One-On-One: Talking "Iron Man" with Director Jon Favreau

Most of you out there first noticed writer/actor/director Jon Favreau in the film "Swingers." Playing the role of Mike Peters, a good guy who never truly understands how "money" he is, Favreau projected a very likable and friendly quality that helped catapult him to stardom. His career has been running non-stop since that 1996 film, with regular appearances on the hit TV show "Friends," starring roles in "Deep Impact" and "Made," plus directing the 2003 hit "Elf." The next two films he'll be directing are "John Carter of Mars" and "Iron Man" and, clearly, since this here is Comic Book Resources, we're most interested in his plans for "Iron Man."

A couple of weeks back at Comic-Con International in San Diego, CBR News got a chance to sit down with Favreau to discuss the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man, how he met artist Adi Granov and what he thought of the convention.

I'm a little fried right now because I took my family to the Wild Animal Park in the middle of what I call "An Inconvenient Truth": a four year old, a three year old, in a wild animal park in the middle of the Summer in San Diego - that was an inconvenient truth! We were just hydrating all day, so that wore us out pretty hard. And today I decided to go down with my kids and walk the floor for a couple of hours. It's all been a bit overwhelming.

How did roaming the floor go for you? Did you have to surround yourself with guards to avoid being mobbed?

It wasn't so bad. I'm kind of used to it and I know how to move through a crowd. Once they see you with your kids, they generally stay away. But, just the sheer mass of humanity, forget about whether it's me or anybody else, there's just so many people down there.

They offered me some security, but frankly you draw less attention if you just move amongst the mass of crowds. You just need to keep moving and you can tell if it's going to get ugly in advance and know when to move on. We had a great time down there.

That mass of humanity you mentioned - I've been coming to this thing for 15 years and I've never seen it quite like this.

Let's talk about the film. The character of Iron Man/Tony Stark presents some major challenges as he's a rather complex character that doesn't have the same sympathetic angles that characters like Batman or Spider-Man has. Talk about the challenges inherent in bringing him to the big screen.

One of the big challenges is how you use technology. I don't mean just the technology of the character in the story and creating that reality, but it's also about how to use the technology available to me as a film maker. The minute it looks fake, the audience is watching it as a spectacle as opposed to an emotional journey. I think the most appealing aspect of Iron Man is the character of Tony Stark and the changes he goes through. It's a very charged premise - you have an arms manufacturer who's taken hostage, in this case in Afghanistan, and asked to create a super weapon for terrorists. If that doesn't strike a chord and doesn't polarize the audience, I don't know what would. So, it takes a lot of responsibility to make a story that's appealing to everybody without selling out or watering the character down from his roots and taking him on that spiritual journey a person would go through as they attain a certain degree of enlightenment based on their experience. So, you have to ask yourself what does Iron Man stand for? He's not fighting muggers in Central Park.

No, he's definitely not. And you asked what Iron Man stands for and quite honestly that hasn't always been clearly defined in the comics. Warren Ellis did a good job recently of adding to the character, followed by the Knauf's who are doing some great work thus far.

I had a conversation last night with Quesada and it was really great. I know Joe obliquely through one of the characters in "Daredevil" and [Daredevil] Director Mark Steven Johnson really cared a great deal for the guy. He has a great reputation and at Marvel West everybody just has great things to say about him. We're both from Queens and I just felt like I've known him a long time even though I just met him. So, I asked him that same question and he said it's really tricky. With Captain America, you know he's fighting for freedom, but what's Iron Man fighting for? Is he fighting for democracy? Is he fighting for America? These are not things that are easy to rally around for general audiences; we're in a very conflicted time right now. So, what's the common aspect of his personality that everybody can agree upon? Joe said, "He really fights for the truth and what's right and that's not always going to be the most politically correct thing to be fighting for."

As you pointed out, we live in very sensitive times both politically and ideologically. Do you have to concern yourself with political and global sensitivities to make a movie like this, or is this primarily an action film?

No, it's never just that. Sure, you have to deliver a popcorn movie for people who want to turn off their brains, but for people who really want to pay attention to your writing, you have to put the time and the work in and tell a responsible story. Quite honestly, people who work on small independent films really get involved with what the message and themes of the film are. The fact of the matter is a movie like this will be seen by 10 times as many people as those. So, if there's any movie that you have to pay attention to and how you put it out in the world, it's a movie like this and I welcome that. It's the basis for discussion. Though the set pieces are pretty well realized in terms of who he's fighting and what he's fighting about, we're still refining what he's fighting for, how we end this movie and who Iron Man is at the end of this and how he projects himself into the world. He's a bit paradigmatic for what America is. He represents technology, inspiration, a certain adolescent enthusiasm, but there's also a bit of immaturity and there's a clumsiness about him at times, too, where he might be too powerful for his own good. I think a lot of people view us [Americans] that way. So, not only are we telling a story to ourselves, but also a story we're telling to the rest of the world on how we see ourselves. So, to me, Iron Man is representative of America in a lot of ways and I welcome that.

It sounds like he really represents American ingenuity.

Absolutely, ingenuity and all the good and bad things that come with power and technology.

"Iron Man" artist Adi Granov is involved with the design of this film. I understand that you and Adi got hooked up together through your MySpace page.

He contacted me, in fact. He said, "Hey, you're using a lot of my images on your MySpace page!" [laughs] So, I asked, "Are you really him?" So, he had to sort of prove to me who he was. [laughs] That led to him asking if I was working on the movie and he said he'd love to be involved. So, he's been involved. He's working on artwork for us and came up with this great teaser image for Comic-Con, which is fun.

You haven't cast the film yet, obviously, but what are the qualities you see needed by an actor to play Tony Stark/Iron Man?

I think you need the panache of a James Bond and the intelligence and ingenuity of a Tom Clancy leading man like Jack Ryan. Between having humor and a genuine quality, I think you can pull this character off. I think Harrison Ford was always great at making you think he had incite into the situation and found the humor in a situation - as we saw with Indiana Jones and Han Solo - but he never undermined the character. You always thought that he thought he could really die. The stakes have to remain high in this movie - we can't smirk our way through the film. It has to take the circumstances seriously.

Interesting, a young Harrison Ford would be perfect for this role. So, now you've got to find your young Harrison Ford and maybe you can be a king maker, considering the career he's had.

It's nice to know I have that freedom.

Let's talk about your history with comics. What's that been like?

It's tough to say I'm a comic fan here [at Comic-Con], because I'm not somebody who follows them religiously. I admit, I wouldn't be reading Marvel comics now had I not been making "Iron Man." I read them when I was in high school and younger, all those early origin stories. When it got into the heavier stuff, I began to disconnect with them a little bit because it really took a lot of work to keep up with the storylines. But I've always loved them, the movies based on them and the mythic quality of them. I would say compared to most directors doing comic films, I'm probably as big of a fan as you'll find next to a guy who's really dyed-in-the-wool like Kevin Smith and Mark Steven Johnson, but compared to the people who are doing the bigger franchises I can say I'm more aware of the storylines and the realities of the characters.

Thanks, Jon. Now go get some rest!

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