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MONDAY, JULY 31, 2006


SAN DIEGO -- The film is two years out, but Iron Man director Jon Favreau already seems to be extremely open about the process of bringing Tony Stark to the big screen, be it through his page or interaction with fans at the recent Comic-Con International.

Maybe it's because of his experience with another Marvel-based film, starring as Foggy Nelson in 2003's Daredevil. Or maybe it's because Iron Man is Marvel Studios' first indepedently producer film, and he doesn't have studio heavyweights looking over his shoulder. Whatever the reasons, Favreau's talking Shellhead as he eyes a February production start.

The Continuum caught up with the 39-year-old actor/writer/director before his appearance at the Marvel Studios panel at Comic-Con, where he formally announced The Mandarin as Iron Man's villain.

The Continuum: I was speaking with someone with ties to DC Comics earlier at the convention and even he was excited about an Iron Man film. Are you aware of just how big the fan base is?

Favreau: It's a great fan base. DC has done such a great job with the new Batman franchise, and Iron Man, I think, shares a lot with Batman as far as billionaires who are playboys and have a tech-based super-hero persona. Cinematically, we're definitely conscious of that, trying to steer of what they were doing and I have a great deal of respect for what (Christopher) Nolan has done with that franchise.

So there are a lot of pressures, not just with the Marvel fans, but also with the other movies that are out there in the landscape that have sort of stuck their flag in the ground and claimed certain territory.

So Iron Man has to not only be to true to the books, but have its own unique look to it and unique personality.

The Continuum: Casting Tony Stark, I would think, would be like trying to get Bill Gates, Brad Pitt and Hugh Hefner in one...

Favreau: And a little bit of James Bond as well.

Question: How hard to you think that's going to be?

Favreau: There are good actors out there, and the nice part is that you don't have to go to the same list of usual suspects for casting that you would had this been a studio movie. Because this is Marvel, they trust the box-office draw of the hero itself and we don't need a name to define the hero. We need a name that's going to service the hero.

So we have dozens of actors with a lot of experience that we're looking at. And as we put a list together, it's tricky to find the perfect guy, but it's nice to know you have such a great talent pool to draw from.

The Continuum: Can you describe your approach to the Iron Man suit?

Favreau: Well, CGI is here to stay. And having seen King Kong, I begin to believe more that you could fool audiences with CGI. You have to cinematically show more restraint than I think most people have done in the past, but I think you have got to have Iron Man be digital much of the time.

And from there on, the responsibility remains in the hands of the filmmaker, the cinematographer and the artists. There are ways to do it right, and there was ways to do it wrong.

But my biggest responsibility is to ground this digital character in as much practical reality as I can, now just visually but as far as the story-telling, as far as the reality of the world you're setting him in. Make everything real so the only thing you're buying that's fake is the digital character.

The Continuum: Can you talk about working with Avi Arad and Marvel?

Favreau: I've known Avi since I worked on Daredevil. And we've been looking for an opportunity to work together. And he approached me on this one, and reached out to me, so I feel honored. Also, his track record speaks for itself.

I'm also pretty fortunate because this is the first movie that Marvel's doing as Marvel Studios on its own. It's also the first movie that Avi's doing as a producer, without any responsibilities other than making the movie.

There's a tremendous amount of access -- he's right down the hall. He sits in on the meetings. He's involved in every aspect of production. As a filmmaker, not having a studio involved, there are very few voices in the room, and his is certainly the loudest and most important. His personality is very much a part of what's going on with this project.

He's a tremendous asset. Because he understands what audiences enjoy. He understands how to make it marketable and appealing. He really understands the desires of people and their tastes in a way that most people don't and everybody professes to. He kind of singlehandedly invented Marvel movies.

And to have him there and to have this be such an important movie to him because this is one where he sort of shows what he can do on his own with Marvel, it puts a lot of pressure on us. Everybody feels the responsibility and everybody's working to get it right.

The Continuum: Where does the script stand?

Favreau: Right now, it's a very interesting process. There's the Marvel method of making comics and this is sort of that version of making movies, where as the director I'm sort of the keeper of the story. The buck stops with me. Everything has to make sense from a story standpoint. And my background is all character and dialogue. I come from independent films where there's no money for special effects and you can't fall back on that. So that's the most important aspect of the film.

From there, though, you have all of these sweeping visuals that you have to deliver on for a movie this size and a Marvel film. There has to be that "wow" factor. And those things take longer to do than the script. So you have storyboard artists coming on and pre-vis, so that as we break the story, we start to explore it visually as well as the writing.

And then we have two sets of writers. One is the team of (Arthur) Markham and (Matthew) Holloway, and the other is (Mark) Fergus and (Hawk) Ostby. Two teams of young writers, who sit in, work off of the stories that we break and take stabs at the character, take stabs at things, look at what the artists are doing. They're in dialogue with the artists.

So it's a big collaboration between people working on the visual aspects of the story and the literary aspects of the story. With the producer and director, of course, sort of being that hub of that wheel.

The Continuum: It's been reported that you start filming in February. How close are you to a shooting script?

Favreau: Oh, I think we're close. You don't really lock into a shooting script as far as I'm concerned until you have the actors. Because you have to sit with them around a table and read through the dialogue and help tailor for who's going to be in it and hear their input, too. Because if you hire the right people, you want to make sure you use the best of what they have to offer.

The Continuum: How hard is it to bring The Mandarin to the screen as the villain, avoiding stereotype aspects of the original character?

Favreau: Well, that's the trick. You want to pay homage to the comics, but you want to say what The Mandarin is today. Back then, we were very paranoid about Asia, we were very paranoid about Communism. We live in a very more culturally enlightened time, now. Things that you sort of got away with then, you don't now. But there are aspects to the character that you can maintain and make him a formidable enemy.

Part of it is that this is what the fans want to see. Everybody has written in, they all gravitate towards this guy, because he was always one step ahead. Well, we're going to keep it all tech-based. I don't want to have a magical character.

But I am definitely paying attention to what was written. And how do you transpose that in a way were you're showing the fans you're paying attention, but you don't sell the reality of the movie out by having this magical Fu Manchu type character. What's the modern version of him? Who's that going to be and what's it going to mean?

The Continuum: Where will you film?

Favreau: The United States. California. It's going to be West Coast based. February.

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