Director Shane Black and Producer Kevin Feige discuss Iron Man 3, in theaters nationwide May 3
Director Shane Black and producer Kevin Feige both come from rather different ends of the cinematic spectrum. Shane Black was one of the go-to writers in the 1980s and 1990s, revolutionizing the action-comedy genre with his scripts for Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and his directorial debut, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Kevin Feige produced Marvel Studio's highly-successful Phase One slate of movies, starting with Iron Man and culminating with last year's Marvel's The Avengers. Their Marvel Phase Two sequel Iron Man 3 showcases a melding of these two distinct styles in fascinating ways, when this action-thriller hits theaters May 3 (CLICK HERE for my full review). I recently had the chance to sit down with both Shane Black and Kevin Feige to speak about this cinematic journey, which takes Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to much different places, both emotionally and physically. Here's what the filmmakers had to say.
There were a few times while I was watching this where I was reminded of that line in The Avengers, when Captain America says, 'Take away that suit, and what are you?' Did that line have any direct influence over the story of Iron Man 3?
Kevin Feige: I would say none at all, because Shane was already working on this very movie before we shot that line. But, I think (Marvel's The Avengers writer-director) Joss (Whedon) wrote that line because it's a great question. It's inherent in the Iron Man mythos, a man who isn't genetically altered, permanently, in any way. He gets in a vehicle. What's a race car driver without the car? It's an interesting question.
Shane, can you take us through the process of co-writing the script with Drew Pearce? I read he had this big outline formed before you worked together. Were there things you took from that, or did you start from scratch together?
Shane Black: I insisted on sort of starting from scratch, because I wanted to start from scratch without Drew (Laughs), initially, because I didn't know Drew. He's just this dude who showed up, 'Hello, I'm on staff here.' 'You know what, pal, let me tell you a thing or two, because I've been in this business... blah blah blah.' I didn't really say that to him. Instead, I invited him in and gave him some tea and we talked about the script, and, all of the sudden, we were fast friends. We just couldn't stop working together. We sat across from each other for weeks. It was great. It's one of those things where you just give things a chance, you keep your mind open, and be prepared to have your mind appropriately blown by somebody who is talented and wonderful. A lot of my bluster, anyway, was based simply on insecurity, so this way, I found out I had a good friend that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
You pull from several different comic book arcs, with The Mandarin coming from the 1960s, and Extremis, which I believe is only a few years old. Is it daunting going through this whole canon to pick and choose what kinds of things you want to put in a film like this?
Shane Black: It is, except that we had already liked Extremis, so that was one, we had that. Then, it was whether or not to include The Mandarin, who had been sort of bandied about for a period of years, as the one that the fans were sort of expecting. In fact, after Iron Man 2, you read a lot of the blogs and it's like, 'S--t, it's not The Mandarin.' We thought, well, that's kind of what they were hoping for from the start, maybe the third one is the time to give it to him. We decided to try and find a way, if we could, to work in The Mandarin, in an interesting mix with Extremis. Maybe his disciples were, instead of militia guys, well, maybe these guys follow The Mandarin in the movie version. That's where we landed.
What I really loved about Iron Man 3 is this is the first time Tony is really fazed by something. He's the guy who has the answer for everything, the smart-ass remark for everything. This time, we really get to see him crumble. Was it entertaining to see the different layers of that character which we hadn't seen before?
Kevin Feige: Absolutely. I would say we've seen it a few times before. We saw it when he got blown up in the convoy in Iron Man and spent a few days in that cave. I think we saw it very briefly in Iron Man 2 when his car got cut in half by Whiplash. I love those moments, and I think the audience loves those moments, and, frankly, in The Avengers, there are a few moments where he's in over his head. It's fun to see Tony, a man who has such a healthy ego, who's so brash and seemingly has it all, stripped of everything and backed into a corner, because then he's forced to rely on more than just his charisma and his wit, he has to use his brain and his intelligence. That was a big, big thing, even in our early meetings with Shane. We said that, post-Avengers, we wanted to explore that further.
I was surprised by the number of actors I recognized in these smaller roles, like Adam Pally from Happy Endings, and Rebecca Mader. What was your approach to casting these smaller roles, such as Stephanie Szostak (Brandt) and James Badge Dale (Coldblood), that do have a big impact in their own way?
Kevin Feige: It was the same with Adam, who is a friend of Robert's, and Shane, who rightly so loved William Sadler and Miguel Ferrer. I love bringing in the Shane Black Universe, where the President is William Sadler and the Vice-President is Miguel Ferrer. That's just cool.
I was really impressed by Ty Simpkins. That whole part of the story was really intriguing because it puts us into a place we're not really expecting to go. Was it a daunting casting process to find a kid with that kind of charisma?
Shane Black: Yeah. We looked at a lot of really cute kids, a lot of beautiful kids, a lot of sarcastic kids, and we had to find a kid who could stand up to Robert. When it came down to the few we had selected, we got them in the room with Robert, to see how they all got along. This kid, the first thing he did was he came in and gave Robert some sass. Actually, the first thing he said in his audition was, 'Oh my God. They've got a toothbrush in the bathroom.' Somebody put toothbrushes in the bathroom. My favorite are the kids who aren't on-point. (Producer) James L. Brooks, when he was auditioning for Jerry Maguire, he said they cast the kid (Jonathan Lipnicki) because during the whole scene, there was a cookie in the middle of the table, and they're auditioning and the kid was just trying to figure out a way to take the cookie and not get seen.
Kevin Feige: I'm glad you said that about Ty. When the movie comes out, and you'll write about everything in the movie, and there are a lot of "risky moves," the biggest risk is not the one that will be obvious to people when they see the movie. To me, it was the casting of the kid, because, if that didn't fly, you have Tony's little buddy, and it's a disaster. It would have been the opposite of what Shane wanted, what I wanted, and what Robert wanted. So, the fact that we found Ty, and that Shane and Robert took the time to audition him, and, frankly, on the set, took the time to work with him and embrace his real kid nature, is why it worked so well.
I know we probably can't talk a whole lot about it, but I have to mention the Barrel of Monkeys. That was wild. That was one of the first photos that came out from the set, and I just kept thinking, 'What the hell is this going to be?'. It was really quite a thrill to see that come together. How insane was that to shoot?
Shane Black: Well, it's just guys with helmet-cams jumping out of planes, hitting the ground, walking back to the plane, going back up, doing it seven times a day, over and over and over.
Kevin Feige: They're in their outfits covering their parachutes.
Shane Black: At some point, I don't even think some of them had their parachutes on the back of their suits. They would have to strip off their jacket to trigger the parachute.
Kevin Feige: It was astounding and, by far, the most impressive practical sequence we've ever shot on a Marvel movie. The response to the scene has been amazing, and that scene didn't even really come together until about three weeks ago, when it was all finished, because everything had to work.
Shane Black: That's one thing (Iron Man and Iron Man 2 director) Jon Favreau told me early on. He said, 'Don't worry about how it looks, because you're never going to know until three weeks before. You'll think this thing looks like a cobbled-together piece of nonsense with green everywhere and a guy in a frog suit leaping by.' Then, boom, the effects go in, and suddenly it's done, and it's like nothing you've ever imagined. Until then, you'll never know.
Speaking of Jon, he was great as Happy. I read that he was somewhat relieved, to play that character and not have everything else going on around him as the director.
Kevin Feige: He was an incredible resource, and he was incredibly gracious with his time, coming back and doing what I think is the best Happy story line we've had in any of the movies.
Shane Black: Yeah, even stuff where it's three in the morning, and he's lying on the ground covered in dust, he's like, 'Do you want me to go again? What do you want me to do?' I'd say we have to do it again and he says, 'That's fine. Whatever you need.' He just kept saying, 'Whatever you need,' and he was sincere. He was the most helpful guy you could imagine.
Kevin Feige: He constantly had ideas. A lot of the gags in the movie were his ideas. I don't know if we should spoil this, but the Downton Abbey one was his idea. If you notice, it's always the scenes with the chauffeur on Downton Abbey. That was his idea.
That's my time. Thanks so much, guys.
Kevin Feige: Thank you. It was good seeing you.
Shane Black: Take care, man.