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Exclusive: Jon Favreau forges 'Iron Man'

By Rob M. Worley     July 26, 2006

Comics2Film's head is still reeling from the biggest Comic-Con ever. One of the highlights was definitively talking with Jon Favreau in a one-on-one interview about 'Iron Man'. Naturally, with so much going on, we started off talking about the hot, humid weather...

Jon Favreau (JF): My wife went to school here and she said this is not what San Diego's like. Don't go by this weekend. And then all the heat coming off the heavily costumed humans also doesn't help.

C2F: The reflections off the Stormtroopers...

JF: Putting a lot of BTUs coming off the Klingons out there.

C2F: I'm a huge fan of yours.

JF: I do read your site. I appreciate how you've been handling this. No irresponsible rumors coming off your site.

And I try to help. I try to help by putting the information out there and answering questions and sort of try to stop thing, nip things in the bud. And if I can't talk about something I don't lie and make it up. I just straight up say, "Hey, it's not appropriate for me to answer that question right now," and I think people understand that.

C2F: Nobody wants to hear you telling lies.

JF: But a lot of people do...people do lie and rumors tend to be true a lot...so it's nice to really be able to get in there and set things straight. It's nice to have a direct dialogue with the fans.

C2F: I see that you're on MySpace. It's a whole different world of making movies these days.

Click for full-sized IRON MAN poster

JF: It started as a simple thing, you know. I just put a thing up just to talk to my fans and let them know what's coming up and then I started an 'Iron Man' group and now it's over 10,000 people that are checking in on me and over 4,000 people on the MySpace group.

This is without being publicized. Just me putting my name up there. It's very viral and I'm sure when these [interviews] start coming out there'll be even more people will be there checking it out, just to be informed about bulletins and what's going on.

It's also nice to see what they're thinking. It gets harder, like drinking out of a fire hydrant now. I'd like to read all their input but...

C2F: I reviewed the Q&A out there before the interview and there were like 20 pages of it.

JF: That I do try to read.

C2F: How do you respond to all of that?

JF: I sort of pick a few and there's a lot of repetition, but fans have sort of picked and answered on the questions I've answered already...made up FAQs - frequently asked question threads.

It's not that sophisticated of an interface, but it's nice because it's easy and I can get on there even with what I know. Read a little bit. Write a little bit.

I'm impressed with how smart the fans are. It's not like a bunch of twelve-year-olds just writing stupid stuff. It's usually well thought through points of view. It just adds to my sense of responsibility, especially this being the first Marvel movie that's made by Marvel, getting it at least consistent with what the books offer.

C2F: So why is Jon Favreau the right guy to do 'Iron Man'?

JF: Because I see it as an honor and I'm skeptical of technology and I'm not convinced that just the fact that it's Iron Man is gonna make it a great movie. It has to be presented in a way that it's emotionally relevant to an audience regardless of whether they've heard of Iron Man or not.

On the one hand it's probably the biggest guy left that hasn't been turned into a movie. But he's also a guy that when I told my wife, "I'm doing Iron Man," she was like, "Who's Iron Man?"

I think it's a big segment of the population that says "Who's Iron Man?"

So there's a pedigree on the one hand, but there's also...you're starting from square one. It ain't like Spider-Man or Superman or even The Hulk, where everybody has a sense, on some level, of who that guy is.

C2F: What are the special challenges that that presents? Or does it give you more freedom?

JF: You're sort of marching to two drummers. But I think that the notion of, "people don't know who he is so do whatever you want with it..."

I think that that goes out the window when you're making a Marvel movie of a Marvel character. This movie has to prove that, now that Marvel has the freedom and autonomy to do it their way, that it takes the fans into consideration, and it also is gonna deliver a great movie that's gonna be successful for the people who are investing in the notion of them doing their own movies.

So it's a lot of responsibility in that respect.

C2F: You said you're skeptical of the technology...

JF: Well this is the first time that I'm really gonna wade into a CG world with a primarily CG character, and I'm looking at the handful of movies that actually fool me, because I'd say 90% of the movies...I just turn off as I'm watching them because I feel like I'm just watching somebody play a video game.

The way I've found around it is to use as much practical F/X as I could. In this case the character, in order to have him do the things that he does, like in the books, you have to go to CGI.

And if there's any character that lends himself to CG it's Iron Man. An inorganic, robotic character is a lot easier to sell than even an ape covered with fur, or a hero in tights. An organic figure is always the hardest.

And so I think the technology is there. I think I just have to be tireless in how much I limit how ambitious the cinematography is in the way that you present this character. CGI is most successful when every pain is taken to make it look as though its been shot with practical cameras.

That's a temptation too many filmmakers can't forego. They have to have the virtual, flying camera that gets the perfect shot. With the few exceptions of 'Battlestar Galactica' and 'Firefly' most people can't pass the opportunity to make every shot perfect.

Imperfections, especially when something's hurtling through the air at great speed, that helps sell it as real.

C2F: One of the things that I always liked about Iron Man is that the armor is always evolving, like any technology. Will we see different armors in this movie?

JF: Yeah. There'll be three.

We're gonna have the grey suit, because if the audience is gonna buy that he can build this thing with a piece of steel in his heart and in captivity in Afghanistan, you can't make super armor your first armor. It has to be a clunky, low-tech armor. I really like the look of the books from the 60s. I love it, the diving bell armor.

Then, I think, you go to Iron Man as a flying suit. I think we're gonna go right to the gold and red.

And then Iron Man as a weapons platform. So we'll evolve him over the course of the first film.

C2F: Super villains?

JF: The one guy that we're working off of is Mandarin. Clearly Mandarin does not culturally fit in with what we want to present, as he was presented in the books. But there's a daunting, formidable quality to him that, I think, speaks to the caliber of villain you'd want to see him square up against.

If you look at what the fans...the fans overwhelmingly want to see Mandarin be the guy.

So the question becomes: how you do make him relevant, updated and appropriate for today's audiences, without losing the essences of him that makes him so appealing to the fans of the books?

That becomes a literary challenge...how to tip your hat to what's there, but make it appropriate and not take it out reality...not make it a man with a Fu Manchu mustache and ten magical rings that make fire and ice.

C2F: Yes. But you will have Fin Fang Foom in the movie...

JF: [Laughs]

You know these other superhero franchises have these rich rogues galleries, and everyone that Iron Man fights is like some ridiculous character. Most of them are not nearly as memorable as [those found in] the other books. There's no super villain that's tailor made for him.

C2F: Now that you're progressing into these bigger and bigger movies, like Iron Man, are you ever going to go back to doing something with Vince Vaughn on a "Swingers" level?

JF: It was fun to be in his movie, in "Break Up", you know. I would definitely act with him and I'm looking forward to doing it. It's hard because directing takes two years to make this movie, and it takes him...he's got movies lined up, back-to-back.

So it really takes a guy like Vince coming to me and saying, "Hey, we're gonna make this fit your schedule. Lets do 'The Break Up' together."

But to be a director of a small movie takes just as much work and it's a very frustrating thing to do a movie that ultimately very few people see.

What's nice about a movie like 'Iron Man', it's creatively an independent film. There is no studio. The best of both worlds: we have Paramount behind releasing it, but no studio involved with casting and the story.

It's tough to go back to doing a small movie that runs for a couple of weeks in the art houses and then disappears. 'Swingers' made less than $5 million. 'Made' made $10 million. You pour all that into a movie and then most people catch it on video.

It's fun to do one of these.

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