Interview: Shane Black and Kevin Feige on Iron Man 3

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Last month, Walt Disney Pictures invited ComingSoon.net/SuperHeroHype to take a special early look at some footage from May 3rd’s Iron Man 3 and to speak with leading man Robert Downey Jr., director Shane Black and Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige. With today’s release of the new trailer, we’re finally allowed to reveal what we learned about the upcoming release and what it means for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Click here to check out the new trailer and to read the full Downey Jr. interview and read on for a description of the new footage along with our conversation with Black and Feige. Please be aware that the below report does contain some minor spoilers.

Said to occur roughly 25 minutes into the film, the primary focus of the new footage was the attack on Tony Stark’s mansion that has been featured in all the trailers so far. We learn that some kind of terrorist attack has happened and that Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan is in the hospital. Furious, Stark has announced on live television that, whoever the Mandarin is, he isn’t afraid of him and challenges the villain to come meet him at his home address.

The next morning, Stark is in his home with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts when, disguised as news choppers, the Mandarin’s force launch an attack, accompanied by some very impressive special effects. During the battle, Stark actually sends the Iron Armor to Pepper so that she can be protected in the suit as chaos erupts.

After he manages to get into a suit of his own, Stark, worried that his designs might fall into the wrong hands, actually activates a self-destruct sequence that destroys his original Mark I – VII designs or “the classics,” as he calls them. He does make a point of asking Jarvis, however, if the “wine cellar” is still protected, likely a nod to multiple suits of armor pictured on the most recent poster and hinted at by the XLII designation.

As the entire building falls into the ocean, Stark finds himself pinned by debris and makes a last-ditch effort to escape with one tremendous blast. He winds up overshooting, and launches into the sky. Unable to navigate and with systems failing, he crashes to Earth and blacks out.

As we saw in the first trailer, Stark awakens in a field of snow and realizes, just as Jarvis goes offline, that he’s all the way in Tennessee. He climbs out of the armor and pulls it like a sled across an icy landscape, finally coming to a small gas station in the middle of nowhere. He finds his way inside and, to his surprise, it’s a workman’s garage with nobody home. He begins to examine the damaged armor when he’s met by a little kid brandishing a homemade potato gun.

There’s a dialogue-heavy scene between Stark and the boy as the kid realizes that he’s Iron Man. The kid even references War Machine which makes Stark say, “He’s called Iron Patriot now.”

“That’s way cooler,” the kid smiles.

“No it’s not,” Stark shoots back.

Another key (but brief) scene showed off the mystery of Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin and the preparation that goes into the terrorist videos he films. We see Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian serving as more or less a publicist for the Mandarin, making sure that candles are lit and effects are in place to add a mystic atmosphere to the Mandarin’s broadcast. Outside the shot, though, we see a modern mansion that could very easily be in America itself. Outside, the Mandarin pulls up in a limo, fully dressed in his iconic robe and ready to put his threats out to the world.

After the footage was screened, we sat down with Black and Feige to discuss how it’s all going to play out in theaters come May 3.

Q: Shane, Robert Downey Jr. mentioned that he and Jon Favreau had reached out to you a couple of times on the previous films.
Shane Black:
Only in so far as I knew Robert from a previous movie and Jon and he would come over kind of grumpy, sort of groping for ways to fix the script and they asked me a couple questions. I don’t think that I contributed anything too terribly important, although Robert’s been kind enough to cite it as having been helpful. I don’t remember that very well, frankly. I just remember they came over, we ate some food and I think one of the things Jon’s done since then, however, has been very helpful to me on this one. As an actor coming in he had every opportunity to be kind of weird or resentful, like “I did these picture for four years and now you’re doing them?” But instead he was the nicest guy in the world and was extremely beneficial in helping like, “What would you do here Jon?” And that kind of thing; he’s great.

Q: I’m curious how the project came together in terms of story. How early on did you know this was the exact story you guys were going to make and how much did it change along the way?
Kevin Feige:
Well, we first started meeting with Shane in spring of 2011 maybe because you came in on the mix day, I think we were mixing “Captain America” at Fox and we were having meetings with him there. We knew a few of the elements that have remained. We had pillars of we want it to be a Tony Stark centric story, we want to blow up his life and see how he deals with a nemesis without his suits working – get him back metaphorically to the cave with box of scraps, like the first movie. That has remained and carried on through, and it was one of the reasons we connected with Shane. Because if we wanted to do a big “It connects to ‘The Avengers’ and then Nick Fury comes in and stuff,” I don’t think Shane would have been interested in that and I don’t I don’t think he would have been the right guy for it. But to take a Tony Stark journey and explore his character deeper than we had since the first act of the first film, he was the man. It evolved over the next eight or nine months after that into basically what it is now.

Q: Of course, during that you also have to sprinkle some things in for the fans and you have to make it part of that bigger world. Can you both talk about finding that balance?
Black:
I consider the fan base to basically be Marvel’s job. Mine is to be a fan and I am one and I have been from a young age, of Iron Man, so for me, I just please me and I hope that pleases the rest of the fans. It should. For instance, one of the joys for me has always been seeing how you take a villain from the comic book and realize him in a slightly more realistic way for the movie, render him for movies in a way that’s recognizable, but different. And that’s fun. Like the Joker in “The Dark Knight” is not the Joker from the comic book, but there’s just enough of him that you recognize him and go, “Wow, what a creative way of interpreting the Joker for motion pictures.” So that was our task here too. The fans love this character the Mandarin and we just said, “Well, what we don’t want is this potentially racist, stereotype of a Fu Manchu villain just waving his fist.” But we found a way, I think, to get an iteration of the Mandarin that we like. We got very excited about having cracked this story when we found out that we could include The Mandarin and give him a character that would be a perfect match, the ultimate Iron Man villain, but without relying too heavily on what the comic book stereotype was.

Q: From today’s footage it seems like the Mandarin is a very media-saavy terrorist.
Black:
From the very beginning we were all about that, yeah. The idea of just a real world interpretation of this guy who, I hate to break it to you, but he’s not from space in this. The rings are rings. They’re showmanship. They’re accoutrements. They’re paraphernalia of warfare that he sort of drapes himself with. He studies Sun Tzu. He studies insurgency tactics. He surrounds himself with dragons and symbols of warlords and Chinese iconography because he wants to represent this sort of prototypical terrorist. We use as the example Colonel Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now,” this guys who may have been an American, may have been a British National, someone who is out there doing field work, supervising atrocities for the intelligence community who went nuts in the field and became this sort of devotee of war tactics, and now has surrounded himself with a group of people over which he presides, and the only thing that unifies them is this hatred of America. So he’s the ultimate terrorist, but he’s also savvy. He’s been in the intelligence world. He knows how to use the media. And taking it to a real world level like that was a lot fun for us.

Q: It’s interesting because, obviously, when Iron Man started part of what was so appealing about Jon’s approach was how grounded it was, how real world it was, and now over the course of the rest of the Marvel movies you’ve introduced a god from Asgard, space aliens, Loki, and all these truly fantastic elements and yet you still have to have Tony grounded in something recognizable. Has that been a balancing act in this film? Is there some sense that the fantastic has changed him and then changed how he deals with this world that he lives in?
Feige:
Yes, and it sort of answers your other question, which is that the only real connective tissue we wanted from “The Avengers” in this movie was the effect on Tony’s psyche. This man who comes from this grounded universe. I always say it’s grounded enough although he builds an iron suit and flies around. The notion that Tony Stark, who is the sh*t and always thought of himself as top dog, now has been to outer space, nearly got killed by freaking aliens, has encountered a god that can smash him across the forest with a hammer, has encountered a guy that his father used to talk about from the 1945. It’s no mistake that we meet Tony at the beginning of this movie and he’s just building suits, putting himself in the suit, and he’s much more comfortable when he’s in the suit. And a lot of this movie is about Tony learning to become Tony Stark again outside the armor, and he has a little help in that his house is completely destroyed.

Black: He’s in a world where all of the sudden, without this armor, there’s elements with which he cannot hope to compete. So his comfort in his own skin has diminished at the start of this movie by the fact that he feels like, unless he can build the perfect man, he’s going to be outdone and outshone by these people who are literally gods. So how he can then have those suits taken away from him until he’s just a man and he can’t possibly compete, that was the impetus for this movie, rip everything off him and say, “Yes, you’re alone with these incredible forces aligned against you, and you don’t even have your armor.”

Feige: And in all of our films, particularly this one with what Shane and Drew Pearce have done, you can have heightened elements, look at Avengers, you can have these crazy otherworldly things as long as the way the characters are responding to those things. The emotional response of the characters, that’s where grounding it in reality is most important. Even in the comics, by the way, that’s the difference between caring about a comic book character and not, is if their emotional response is believable and is appropriate. Certainly what Tony is going through based on the events of Avengers is very real and, is not quite as dire as this, but is a form of post-traumatic stress. He is actually dealing with it in a way you don’t see superheroes deal with it much.

Black: It’s almost like a subgenre in a way of taking a comic book movie and then imposing on it what would happen in the real world if this happened. And people have done that with “Damage Control” or whatever, so this is just more about trying to maintain the sense of reality form the first Iron Man given that there’s a god from space. Because if in the middle of Iron Man, when he was in the cave with Yinsen and Thor came in you would say, “What the hell is this movie? That doesn’t make any sense?” But now Thor is there so what does that mean for our character?

Q: When in the process did you come in to it? How much had Marvel and Marvel’s Film Division mapped out what Iron Man 3 was going to be? And at any stage in the process did you guys go, “Well we better take it down because we can’t go bigger than Avengers right after Avengers?”
Black:
They said that to me upfront and I agree. That was the touchstone of the first meeting was that we can’t go bigger than we’ve just gone.

Feige: Well it would be a fool’s errand to do that. There’s no reason to do that. Shane was in early days. Again we wanted to get Tony, we were sort of internally talking about, back to basics, metaphorically blow him up on a convoy, put him back in a cave and see what he can do with a box of scraps. That was about as far as we had- and it was not an Avengers centric story outside of just the effect that all of it has had on him. So no Nick Fury, no Black Widow; those were really the only parameters. And we did want him to have a mystery to uncover and solve that he would on his own for. That was about it and then Shane and Drew brought it to life. And we certainly are looking over their shoulders and giving them input every step along the way, but it was a collaboration form that point.

Q: We talked a little bit with Robert earlier about how in the first two films he would come up with lines on the spot or change things and I’m curious about his collaboration with you on this one. How much was he sticking to the script? How much were you guys fiddling with the dialogue on the day of?
Black:
Well, he was sticking to the script, but the script wasn’t necessarily being written far in advance [laughs]. The script would be written sometimes a day or two in advance, but we’d have an outline for a scene. Often what it was was we would have all the jokes lined up, or all the dialogue, or all the points and beats lined up, but we would play the game of plus-ing. Which was we would say “Okay Robert, here’s your line,” and he would go, “Eh, okay, I can say that but I think we can beat it,” and I’d go, “Okay we’re shooting soon, let’s plus it, what do you want?” And then we would sit and we would talk, we would try to come to something that had that shape, but that was plus-ed. Sometimes it would Drew Pearce chiming in and we’d go, “Okay that’s a plus,” then Robert would say something. We tried to keep all the good stuff. Every once and a while someone would have an idea that we didn’t like and we’d say, “No, no that’s a minus.” It was an evolving process, but the script was always there, there was always a fallback, that was great. We could always get one that was the script and then we could say, “Try to plus.” It was like when I worked with Bruce Willis back then when Bruce used to do a lot of improving. Get one that’s the script, then talk to Bruce and play. And we’ll always have the base line, then if you can plus it, terrific. The experience with me was that most of the time Robert could plus what was there, or the collaboration of Robert, Drew, and myself in a room for 20 minutes prior to shooting would enhance what was there and it was usually better than when we walked into that trailer.

Q: In these Iron Man movies it seems like in every other scene he’s got a new suit. In this one we’ve seen the Mark 47 and Iron Patriot, can you talk a little bit about those, how they came into the script, and what they’re bringing to it?
Feige:
Yeah, you know we’ve seen, through Avengers, seven or eight suits and we wanted to progress that in this one. It’s part of, again, the effect “The Avengers” had on him is that he’s tinkering even more than he did before and he’s building much more than he ever did before. The Iron Patriot is also kind of a response to Avengers. It’s a government rebrand of War Machine, frankly because the US government felt that they were slightly embarrassed by the events of Avengers. These crazy heroes known as The Avengers were the ones that saved the day, saved New York City, saved United States; not the government. The government felt they needed a hero of their own, they have a military officer that has one of these suits, and they paint it red, white, and blue. They pose it next to the president and Tony sort of rolls his eyes you saw a little bit of that today. They want a hero of their own. And Tony’s like, “What do you mean, I’m a hero?” And they say “Well you’ve been spending a lot of time in your work shop. We want somebody we can rely on.” So that’s sort of how the Iron Patriot came about. And, again, it’s a thing from the comics, we just thought the Iron Patriot suit looked equal parts cool and slightly goofy in the comics, it’s not Norman Osborn or any of that stuff obviously, but it gave us a place to go with Rhodey. We wanted to take Rhodey and his sort of split loyalties between his friend and his duty and keep carrying that storyline through.

Q: I have to ask, just to add on to that, the toy images that were leaked of the deep space suit, can you comment on what that is?
Feige:
Well, I would say that I’ve owned a number of “Jungle Attack” Batmans in my time and I don’t remember any jungle attack Batman sequences, so…

Q: The sequence with Air Force One, which we saw today and is going to be in the full trailers, can you talk about where that came from and filming that sequence?
Black:
Well the filming of it was interesting. We decided early on, Drew and I, that I wanted to — I like hijack stuff and I wanted to have people in the sky, just falling, and Iron Man is confronted with that image and he’s got to get them out of it somehow. The challenge was on the days we said, “Well we’d really love to do this, but we don’t want to do just green screen, can we just toss people out of a plane?” and they said, “Well that would probably be unethical.” But we found the Redbull skydiving team that was willing to jump out of a plane and have their backpacks erased digitally. It’s kind of compelling, the first images you see of people falling in clothes, because people are always in jumpsuits, orange or yellow jumpsuits, and when you just see some girl in a skirt and a guy in a business suit falling it’s pretty scary.

Feige: Over the course of almost a week, we did eight to ten jumps a day, for a week. It was amazing, amazing footage.

Q: “Moonraker” did a sequence where it was a three-week shoot for something that ended up being eight or nine minutes.
Feige:
And, frankly, we talked about “Moonraker” a lot because that sequence is actually pretty impressive, except for the fact that you can see the parachutes, until they cut in to the inserts, which it then doesn’t work at all. We wanted to be like that without doing that. And we have an Iron Man suit which is an advantage over Roger Moore.

Q: So you came up with the idea for this sequence, Shane?
Black:
Basically.

Feige: It was he and Drew; it definitely came out of their script conversations.

Black: No it was just me, Drew was…

Feige: It was definitely just Shane.

Black: He was getting the coffee.

Feige: What we loved about it was, how is Tony going to do that? If you remember he says “Jarvis, how many people are in the air?” “13” “How many can I carry?” “4.” So what are you going to do?

Q: The moment you hear that line- it’s a great hook for a commercial because immediately you need to see the rest of that set piece.
Feige:
Oh, good.

Q: One of the signatures of the Marvel films starting with Iron Man, and I understand it was part function but also it became something that was fun for you guys to play with, was the notion of the after credits teaser, using that as a sting and using that to kind of point direction to the next thing. I understand on Phase One there’s almost a necessity.
Feige:
Yes.

Q: You guys were using that as a building thing.
Feige:
Yes.

Q: Do you feel obligated now in Phase Two as you move towards Phase Three, do you have to do that on every film? Is that something that has become part of how you think about these movies or is it case by case if we have something that’s appropriate you’ll use?
Feige:
It’s sort of case by case. I don’t want to be in that theater for the first time when even two people stay behind and nothing happens, frankly. I like that we’ve trained at least some people to stay behind and get a little reward, but you’re absolutely right it served a different purpose. It was a part of the, “Hey surprise, these are connected. We’re building towards something here.” Shwarma, which everyone knows famously was an idea we came up with much, much later and shot after the premiere just because we thought it would be fun. There was not going to be a tag until that point. So it’s a little faster and looser now because people know, and frankly the whole purpose of “Iron Man 3″ is to say that these characters can exist just as successfully on their own again. But, as I said I don’t want to be there when nothing happens after people sit through eight minutes of credits.

Q: Can you talk about Drew Pearce’s involvement? Is he your writing partner or did you bring him on specifically for this?
Feige:
We hired Drew before we hired Shane. We didn’t have a director yet. Drew Pearce had done an amazing draft of a script called “Runaways” for us, which is a movie we ended up not making.

Black: It sounds amazing.

Feige: It’s so amazing we didn’t make it, but we hired him to do “Iron Man 3″ because we were meeting with various directors and most of them were not writer-directors. When we were meeting with Shane we realized he was the best guy for the job and knew obviously he was also a writer. We didn’t want to just toss Drew aside; we didn’t think that was fair.

Black: I kind of did.

Feige: He did. We said, “Shane this is great, why don’t you have the job? By the way we have a writer.” “What do you mean?” He thought all these things; he was political enough not to say them. I think he grumbled a lot and to his credit and to Drew’s credit they now seem to be two peas in a pod.

Black: Yeah, we got together and I said, “Okay, basically, I don’t know why you’re here.” And he said, “I guess we’re supposed to write together,” and this is not usually how great teams start [laughs]. But we said, “All right, let’s see.” And pretty soon I realized very quickly that this guy had an affinity for this and he and I became friends and rode back and forth to work every day talking about it.

Feige: About four weeks into it we were in a meeting and they, together, were kind of pitching us some ideas and directions and Shane kind of kicked it off and said, “You know, I initially thought that Drew Pearce was the devil, the demon that you hired, and now I think he’s great. I really do.” And Drew was not in the room when he said that, which is how I knew it was true.

Black: But Drew and I, we’ll finish each other’s sentences and things like that. We trade clothes.

Q: After cell phones came out, horror directors had to come up with elaborate ways to explain why people wouldn’t call someone on a cell phone for help. Now that all the Avengers know each other, do you have to come up with excuses for why Tony Stark wouldn’t reach out when he needs a hand?
Feige:
It’s a good question, and it’s sort of half and half. I am betting that like the comics you don’t have to keep – if you are reading a standalone “Iron Man” comic, they don’t spend every page explaining where every other Marvel hero is. The audience kind of accepts that there are times when they’re on their own and there are times when they are together. I’m betting that movie audiences will feel the same way. That being said, there is a little bit of lip service here and there to that. There is also just the very nature of Tony wants to, once he barely survives that house attack you saw today, and even you saw it in the message he left for Pepper, he’s basically saying “I’m going off the grid to try to figure something out.”

Q: Does he know that Phil Coulson is alive and on S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Feige:
Does Tony know that? No.

Q: Since the last time we spoke, one of the big things that’s happened in the Marvel universe is that James Gunn has come on to “Guardians of the Galaxy.” When can we hear more about that and what should we tell people to expect at this point?
Feige:
I don’t know when you’re running all these articles. I would say that I hope that we will have some casting announcements in the next three to four weeks. That would be the next thing you hear about, is the cast. We start filming at the end of June in London.

Q: A lot of us are really big fans of your work and we’re very excited that you got the keys to this Ferrari, can you talk a little bit about making this film and just what it was like to be able to take on “Iron Man 3″? And when did you know that you would make sure part of it was set at Christmas?
Black:
That just evolved oddly enough, it just seemed to organically come out of planning a story that took him to a different place and left him stranded in the snow. I don’t know if I have the keys, I have the keys but, you know, at some point there’s a course you have to run, which is to say, you can’t take it anywhere you want. You can’t open it up on Main Street and then go 150 miles an hour, but what can happen is you find ways without going back to my old bag of tricks. I’m saying it’s like a comic doing- they say, “You can’t do the midnight show, you’re doing this for the local church group, its eight o’clock and were serving stew. So can you please tone it down and just leave out the blue material?” So I had to find innovative ways to be less of “They f–k you at the drive through.”

Feige: I don’t think Shane knew the difference between a PG-13 and an R, frankly. We would say, “Shane, you can’t really do that.” “You can’t?” “No.”

Q: Well, in the footage, Tony Stark does call a little kid a pussy.
Feige:
Well, it’s not like we’re completely backing off that tone. And, by the way, in maybe I think the first assembly I was like “Shane, we’re not going to be able to say that.” There was another insult that he has later in the movie and I said, “You keep that one, we’re not going to be able to say pussy.” Shane, to his credit, said “Let’s leave it in the test screening.” It was the first test screening we did, the audience, as you guys did today, went crazy for the curse word, crazy for it, and nearly burned down the theater on the second one, which I had not predicted. So we took out the second one and left that one in.

Q: Are there other characters that Marvel has that you have an affinity for? A lot of us are wondering when maybe Marvel might make an R-rated movie and that might be where you could use some of the “blue material.” I’m just curious if you have an affinity for other characters.
Black:
I don’t know I always thought that certain characters could be adapted in a cool way. I wanted to do — Quentin Tarantino kind of poisoned the well with “Django” — but I always thought there was a 1970’s version of “Black Panther,” which was period that could be really cool and involved a lot of the racial tensions of that time. That’s not going to happen. Other Marvel movies that I really loved, or marvel comics growing up, God, mostly just the typical ones. “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” the [Jim] Steranko years. But you can’t do them because Sam Jackson is 60 years old and he plays this sort of patriarchal figure now, but Nick Fury was what I adored growing up. If you ever read the ones Steranko did for “Tales of Suspense” followed by “Nick Fury” standalone 1-8, some of the best comics ever made.

Q: What was the most physically challenging thing to do on the film? Was it the sky diving or can you describe what happens without giving the plot point away?
Black:
The most physically challenging thing is that everything involving these suits flying is either on wires where you’ve got to take forever to rig somebody or it’s invisible. So there’s a guy on wires and he turns and gets hit by an invisible thing that throws him backwards and you have to match everything and nothing’s there. So in the editing room it’s constantly vexing to me. On “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” we’d show up on the day and we would say, “All right, we’re doing an action scene, the car crashes, where do we go?” You couldn’t do that. You can’t show up on the day and say “Okay he jumps of the tower and the building explodes, let’s begin.” You have to have it so meticulously planned in advance. The invisibility factor was for me the daunting thing of not knowing where anything is because it’s all just going to be there later.

Feige: Were still very much in the visual effects phase of this film, but there have been a handful of times as we sit in the screening room for hours and hours going through effects shots and Shane goes, “Wait, that looks real. I didn’t think it would look that good.” I said, “What do you think we’re doing? Of course it’s going to look that good.” “Huh, it looks real.”

Black: All it takes to piss them off too, Victoria [Alonso] the special effects girl will sit next to us and I’ll say “Wow that’s a great cartoon. That’s a really good cartoon.” And she just goes nuts. But, no, the effects look real, photo-real. I’m very surprised.

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