Monday, September 23, 2013

An Interview with Robert Downey Jr. About Iron Man 3

With the 3D Super Set and Blu-ray Combo Pack of the epic superhero movie Iron Man 3 about to be released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Robert Downey Jr. talks about the movie, his iconic character in the movie, the challenges in making the film, casting the Mandarin, Tony's relationship with Rhodey, Pepper Potts' larger role, and how this third movie is different from the other two.  For all of these answers and more, read on…

What were the first thoughts to go through your mind when you started work on Iron Man 3?

This time around what we needed was a better bad guy than we’d ever had, and Sir Ben Kingsley [who plays The Mandarin] delivered that in spades. We needed to deepen the relationship with Tony and Rhodey [James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle], and we also needed to stay true to the heart of the movie.

What is the heart of the Iron Man movies?

From day one, Jon Favreau [the director of the first two Iron Man films] said that Gwyneth Paltrow was the heart of the movie. When we cast Gwyneth [as Pepper Potts] and she walked into Jon’s office, he started welling up. I went along with him. I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m an actor… I’ll get emotional over anything. What is this about?” And I’m looking and there was just this feeling. He said to me, “Now I know this movie’s going to work.” So we had to continue along that line.

Was it your suggestion to have Pepper Potts finally wear an Iron Man suit in this third movie in the franchise?

I’d like to think it was. It had certainly been a desire of mine; but I think, honestly, it came from the audience. You can only get so much fan feedback that goes, “I want to see Pepper in the suit,” before you start listening. And that’s the great thing about these movies; the fact that we listen to the kids at Comic-Con and the people who talk back on websites. We think about this stuff. We really take our job very seriously.

Does this mean you were also happy to see Pepper Potts get involved with those amazing action sequences in this movie?

Very much so! The arc that she got that was long overdue.

What excites you the most about Iron Man 3?

The great thing about Iron Man 3 is that we really are going back to an extension and continuation of some of the things that made the franchise fly to begin with. With the execution and incredible success of Marvel’s The Avengers, we’re afforded the opportunity to not have to set up another film. And we can really explore the character of Tony Stark in ways that are very organic and connectable, and play to the strength of the franchise.

What do you think about Tony Stark’s relationship with James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes in Iron Man 3?

We really wanted the character of Rhodey to be more dynamic and have his own suit or gun – and really be able to match Tony’s bravado and quick wit. I think [the movie’s screenwriters] Shane [Black] and Drew [Pearce] did a great job with infusing that into the script. It’s great that Don gets to bring the character out of its shell and have some fun with it.

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark works intensively alongside a young character, Harley, for the first time. Were you happy to see this new relationship in the script?

Shane Black had this idea of a Capra-esque departure. We all knew we were taking risks, moving outside of the familiar territory. I think his idea of a superhero running into a little kid in the heartland of America wound up being a wise choice and a calculated risk.

What do you think of Ty Simpkins, the child actor who plays Tony’s young sidekick in the movie, Harley?

He’s great. I taught him everything he knows!

How difficult is it to control all of the storylines in the ever-expanding Marvel universe?

You just plug things in, like an operator. You go, “You know what? That fits here real nice.” We’re always aware, even more so now. The filmmakers, the artists, the department heads… They are all showmen and the audience is talking back – and they are going to ask you that question: ‘In the post-Avengers world, what was it like for Tony?’ You had to have thought about it, and you had to have addressed it, creatively.

The Extremis storyline in Iron Man 3 is based on a story from the Iron Man comic books. Were you aware of Extremis when you started work on the movie? And if so, what did you think of it?

I remember when we were getting ready to shoot [the first] Iron Man. I started reading Iron Man comics and there was this one called Extremis. I thought it was really interesting and cool.

Another storyline in Iron Man 3 sees Tony Stark start to have panic attacks. Where did this idea come from: you, the comic books or the screenwriters?

At one point, we have big creative meetings that generate material – but it’s hard to remember who came up with what. My simple question was: ‘All right… A wormhole opened up [at the end of Marvel’s The Avengers] and Tony saw extra-dimensional beings – and then he just goes back to New York and he's fine after he gets back out to L.A.?’ Something had to happen.

What was your biggest challenge in tackling Iron Man 3?

I think the big challenge with these movies is the fact that they are only ever as good as their bad guys – but once we cast Sir Ben Kingsley [as The Mandarin], half of our troubles went away. Then, the other half had to do with him executing this very peculiar and awesome arc.

In various interviews for Iron Man 3, Sir Ben Kingsley has admitted that there was no need for him to improvise on set because most of The Mandarin’s personality was already written in the script. Would you agree?

I’d like to counterpoint what Sir Ben said because once we let him off the chain, we found that he was a glorious improviser. Without giving away his character arc, a lot of the ideas came from what was written because [Iron Man 3 screenwriters] Drew Pearce and Shane Black did have a good script. The story was really good. The twists were really good. It was all there already.

Shane Black, who is also the director of Iron Man 3, believes that you live and breathe exactly like Tony Stark. How much of Tony Stark is in you and how much of Robert Downey Jr. is in Tony Stark?
Don Cheadle [who plays James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes] and I have had many conversations about this. When you’re looking at the back nine and you’re not a kid anymore, you start to realize how much you share things with a character like Tony Stark. I’ll never be more like Tony than I was three weeks before we started shooting the first movie. Back then, I was like, “Wow, look at this role I get to play!”

How has your relationship with Tony Stark changed?

The older you get and the more life continues to whittle you down and smash your ego, the less you identify with things that are essentially just metaphors for narcissism or vain glory, or deep-seated fear and all that stuff. As Iron Man has become more real and more ‘out there’ in his own way, I’ve become just moderately more humble and more humanized.

What’s different about Iron Man 3 compared to the earlier movies in the franchise?

This time, I feel that Iron Man 3 – without taking it too seriously – is about transcendence. It’s about this thing that you become identified with. Are you capable of letting go of it because it’s impeding your actual human experience? What is an actual human experience, and who’s been humanizing Tony all along? The nice thing – and the reason I can get onboard with this – is Rhodey must have thought that Tony was not so much of a jerk because he was his buddy all those years before he became Iron Man. Tony has a history with someone who really knows him, and also really knows the ins and outs of what you’re supposed to do in a legitimate military or conflict situation. Then he has someone who also knows the ins and outs of his emotional life. What you achieve is about the human being you become; it’s not about how many toys or how much fame, or how much fear you can instill in your enemies.

Iron Man 3 has the unique distinction of being a sequel to two different movies: Iron Man 2 and Marvel’s The Avengers. What are the challenges of maintaining all of those different storylines and converging them in this one film?

It’s a complex thing. [Marvel Studios’ President] Kevin Feige and Shane Black were the ones who really had to hammer out where all these strings go, and how everything moves something when you pull it. 

The aftermath of the alien encounter in New York at the end of Marvel’s The Avengers had a huge impact on your character.  What was your take on how much you could refer to that adventure, and how much Tony Stark didn’t want to talk about it – especially when young Harley tries to question him?
We just wanted to play with that in a binary way. It’s weird when one movie that’s connected to another doesn’t reference that movie at all. It seems like you were so busy trying to make your thing work that you didn’t have space. I think it would lack of confidence if we didn’t refer to it. I thought it would be helpful. I just like the idea of this kid getting under my skin. I like the idea of kids bringing their parents to the verge of an anxiety attack, and then, once they push you there, saying, “What’s wrong with you?” I thought that was a nice way to refer back to it. We needed reasons, and sometimes you just look at the bigger picture of this continuance of stories. 

What do you think you have became for comic book fans, and how do you analyze the role of Iron Man in pop culture?

I keep re-reminding myself of this… Societally, it’s the same thing as when Stan Lee wrote the original [Iron Man comic] in the 60s. It was about this very conservative, military, industrial complex guy who gets injured by his own weapons of destruction. It was wish fulfillment for a counter-culture generation. The nice thing is that nowadays, with the market flooded with all sorts of characters in TV and movies, Tony and the people he is in contact with in his non-Avengers world are real world things. It’s about technology helping you overcome crises, and it’s also about the challenge of the crises technology can incur.

In recent years, Tony Stark has dealt with betrayal, blood poisoning and alien encounters, as well as the destruction and loss of his home. Where would you like to see the character go next?

I don’t know. It’s funny, but these things tend to come out of creative discussions, and there’s always something new coming up. When we are shooting, we always say, “Wouldn’t that be great?” But a lot of those things have come true already. I was always saying, “God, I just want to see Pepper in the suit. I want to see her experience what Tony gets from it, and I want her to help him transcend it.” The wish fulfillment happens pretty quickly in the Marvel universe, so I don’t have any particular goals for it right now. 

Iron Man 3 Arrives on Blu-ray September 24!  Order your copy today!

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