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MONDAY, MARCH 3, 2008

QUESTION-AND-ANSWER: IRON MAN DIRECTOR JON FAVREAU

SAN FRANCISCO -- Director Jon Favreau continues to adeptly stir the buzz pot, building momentum for Iron Man's release on May 2.

Following a show-stealing appearance last summer at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Favreau appeared at the recent WonderCon, staging a panel and showing both the new trailer and a clip from the movie.

After the panel, he sat down backstage with members of the press. Following is an edited transcription of one of the roundtable interviews.

Question: What can the audience expect from your film and what can fans expect from Iron Man?

Favreau: For this thing to work -- and when I mean work I mean make sense to Marvel to be in the movie business -- it has to attract people who don't know anything about the books, or who don't know anything about the character. So we sort of walk everybody through everything that happens. We don't assume any reality because it's in the books.

I think we also limit things a little bit more, make them a little bit more plausible in this chapter of it, so that people won't look at it and say, "Oh it's just a comic-book movie anyway, anything could happen." And then we also have a cast that is a little bit more broadly appealing, so that people might give us a chance who wouldn't normally come to a Marvel-type film.

But for the fans, we wanted to have enough stuff happening in there that it seems like we were either reacting to, by staying true to, or by making a choice to go against what their expectations might be, based on the books. So we always said, OK, here's a suit this wasn't in, how do we tip a hat to the suit that was in? Or, in the books, Iron Man was in this country, he was in Vietnam -- well let's make it Afghanistan now, that seems consistent as an adpatation. James Rhodes was piloting a helicopter that was rescuing him. How do you at least acknowledge tha the source material has to say.

In the case of like Jarvis, we decided to not have it be an Alfred-type butler but take a leap there. And I'm sure there's certain things that, you know, we will be crucified for and there will be certain things that we'll be celebrated for. I'm sure we have our own version of the organic web-shooters here somewhere

But I think in the casting of (Robert) Downey and the way we handle the tone of it, it sort of has that irreverence that the old that I always associate with the Marvel brand, and that is a reaction to the very earnest, you know, black-and-white iconic flawless heroes of the day. Stan Lee gave it an attitude, even to the way he would answer questions in the letters to the editor. So we tried to maintain that without ever undermining the stakes or the reality of the situation. We never joke about the danger. But we do treat things in maybe an unexpected way. With Downey, he always wants to take a left turn.

Question: There have been reports that Marvel's movies link together. Can you say anything?

Favreau: I don't want to blow anything, and also I don't know honestly where it's all going to land. I know there are sort of things that have been discussed and tried and talked about. I know that on the horizon is The Avengers.

And the idea is to have chapters of all the characters who would contribute to it being The Avengers, and that might get you over like the third movie hump of, you know, what do you do differently without creating something that's completely arbitrary, to keep it interesting. And so hopefully we're all going towards The Avengers.

I think number two is always the fun one. I mean, from the people who worked on Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, that's where you have your cast, you have your tone, you've got your success under your belt if you're lucky enough to make a number two, and then you just play. And really have fun. Then as you get deeper into the franchises, inevitably there will be a disappointment somewhere in every franchise. So hopefully Avengers will be the way it sort of adds momentum to the franchise.

Question: So you have Nick Fury in there?

Favreau: I'm not going to talk about who's in what. But, for the fans, there's definitely enough to keep you leaning forward and paying attention to stuff. And your girlfriend's not going to know what you're so interested in in certain scenes. It's just going to fly by certain people. But I think we threw enough bread crumbs around to reward you for giving a shit.

Question: Iron Man is one of the biggest-budget movies you've worked on. How does that feel?

Favreau: I feel like there's never enough money no matter how much money you have, because you're always trying to put more on the screen than you've got. I feel there should be another name for a director of these movies, because, when you direct a comedy, you come in and you work on a script or you write a script, everybody goes on the stage, maybe you discover a few things and make a few jokes, and then you edit it together, you pick a composer, you lay the music down, you mix it, and you walk away and maybe it's a year of your life.

Here, you are literally inventing a world, or defining a world based on a world that somebody else invented. Or you're creating rules for it. And that's informed by the cast, that you have to get approved and make a deal with, and convince that cast that you're not just putting them in a piece of crap, and that you're actually aspiring for something that they're going to be proud of.

Fortunately in my generation there's enough people who love Marvel that it doesn't just feel like what it must have felt like when Alec Guinness was offered Obi-Wan Kenobi, you know, and it was like, "What is this?" Yeah, and you don't trust it until it's over.

In the case of Marvel, there's this affinity and a connection to the brand, and there's certain ones people would want to be in and other ones people wouldn't want to be in. And it's not just success at the box office -- that's something I've had to explain to the people who are my bosses. I'll said, well, "They don't want to be in that version." And they'll say, "Do you know how much movie made?" But they don't care how much it made. They're actors, they want to be in a movie they can be proud of. If they thought that way, they wouldn't be actors. They would have never got to this point in their career.

Everybody wants the movie to do well. But (with) Downey, I said, "What do you want to do now in your career?" He's been through so many trials and tribulations and chapters of his life. And I love him and I love his work. I was like, "What do you want to do?

He's like, "I want to make movies I'm proud of that people see." And that might sound like the most obvious, self-evident statement, but it really isn't. Because I think actors go through a stage where they want to make movies they're proud of.

With Zathura, I was very proud of it. But nobody saw it. And it was heartbreaking. It really was. And I was involved with Elf, which I was very proud of, and everybody got to see. And it's a very different feeling.

And it shouldn't feel different. If you make a painting, you don't care, right? Or you shouldn't. But with a movie it's not that, it's a medium. It's not a piece of art, it's a medium. And a medium requires that you communicate with somebody else for you to fulfill what you did that for. It's like recording an answering machine message that nobody's ever going to hear. So it's the response of the fans -- it's winning over the people who have never heard of it. It's my kid, when I bring home the dolls, playing with the Mach 1 and the Iron Monger suit and liking it. And you feel connected to all these people in this way that I can't explain.

It's the biggest perk of my job, what you feel like with Elf when people come up to you. Or Rudy -- "my boyfriend never cries and he cried in that movie." Or Swingers -- "you got me through a tough break-up." It's an emotional, cultural relevance that your stuff has that it a real high that you get as a movie-maker. And you work so hard to do that.

Marvel at least affords you that audience. And then it's our job to do something special.

Question: Would you feel comfortable if they told you Iron Man 2 was greenlit? Would you say, "Count me in"?

Favreau: Yeah, sure. Me and Robert would, for sure. There's always to fumble the football, but as long as everybody feels respected and creatively it emulates this process, I would for sure.

Question: Can you talk a little bit more about Robert? Why was he your guy?

Favreau: He's my guy because he's going to make the movie that I'm proud of. He's going to make it a good movie, and that's what I want. I want a movie that's good. He doesn't do a bad job, really. I haven't seen all of his work, but he certainly does something interesting all the time.

"I like that kind of likable asshole that he can play. I gravitate to that in my writing and my voice as a filmmaker. I like the guy that, on paper, you don't like, but somehow you do. That's a very fascinating dynamic to me. And I know Vince (Vaughn) does a great job with those types of roles.

Look, I like other things as well. Elf was not that at all. Elf was very earnest. He's the guy who's great that gets on your nerves. It was the opposite. On paper, he's wonderful and then wins you back over.

But there's something about that style of humor that's very appealing to me and Robert's one of the few actors that can really be likable and you can really load him up. You can load those saddlebags up with a lot of shit.

That speech he gives about the missiles, saying, "I don't like the weapon you don't have to fire. I like the weapon you have to fire only once. That's how dad did it, that's how America does it, it's worked out pretty well." That's a tough mouthful. We came up with that on the set. And we said. we've pushed it this far. Well, it's before he's gone through his transformation as a character. And he pulls it off in a way that's better than the takes that weren't that. He pulls it off in this sort of way that's kind of blaseand doesn't understand what his weapons are doing. It's a game to him, it's a big video game, and it looks like one. We filmed it in that way. Then you turn around and show that one of his mortars, with his name on it, blows up and almost takes him out and kills servicemen. And he's like, "Wait a minute," and it becomes a little bit of A Christmas Carol. He plays that progression in a real emotional way where he's not winking and giggling through it. That's why I love Robert, because he brings an authenticity, he's an artist and he's a bit of a geek.

He loves it. He embraces it. He really wanted to be here, but he's filming another movie. First thing I had to go when I got off (from the panel) I had to text him and tell him how it went. He loves it. At Comic-Con, he dressed up in his Tony Stark suit. He's a guy who's been given a new lease on life and hit reset on his career and to be accepted in this, the most mainstream of roles that you can get, I think is a real victory for him on a lot of levels and adds an emotional satisfaction as a friend of his and somebody whom I've really grown to love and collaborate with the guy. It makes it a very worthwhile experience for the two years that I've worked on it.

Question: Will a sequel explore the alcoholism?

Favreau: The alcoholism, the Demon in a Bottle, it sort of feels a little like Spider-Man 3. I want to make sure that if we do it...there's definitely a part, we're not running from it, and you could definitely see where this movie could lead to it. We definitely put that in there. I think once people accept him in this role, and accept Tony Stark and Iron Man, we have a lot of latitude tonally as to what we can do.

If you look at Dark Knight, it's very dark but people accept it, or Revenge of the Sith, it's very dark but people brought their kids. This film is about teaching them who these characters are. And then I think based on where it goes we'll figure out tonally what's appropriate. But we definitely have the option. Demon in a Bottle is one of the very strongest story lines of the of the series, and Iron Man is not a comic book character who is known for having wonderful storylines. He's known for having great suits, great characters, but the villains kind of get thin at times, and it's so very dated when you look at Communism and the metaphor. Politically, much of it doesn't hold up well. And the Mandarin is incredibly challenging in that respect. So we have challenges ahead of us. Demon in a Bottle tends to be one that, from a storytelling perspective, is compelling to all of us.

Question: Where are you at in the process?

Favreau: I'm about to go Skywalker right away I leave here and check into "The Inn," the geek fantasy. I'm right across in the studio from ILM and we'll be finished up shots. This leg of the process is about sound mixing and still cutting in shots, digital effects shots. A few creative decisions left, but the film is essentially locked, so it's about making sure we hold a high standard for the visuals and get that spectacular Skywalker sound.



E-mail the Continuum at RobAlls@aol.com



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