Inside ‘Iron Man 3’ with Shane Black, Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall

Iron Man 3 Cast Press Conference
Robert Downey Jr and Shane Black on the set of ‘Iron Man 3’ (Photo © Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios)
Iron Man 3 marks the first film of the series not directed by Jon Favreau, with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang helmer Shane Black taking over the director’s chair for this third film of the franchise. Favreau remained involved both as executive producer and in front of the camera as Tony Stark’s sidekick/bodyguard, Happy Hogan, and of course Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle returned in starring roles which helped make the change of director a smoother transition.

Also making his Iron Man franchise debut is Black’s Iron Man 3 co-writer, Drew Pearce. Black and Pearce had a lot riding on their shoulders behind the camera, while newbies to the franchise Guy Pearce as ‘Aldrich Killian’ and Rebecca Hall as ‘Maya Hansen’ had the task of bringing new characters to life on the screen.

Shane Black, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, and Drew Pearce Press Conference:

Did Robert Downey call you to come onto this and do this with him? And can you talk about what your ambition was for number three, specifically?

Shane Black: “I can only imagine that having worked previously with Robert contributed to him calling me and asking me aboard this somewhat more ambitious production. But yeah, I had worked briefly with him and sat with him and Favreau during the inception of the first Iron Man, during those early phases, and I was impressed with the project. I was impressed with both of them and the chance to have a greenlit picture where I got to work again with Robert Downey and reunite with him, and also spend time with Jon Favreau who gave me endless tips and advice on this thing was too attractive to pass.

Our ambitions were to make sure that we had, in fact, a movie that felt like a worthy successor to the two previous Favreau films. And to Marvel’s credit, they allowed us – they said, ‘We’ve done The Avengers, we made a lot of money but let’s not do that again right now. Let’s do something different.’ And they allowed for a different, sort of stand-alone film, where we got to be more character-centric and look basically back to basics at what Tony Stark would do next, what was left to tell of his story. And that was very appealing to me. So to make it more of a thriller and to make it more about Tony and less other-worldly, and sort of just ground it more – that was our intention. I hope we succeeded.”

What can you say about the version we’ll see in China and how much new footage there will be in the film? Is it different?

Shane Black: “Well, we left out the giant dragon. I know there’s additional footage.”

Drew Pearce: “I think Marvel would like to keep an element of surprise about that. So when the inevitable versions of it feed back to us, you’ll see exactly what it involved. But for the moment, I don’t think we’re allowed to talk about it.”

Shane Black: “Yeah, the Chinese version will be an interesting surprise. We do know that there’s additional footage that will be available in that version, which I’m sure will filter back here.”

You’re very well known for your R-rated action comedies. With this film, you’re obviously working within the PG-13 rating. Is there anything you thought of that was maybe a little too extreme for this? And how was it giving up your F word?

Shane Black: “You know, the F word, tempting as it always is, especially in film environments, was pretty easy because I had done a film for kids previously called The Monster Squad.”

[the audience claps]

Shane Black: “That’s 1987, folks, be careful. But then again, you were children then. You were all children. That was ages ago so coming into this I had to go back and say, ‘I remember what it was like when I went to the matinee to stand in line for Empire Strikes Back or Star Wars or those types of films, and get excited all over again about that type of adventure,’ that you could appeal to a family but it was still edgy. You know, we didn’t want to pander. We didn’t want to make a kiddie film. But we knew very well that we couldn’t, you know, go beyond the boundaries of PG 13.”

Drew Pearce: “That’s not to say we didn’t push it a little in the first couple of drafts.”

Shane Black: “Yeah, Tony only said f–k five times in the first draft.”

Drew Pearce: “That is technically true, and we actually had to have a sit down conversation about the fact that you couldn’t say f–k in a PG 13.”

Shane Black: “But you know there was a point when you would write for television, when I was coming up in this business, you would just say f–k anyway and you would just know that they would take it out later.”

Drew Pearce: “That was weirdly the attitude.”

Shane Black: “Yeah.”

Drew Pearce: “But everyone’s going to see this.”

Shane Black: “Yeah, so, but basically, there was no problem with that. I have no problem with tailoring material to the audience that it’s intended for, as long as you keep the edge. As long as you don’t condescend to that audience, I think that it’s absolutely spot on.”

Drew Pearce: “We’ve got a brilliant actors as well which helps so much because they can give it the swing and feel of grown-up conversation without necessarily having to hit the F button.”

Shane Black: “Oh, Rebecca was pretty bad.”

Drew Pearce: “Yeah, she was profane. She was truly profane.”

Rebecca, years ago you were asked to imagine being in a superhero movie. At that point, you seemed kind of amused by the idea, but now here you are with Sir Ben Kingsley. So, everyone ends up in a superhero movie eventually at this point?

Rebecca Hall: “I’m not sure that it’s obligatory, but I think it might be getting that way, yeah.”

And what inspired you to do this one?

Rebecca Hall: “You know, it sounds a slightly flippant response but it was a combination of ‘don’t knock it till you try it’ and this one seems like one that would be very fun to try, and one that I admired doing. I remember going to see the first Iron Man film and thinking what an unusual thing that they’re not casting action heroes, they’re casting Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. This must be interesting. And I remember watching it and thinking it’s not just about the action sequences and the thrill ride or whatever. It’s also about the repertoire and the wit, and the dialogue, and there was something of a sort of screwball battle of the sexes comedy going on that I loved. And I thought that this would be a great thing to be a part of.”

Can you talk a little bit about coming to set for the first time and getting used to this sort of Marvel style of movie-making? We all get the sense that Robert sort of leads the charge among the acting troupe and kind of helps set the tone of this. Give us a sense of what it was like on the set.

Guy Pearce: “I don’t know that you really got a sense of what sort of Marvel movie-making is like, necessarily. I mean, you know, Shane and Robert, obviously, were sort of leading the charge, as you indicated. And I mean, I guess in the end, lots of films kind of feel the same once you’re standing there in front of the camera, and you’re just trying to be convincing and do what you need to do, you know? But I think the interesting thing about doing this was that there were two previous films that were successful and Rebecca and I had seen both of those films and were big fans of them, really admired them. And so it was interesting to sort of step into something that already existed.

Obviously, working with Robert is something quite specific because he’s the genius that he is. He’s a lot of fun; he likes to improvise. You’ve really gotta be on your toes. But I think every film you do feels very different from the last film that you’ve done. So I didn’t sort of think, ‘Oh, wow, this whole Marvel universe feels extremely different to anything else that I’ve done.’ I mean, obviously, we were really aware of the visual effects, I think, that were going on behind the scenes. They were literally sort of rows of people sitting behind us at the monitors with laptop computers, kind of mocking up versions of what things were going to look like which doesn’t often happen on a $2 million Australian movie. So that was kind of different. You’re aware of the visual effects world that I think will be incorporated later.”

Shane, there’s a common theme that runs through a lot of your films, and it’s Christmastime. Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and now Iron Man 3 are all set during the holiday season. What is it that you like about putting a movie at Christmastime and why did you feel that was right for Iron Man 3?

Shane Black: “Well, it just sort of evolved oddly enough with Iron Man 3, because I sort of resisted it. It was Drew who talked me into it, eventually.”

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

Shane Black: “Yeah, there has to be. 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 all undergo a common experience. And there is something at Christmas that unites everybody. It already sets a stage within the stage, that whatever you are you’re experiencing this world together. And I think that also, there’s something just pleasing about it to me. I mean, I did Lethal Weapon back in ’87 and we did Christmas, and Joel liked it so much he put Die Hard at Christmas. There was some fun to that. You don’t have to do every film that way.”

Drew Pearce: “There’s an interesting thing at Christmas, as well, like when you’re telling 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 kind of lonelier characters, as well, then that loneliness is kind of heightened at Christmas, too.”

Shane 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.”

Drew Pearce: “Plus, there was a kind of Christmas Carol thing that we wanted to bring in for Tony, as well, a certain sense of…”

Shane Black: “Meeting the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

Drew Pearce: “Yeah.”

Shane Black: “In the sense that Harley is kind of him, as a young boy, just encountering all these different things that come to him, almost like a fever dream, when he’s at his lowest point. I think that was the idea, as well.”

Drew Pearce: “So we’ve post-justified putting it at Christmas pretty roundly there.”

Shane Black: “We could go on.”

Originally you had said that you didn’t want to use the Mandarin – you identified him as kind of a racist caricature. Is that what led to the Mandarin evolving into what it is now?

Shane Black: “It’s part of it. More pertinently, I just thought it was an interesting idea to try to mix it up so that if you’re going to do something that involves a terrorist in the modern world, who’s just sort of a villain, who’s just sort of a guy that we’re all afraid of – why not say something about the entire experience of what it would take, for instance, to create a myth that was all things to all people? From elements of traditional historic warfare, like swords and dragons, surrounded itself with icons that were recognizable, like the beard from Fidel Castro and the field cap from, you know, Gaddafi, why not make an Uber-terrorist and then play with the idea of that, of a corporate world full of think tanks whose assignment, let’s say, was to cobble together the ultimate warfare specialist and then have that man’s sole unifying characteristic be his undying hatred for America such that he attracts to him these acolytes and disciples who respond to the myth? We thought that was an interesting idea, regardless of his ethnicity.”

Did you cut the Chinese version yourself and how much time did you have to put into that? Did you know that it would be only in this special edition when the team went to China or was it actually an idea later on that you had to cut it from this U.S. version?

Shane Black: “There was a sort of idea for the Chinese version, what it would entail in additional footage that I was asked to look at and approve, and I was busy doing the American version while we were simultaneously obtaining footage for the Chinese version. So I got a sense of what was going on and I was asked to look at and had a chance later to approve the footage. So, now we’ve got these two versions. I’m just thrilled that we had the opportunity to work with what is one of the single fastest emerging box office environments in the world, which is China, where they build theaters so quickly now.”

For Rebecca and Guy, did you have any trepidation about coming into this franchise? And what kind of particular special challenges did you meet emotionally and physically in tackling the roles?

Rebecca Hall: “Well there’s trepidation, I think, when you get involved with any job. But I think it would be tremendously egotistical of me to suggest that I was in some way carrying the weight of the franchise. So there wasn’t that kind of fear. It was more the feeling you get going to an amusement park and going on the scary rides, I think. You you know it, it’s exciting. You know what you’re getting. It might be a bit scary, but you know it’s going to be fun, and you can get off and leave at the end. Yeah, of course, any job is scary, but you tackle the challenges head on and hope for the best.”

Guy Pearce: “Yeah, I think the same, really. You do feel kind of nervous about any film you take on. I think if I feel inspired by a job enough to sort of want to take it on, then any kind of concerns that you have you’re prepared to sort of face, you know? I don’t think I really had any concerns that would have stopped me from doing it. I’m certainly aware that there are a lot of fans behind comic strip films, and obviously these Iron Man films. But you know, I mean, you know you’re in good hands with these guys. And I think ultimately you just want to make sure you can bring a truth to the character you’re playing. And as far as sort of challenges, I guess, there’s quite a lot of the green screen stuff. I know for you that was probably the first time you’d really sort of worked with it.”

Rebecca Hall: “Yeah, first time.”

Guy Pearce: “I’d done a bit of green screen stuff before. On some level, it’s actually kind of fun because you’re relying on your imagination. And I think in this it wasn’t so extreme that you were trying to imagine a person in front of you that actually wasn’t there or anything like that. But you know, as I say, you’ve got a visual effects team sort of working away constantly and they’re showing you previews of the scene you’re meant to be doing and then how it’s actually meant to look. So I think, again, you’re sort of in really good hands on a visual sense, as well.”

Guy, we see your character in his first act and then his third act, and there’s 13 years of unspoken story in development in there that doesn’t appear on screen. How much of that do you work out? How much of that do you understand, with Shane or with anybody else, as a part of creating the whole character?

Guy Pearce: “I’m not really sure. I mean, we just sort of talked about the development of the company that he’d begun, I suppose, and the effects that extremists had sort of had over that period of time. And we see a couple of clips, obviously, when Tony’s in the television van and he’s seeing sort of moments of Killian in front of his people, talking to his team, and you sort of see slightly different looks. You see the kind of progression of his look, I guess. So it was just a matter of talking through that and making sure we kind of understood it. For example, also when Gwyneth would have worked for Killian and how long for, etc. But it was fairly sort of straightforward stuff to understand.”

Was there more backstory shot, more material that didn’t make it into the final cut?

Guy Pearce: “No, there wasn’t, was there? We didn’t do anything.”

Drew Pearce: “Shane’s whole thing about putting together a movie is about getting as much flavor, particularly in the first act, as possible. And that means lots of different elements. There were other elements shot for that first act, but nothing more with Maya and Killian. We knew what we wanted to do with them from the beginning.”

Shane Black: “Yeah, and the idea to eliminate as much shoe leather as possible. Which is to say, ‘If you don’t need it, don’t shoot it.'”

-By Rebecca Murray

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