REPORT: Hero Complex Film Festival, Day 4: Iron Man, Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr.

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Travis Walecka
I can’t help admit that I went into Day 4 of the Hero Complex Festival a little skeptical. I absolutely love John Favreau. Swingers, Elf, and of course the two films the largest audience yet was about to see: Iron Man and Iron Man 2 (or as I like to call it, Iron Man & War Machine), but, really, what information were we going to gather from a couple of films that, at this point -- in the face of Thor, Captain America, and next year’s Avengers -- appear a little passé?

Oh, a ton.

But before I get into all of that, and before viewing Iron Man for the 16th time (it never gets old), we were treated to a small Q&A with the screenwriters of next month’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Simply put, the two were inspired by George Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark. Their goal for the film was to never lose sight of Steve Rogers, discreetly showing why he’s here wearing the reds, whites, and blues of Captain America. Although the comic book may only have four panels of “scrawny” pre-Super Soldier Serum Steve, the pair ultimately decided to avoid writing a 5-minute first act.

The crowd was then treated to a “brand new, exclusive, never-before-seen” trailer of The First Avenger in 3D. And that proved the only difference. Other than four or five seconds of some new footage, the preview was basically the same as before. The film should kill, though.

L.A. Times pop culture writer Geoff Boucher would then introduce John Favreau and ask him about scouting locations for the Iron Man films. Favreau would drive by the Santa Monica pier and realize it was a cool place to see him fly. He also wanted to “blow up” something akin to Disneyland, so the World’s Fair Grounds in Flushing Meadows, Corona Park in Queens, NY -- where Favreau grew up nonetheless --proved the perfect inspiration for the “Stark Expo 2010” devastation in the sequel.

When Boucher stated that The Dark Knight and Iron Man proved pivotal points in introducing today’s comic movie genre, Favreau admitted that despite his successes, he was much more of a Star Wars/D&D guy than a comic book fan growing up, with the the many Harrison Ford collaborations with Steven Speilberg serving as childhood inspirations.

The actor/director then noted that Robert Downey Jr. was the true heart and soul of the Iron Man franchise. And despite the new studio -- Marvel -- not initially wanting him, Favreau knew he was right for the part. Downey still screen-tested, unsurprisingly blowing away the competition, and the minute the actor came on board, that’s when everything changed. The other actors -- Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges -- were now a breeze to cast.

Favreau continued to explain that it was more than the looks, wit and personality that got Downey the role. The actor relates to Tony Stark in that both had a famous dad, both grew jaded with fame through troubled times and Favreau was absolutely comfortable with the “uncertainty” that Downey Jr. had to offer. The most important element in making this comic book movie was keeping it as real as possible. He used the beheading video in the opening act of Iron Man to garner audience sympathy, using the J.J. Abrams trick of a “juggling chainsaw” to ground the film in the real world, yet crank it up with a much larger statement.

Favreau tried to make an even larger statement at the festival, by calling the source material himself; unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get through on his cell phone even as Boucher joked about texting Downey instead…

…but why text, when the Iron Man himself in the building!

Tony Stark -- err, Robert Downey Jr. (hard to differentiate the two with the actor in the middle of shooting The Avengers) proved as electrifying and as personable as you’d want him to be. The Q&A would then also prove a little harder to hear with the crowd buzzing and the constant snaps of the pictures.

(And, yeah, Comics Bulletin, good time to ask for a raise, don’t you think?)

After a lengthy, sophisticated inquiry directed towards Downey, the actor took a deep pause before retorting: “First of all… that’s an excellent question.” Favreau related Stark to Howard Hughes, a man put through trials with the public on his side, as his biggest enemy was easily his own reputation. Stark would prove too much of a threat to the government, as Downey notes that we -- the festival media -- were doing a better job than the pundits during the Stark press conferences. He’d also claim that it wasn’t easy climbing with the suit, especially in the scene where Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury finds him lounging inside a giant donut.

Favreau explained that while the first film was a brand new experience, “like setting up camp since Marvel [Studios] had no infrastructure,” shooting Iron Man 2 was much more of a task than the original. This was due to all the new studio agendas that delved more into “comic book territory”: S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avenger Initiative, adding more superheroes (such as Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow), and, of course, bending the line when it came to Stark “falling off the wagon.”

Though inspired by the original Iron Man story “Demon in the Bottle,” Favreau had to be careful with the sensitivity to drinking. He’d hope, “kids would just think he’s sick, and adults would think he’s hammered.”

Downey Jr. admitted that he “didn’t have to change much [to be Stark]. Just try to look taller and in better shape, and a few notches cooler than I actually am.” In all, he felt really privileged to be Tony Stark, and that moving on from Iron Man films to The Avengers felt like graduating high school.

After a humorous aside from Downey about Marvel Studio prez Kevin Feige’s new Jaguar, Favreau spoke about his newfound creative leverage; he learned it was nice to dig into other realms, such as the forthcoming Cowboys & Aliens and pending Magic Kingdom. After the crowd was treated to an extended trailer of Cowboys -- which was pretty badass, by the way -- Favreau hinted that it could screen at the San Diego Comic Con, considering the dates were only a week apart.

In response to Boucher’s query about those who have negative connotations with CGI, Favreau alleged that it was “important to show real consequences without drifting too far into fairyland. The minute [the movie] becomes [nothing but] a spectacle,” as he explained, “it’s no longer a real experience.” Stark never being able to say goodbye to his dad, inventor and S.H.I.E.L.D. pioneer, Howard Stark, proves that emotional gist for Iron Man.

In perhaps the most newsworthy bit of all, Robert Downey Jr. ranted about his recent experience on the set of The Avengers: “Well, I hate everybody,” he gagged, “I’m not talking about the cast; I’m not talking about Joss. I look at a scene and say, ‘This is absolutely impossible. We can’t shoot this -- it’s horrible! I can tell you ten other movies it’s been in. I refuse.’ I usually start off the morning by refusing to do what I’ve signed on to do [anyway]. So I brought that attitude... happily. I thought, ‘How are you going to put all of us clowns together? He’s wearing a suit, he’s all jacked up, he’s so and so and poor Mark Ruffalo -- he’s going to outdo us!’ And, we’re about six weeks in and I have to say.. Joss Whedon is nailing it. He’s so smart and so good. And it’s going to be great. I can’t believe I just said it, I never could’ve believed this: it’s going to be great.”

Jon Favreau also stated that he was personally happy with the choice of Shane Black as director for Iron Man 3 and that he’ll serve as a consultant to Black on the film franchise he fully supports. Downey clowned, that “negotiations with Jon’s acting deal will be tough.” Jon agreed, “I want my own Slurpy cup and a love scene with Pepper with my shirt on.”

Some more highlights during the Q&A with our favorite Iron Men:

  • The duo admitted they wanted to open up Iron Man 2 with both Potts and Stark waking up next to each other in bed freaking out, or Downey too hungover to take on a mission. Marvel declined.

  • Elon Musk was an inspiration for the film version of Tony Stark, and all the rocket scientist wanted was “to be invited to a debauched Hollywood party.”

  • Robert said Iron Man co-star Jeff Bridges, who plays Obidiah Stane, “Never called to say thank you [since the role boosted his career].” Jon jokingly added, “If you work with me, you’re guaranteed a nomination [for an Academy Award] on your next film,” as Downey also did with Tropic Thunder.

  • Downey also joked about screening Sherlock Holmes 2 -- noting his wife and producer of the film franchise, Susan Downey, was in the crowd. More amazingly, the actor acted out -- or at least appeared as if he were acting out -- lines from the first scene to the crowd!

  • Favreau recently went through an entire behind-the-scenes park experience at Disneyland in his pre-production process for Magic Kingdom. He was able to visit Walt Disney’s old apartment, and walk behind the sets of Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion.His number one goal as director for Magic, and any particular film for that matter, is searching for tone. Favreau looks to be “respective, but not overly reverent” when trying to connect the film with all the generations of his family and countless others.

  • For more coverage of the Hero Complex Film Festival, check out our special report on the other days:

    Day One, features Warren Beatty talking Dick Tracy.

    Day Three features Superman director Richard Donner, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and a special appearance by Grant Morrison.

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