Iron Man 3 is set to open this Friday, but the cast already knew they had a winning hand. Los Angeles was near the tail end of their press tour, and you could tell that they were overjoyed with the movie (if not a little tired). But they’ve got a huge franchise, one that’s following in the wake of The Avengers, and Don Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Kingsley and Gwyneth Paltrow were all happy to talk about the making of the film.
This first question for Gwyneth Paltrow. I wanted to talk about the transformation of your character. Within the span of three films she goes from the assistant — a little bit of damsel in distress — into the president of Stark Industries, and now she wears the pants in the relationship. Can you talk a little bit about like the gradual transformation of your character especially in this film where she really takes power?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I feel really, really lucky that I got to play Pepper for that reason because I think very rarely do you start at one such a distinctive place and end up somewhere else. And I really loved their relationship in the first movie when she was a supplicant, and cleaning up his messes and 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. And I think one of the things that I loved the most is that she really steps into her power in all areas. And 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 she turns into a super hero or sort of. It was a great transformation, and I felt really lucky to be a part of it.
I wanted to ask Robert Downey what you felt was your biggest challenge with number three for this?
ROBERT DOWNEY: I think the big challenge this time was that these movies are only ever as good as their bad guys. And in addition to what we wanted to have happen with Pepper in the arc that she got that was kind of overdue, was I really wanted it to feel like Tony and Rhodey last time decided that he wasn’t an island, and there was this kind of power to 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, 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.
Tony gets to interact with a kid for the first time in this film, which is great. I was wondering if you were happy that was in the script, and can you talk a little about interacting with a young Ty?
ROBERT DOWNEY: Ty Simpkins is great and I think we’ll be seeing a lot of him. Shane Black had this idea of this kind 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 familiar territory. And his idea of a super hero running into a little kid in the heartland of America, I think wound up being a wise choice and kind of a calculated risk.
Was Ty prolific?
ROBERT DOWNEY: He’s great. I taught him everything he knows.
Mr. Kingsley, obviously Mandarin is a unique villain, something that we’ve never, ever really seen in a movie like this before. How much of it was your invention?
BEN KINGSLEY: It’s all in the script. Drew and Shane 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. And 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. And that’s where the timbre of his delivery comes from, and weird iconography was there to disconcert and completely scatter any expectations of where he might be coming from. I think again the line, “That you will never see me coming” involves … It 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.
ROBERT DOWNEY: I’d like to offer a counterpoint what Sir Ben said because he actually when once we let him off the chain, we found that he was a glorious improviser and a lot of ideas were just flowing out from what was written. But again, you know, Drew and Shane had a good document. The story is really good. The twists are really good. But I would leave it to my other co-stars to describe what working with me on most of our other scenes was like. And they’ve gotten used to it and they’re great at it.
DON CHEADLE: Do you want me to say what you paid to say or just say I what I feel? No, it was great to come back this time around and, you know, Shane almost coined and really put a stamp on the sort of buddy action movies where I was clearly in the pocket with Robert. It was great to see the whole movie put together at the end because 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 and say, “Oh, that’s what you guys were doing over there.” You know. I saw Sir Ben twice on the set. So it would be great to have another bite of the apple personally for me to be able to mix with these guys a little bit more, but we had a ball. And Robert is a prince, as you all know.
Which do you prefer, Iron Patriot or War Machine? And also how do you think that Rhodey has evolved in this stuff understanding in terms of just being an integral part to himself or just a companion again?
DON CHEADLE: Well, the Iron Patriot is about three kilos heavier. So I prefer War Machine. But, you know, this iteration of the film really is something that Robert and I talked about after the second, you know. He came to me and said, “Now, let’s try and really kick this relationship off, and really try to see who these guys are.” And a lot of 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. I was a big kid being able to play with the best toys. So I think you see the relationship has strengthened in this one, and it’s sort of pays off on the promise that I think was made at the end of Iron Man 2 in the Japanese garden where these guys really started busting each other’s chops, and were back-to-back. They’re friends, but they still really help balance one another, and I thought that really came to fruition in this one.
There was a definite finality in this movie, but you know you’re never going to get rid of this character. You’re too perfect for it. So how go negotiations for 4, 5 and 6?
ROBERT DOWNEY: I’m not at liberty to discuss that. The future as usual is uncertain, and I think the great thing is that, you know, 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, you know, things are very much in flux right now and Marvel has their plans and we’re all living and growing. We’ll see what happens.
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? And for Don, your character he 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? Do you prefer being in the suit more or, you know, showing off what a great solider that he is without the suit?
DON 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. So that’s my answer.
ROBERT DOWNEY: I don’t know. I mean it’s funny. These things tend to kind of come out of creative discussions, and there’s always something, you know, when we’re shooting we always say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great …” But a lot of those things have kind of come true already. You know, I was always saying, “God, I just want to see Pepper in the suit. I want to see her experience with what Tony gets from it, and I want her to help him transcend it, and all that stuff. So it’s kind of like the wish fulfillment happens pretty quick in the Marvel universe. So I don’t have any particular goals with it right now.
You spend a lot more time out of the suit fighting. Was that a plus for you, and then Gwyneth, we’ve seen your transformation. Any chance of you being part of the Avengers on the next one?
DON CHEADLE: And I think you want to ask me if I want to be in the Avengers. Weren’t you in the Avengers already?
GWYNETH 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. In the comic she becomes Rescue, her own person.
ROBERT DOWNEY: And she marries Happy Hogan.
GWYNETH PALTROW: Oh, yeah.
DON CHEADLE: It might be for the adult channel.
Can you talk a bit about the challenges of maintaining all those different story lines and rooting them in this one film? Robert, you had mentioned three endings are always difficult. We have to really be careful about a guy leaving the franchise. This seems to be a little bit like a back to basics tone because of everything is taken away from him.
ROBERT DOWNEY: It’s a complex thing, you know, Kevin Feige. The folks weren’t here, you know, Kevin and Shane. I mean they’re the ones who really had to hammer out where do all these strings go and how does everything move something when you pull it?
GWYNETH PALTROW: But if I can interject.
ROBERT DOWNEY: I wish you would.
GWYNETH PALTROW: Thank you. You know, 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 and strength and 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, you know, 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 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? I think that’s why the movies keep working, and they’re not sort of like a weaker carbon copy of the one before.
BEN KINGSLEY: Yeah, I’d agree with that. That’s true.
Getting back to the suits, and Gwyneth, I would really like you to comment on this. Was there a little bit of suit envy here?
DON CHEADLE: Well, I know that when–I know in the second one Robert when he 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 one to two that they really had to make these changes and this a lot more lightweight.” And I was like, “Mine weights 7,000 pounds. What are you talking about lightweight?”
GWYNETH PALTROW: You guys are wimps. Okay, the suit is not that bad …
DON CHEADLE: You never wore. You never put it on.
ROBERT DOWNEY: You never wore Don’s.
DON CHEADLE: She was a CGI.
GWYNETH PALTROW: I did wear the suit.
DON CHEADLE: You didn’t wear my suit. I’ll bring out the suit.
ROBERT DOWNEY: I admit we’re wimps, in Iron Man 2 Don’s suit was so hard to even pick up to put on him. And the hardest thing about this stuff is really again it’s like any of this CGI stuff or any of like … You know, I mean Ben was essentially in special effects makeup the whole time.
DON CHEADLE: Yeah.
ROBERT DOWNEY: And 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. And 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.
DON CHEADLE: Robert was like, “Is that heavy enough?” Robert said, “Well, shouldn’t you have something else on there? It was fun.
ROBERT DOWNEY: And Gwyneth, by the way, she 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.
BEN KINGSLEY: 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. And 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? And I think that will appeal to children of all ages. To use a rather hackney phrase.
Since the aftermath of New York has had such an impact on Tony, what was your take on how much you could refer to that in the movie? How much we want to hear about what happened in the Avengers, and how much Tony doesn’t want to talk about it?
ROBERT DOWNEY: Again, we just wanted to play with that in kind of a binary way to be weird. It’s weird when one movie that’s connected to another doesn’t reference that movie at all. You know what I mean? It seems like we were so busy trying to make our thing work that we didn’t have space. So I think it would lack confidence if we didn’t. I thought it would be helpful. I just like the idea of this kid kind of getting under my skin, and I like the idea of kids bringing their parents to the verge of an anxiety attack. And kind of going like, “Oh, what’s wrong with you?” Once they push you there. And 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 now kind of like continuance of stories, you know.
I was reading this morning about the new Thor and I’m like, “Oh, wow, oh.” You just kind of plug things in like an operator. It’s like, “You know what, that fits here real nice.” And again, we’re always aware. Even more so. You know, Jon Favreau on the first Iron Man we went out and we went to Comic Con, and he had a flip phone in his hand and he goes, “This is how it’s working from now. You know, 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 and this and that?” So you kind of have to have thought about, and you have to have addressed it creatively.
You had a pretty fruitful partnership with Shane Black on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Can you just talk about your relationship with him in terms of your creative relationship with him, what he brings to this franchise?
ROBERT DOWNEY: I think it would be nice to kind of go down the row here and just use describing words or anecdotes. I’d like to say we’re night shooting and when they cut he would run somewhere. Because it was the only time someone couldn’t ask him a question was if he was in a full out run. And he ran across the street. The next thing I knew he was kind of sitting down on the sidewalk, and I would say there was 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, dislocated his shoulder.
GWYNETH PALTROW: This is not a funny story, my friend.
DON CHEADLE: It’s kinda funny.
GWYNETH PALTROW: No.
ROBERT DOWNEY: He’s fine.
DON CHEADLE: I thought it was funny.
GWYNETH PALTROW: Robert, he had cracked ribs and he was all bloody and blue.
DON CHEADLE: Oh, my God, it gets better.
ROBERT DOWNEY: Anyway. You know, by the way, I have a story … Forget what you asked. Here’s what I will say. Sir Ben is correct in some way and I’ve tried to be some sort of guiding light. Every bit as often I would go to set and Gwyneth would like, “Oh, my God, what are we doing? What is this scene again this time?” Like, “Shooting Pepper.” And she always points true north, and Jon said from the first time she’s the heart of the movie. And this time I’d be working with Don and he’d be like, “You know that thing where you say something funny and I say something, and then you would answer it and we do that?” I go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He goes, “Okay, can we not do that in one scene?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, great idea.” So there was a lot of give and take.
GWYNETH PALTROW: I can only speak for myself. When I started Iron Man 3 I was very uncomfortable with the fact that Jon wasn’t there directing. And I felt that Jon cast the movies, and he’s responsible in part for the Avengers. I know lives and everyone is busy, but it was just weird that he wasn’t there directing. But as we went on and I really warmed to Shane and his terrible outfits. He is so sharp. He is so smart and his dialogue was incredible. And I think what we started with on this movie that we didn’t start with on the first two films was a really excellent finished screenplay. And I think it really shows in the film. I think Shane is super talented, and he brought something. He took it up a notch, which was really difficult to do. So I ended up having an incredible amount of respect for him.
BEN KINGSLEY: I only remember him being in one terrible outfit. I don’t remember it being plural outfits.
DON CHEADLE: How bad is that one?
BEN KINGSLEY: 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 everyday. 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.” And it’s really good energy to have on the set.
Iron Man 3 Opens May 3. Check it out.