Comic-Con: Roundtable with Jon Favreau
Best known for writing and starring in the 1996 cult classic, “Swingers,” Jon Favreau has since become one of the most promising directors in the industry. He's brought such films as “Elf” and “Made” to the big screen, appeared on television shows like “Friends” and “The Sopranos,” and just so happens to be longtime friends with Vince Vaughn. After making a surprise appearance for the opening day of Comic-Con, Favreau returned two days later with cast in tow to show off exclusive footage from “Iron Man.” Following the panel, the writer/director took part in a roundtable where he discussed working with Marvel on their first independent feature, the similarities between Iron Man and James Bond, and the many projects (including a few with Vaughn) currently in the works.
Reporter: So, we just listened to Terrence Howard describe this push-and-pull between daily page rewriters, and it sounds like you're making a $2 million independent movie.
Jon Favreau: Fortunately, Marvel is – on all their movies – very collaborative, and the story is very concrete, but the specifics of it are allowed to… it's not like you have to contact the studio and get approval for everything, so it's a lot like the process I've had on movies I've worked on before. So, I think there's something incredible to be discovered in the moment; especially when you have actors like Robert and Gwyneth and Terrence who understand, who've been around, and see themselves as – they're sort of shepherds of their roles. They often know more about the character than the filmmaker does, because that's the kind of actor I hired, and so we'd have discussions – sometimes we'd stay late at nights, sometimes we'd show up early – we'd lock ourselves in the trailer and talk about things, and fortunately for me, Kevin Feige and the people who worked on the movie from Marvel, were right there in the trenches with us. And it's not unlike the process that they had gone through on “X-Men,” “X-Men 2,” “Spider-Man.” There's a lot of discovery on these movies, and fortunately I had a cast that was up for the challenge and was ready to talk about it and give their opinion, and the movie benefited from it.
Reporter: Terrence and Robert both spoke about the collaborative efforts on … like each day he'd come in and throw the script down. I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about that from your perspective.
JF: Well, it's a very interesting process – very opposite from what I'm used to. I'm used to, you know, you write a script and then you shop it around, and then maybe you attach a star, and then you hopefully get the resources to make the movie. You shoot the movie, you cut the movie, you show it, it gets distribution, you come up with a marketing plan and a release date. Here, you get the title, you get the poster, you get the release date. Then you work your way back from the set pieces, because that's the thing that takes the most attention, because you have to work on the pre-viz and the animatics and the storyboards. So you have to break the story, as a whole, and then you work your way in with the development of the character and the development of the CG assets, and all that stuff. And then as you cast people, you figure out the particulars of their character that connect these dots. And in casting Robert, you would have a much different version of this movie than you would if you had somebody else: younger, less funny, less spontaneous, less charismatic. So with him as Tony Stark, we knew we could hit the humor hard, and we knew we could really test the boundaries of likeability, because he's so charming and charismatic that you could really get to the personality just as Tony Stark is in the books. So, that opened the doors up. And then with Gwyneth – Gwyneth isn't just the bumbling secretary. She's an administrative assistant who has a lot of class and poise, and so you wanna play to the dynamic that I saw in rehearsals with her and Robert together. So she's classy, so he's gonna play a different version. You don't want – you know, it's not Moneypenny in this one. It's a different thing, and then there's a romantic tension that's there that you want to play to.
Reporter: Speaking of Moneypenny, you were talking about how you wanted to bring elements of James Bond into this movie. How did you do that? What are those elements that you're bringing into the movie?
JF: The James Bond stuff? Well, this last James Bond was very gritty, and the movie was showing that it could be harsh and in your face, and they had to reinvent the franchise; I think they did a good job. The James Bond that I think we were sort of gravitating towards – and the way that he's the American James Bond – is he's got great gadgets, he's got great cars, he's got technology, he's got a certain flair and style, and there's a certain confidence that he has in the way that he goes about playing his character through the story. And I think Iron Man has had that quality too in the books, certainly, and we wanted to preserve that. But you never want the humor to be at the expense of the reality of the movie, and I think with James Bond you always got the sense that – although you knew the bomb was never going to go off and he's always going to end up sleeping with the villain – it was a sense that there were real-life stakes in some movies more than others, and you want to walk that line to make it fun, but make it real.
Reporter: In your opinion, wherein lies the heroism of Iron Man?
JF: I think that the heroism of Iron Man in this movie is a guy who starts off not fully realizing the implications of what he does for a living, of the life he lives. You know, to him, he's just selling widgets and getting very excited about his next invention. Then being injured by one of his own weapons and seeing servicemen get attacked with them, and seeing what happens when these things fall into the wrong hands, and then being forced to build a superweapon for them – a change of heart takes place; a literal change of heart. And how he changes, and what he stands for, and how he defines himself – that's the journey of the first movie.
Reporter: Will Jarvis be in the movie? Jarvis the Butler?
JF: Jarvis is in the movie – let's leave it at that. In some form.
Reporter: With your profile rising as a director, and Vince Vaughn on such a hot streak, do you still have an idea towards that Western idea?
JF: Well, I'm talking to Vince about collaborating on… Right now he's riding high on the comedy train, and comedies are doing very well, and we have a lot of ideas. So, although “The Marshall of Revelation” – which is the Western we were talking about – is a little bit more edgy and gritty than what we'd like to do right now, is certainly a script I like. We're also getting a little old to play the parts as I wrote them, so it would take a big rewrite. But it's a wonderful script and I'd like to make it some day.
Reporter: “Iron Man” has gone through a couple incarnations. They've redesigned him like every year since '64.
JF: They have, yeah, which is great for movies, because we get to do new things and new movies if we get to make more, but I gravitated to the look of the Extremis, but I thought the tech was too high – with the way the suit went on – so that's the look, and then the Mark I suit is based on the original books and what the audience interpreted from the original books.
Reporter: What couldn't you do in this film that you'd like to do in a sequel?
JF: I'd love to be able to do… like in the comic book, Fing Fang Foom. You can't do Fing Fang Foom in the first movie. After I'm done making the movie I'll see how real it is and how much fun I could have with it. I think once you – it's like “Batman Begins.” They took a franchise, they reinvented it, and they did great stuff with it, and now you could expand on it, because the fans are on board. This one was a matter of getting not just the fans of the books, but also the general public to love Iron Man, and then I'll see how far I can push it, right? So, it was the same reason why you won't see him fighting with the Mandarin in the first movie, you're just not, because you can't have something from the books that's not going to put off the public. I mean, it's like “Star Wars.” You had to have Darth Vader – you couldn't just have him fighting the Emperor with lighting bolts coming out of his hands – it would have felt like the wrong movie. Same thing with “Lord of the Rings” with Sauron, you know? There's an über-villain that is behind the scenes, that is pulling all the strings, and you have to have different levels – it's like a video game – and different bosses that you fight, and slowly reveal what's going on. If the movie stands alone we've got a great story, great villains, great fighting, and if we're lucky enough, you'll slowly see what's sort of… And the fans of “Iron Man” are gonna see it clearly in this movie, but people out there, it will go right by them. But you guys will know, and if we're lucky enough to make more, you will see more and more emerge that's in the books.
Reporter: How was your experience here with the fans?
JF: Well, we took a big risk. We didn't show this trailer online. We didn't show it in front of a movie. We brought it to Comic-Con, and we showed it to a crowd. The first time I showed it was to a bunch of people waiting to see “Indiana Jones” and “Star Trek.” That's a crowd that if you have a misstep, you could be “Catwoman” overnight. But if they like it, they're going to be online, and they're gonna be vocal, and they're going to tell their friends… Not just you guys. I'm talking about people who will be posting on bulletin boards. You don't get more grassroots than that, and this is a very vocal group of people, but we felt we had enough dialogue and response to the images that we released, and the ones we didn't release, and everybody seemed to like what they saw. So we took the chance, we cut together a lot of footage – more certainly than most do – and we put it out there, and now what's nice is that Paramount now saw the way the fans responded to it, and now they're wanting to get the footage out there to the general public. They're beginning to understand what this franchise is and could be, and it's working out very well. It gives us confidence. Not just Marvel, not just Paramount – me as a filmmaker. It makes me hit the editing room feeling a little more sure about what we're doing, and that it's working, and that we better outdo what we showed at Comic-Con, because we gotta make the trailer, we gotta make the commercial, and then ultimately, we gotta make the movie.
Reporter: How close were you paying attention to fan reaction as cast members were being announced?
JF: Very much so. You know, it was a very tricky thing. Downey's not a guy you cast to put asses in seats for a huge Hollywood blockbuster. He's the guy you put in a movie when you want a great actor, and you want somebody who's going to bring a lot of integrity to a role, and credibility to a project like this, but they took a big chance by hiring a guy that wasn't a mainstream, popcorn-movie star. And in casting this guy, as soon as we announced it, you know we were all looking at what the response was on all the sites. First by the people that were going to write the articles about it and blog about it, and then the reaction from the fans to those blogs. It gave us a tremendous sigh of relief that we knew that we had a guy that people would give a chance to play Tony Stark.