Iron Man 2: Interview with Director Jon Favreau

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Jon Favreau is the director of "Iron Man 2," starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mickey Rourke. The Marvel sequel is being released May 7 by Paramount.

“I think the first sense that we had something special was when we went on the international press tour and both the feedback and film reviews were extremely positive,” recalls Favreau.  “But it really didn’t hit us until we went around to movie theaters on opening weekend and watched how well audiences were reacting to the film.  It was inspiring and extremely gratifying to see Robert beat the odds and, with the success of the film, come back bigger and better than he was before.  That’s the ultimate success story and it was oddly parallel to the character of Tony Stark.  Sometimes when art imitates life, you can really catch lightning in a bottle.”


Preparing for a Sequel


“When we were shooting the first film, we weren’t planning a sequel, but we were also aware that if things went well, there would be one; so we thought about what the big picture would be and what we were leading to in terms of story,” Favreau observes.  “The challenge in developing ‘Iron Man 2’ was how to stay true to what audiences enjoyed about the first film while at the same time  raising the bar in every aspect – an interesting but sometimes difficult line to walk.  If it gets too complicated, the sequel becomes overwrought and loses its light touch.  But if you don’t do anything more than you did the first time, it just feels like more of the same—so doing a sequel can be a mixed blessing.”


“The writing process on ‘Iron Man 2’ was unique and began before there was a screenwriter brought on,” explains Favreau.  “That tends to be the case with these types of movies because what happens is that Robert Downey, Kevin Feige, Jeremy Latcham and others all sit around and start discussing things like what interests us; where should the characters go; where should the next leg of the journey start; what should Tony’s arc be, etc.  So you begin to outline a basic story and break it down into scenes and set pieces.  Then when you arrive at that point, the actual scriptwriting process can begin.”


Story Development


In developing the storyline for “Iron Man 2,” the filmmakers had to decide what story elements and characters to draw from in the more than 600 issues of Iron Man comics Marvel has published over the past 42 years.  For Favreau, having the opportunity to pick from any place he chose within the vast amount of source material was not without its pitfalls. 


“When you have multiple characters in a film, it tends to get complicated, and I think many sequels fall short because they create too many layers of complication, both in character and in plot,” says Jon Favreau.  “Plot is something I’m not particularly great at because I don’t have a mindset for twisty, turny, maze-like stories.  I’m more of a story guy, which I used to think was synonymous with plot, but it’s really a different element of movie-making.”


The director continues, “Story has more to do with the arc of a character – where they begin and end, what challenges they face, and how they change.  The progression of self-transformation usually has to do with having a moment of clarity in which you realize a change needs to be made and then committing to that.  Inevitably, because we’re human, we stumble and can fall off the path in the face of duress, which tends to make us regress to our old ways.  In the case of Tony Stark, here’s a person who is facing similar but different challenges than he did the first time around.  In ‘Iron Man,’ Tony probably should have slowed down, but he was inspired by the discoveries that he made in escaping captivity in the cave and his revelations about where he fits into the world.”


“After discussing the many different avenues where we could go, we decided to have the film begin six months after Tony’s infamous press conference,” Favreau explains.  “In that time period, Tony has been the subject of a lot of publicity and he’s been trying to figure out what to do with Stark Industries because he isn’t manufacturing weapons anymore.  If he was the most famous man in America after the first film, he’s definitely the most famous man in the world in the new one.” 

On Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark


“I think people who didn’t know who ‘Iron Man’ was were intrigued by the fact that Robert Downey was playing the character,” Favreau contends.   “He is an amazingly talented actor and I think people were waiting for him to do the right project.  It was one of those situations where the material and the actor married well and probably my single largest contribution to ‘Iron Man’ was recognizing that connection and making it happen.  Robert really delivered and put to rest any doubts about how serious he was about being a movie star and being a major player in Hollywood.”


“Since the end of the first film, the general public has grown to love Tony Stark because he has kept the world a very stable, peaceful place; but the government is threatened by him because he doesn’t really answer to anybody,” explains Favreau.  “It’s worked out well so far, but it’s a big point of concern to have a powerful armored suit that is capable of mass destruction in the hands of a private citizen who they don’t consider to be the most stable guy.”


The director continues, “We felt there was an opportunity to show Tony Stark as someone who could capture the imagination of not just Americans, but people around the world, and could be a unifying force.”


Replacing Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle


"Don Cheadle is a very intelligent, very talented guy, who asked a lot of smart, tough questions, and that’s my favorite kind of actor,” says Favreau.  “He’s not someone who questions things just for the sake of asking questions.  He actually has a point of view and is curious about things, and whenever Don was curious about something it usually turned out to be because it was a beat in a scene that wasn’t totally thought through.”


Adding Scarlett Johansson


“There was some initial resistance to Scarlett playing the role in the fanboy community because she hadn’t done an action film before, but what appealed to me the most in casting Scarlett was her dedication and intelligence,” says Favreau.  “I think you need smart people in a movie like this because there’s too much up for grabs and there are too many things that change, so you need somebody who is going to be a steward of their character.”  


The director continues: “Scarlett assured me that she would work as hard as she needed to do all of the stunts and physical work in the film.  True to her word, she was completely dedicated when it came to spending countless hours in preparing for all of the physical work and looking her best in the Black Widow costume.”


Mickey Rourke as the Villain


“In the film, the character of Ivan represents a dark side of Tony’s past,” says Favreau.  “There is something cool and retro about having a Russian villain and Mickey Rourke had spent some time there and was intrigued by the idea.” 


Directing Approach


“I like to encourage a lot of improvisation on the set and Robert is very quick, unpredictable, and you have to put somebody in the cage with him who can really go toe to toe,” observes Favreau.  “Garry is a personal friend and I knew he could hang in there with Robert and something explosive would happen if I put them in a scene together.  A lot of what I enjoyed about the first film was the unpredictable quality some of the scenes had that in other movies of the same genre are a little bit more by the book.  I knew they were going to cut loose and go a little crazy, but I also knew they would maintain the stakes and the reality at the same time.”


The director continues: “It was really fun and exciting for me to watch take after take and it was a great way to kick off the production.  I was so relieved after seeing all the characters old and new working together.  I felt like we immediately established the tone of the film.”


Favreau's Favorite Scene


“The scene was a late-breaking one, and it never really got a lot of attention in preproduction,” says Favreau.  “You have to shoot really fast at Edwards because you just don’t have a lot of time being on an active base.  We quickly carted out all of the weapons Justin described with such great superlatives.  The scene includes some of my favorite writing of Justin’s and one in which he really got to be poetic in a way that showed him at his very best.”


The director continues: “On that particular day, I changed the order of all of the weapons at the last minute, which was tough for Sam Rockwell because it was two pages of straight dialogue.  But what I cared about most was the way he presented the character.  It took a while, because there was so much technical information and we used real guns, so you had to get it right because you don’t want to make him seem like an idiot.  Sam killed the scene, had a great time and really made a meal of it.”


Shooting on Location


“In the first film we had Tony in Las Vegas, but we had to go a step further and think much bigger,” says director Favreau.  “Las Vegas is for millionaires, but Monte Carlo is for billionaires, and the idea of having a set piece in Monaco was really exciting for me.  Part of the difficulty with these super hero movies is that everything has been done before—so how do you make it different?  There are only so many scenarios—so the incorporation of a James Bond-type of panache to Tony Stark’s lifestyle and having his super hero adventures overlap into his personal life seemed cool, and the idea of shooting in Monte Carlo during the Monaco Historic Grand Prix was a compelling one.”


“When the idea of shooting in Monaco was being bounced around we went there to see if it was possible and met with Prince Albert, who was a very nice and gracious host,” says director Favreau.  “He was into it after we presented what our vision was for the sequence and how it reflected well on the city.  We scouted the race course, which takes place in the city streets.  We basically walked the entire track and took pictures which gave us a real good sense of what we wanted to do.  We did a whole presentation on what the Stark racing car would be like and showed the official designs we had done because they take their racing very seriously there.”


The director continues: “Since we couldn’t bring the entire production to Monaco, we identified what section of the race course we wanted to duplicate and shot plates there days before the race so that we could capture all the stands and signage.  We then built the same section of the track that was used as a foreground in which we could actually flip cars, do explosions, and have thousands of people in the stands, which were built to replicate the actual stands in Monaco.”


Final Words


“I’m very fortunate to have an amazingly talented group of actors to work with on this film,” adds Jon Favreau.  “They’re all different types of actors and they all have different processes, but I have to say that I’ve never worked with such a high caliber of talent from top to bottom.  We caught people by surprise with the first one, but the bar is much higher now, so this time it’s going to be much harder for people to say, ‘I thought it was better than it was going to be.’ Hopefully with all the hard work everyone involved injected into this film, they’ll come away saying it was as good if not better than the first one.”