Iron Man is back on the screen this week, and I recently got to sit down and discuss the sequel with director Jon Favreau and actors Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Scarlett Johansson. Downey arrived in full Tony "I've come to entertain you" Stark mode, including wild, product-supported hair, a piratical goatee, and one amazingly well-cut suit, while Paltrow and Johansson ... well, we'll get to them tomorrow when the ladies of Iron Man 2 join the mix. For now, this conversation will remain an exclusive boy's club as Jon and Robert, who have about as much fun ribbing one another as brothers, tackle a few questions for us about the production, what's coming next for Iron Man and Robert, and ... er ... Jon's expanding girth.
***Warning, slight spoilers***
Cole Haddon: Jon, Robert, what kind of pressure did you guys feel, if any, following up such a massive and fan-beloved blockbuster? I mean, it made a boatload and, more importantly, became the bedrock upon which Marvel Entertainment is building a sprawling cinematic world.
Robert Downey Jr.: Do you mean feel like it's past tense? I didn't sleep last night. Jon?
Jon Favreau: I've never done a sequel before. Um, unless you count me playing an "Under Five" in Batman Forever. For me there wasn't the same pressure that you're used to feeling. [The first time around, you're] throwing a party and you don't know if people are going to show up. Here, we knew people were going to show up, and we just wanted to make sure everyone had a good time, and it was just going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So, different kind of pressure.
CH: Robert, you're working with a lot more actors (including Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, and Scarlett) than you did in the first movie. What was that new dynamic like? How do you swing managing so many new relationships on a set?
RDJ: It was great. I mean, cause these are all folks that I would be happy to work with in any circumstance and in any medium, so it was just swell. As for the management of it, cause I am a little, I don't want to say neurotic, but a little bit like a co-manager of a baseball team that just got an even better lineup in the spring, so I felt a little beholden to be partially responsible for their experience.
CH: Jon, it's pretty well-known that, on the set of the first Iron Man, you discovered a lot about the movie as you shot. Scenes evolved very quickly in the moment. Improvisation. How much did you discover this time?
JF: The story is always very flushed out. The story, what has to be happening in each scene, we understand. We leave a lot of room within those scenes, and try to do multiple cameras sometimes, and stay up and rewrite, and [the screenwriter] Justin Theroux, you know, he was doing multiple passes, sometimes double-digit passes on scenes because we learn things on each scene that we shoot. And what's nice about having [these] actors is they're all very good stewards of their characters, emotionally, and they're used to being in films where you don't have the safety net of the high technology and the explosions. And so if they have an issue with something we're asking the character to do for the story, we discuss it and we figure out a way it can work for them as a performer and also for the movie.
CH: And was it difficult to balance Tony Stark's story while trying to feed in stuff that feeds into the nascent Avengers franchise that will collect heroes like Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and Captain America into one flick? For example, shoe-horning in the Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) stuff?
JF: Ah well, let's see, the characters trick is to feather them in, so they don't overwhelm the story and we, you know, suffer from villainitis. And so by having Justin Hammer and Mickey Rourke's character come together fairly early, you really have two storylines that are weaving; you don't have five separate storylines. The same thing with Scarlett as Black Widow working her way into Gwyneth and Robert's story. So we really try to keep narrative flows going that don't get too convoluted. Cause I would lose track of that stuff. I get, especially in sequels, as the franchise is getting more complex, I don't always remember what happened in the last movie. Not for nothing, I like to watch the stuff blow up, but I'm not going to go do homework before I go see a sequel, to be up on everything. And so we tried to keep that simple.
CH: By the way, Jon, your glorified extra role as Happy Hogan, Tony Stark's driver, was expanded substantially for the sequel. So why'd you decide to move in on the action yourself?
RDJ: [Interrupting Jon, grinning mischievously] Yes, let's talk about Happy Hogan. There are three Happy Hogans in the movie. The Jon Favreau that was in excellent shape, he was boxing every day in pre-production and made it into the ring for the scene where he gets his ass handed to him by Scarlett. It was originally a longer scene [before they cut it], and maybe he was just too emasculated to let it be in the movie, but I think Scarlett laid the boots to him quite severely.
And then about midway, he's struggling with a megafast, occasionally, but I gotta get back in...
JF: [Laughing] Can I have my question back?
RDJ: By the time we were doing reshoots, they were framing him out of shots. But here's the thing, though: [That] is one of the things that I love about Jon.
JF: Here we go. Kiss me on my cheek after you're done with me. Give me a dollar and a towel, and walk me to the lobby.
CH: Speaking of roles ... Robert, any truth to the rumor that you're going to be playing Vampire Lestat?
RDJ: Yeah, anything that's going on, just imagine that it's been offered to me.