Interview: Writer/Director Shane Black, Robert Downey Jr., and the Rest of the Cast Talk About Iron Man 3

By April 23, 2013

On Monday, I attended Marvel’s press conference for Iron Man 3 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. Writer/director Shane Black, writer Drew Pearce, and stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Sir Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, and Rebecca Hall were all on hand to discuss the first movie in Phase Two of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

Let’s get to the juiciest bit first, shall we? In a recent interview, Robert Downey Jr. seemed to indicate that his days playing Tony Stark were numbered. (Read more about that here.) So when asked how negotiations were coming for Iron Man 4, 5, and 6, here’s what Downey had to say:

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that…the future, as usual, is uncertain. The great thing is we never could have known what and who was going to come together for the third Iron Man, and usually the third of anything struggles to even meet the first two, let alone the first one. So in all earnestness, things are very much in flux right now and Marvel has their plans, and we’re all living and growing, and we’ll see what happens.”

So not quite the clarification we were hoping for, but it’s clear that Downey is playing a very public negotiating game with Marvel in the press. We can only assume he’ll return for The Avengers 2 (he did get $50 million for the first one, after all), but co-star Don Cheadle seemed especially eager to get in on that Avengers action by asking the crowd if they wanted to see War Machine/Iron Patriot in the upcoming sequel (a question met with hearty applause). Rhodey plays a much bigger role in Iron Man 3 than he has previously, and Cheadle enjoyed stepping up his participation:

“Something that Robert and I talked about after the second one, he came to me and said, ‘Let’s try to really kick this relationship off and really try to see who these guys are.’ A lot of fun for me in this one was being in a lot of action outside of the suit and getting to work with the stunt team and doing a lot of the cable work. That was just a big thrill for me. I was a big kid able to play with the best toys. I think you see the relationship is strengthened in this one, and it pays off the promise that was made at the end of Iron Man 2 in the Japanese garden where these guys really started busting each other’s chops, back to back. They’re friends, but they still really help balance one another and I thought that came to fruition in this one.”

As you might imagine, when you get these guys in the same room, the “chop busting” continued. At the junket for The Avengers, Downey teased the crowd of press by saying that the final film wasn’t done yet and the cast still had one more scene to shoot that very night after the junket was over. It ended up being the schwarma tag at the very end of the credits. Someone jokingly asked Downey if he’d be filming another scene for Iron Man 3 tonight, and when RDJ explained the backstory to his fellow castmates, Don Cheadle acted surprised and said, “Huh. I’ve never sat through the whole thing. As soon as Rhodey’s off the screen, I just walk out,” which cracked everyone up.

While Downey often makes jokes and seems to mirror Tony Stark’s playboy lifestyle in his own public persona, Gwyneth Paltrow took a second to explain to us the real reason why the Iron Man movies are successful:

“The truth is, these movies work because Robert plays Tony Stark. Not only because the similarities in their own lives and his specific brand of vulnerability and strength and humor, and all of those things, but because Robert has a really ‘big picture’ creative mind about what these movies should feel like. We all know that Marvel are amazing at the stunts and the CGI and the action and everything, but I think one particular strength of Robert’s that we don’t see on screen is that he’s always asking, ‘What is the big picture here? How can we make it feel real? How can we make it feel like something we care about and want to watch?’ I think that’s why the movies keep working and they’re not a weaker carbon copy of the one before.”

But Paltrow wasn’t just there to praise her fellow cast members. Her character, Pepper Potts, has some absolutely terrific moments in this sequel, and the actress was able to step out of just the assistant/CEO/doting girlfriend role she’s played before and finally kick some ass this time. Gwyneth is a big fan of Pepper’s arc throughout these three movies:

“One of the things that I love the most is that she steps into her power in all areas. You do see her as a very intelligent, articulate CEO. You see her now in an equal relationship with Tony where she wants her needs met as well, while still remaining a very supportive person in his life. And then, of course, she turns into a superhero. (laughs)”

That shouldn’t be a big spoiler, since you see Pepper wearing one of Tony’s suits in the film’s trailer. When Cheadle and Downey were complaining about how heavy the armor and suits were (Cheadle said his suit weighed “7,000 pounds”), Gwyneth stepped in to make fun of them for whining (“You guys are wimps. The suit is not that bad!”). Cheadle then set the record straight that she never had to wear HIS suit, which seemed to temporarily settle the “argument.”

One of the big themes of the movie is terrorism, and with the events of the Boston bombings so fresh in our minds, it makes a few sections of the film a little tougher to watch. Someone asked the cast if they could speak about their take on those horrific real-life events, and Downey’s response was wise: “I’d like to speak for all of us and say that I like entertainers to talk about entertainment.” Later, though, Cheadle offered a very eloquent response to a similar topic:

“Especially with the events of the last week, I’ve been asked a lot about if there are any sort of allusions between what’s happening in the real world and what’s happening with the film and are we trying to make a statement. Clearly, this movie was in the can before anything transpired in the last week, but as Robert mentioned earlier, the job of this film is to entertain. That’s what we’re hoping to do. If we’re lucky enough to, outside of that, have someone’s mind changed about something that’s happening in the real world or a sensitivity that wasn’t there before or some deeper understanding, that’s some ancillary by-product that we couldn’t have anticipated. I couldn’t, anyway. We’re really trying to give people, I think, the ability to go into a darkened room and have a couple of hours of just pure enjoyment.”

Paltrow chimed in with her own thoughts, too:

“We do live in an unsafe world. That’s the truth. I’m dealing with this now with my 7-year-old. He’s sort of grappling with the fact that the world is unsafe and there are people who do harmful things. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with presenting that idea. We can’t lie to our children and pretend that the world is perfect and everybody’s happy and everybody’s out there to do good, so it’s part of a bigger conversation.”

Getting back to the film at hand, Downey was asked about the biggest challenge with filming this third sequel in the franchise:

“I think the big challenge this time was these movies are only ever as good as their bad guys. In addition to what happened with Pepper and the arc that she got that was kind of overdue, I really wanted it to feel like…Tony and Rhodey last time decided that he wasn’t an island and there was a power in their partnership and that expanded in The Avengers. So really, all that was left was, the movie is only as good as its bad guy.”

That bad guy, of course, is The Mandarin, a terrorist played wonderfully by Sir Ben Kingsley. He spoke briefly about his process of creating such a frightening cinematic figure:

“I tried to give the Mandarin, in his political broadcasts, a rather unnerving sense of righteousness and make him almost paternalistic, patriarchal. That’s where the timbre of his delivery comes from and his weird iconography was there to disconcert and completely scatter any expectations of where he might be coming from. That line “you will never see me coming” sort of voices that unpredictability that he has. It’s a great script, it was a wonderful read, and we stuck very closely to it.”

He’s not kidding: this film really does have a great script, and that’s thanks to writer/director Shane Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce. Downey and Black worked together on Black’s directorial debut, the brilliant Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, back in 2005, which was a large part of why he scored this directing gig. Paltrow, though, wasn’t as convinced about her new director right off the bat:

“When I started Iron Man 3, I was very uncomfortable with the fact that Jon [Favreau] wasn’t there directing. I felt that Jon cast the movies, and he’s responsible in part for The Avengers, and I know lives and everyone’s busy, but it was just weird that he wasn’t there directing. As we went on, I really warmed to Shane and his terrible outfits. He is so sharp. He’s so smart and his dialogue was incredible and what we started with on this movie that we didn’t start with on the first two films was a really excellent finished screenplay. I think it really shows in the film. I think Shane is really super talented. He took it up a notch, which was really difficult to do, so I ended up having an incredible amount of respect for him.”

Anyone who knows Shane Black’s films (he famously wrote Lethal Weapon when he was just 23 years old, and he’s also written The Monster Squad, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Last Action Hero, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and now Iron Man 3) knows that he loves to set his movies during Christmastime. Iron Man 3 is no exception, but the writer/director says it wasn’t always meant to be that way. He and co-writer Drew Pearce spoke about setting this particular movie during the holidays (often finishing each other’s sentences) and why they made that choice here:

Black: “It just sort of evolved, oddly enough, in Iron Man 3, because I resisted it and Drew talked me into it eventually.”

Pearce: “If I was going to go see a Shane Black Iron Man 3, it had to be at Christmas! But there’s always a reason for it as well.”

Black: “Yeah, I think it’s a sense of if you’re doing something on an interesting scale that involves an entire universe of characters, one way to unite them is to have them undergo a common experience and there’s something at Christmas that unites everybody. It already sets a stage within the stage: wherever you are, you’re experiencing this world together. Also, there’s something pleasing about it to me. I did Lethal Weapon back in ’87 and Joel [Silver, the producer] liked it so much he put Die Hard at Christmas. There was some fun to that. Look, you don’t have to do every film that way.”

Pearce: “The interesting thing at Christmas as well is, when you tell a story that’s about taking characters apart, it almost has more resonance if you put it at Christmas. And if you’re also telling a story about lonelier characters as well, that loneliness is kind of heightened.”

Black: “It’s a time of reckoning for a lot of people, where you take stock as to where you’ve been, how you got to where you are now, and lonely people are lonelier at Christmas. You tend to notice things more keenly, more acutely, I think.”

Even though Downey didn’t give us a clear answer about whether or not he’d be back to play Tony Stark in multiple movies in the future, that didn’t stop someone from asking him where he’d like to see Iron Man go next:

“It’s funny. These things tend to come out of creative discussions. And there’s always something when we’re shooting when we’d say, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be great…’ but a lot of those things have kind of come true already. I was always saying, ‘I wanna 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’ and all that stuff. Wish fulfillment happens pretty quick in the Marvel universe.”

After everyone sees this film, I’m betting the only wish most people will have will be to see Downey continue to play this character for as long as possible.

Iron Man 3 hits theaters on May 3rd, 2013.

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Ben is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured at,,,, and many more sites across the web. Some of his favorite movies include The Rocketeer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Tombstone, Lucky Number Slevin, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Collateral, Double Indemnity, Back to the Future and The Prestige. Follow him on Twitter: @BenPears.