's why I love Robert, he's a true artist, he brings an authenticity to it."

According to Favreau, Downey loves the comic book culture. "He's a bit of a geek, he loves it, he embraces it," Favreau said. "He really wants to be here [at WonderCon, but] he's filming another movie. When I first got off [stage from the "Iron Man" panel] I had to text him and tell him how it went." Favreau said that both he and Downey would be on board for an "Iron Man" sequel, and in fact already seem to be planning it.

Giving some hints as to possible plans for the franchise, Favreau discussed the progression of a successful super hero movie through its sequels.  "I don't want to blow anything, and also I don't honestly know where it's all going to land, but there's sort of things that have been discussed, tried, and talked about, and I know on the horizon is 'The Avengers,'" Favreau said. "The idea is to have chapters with all the characters that would contribute to it being The Avengers, and that might get you over like the third movie hump of, you know, what do you do differently without creating something that's completely arbitrary, to keep it interesting. And so hopefully we're all going toward 'The Avengers.'

"I think [film] number two is always the fun one. I mean, the people who worked on 'X-Men 2,' 'Spider-Man 2,' that's where you have your cast, you have your origin, hopefully you've got your success under your belt to make a number two, and then you just play. And really have fun. Then as you get deeper into the franchise, inevitably there will be a disappointment somewhere in any franchise. So hopefully 'Avengers' will be the way it sort of adds momentum to the franchise."

Responding to rumors that other Marvel characters will appear in "Iron Man," the director said, "I'm not going to tell you who... but for fans there's definitely enough to keep you on the edge of your seat paying attention. And your girlfriend's not going to know what's interesting you in certain scenes-it's just going to fly by certain people. I think we threw enough breadcrumbs around to make you sit up and give a shit."

Returning to a question addressed only briefly on the panel, Favreau talked a bit about using Tony Stark's alcoholism as a plot point in a future film. "The alcoholism, the 'Demon in a Bottle,' it sort of feels a little like 'Spider-man 3.' I want to make sure that if we do it-there's definitely a plot, we're not running from it, and you could definitely see where this movie could lead to it," the director said. "We definitely put that in there. I think once people accept him in this role, and accept Tony Stark and Iron Man, we have a lot of latitude tonally as to what we can do. If you look at 'Dark Knight,' it's very dark but people accept it, or 'Revenge of the Sith,' it's very dark but people brought their kids. This film is about teaching them who these characters are. And based on where it goes we'll figure out tonally what's appropriate. 'Demon in a Bottle' is one of the very strongest story lines of the [comic book series,] and Iron Man is not a comic book character who is known for having wonderful story lines. He's known for having great suits, great characters, but the villains kind of get thin at times, and it's so very dated when you look at Communism and the metaphor-politically, much of it doesn't hold up well. And the Mandarin is incredibly challenging in that respect. We have challenges ahead of us. 'Demon in a Bottle' tends to be one that, from a storytelling perspective, is compelling to all of us."

Similarly, Favreau would not commit to using Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" in the film's soundtrack, despite its appearance in the trailers. "We have it available to us. We want to use it, we want to use it the right way. It's all about balance and tone. So we want to tip our hats in the right way, and not be too obvious," he said.

Starting from the independent film scene writing and producing "Swingers," Favreau has gone on to direct several films including "Elf," "Made," and "Zathura." "Iron Man," though, is by far his biggest budget project. "I feel like there's never enough money no matter how much money you have, because you're always trying to put more on the screen than you've got," Favreau said. "I feel there should be another name for a director of these movies, because, you direct a comedy, you come in and you have a script or you write a script, everybody goes on the stage, maybe you make a few jokes, and then you edit it together, you pick a composer, you lay the music down, you mix it, and it's a year of your life.

"[In the case of 'Iron Man'], you are literally inventing a world, or defining a world based on a world that somebody else created. Or you're creating rules for it. And that's informed by the cast, that you have to get approved and make a deal with, and convince that cast that you're not just putting them in a piece of crap, and that you're actually aspiring for something that they're going to be proud of."

The director suggested this is a particular distinction for big-budget movies, which can be full of spectacle but ultimately unsatisfying. "You know, fortunately in my generation there's enough people who love Marvel that it doesn't just feel like what it must have felt like when Alec Guinness was offered Obi-Wan Kenobi, you know, and it was like, 'what is this?' Yeah, and you don't trust it until it's over. In the case of Marvel, there's this affinity and a connection to the brand, and there's some [movies] people would want to be in and some people wouldn't want to be in. And it's not just success at the box office-that's something I've had to explain to the people who are my bosses. I'll say, well, they don't want to be in that version, and they'll say, do you know how much [money could be in play]-but they don't care how much it [makes], they're actors, they want to be in a movie they can be proud of. If they thought that way they wouldn't be actors, they would have never got to this point in their career."

Favreau, however, does not entirely discount the value of box office success in creating job satisfaction among a film's creators. Explained the director, "Everybody wants their movie to do well. But Downey said to me, "I want to make movies that I'm proud of, I want to make movies that people see.' That might sound like the most self-evident statement, but it really isn't. Because actors go through a stage where they want to make movies they're proud of.

"Like 'Zathura,' I was very proud of it, but it bombed. It was heartbreaking, it really was. And I was involved with 'Elf,' which I was very proud of, and everybody got to see it. It's a very different feeling. And it shouldn't feel different-if you make a painting, you don't care, right? Or you shouldn't. With a movie it's not that, it's a medium. It's not a piece of art, it's a medium. And a medium requires you to communicate with somebody else. It's like recording an answering machine message that nobody's ever going to hear. So it's the response of the fans-it's winning over the people who have never heard of it. It's my kid, when I bring home the dolls, playing with the Mach 1 Iron Man suit and liking it. And you feel connected to all these people in this way that I can't explain.

"Marvel at least affords you that audience. And then it's our job to do something special."

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