If I ever had a moment of doubt that Jon Favreau was the man for Iron Man, I’ll never feel that way again. After watching the flat-out fantastic footage he brought to Comic Con and listening to him discuss not only the character and his aims for him, but his working methods, I’m tremendously hopeful that this will be the next step forward for superhero films.

And the experience has obviously done Favreau good. I almost didn’t recognize him — he’s lost weight and seriously toned up, as if he’s the guy in the suit. I don’t have a photo on hand that does the guy justice now.

Here’s a little bit of background for the first question in this roundtable, since you’ll read this before the Terrence Howard interview. Essentially, Howard described a process of frequent script revisions, where they’d often shoot more than one version of a scene, and where the actors had serious input into the composition of dialogue and scenes. That’s not something I envisioned happening on a movie like The Fantastic Four, which leads to the first question.

We just listened
to Terrence Howard describe a working process that sounds more like a $2 million
indie than a big effects-based feature.

Fortunately, Marvel on all their movies is very
collaborative and the story is very concrete but the specifics are…it’s not
like you have to contact a studio to get approval on everything. So it’s a lot
like the movies I’ve worked on in the past. I think there’s something
incredible to be discovered in the moment, especially when you have actors like
Robert and Terrence, who understand it and have been around and see themselves
as shepherds of their roles. They often know more about their character than
the filmmaker does, because that’s the kind of actor I hired. We’d often have
discussions staying late into the night or showing up early where we’d lock
ourselves in the trailer and talk about things. Fortunately for me, Kevin Feige
was right there in the trenches with us. It was not unlike the process they
went through on the [X-Men and Spider-Man movies]. There’s a lot of discovery
on these movies. Fortunately I had a cast that was up for the challenge and
willing to talk about it and give their opinion and the movie benefited.

Terrence and Robert
both talked about the collaborative efforts on the script. Could you talk about
that from your perspective?

Well, it’s a very interesting process, very opposite what
I’m used to. I’m used to: you write a script, shop it around, maybe attach a
star, get the resources to make the movie, you shoot it, cut it, show it, get
distribution, you come up with a marketing plan and a release date. Here you
get the title, a poster and the release date. Then you work your way backwards
from the set pieces, because that takes the most attention since you have to
work on the pre-vis, the animatics and the storyboards. So you have to break
the story as a whole, and then you work your way in and start to develop
character and CG assets. And as you cast people, you start to figure out the
particulars of the characters that connect these dots. And in casting Robert,
you have a much different version of this movie than you would if you have
somebody else younger, less funny, less spontaneous, less charismatic. So with
him as Tony Stark we knew we could hit the humor hard, we knew we could test
the boundaries of likability because he’s so charming that you could really get
to the personality Tony Stark has in the books. And then with Gwyneth, she
really brings something…she’s not just a bumbling secretary. She’s an
administrative assistant that has a lot of class and poise and you want to play
to the dynamic they showed together in rehearsals. So she’s classy, so he’s
going to play a different version. It’s not Moneypenny in this one, it’s a
different thing and there’s a romantic tension there that you want to play to.

Speaking of
Moneypenny, you’d mentioned that you wanted to play to an element of James

Yeah. The Bond stuff, I think…well, this last Bond was
very gritty and the movie was showing that James Bond could be harsh and in
your face, and they had to reinvent the franchise and I think they did a great
job. The Bond we were gravitating towards is in the way that he’s the American
Bond. He’s got gadgets, he’s got great cars, he’s got a certain flair and style
and there’s a certain confidence that he has in the way he goes about moving
through the story. And I think Iron Man has had that quality too in the book
and we wanted to preserve that. But you never want the humor to be at the
expense of the reality of the movie, and in Bond while you always got the sense
that the bomb was never going to go off and he was going to end up sleeping
with the villain, you knew there were some real life stakes and you want to
walk that line to make it fun, but also make it real.

Can you describe
the heroism of Iron Man?

In this movie, it’s a guy who starts off maybe not
understanding the full implications of what he does for a living, of the life
he lives. To him, he’s selling widgets and he’s getting very excited by his
next invention. And then being injured by one of his own weapons and seeing
servicemen attacked with them and seeing what happens when they fall into the
wrong hands and being forced to build a super-weapon for those people, a change
of heart takes place. A literal change of heart, and what he stands for and how
he defines himself. That’s the journey of the first movie.

Is Jarvis in the

Jarvis is in the movie, let’s leave it at that. In one form
or another.

With your profile
rising and Vince Vaughn hot, are you still talking about doing your Western?

I’m talking to Vince about collaborating on something,
and right now he’s riding high on the comedy train. Those comedies are doing
very, very well and right now we have a lot of ideas of what we could do.
There’s something we’re working together on now. Although The Marshall of Revelation, which was Western we were talking
about, is a little bit more edgy and gritty than what we’d like to do right
now, it’s certainly a script I like. We’re also getting a little old to play
the roles as I wrote them, so it would take a big rewrite, but it’s a wonderful
script and I’d like to make it someday.

 Artists have
redesigned Iron Man all the time since ’64…

They have, yeah. Which is a great thing for movies because
we get to do new things in new movies if we make more, but I gravitated towards
the look of the Adi Granov design of the Extremis armor but I thought the tech
was too high with the way the suit went on, and I also love his reimagining of
the original Mark 1 suit in the flashbacks, and so that’s the look. Very
similar to the Extremis look, but the Mark 1 suit is based on the original
books and also what Adi reinterpreted from the original books.

How many armors
are in the film?

Three. There are three. We’ve got to save some surprises
about what it looks like…maybe [there’s something in the trailer]…you can pick
it apart like it’s the Zapruder film and figure it out.

What couldn’t you
do this time that you’d love to do in a sequel?

I’d love to do something like Fin Fang Foom. You can’t do
that in the first movie, but I’d love to do some version of that. After we’re
done making the movie I’ll see how real it is and how much fun I can have with
it. It’s like Batman Begins. They
took a franchise and reinvented it, they did great stuff with it, and now you
can expand it, because the fans are on board. This one was a matter of getting
not just the fans of the books but also the general public to love Iron Man,
and then I’ll see how far I can push it. So for the same reason you’re not
going to see him fighting the Mandarin in the first movie, you’re just not,
because you can’t have something true to the books that’s not going to put off
the general public.

It’s like Star Wars.
You can’t have…you had to have Darth Vader first, you can’t just have him
fighting the Emperor with lightning bolts coming out of his hands. It would
have felt like the wrong movie. There’s an ubervillain that’s behind the scenes,
pulling all the strings and then you have to have different levels… it’s like a
video game. You have different bosses that you fight and slowly reveal what’s
going on. If the movie stands alone we got a great story, great villains, great
fighting. If we’re lucky enough you’ll slowly see that stuff. The fans of Iron
Man are going to see it clearly in this movie but people out there, it’ll go
right by them. But you guys will know and if we get lucky enough to make more
you’ll see more and more emerge that’s in the books.

 How’s your experience
been with fans?

We took a big risk. We didn’t show this trailer online.
We didn’t show it in front of a movie. We took it to Hall H. First time I
showed it was to a bunch of people waiting to see Indiana Jones and Star Trek.
That’s a crowd that, if you have a misstep, you could be Catwoman overnight. But if they like it, they’re going to be
online, they’re going to be vocal, they’re going to tell their friends. And not
just you guys – the people who are posting on bulletin boards. You don’t get
more grassroots than that. This is a very vocal group of people, the people who
were in that hall. But we felt that there was enough response to the images
that we released, the images that we didn’t release, everybody seemed to like
what they saw.

So we took a chance, cut together a lot of footage, more
certainly than most do, and we put it out there and now what’s nice is
Paramount saw the way that the fans responded to it, and they want to get the
footage out there to the general population. They’re starting to understand
what this franchise is and could be. It gives us confidence. Not just
Paramount, not just Marvel. Me as a filmmaker. It makes me hit the editing room
feeling a little more sure of what we’re doing, that it’s working. And we’d
better outdo what we showed at Comic Con because we gotta make a trailer, we
gotta make the commercial and ultimately we have to make the movie and it’s all
got to have new surprises. And I want people the first time they see the movie
to react they way they reacted in [Hall H].

Did you pay attention
to fan reactions during casting?

Very much so. It was a very tricky thing. Downey’s not a
guy that you cast to put asses in seats in a huge Hollywood blockbuster. He’s a
guy you put in a movie when you want a great actor and you want someone who’s
going to bring a lot of integrity to a role and credibility to a project like
this. They took a big chance on hiring a guy who’s not a mainstream popcorn
movie star. And in casting this guy, as soon as we announced it, you know we
were all looking at what the response was on all the sites. First the people
who were going to write articles about it and blog about it, and then the
reactions of the fans to those blogs. It gave us a tremendous sigh of relief that
we knew that we had a guy that people were going to give a chance to play Tony
Stark. Each casting decision was the same way, and then each image that we
released. And when an image got out that we didn’t release, everybody’s scared,
and then the fan response was there, and that gave us confidence to be a little
more forthcoming with what we’ve done and that’s what led to what we were able
to present today.

What will he sound
like in the suit?

don’t know yet.