Opening in theaters this Friday, Marvel’s “Iron Man 3” continues the epic, big screen adventures of the world’s favorite billionaire-inventor-Super Hero, Tony Stark, and pits the brash-but-brilliant industrialist against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. With all his money and toys stripped away, he discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?
At the recent “Iron Man 3” press conference, Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Sir Ben Kingsley talked about their exciting new film that’s the culmination of the first two films and a follow-up to Marvel’s “The Avengers.” They discussed their characters, what director Shane Black brought to the third installment, what it was like working from a great script, the tone of the film, Black’s decision to take a calculated risk with a Capra-esque departure, the introduction of two new characters: a young boy from the heartland named Harley (Ty Simpkins) and a sinister new villain called The Mandarin (Kingsley), and the future of the franchise.
Question: Gwyneth, within the span of three films Pepper goes from the assistant, a little bit of damsel in distress, to the President of Stark Industries, and she wears the pants in the relationship. Can you talk a little bit about the gradual transformation of your character?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I feel really, really lucky that I got to play Pepper for that reason, because very rarely do you start at such a distinctive place and end up somewhere else. I really loved their relationship in the first movie when she was a supplicant, and cleaning up his messes. I loved that. It was very specific, and then to get all the way to where she is at the end of the trilogy, it was a big transformation. One of the things that I loved the most is that she really 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 woman in his life. And then, of course, she turns into a super hero. It was a great transformation, and I felt really lucky to be a part of it.
Q: Robert, what was your biggest challenge with “Iron Man 3”?
DOWNEY: The big challenge this time was these movies are only ever as good as their bad guys. In addition to what we wanted to have happen with Pepper in the arc that she got that was overdue, I wanted it to feel like Tony and Rhodey last time decided that he was an island, and there was this power of their partnership, and that expanded in “The Avengers.” The movie is only as good as its bad guy, and once we cast Sir Ben, half our troubles went away. And then, the other half had to do with him executing this very peculiar and awesome arc.
Q: Robert, Tony gets to interact with a kid for the first time in this film. Were you happy that was in the script, and can you talk a little about interacting with a young Ty Simpkins?
DOWNEY: Ty Simpkins is great and I think we'll be seeing a lot of him. Shane Black had this idea of a Capra-esque departure. With a lot of things in “Iron Man 3,” we all knew we were taking risks, and we were out of what would have been the familiar territory. His idea of a super hero running into a little kid in the heartland of America wound up being a wise choice and a calculated risk.
Q: Was Ty prolific?
DOWNEY: He's great. I taught him everything he knows.
Q: Sir Ben, Mandarin is a unique villain that we've never seen in a movie like this before. How much of the Mandarin was already in the script and how much was your invention?
BEN KINGSLEY: It's all in the script. Drew Pearce and Shane Black presented us with a wonderful document, and there's very little straying off the written word. Whenever we do improvise it's minimal, and just to maybe sharpen one or two ideas that we were playing with on the set, but it's all there. I do respond to the written word. I love to see it down there on the page, and it was all there. 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 the weird iconography was there to disconcert and completely scatter any expectations of where he might be coming from. I think the line, “That 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.
DOWNEY: I'd like to offer a counterpoint to what Sir Ben said. Once we let him off the chain, we found that he was a glorious improviser, and a lot of ideas, without giving away his character arc, were just flowing out from what was written. But again, Drew and Shane had a good document. The story is really good. The twists are really good.
Q: Robert, the movie is pretty funny and you’re a funny guy. Can you talk about the tone of the film?
DOWNEY: I would leave it to my other co-stars to describe what working with me on most of our scenes was like. They've gotten used to it and they're great at it. Don.
CHEADLE: It was great to come back this time around. Shane coined and put a stamp on the buddy action movies where I was clearly in the pocket with Robert. We're in such different tracks. I didn't know what Gwyneth was doing for half of the movie. It was great to see it all put together at the end and say, “Oh, that's what you guys were doing over there.” I saw Sir Ben twice on the set. It would be great to have another bite of the apple personally and for me to be able to mix with these guys a little bit more, but we had a ball. Robert is a prince, as you all know.
Q: Don, which one do you prefer, Iron Patriot or War Machine? Also, how do you think Rhodey has evolved?
CHEADLE: Well, the Iron Patriot is about three kilos heavier, so I prefer War Machine. This iteration of the film is something that Robert and I talked about after the second. He came to me and said, “Now, let's try and really kick this relationship off and see who these guys are.” A lot of the fun for me in this one was being able to do 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. It was like I was a big kid being able to play with the best toys. You see the relationship has strengthened in this one, and it pays off on 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. They're friends, but they still really help balance one another, and I thought that really came to fruition in this one.
Q: Robert, your character has dealt with so much — betrayal, blood poisoning, aliens, the destruction and loss of his home. Where would you like to see Iron Man go next emotionally?
DOWNEY: I don't know. It's funny. These things tend to come out of creative discussions, and when we're shooting, we always say, “Oh, wouldn't it be great?” But a lot of those things have come true already. I was always saying, “God, I just want to 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.” The wish fulfillment happens pretty quickly in the Marvel universe, so I don't have any particular goals with it right now.
Don, your character gets to use his suit more in this film, and you also get to see more of his actual military training. Which do you prefer more — being in the suit or showing off what a great soldier he is without the suit?
CHEADLE: I prefer being out of the suit. The suit is great, and it's great to be able to achieve all the things that we want to achieve with the CGI and the motion capture and all that. But like I said, I had the most fun running around with Robert and us actually physically going after it.
Q: Was there a little bit of suit envy here?
CHEADLE: Well, I know in the second one, when Robert was putting his suit on and just had the top of it on, and I was putting mine on, and he said, “Yeah, I told them from “Iron Man 1” to “Iron Man 2” that they really had to make these changes and make this a lot more lightweight.” I was like, “Mine weighs 7,000 pounds. What are you talking about lightweight?”
PALTROW: You guys are wimps. Okay, the suit is not that bad.
CHEADLE: You never wore. You never put it on.
DOWNEY: You never wore Don's.
CHEADLE: She was a CGI.
PALTROW: I did wear the suit.
CHEADLE: You didn't wear my suit. I'll bring out the suit.
DOWNEY: I admit we're wimps. In “Iron Man 2,” Don's suit was so hard to even pick up to put on him. The hardest thing about this stuff is it's like any of this CGI stuff. Ben was essentially in special effects make-up the whole time. He would just come on the set, and we've all had these moments, but you always wonder where your lot is going to come grab you. Don has had that for some reason or other. I promise you, my dearest brother, I will never allow that to happen to you again. I make all of my commitments in public.
CHEADLE: Robert was like, “Is that heavy enough?” Robert said, “Well, shouldn't you have something else on there?” It was fun.
DOWNEY: Gwyneth, by the way, did come in and she was having a ball, and her kids were there and she was in rocking shape. So it was all nice and easy. I think she wore it once or twice. It's an accumulative issue.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the challenges of maintaining all those different story lines and rooting them in this one film?
DOWNEY: It's a complex thing. Kevin Feige and Shane Black were the ones who really had to hammer out where all these strings go and how does everything move something when you pull it.
PALTROW: The truth is that these movies work because Robert plays Tony Stark, and not only because of the similarities in their own lives and not because of his specific brand of vulnerability, strength, humor, and all 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, the CGI, and the action, but one particular strength of Robert's that we don't see on screen is the fact 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 we want to watch?” That's why the movies keep working, and they're not a weaker carbon copy of the one before.
KINGSLEY: Yes, I’d agree with that. That’s true.
Q: How will people, and especially children, respond to the film in today’s unsafe world?
CHEADLE: Well, especially with the events of the last week, I've been asked a lot about if there are any sort of illusions between what's happening in the real world and what's happening in the film and are we trying to make a statement. Clearly, this movie was in the can before anything happened or 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. Outside of that, if we're lucky enough to have someone's mind changed about something that's happening in the real world or gain sensitivity that wasn't there before or some deeper understanding, that's some ancillary bi-product that we couldn't have anticipated. I couldn't have anyway. We're really trying to give people the ability to go into a darkened room and have a couple of hours of just pure enjoyment. If anything else happens outside of that, that's an unintended consequence, but one that's a happy one.
DOWNEY: I think Sir Ben will find this really interesting to have an entire generation of not just movie going folk, but also kids, identifying him with this character slash characters he's played. You notice once you have that kind of feedback. It's not like you don't figure that into what you're doing. Disney acquired Marvel, but Marvel was already mindful of this stuff. These aren't those kind of PG-13 bordering on “how did this ever get past the Ratings Commission movies”? We're really thoughtful about this stuff. Even in your character's transition, there's something about it that allows the air to be taken out of the darkness that would otherwise be there maybe.
KINGSLEY: Yes, also, to pursue Gwyneth's point that it does come from Robert. Whatever the context, whatever the scene, there's always a quest for sincerity, a quest for the genuine, a quest for putting the human dance on the screen. All generations will respond to that. Children do respond to sincerity, and Robert, as a guiding actor through our experience, will always debate, “Where is the sincerity in the scene? Where is its heart?” I think that will appeal to children of all ages, to use a rather hackney phrase.
PALTROW: We do live in an unsafe world. That's the truth. I'm dealing with this now with my seven-year-old. He's grappling with the fact that the world is unsafe, and there are people who do harmful things. I don't think there's anything wrong with presenting that idea. We can't lie to our children and pretend that the world is perfect, and everybody is happy, and everybody is out there to do good. It's just part of a bigger conversation. I know that after my children saw the movie, I had certain conversations with my son about it. And so, I think it's a good contained place to have a conversation.
Q: Robert, the aftermath of New York had such an impact on Tony, what was your take on how much you could refer to that in the movie?
DOWNEY: Again, we just wanted to play with that in a binary way to be weird. It's weird when one movie that's connected to another doesn't reference that movie at all. It seems like we were so busy trying to make our thing work that we didn't have space. It would lack confidence if we didn't. I thought it would be helpful. I just like the idea of this kid getting under my skin, and I like the idea of kids bringing their parents to the verge of an anxiety attack, and going, “Oh, what's wrong with you?” once they push you there. I thought that was a nice way to refer back to it. We needed reasons, and sometimes you can just look at the bigger picture of this continuance of stories. I was reading this morning about the new Thor and I'm like, “Oh, wow, oh.” You just plug things in like an operator. It's like, “You know what, that fits here real nice.” We're always aware, even more so. Jon Favreau on the first “Iron Man” and I went to Comic Con, and he had a flip phone in his hand and he goes, “This is how it's working from now on. The filmmakers, the artists, the departments heads, they're all showmen, and the audience is talking back, and they're going to ask you that question: ‘In the post-Avengers world, what was it like for Tony?’” You have to have thought about it, and you have to have addressed it creatively.
Q: Robert, you had a pretty fruitful partnership with Shane Black on “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Can you talk about your creative relationship with him and what he brings to this franchise?
DOWNEY: I think it would be nice to kind of go down the row here and just use describing words or anecdotes. We were night shooting, and when they cut, he would run somewhere, because the only time someone couldn't ask him a question was if he was in a full out run. He ran across the street. The next thing I knew he was sitting down on the sidewalk. There is a cable in front of wherever you're working, and he had hit it at such a clip that it had thrown him on his side and dislocated his shoulder.
PALTROW: This is not a funny story, my friend.
CHEADLE: It's kinda funny.
DOWNEY: He's fine.
CHEADLE: I thought it was funny.
DOWNEY: You know, you would …
PALTROW: Robert, he had cracked ribs and he was all bloody and blue.
CHEADLE: Oh, my God, it gets better.
DOWNEY: I can't tell my story so I'll let the others speak. She's probably right.
PALTROW: I can only speak for myself. 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.” I know we all have lives and everyone is busy, but it was just weird that he wasn't there directing. But as we went on, I really warmed to Shane and his terrible outfits. And he is so sharp. He is so smart and his dialogue was incredible. What we started with on this movie that we didn't start with on the first two films was a really excellent finished screenplay. It really shows in the film. Shane is super talented, and he brought something. He took it up a notch, which was really difficult to do. I ended up having an incredible amount of respect for him.
KINGSLEY: I only remember him being in one terrible outfit. I don't remember it being plural outfits. He has a great attribute as a director, one of many great attributes is that the director will give you the role and then he will let go. This is a wonderful quality that he has. There are some directors lesser in confidence or skill who make the actor feel very uncomfortable because you feel you're auditioning for them every day, and that's a terrible feeling on the set. But Shane has this wonderful ability in his own confidence, and his ability to cast a movie to say, “There's your role. I'm just going to film it.” It's really good energy to have on the set.
Q: Gwyneth, we've seen your transformation. Is there any chance of you being part of “The Avengers” on the next one?
PALTROW: I will say that one of the most thrilling parts of having gone all over the place in talking about this movie is that people really love to see Pepper in the suit and kicking ass. And so, I would come back. You know, in the comic she becomes Rescue, her own person.
DOWNEY: And she marries Happy Hogan.
PALTROW: Oh, yeah.
CHEADLE: That might be for the adult channel.
Q: Robert, you know you're never going to get rid of this character. You're too perfect for it. So how have negotiations been going for “Iron Man 4,” “5” and “6”?
DOWNEY: I'm not at liberty to discuss that. The future as usual is uncertain, and I think the great thing is that we never could have known what and who was going to come together for the third “Iron Man.” Usually, the third of anything struggles to even meet the first two, let alone the first one. In all earnestness, things are very much in flux right now. Marvel has their plans and we're all living and growing. We'll see what happens.