Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell and director Jon Favreau speak out
Two years ago at the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con, director Jon Favreau unveiled the first look at his upcoming film, a film that most were unsure of at best. Some thought of it as scraping the bottom of the barrel of the comic books that haven't been adapted for film, with this supposed B-league character. By the time the 2007 Con was over, the hot topic of the entire event was Favreau's Iron Man, which, of course, went on to be a huge box office sensation. Naturally, a sequel will follow and Favreau again has come to San Diego to present a little tidbit from Iron Man 2, despite only wrapping production last week. Favreau also hit up the press corps, bringing stars Robert Downey Jr. along with franchise newcomers Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, Sam Rockwell as Tony Stark rival Justin Hammer and Don Cheadle, taking over for Terrence Howard as Rhodey. The stars all hit the convention for brief roundtable interviews and here's what they all had to say.
Robert Downey Jr.
So, will Iron Man and War Machine go head-to-head?
Robert Downey Jr.: Well, I kind of got that sense from that footage that we had seen. It seems to be a mystery. If I had to piece together what's going on in that footage, at a certain point in act one or two, Tony is approached by Nick Fury, who is wondering what it's like for him to not have any back-up. Rhodey has been under pressure from the Senate to essentially turn over the weapon that he designed when he was under contract for them, but the truth of the matter is he didn't design it for a government contract. He designed it to save his own life, so he has an argument there. The funny thing is, in saying what I'm saying right now, we're going right back to our original sessions six months ago, when we were not only reminding ourselves of the obvious, but that if this was really happening, what would be the most interesting, entertaining and honest way to show it. We took the risk of exploring that and, basically, Tony goes on a much more perilous journey this time than he did when all he had to do was save his own ass.
You have this really tight-knit group that is really incredible to watch. How did you guys welcome Don (Cheadle) as the new kid? How did that work?
Robert Downey Jr.: Well, speaking of tight-knit groups, there's this sort of certain brother and sisterhood of talent in what's otherwise kind of a small town. Everybody knows Don and we've been seeing the kind of work he's been doing over the years. I just had this problem where I tend to go up to people when they come up and join a project, partially due to the fact that part of what made it work last time was my director and director involvement, I do believe that I guarantee you and I promise you that we will work our asses off to really pay this character off and to give them what you would expect, from coming to join us. I guess the problem or the challenge this time was I was essentially saying that to three or four new people. Jon (Favreau) and I were telling Mickey (Rourke) that we didn't want him to play a two-dimensional nemesis. We were thrilled to get Scarlett (Johansson) and we said you're not going to be just the Marvel spin-off story thing just because we want a hot chick kicking ass in this movie, and I think we managed that. With Sam, he's just such a gifted guy, and it's no secret that he's come to fill in the space that Tony has evacuated when he said he's not going to make weapons anymore. So, what is it like to be a "wannabe Tony Stark" and how does that add up to what his conflict was. The real one, though, was with Don, and we were just saying that no-man-is-an-island thing and I always got, from the comic books, that if Tony and Rhodey were hanging out, it would be a toss-up as to which one would get laid first. With Don, we were just standing outside screwing around a bit, just entertaining ourselves at each other's expense, he's someone who I feel we have a real repartee and ease with. I wanted to bring that to the screen as much as possible, while still having him have his own arc and trajectory and all that.
You said that you had to talk to Mickey about taking the role, so did you have to really convince him, to come on board?
Robert Downey Jr.: The thing is that Iron Man sold itself two years ago and, contrary to numbers-crunchers, it ended up being a rousing success, so it's kind of a win-win situation. I think the conversation really centered around the fact that it's not uncommon to be sold a bill of goods and, for one reason or another, usually not without intention, it doesn't pay off. I've been in that position dozens of times, so I think Jon and I and Kevin (Feige) and the Marvel folks and pretty much everybody who was there last time, we knew that as a creative coalition, we really tended to be able to make good on what we hoped we could provide.
It sounds like you have a real responsibility to the character and the franchise at this point, almost an ownership at this point. Do you reconcile with the fact that it's also this cog in this giant Marvel machine?
Robert Downey Jr.: I do, but rarely. I tend to just think of it as something that is really kind of an unspoiled arena of activity in this wonderful, treacherous industry.
Is Tony's health in trouble? I noticed there was something across his chest.
Robert Downey Jr.: You might be on to something.
One of the things that perplexes a lot of superhero movies is they spend a lot of time introducing the character, why he's there, what he does, who he is. Now you're on the second one, how are you going to liberate it from that? What are you going to do with this movie that you wanted to do with the first one but just didn't have time or space to do?
Robert Downey Jr.: Usually the origin story is the most interesting story because you get to see someone becoming someone who are the beloved ones they are. So, again, we just up the stakes. He has to be dealing with things that are more pertinent than his immediate survival and he has to be exposed to things that are beyond the realm of his understanding, even for someone as bright as he is. Those were all there, so we didn't have to recreate anything. You can't tell the story any better than the way it actually happened, so we just ended up looking back on all of the stories and it just ended up being an amalgamation of those. We didn't take ourselves seriously at all, but we took the storytelling really very seriously.
So were you familiar with your character of The Black Widow, or was this a whole new world for you?
Scarlett Johansson: It was all new to me. I had met originally with Jon and Kevin to kind of discuss a couple of the other superheroines of the Marvel universe, and Black Widow was one of them. But, I didn't really know anything about the character until I delved into it and I took a look at the suit and was like, 'Oh... my God. I've got to get into that.' So it was a whole new world for me.
Could you talk about the other female Marvel characters that you may have played?
Scarlett Johansson: Let's see if I can remember them. Scarlett Witch was one of them and Moon.
In the comic book, Black Widow used to be a KGB spy and she was Russian. Is your Black Widow Russian, and is she at all tied into Mickey's character?
Scarlett Johansson: Well, you're going to have to wait and see. That would be giving you too much. But I will say that she is covert and I think that she blends in. It's not like she comes onto the scene and it's like, 'Who is that Russian chick?'
So you're not using an accent then?
Scarlett Johansson: No. I think that would be a little bit of a dead giveaway (Laughs). But I would've if I had to.
Can you talk a bit about the physicality of the role?
Scarlett Johansson: Sure. Well, for me, as an audience member, I don't want to watch those action sequences where you don't see any of the actor's face and it's all the back of their head and you're like, 'That's just a terrible stunt double.' I mean, you get to know an actor's body and their mannerisms and, for me, it was really important to do the stunt work and be able to fight. It was a lot of training, stunt training, weight training, all kinds of stuff. I wanted to be able to look at someone and say, 'I'm going to kick the shit out of that person,' and to believe it is a challenge in itself.
When you came on board, did Kevin (Feige) or anyone at Marvel explain to you that the part is going to be in this movie, but the plan is to take the storyline and extend it into The Avengers or go into a third Iron Man movie? Did they pitch it to you that way, or was it just stand-alone?
Scarlett Johansson: No, I wasn't pitched it at all that way. I think that, certainly, Marvel is out building a fan base around these characters and being able to extend their life in the movie world. These are characters that they obviously have a vested interest in and the fans have a vested interest in and it would be a shame to take a character like Black Widow, who has been around for so many years and has such a fan base and can have so many different kinds of storylines, and not going ahead with it. I think it's all up to the fans and if they love the character. I think Marvel very much works that way and they are fans themselves so I think they will kind of feel out what the masses are thinking.
Coming into the second one, how did you feel the evolution of the character in the story occurred?
Scarlett Johansson: I try to compare it with something like Hamlet. It's that kind of dramatic second act where there's this huge climax and everything culminates in the character. The character can kind of choose between two different paths and I think a lot of the characters in this film, had to make a choice and I think there is that kind of iconic good vs. evil that comes into play. It's not all gray area. There are choices that have to be made and I think that a lot of characters are forced to sort of step up to the plate and realize how important they are and how invaluable they are to humankind and decide, you know, I have all of this in the palm of my hand. Which way should I go? That, to me, is epic. It's that kind of story and I think Jon has had that in his mind of what he wants. Hopefully the third act is the culmination of that, whether good or evil prevails.
So how does it feel to be one of the new guys in this movie?
Sam Rockwell: It's fun. It's exciting to see that trailer, you know, because we just wrapped a week ago. It was really wild to see that. It was really exciting.
Looking at this cast and the people who are making this movie, everybody comes from more of an indie background and these are real actors and real filmmakers working on this. It's not just a big dumb action movie. Did create a different environment on the set, even though this is a big movie, maybe a smaller-movie environment?
Sam Rockwell: It is. It really feels like you're part of the all stars, like you're there to do something cool. You're right, it's not just a big studio movie with thrills and chills, it's very actor-friendly and, cinematically, it's just phenomenal. It's big filmmaking and yet, it is very accessible to actors in a way that independent film is. It's very actor-friendly, for sure.
Is Justin Hammer a physical threat to Tony Stark at any point in this film?
Sam Rockwell: That I will not answer, but I like that you're asking that question. You'll have to wait, get the popcorn and check it out. As you can see, Mickey (Rourke) is a bit of a threat.
For fans of the movie that might not be familiar with Justin Hammer, how would you describe him?
Sam Rockwell: He's a bit of like a Lex Luthor, mixed in a with a little bit of Bill Murray in Kingpin and George C. Scott in The Hustler, Bernie Madoff. He's an amalgamation of a lot of different types.
Do you see him as more of a sales guy almost?
Sam Rockwell: Yeah, and a little bit of the Jeremy Piven character in Entourage. It's an amalgamation of all these things, and I think it's still developing. We don't know what Justin Hammer is becoming. He might become something else. He's starting off one way.
So we see him at that summit hearing, which we see so much of early in the film, so is he a rival to stark? Are they sort of friends?
Sam Rockwell: He's an arms dealer, so he's not dissimilar to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. It has that kind of tone to it.
In the first Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau were sort of rewriting as they went along, so has that been similar here?
Sam Rockwell: Yes, it has, although we had one writer on the whole time, Justin Theroux. He wrote a complete script and stuff changed, but we at least had a complete structure, which I think helps a lot.
Do you like that kind of atmosphere?
Sam Rockwell: Yeah, I do. It felt bigger in a way. I really trusted Jon Favreau and Justin Theroux and Kevin Feige that this thing was going to take shape and you feel like you're in good hands. They're a lot of smart people pulling the strings on this, so I felt pretty good about it.
Is Justin Hammer the kind of bad guy that we can get to know and feel bad for or is he just the kind of bad guy that's just a dick?
Sam Rockwell: That's a good question. Of course, I would hope you would feel bad for him, but we'll see. I have my own thing that I was trying to do, but we'll see what happens on the big screen?
What is his motivation then?
Sam Rockwell: Jealousy, I think. That's the main thing.
He's not as brilliant as Stark and...
Sam Rockwell: Yeah, he doesn't have the same skills and I think he looks up to Tony and Tony doesn't really want anything to do with him, so he's going to take him down. We'll see what ends up there on the big screen.
So that War Machine suit is pretty cool.
Don Cheadle: Pretty cool, yeah. I've got a couple of them on eBay, if anyone wants to jump in.
One of the things Robert talked about was the immense rapport he felt with you so, the natural question to ask is, from your point of view, what was that like?
Don Cheadle: You know, it's great, especially in a movie where so much of it isn't real, that you can't see and feel and touch and understand, to have an actor like Robert who is steeped in an acting tradition and who really are trying to go after real stuff and feeling very similar to the way I like to. It was very encouraging to be able to grab onto something that felt real, in that whole huge thing that was Iron Man 2.
Can you talk about the relationship between Rhodey and Stark at this point, because the scene we saw, it seemed like it was pretty strained.
Don Cheadle: It is strained. Rhodey is a military man who has a chain of command and has to follow rules and Tony Stark, in this movie, basically, is a free agent who can do whatever he wants, sitting in donuts (Laughs) and using the suit for whatever he decides he wants to use it for. There is a lot of tension, which a lot of our scenes explore and is kind of the underpinning for the whole film: How is Iron Man dealing with the pressure of saying, 'Yeah, I am Iron Man.' What does that mean? Does that mean we get to pimp you out to go and do all these jobs around the world or does he get to say no, when we have some crisis that needs to be dealt with?
So Robert wears a version of the suit in the movie, so do you wear a version of the War Machine suit?
Don Cheadle: Only on set, and in my trailer (Laughs). Yeah, I wear the real suit and my suit was a lot heavier then his and had a lot more stuff on it. It's necessary, so sometimes you're in the suit, sometimes you're in the motion-capture stuff, sometimes they don't need you and they're just creating it. I've never worked like this before.
So how restricting are these suits then?
Don Cheadle: You can't feel the ends of your fingers and toes. I mean, literally, you can't scratch your nose. It's funny because I looked on the schedule and I think my CGI version of James Rhodey worked just as many days as I did.
Don Cheadle: (Laughs) Yeah. They didn't have to feed him.
When they approached you about taking on this character, was it a slam dunk or did you hesitate?
Don Cheadle: My first hesitation was about Terrence (Howard). We're friends, I've known him for awhile and I said that I'm not taking it and they said, 'He's not doing it, so you're on the short list, but if you say no, then we're on to the next.' It was still a question because it's a commitment. It's got wood, the franchise, and you're going, 'Do I want to be locked into this character for three, four, however many years? But I really thought the first movie definitely handled real things inside of this fancy world and inside of our CGI, there is some real acting going on.
Has there been any talk about you headlining your own picture with War Machine?
Don Cheadle: People have asked, but no one has really mentioned it. There will probably be another one, hopefully, if this one goes well, so there won't be a spin-off for the next few years.
Has there been any talks about you being in The Avengers movie at all?
Don Cheadle: Yeah, they're all in that world, so all of those characters would appear in each other's stories in some way, shape or form. I don't know how far that will go, but yeah, that's been discussed.
What would you like the fans of the comic book to know about this particular film?
Jon Favreau: Well, that we hear them. We are working from the same material that they're familiar with and we're going to stick to it in certain ways and, in certain ways, we're going to change it, but we're not changing it out of ignorance. We're changing it out of a choice to make it interesting and maybe making it so that they don't always know what to expect. I think that the fans have been punished by studios who don't care and they assume that when they change things, they don't know what they're doing or that they don't care about them. Like when you're telling a joke, and you do things different so there will be a few surprises. Because of the level of curiosity, it's very hard not to open up the Christmas present before the release date, so we try to do things that might be unexpected. All the secrets we thought we had the first time out, very few of them made it all the way to when the movie came out. I mean, that Nick Fury thing was out on Ain't It Cool News less than a week after we did it. We shot with a skeleton crew on a dark day. Nobody knew about it and we thought we were so clever and everybody knew. Then what we ended up doing was we pulled that additional scene off of all the press prints and we didn't put it out there until the film actually hit theaters. What was funny was there were people at Ain't It Cool News saying, 'I know it's true. Everything is wrong. They did something.' They were right, but it drove them a little crazy for awhile, but it's a cat-and-mouse game that we play often.
Jon, will you ever give another film a chance at Comic-Con, because after last time and this time, it just isn't fair for anybody else.
Jon Favreau: (Laughs) Well last time, we were just fighting for a spot at the dinner table, so we had to Al Capone it real bad. We were sandwiched in between Indiana Jones and Star Trek. We were third-best citizens, so we had to bring it with the footage. This time, from a marketing standpoint, we didn't have to do anything here. The mainstream fans knew about us, they liked it and, even if we made a piece of junk, we knew it would do business. Then the franchise would be run into the ground, but this one would do well. So, the marketing concern wasn't really first and foremost for us here. What was most important for us was these fans were the ones that allowed the world to know about Iron Man and built an audience for us through their vocal advocacy online. We wanted to come here and show them the first look, as opposed to getting it from some tabloid TV show or running an article. We really wanted to roll out the surprises here and show people what we were really thinking because, in a lot of ways, we really owe it to this group of people. Ultimately, if they're not satisfied, even if the film does well, I'm going to be unhappy, because I feel that they put a lot of trust, not just in myself, but in the cast and we wanted to make sure that they approved of the way we were going and hoping to get an enthusiastic response, and I think we did. That also helps me going into the editing room now and working alone for the next 10 months and having that momentum of going from 6,000 people cheering, to a dark editing room with an editor is a very surreal experience and process. It's very strange, but very gratifying.
Iron Man 2 is scheduled to hit theaters on May 7, 2010 and stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Garry Shandling and John Slattery.