Writer/director Shane Black was once the most highly paid writer in Hollywood, selling spec-scripts for millions. His last film, 2005′s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was considered an art film throwback that casted a then still rebounding Robert Downey Jr. as the lead. Eight years later, he’s written and directed Iron Man 3, and it should return him back to the top of Hollywood. He was joined by stars Rebecca Hall and Guy Pearce, and his screenwriting partner Drew Pearce to talk about the making of the movie.
Mr. Black, 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 Men, during those early phases. And I was impressed with the project. I was impressed with both of them. And the chance to have a green lit picture where I got to work again with Robert Downey and reunite, and also spend time with Jon Favreau, who gave me endless tips and advice on this thing, was just so – 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 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, stand-alone film, where we got to be more character-centric and look 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.
I’m curious about the version what we’ll see in China, and how much new footage there will be in the film, and is it different, because I couldn’t really tell from this movie where something like that would kind of fit into the picture.
SHANE BLACK: Well, we left out the giant dragon. I – you know, I just – I know there’s additional footage.
DREW PEARCE: I think there’s – I think they want, 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.
Previously, 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’s?
SHANE BLACK: You know, the F word, tempting as it always is, especially in film environments, was pretty easy because we – I had done a film for kids previously, called The Monster Squad, and that’s 1987, folks, and be careful, 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, I don’t want to – 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: No, there – 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, but 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 – that was weirdly the additude.
SHANE BLACK: 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: Well, 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.
This is for Rebecca. Many years ago at junket, I asked you if you could 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. Does everyone end up in a superhero movie, at this point?
REBECCA HALL: Uh, I’m not sure that it’s obligatory, but I think – it’s – it might be getting that way, yeah.
And what inspired you to do this one?
REBECCA HALL: It sounds a slightly flippant response, but it was a combination of ‘don’t knock it ‘til you try it’ and this one seems like one that would be very fun to try, and one that I admired, I remember going to see the first Iron Man film and thinking, you know, 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, you know, that this would be a great thing to be a part of.
Can you talk a little bit more about your – coming to set for the first time, getting used to this sort of Marvel style of movie making. And I think 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 – what you’re doing each time out. Can you give us a sense of what it was like to start up in this?
GUY PEARCE: Shane and Robert were leading the charge, for sure. 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. 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. And so it was interesting to 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. I think every film you do feels very different from the last film that you’ve done. So I didn’t 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 that were going on behind the scenes, there 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 gonna look like which doesn’t often happen on a two million dollar Australian movie. So that was kind of different, you’re aware of the visual effects world that I think will be incorporated later.
For Shane – there’s a common theme that runs through a lot of your films, and it’s Christmastime. Lethal Weapon, and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and now Iron Man 3 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, ‘cause I had resisted it. It was Drew who talked me into it, eventually.
DREW PEARCE: If I was gonna go see a Shane Black Iron Man 3 movie, then it had to be at Christmas, although I – 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, and many – one way to unite them is to have them all undergo a common experience. And there is something at Christmas that unites everybody, and you – it just sort of already sets a stage within the stage, that whatever you are, you’re experiencing this world together. And I think that also, it just – there’s something just pleasing about it to me, ever since – 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.
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 the lonely people are lonelier at Christmas, and 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: Yeah.
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 kind of 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 gonna 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, the true – 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, Gadhafi. 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, you know.
Did you cut the Chinese version yourself, or how much time you had to put into that?
SHANE BLACK: We – 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, you know, box office environments in the world, which is China, where they build theaters so quickly now.
This is for Rebecca and for Guy. You’re stepping into this very well-oiled machine of not only Marvel, but Disney, and the Iron Man world specifically. 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 – it was more the feeling you get going to an amusement park and going on the scary rides, I think, you know – you know it, it’s exciting. You know what you’re getting – it might be a bit scary, but you know it’s gonna be fun, and you can get off and leave at the end. But it was – 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 face. And I don’t think I 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 these Iron Man films. But 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. As far as challenges, there was quite a lot of the green screen stuff – I know for you, that was probably the first time you -
REBECCA HALL: Yeah, first time.
GUY PEARCE: – worked with it. I mean, I’d done a bit of green screen stuff before. And 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’ve got a visual effects team 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 you’re in really good hands on a visual sense, as well.
This is for Guy Pearce, and Rebecca, you feel free to chime in if you’d like. You sort of see Guy, your character in his first act and 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?
REBECCA HALL: It’s all in the sequel.
GUY PEARCE: Yeah, that’s right. It’s in the prequel. We talked about the development of the company that he’d begun and the effects that extremis had over that period of time. And you know, we see a couple of clips, obviously, when Tony’s in the television van and he’s seeing moments of Killian in front of his people, and you sort of see slightly different looks. You see the progression of his look. So it was just a matter of talking through that, and making sure we understood when Gwyneth would have worked for Killian and how long for, etc. But it was straightforward stuff to understand.
Your back stories with Tony, and Gwyneth in particular, were so specifically it felt like there had been scenes shot and then cut, of the flashbacks. I mean, we saw a fraction of a second of you on top of the building, waiting for Tony, and he never shows. And I just was wondering – was there more material there that was taken out, for –
GUY PEARCE: No, there wasn’t, was there?
It was just written that way? I’m impressed.
SHANE BLACK: Yeah.
DREW PEARCE: Yeah, we – Shane’s whole thing about, you know, putting together a movie is about getting as much flavor, particularly in the first act, as possible. And that means lots of different elements. And you know, and 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, eliminate as much shoe leather as possible. Which is to say, you know, if you don’t need it, don’t shoot it. But we had shoe leather anyway, you always do.
Iron Man 3 opens May 3. Check it out.