I went to the Hollywood Center Studios set of I Love You, Man expecting to talk to Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones and maybe writer-director John Hamburg. But here we are, less than an hour into the visit, and the unit publicist is guiding Jon Favreau towards our little phalanx of online reporters. I give us two questions before we start flinging Iron Man questions at the gracious n’ gregarious Favs; thankfully, he heads us off at the pass and opens with some shellhead talk.
Before you parse the piss out of this Q&A looking for Iron Man 2 tidbits (good luck with that!), here’s a word on I Love You, Man: it’s a romantic comedy from John Hamburg about a recently engaged guy (Rudd) who’s never really had any male friends; ergo, he’s forced to go out on a series of “man dates” in order to find a best man for the wedding (Segel quickly becomes the leading candidate). After spending a day on the set, I still don’t know what to make of the film, but for a project that initially came off as heavily formulic, that’s a very good thing. And when you get a taste of the set dynamic with my forthcoming report (which should be up shortly), you’ll see what I mean. There’s lots of funny motherfuckers in this movie.
But first, here’s Favs, who has a supporting role in I Love You, Man as Jaime Pressly’s husband. He’ll be a little more involved than that in Iron Man 2.
Q: Great start to the year, huh?
Favreau: Yeah. Really, really good. You guys were the only ones who gave a shit before Comic Con. Since Comic Con, everything just started to build; people got excited by it, and then we just were at the MTV awards a couple of days ago. Everybody online voted for the movie, we got some golden popcorn, and you could tell by the reviews and box office that everybody seems to have jumped on board and really loves the movie. That is really, really gratifying for all of us who worked so hard for so many years on the thing.
Q: So now you are back to being in front of the camera and goofing off.
Favreau: Yeah, it was pretty interesting. I am definitely a supporting character, and this is a big ensemble comedy. There is a lot of sitting around in your little trailer. It was like right after Iron Man, and everybody was like “Why are you here?”. I said to Robert [Downey Jr.] “It’s really weird to go from directing a big, big movie, and going around the world with you for three weeks, and having the red carpet rolled out for us all across Europe, Asia, Australia, and then you come back. You are sitting in your little trailer doing a little comedy.” He says “It’s the best thing you could do. Chop wood and carry water.” It’s very easy to lose your bearings when something very wonderful happens, or when something really devastating happens. It tends to throw your whole life off. I know when I’ve experienced that in the past it throws you off. You lose your bearings. It was very nice to come here and work for a director like John Hamburg, who is a really good guy, and it’s a really great ensemble of performers. It was great just to be able to dive into something where all I had to worry about was being funny, knowing my lines, and being a good scene partner.
Q: What makes you a good alpha male?
Favreau: In this movie? I don’t know. I think there is a little bit of that in all of us, and you just play that out. Paul Rudd plays a guy who is very sensitive, so it’s very fun to play the opposite of him, and just make his life a living hell.
Q: Are you getting in any bar brawls in this?
Favreau: No, I’m not that kind of Alpha Male. I’m just more like a shitty, insensitive, angry person. The real key is to just be a guy who lets anger dictate their inner thoughts. If you just find things to be angry about, it’s very easy to be an asshole. That’s my key to the character.
Q: What is it like working with Jaime Pressly?
Favreau: She is great, I know her from My Name Is Earl. I have worked with her a little bit, but now I play her husband. There is a lot of improv going on because John really encourages that, and she is real quick and real fun. It’s exactly the way I like to work. He wrote the script, but he’s not precious with it, and he creates an environment that I try to create as well. It’s giving people freedom within the parameters of the scene and the story. Just to have a good time and bring themselves to it. Four out of five times you say things that are not good. But one in five times you come up with something interesting. In the editing room, you find a way to work that all in.
Q: How big is your role in this? How many days are you shooting on this?
Favreau: I’m shooting about two weeks all told. Some of those are like wedding scenes and things like that, so I don’t have a big part. But the scenes I am in are a lot of fun. Look, it’s hard to schedule me into a movie. It takes somebody to go out of their way to make it fit my schedule because I like to stay in town. When you are working on a film like Iron Man, that thing takes two years and that’s your top priority, so it has to squeeze between your day job gigs.
Q: Are you still working on DVD stuff?
Favreau: Yeah, we are going to do a commentary. I just got delivered a whole bunch of extras that look really, really good. We had cameras on the set all the time. They put together something for Iron Man that spans from the first story meetings, to designing the suit, all the way through mixing it up at Skywalker Ranch, through the premiere. There are hours and hours of great stuff that will be available eventually. We have to look over all of that stuff so there is still a lot of work to be done. Then there is trying to figure out where the hell we are now and what we are doing.
Q: Would you launch into another two year movie after this?
Favreau: Yeah, I would do it. Hopefully we’ll figure out how to get Iron Man 2 going, and I’ll be involved with that. You have got to outdo what you did before. So if the last one took two years, we would need at least that to do what we are talking about, or at least thinking about. Nobody knew about Iron Man, and that was a disadvantage in some ways, but nobody expected anything. I think people were pleased based on the fact that they had no preconceptions about the project. Now, we have a movie that people seem to like and you can’t give them less. You have to give them more. There are challenges that come with that as well as the benefit of people already understanding who he is and the character. We told the origin story so where do you go from here? There are plenty of story lines to explore from the forty years of history from that character.
Q: Have you chosen anything?
Favreau: No, we haven’t. I haven’t been hired to do it yet. I know that Robert and I have talked a lot about what types of things we would like to do, and how to play into the strengths of what we discovered last time around. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves. Hopefully, that won’t be too long in coming.
Q: Kevin Feige said that he was pretty confident that you guys would get something going pretty quickly. Peter Billingsley said the same thing as well.
Favreau: Yeah, Kevin is just a gem of a guy. He really walked the line very well of being the guy who is in charge of movies, and the studio, as well as being my producer and somebody who oversaw the way that the source material was being dealt with. That is a lot of hats for a guy to wear. It was a fairly new position for him. I don’t think that he has ever had the responsibility he had on Iron Man before. I know that he has worked on The [Incredible] Hulk since then, but its great to have a mix of somebody who respects the source material and doesn’t just treat it like something you can use or discard as you see fit, and was very supportive in getting us what we needed to make a good movie. The casting of Robert, the visual effects budget, working with the right vendors, but he had a very high standard of quality control in the film. He was also very helpful in helping me understand the genre, and what people expect from it, while still giving Robert and I the room to have a very different take on the material. We broke a lot of the rules that the genre normally has. We have all been rewarded for taking the chances that we did.
Q: With all the success on such a huge movie it may be more difficult to get back to doing something smaller like Made.
Favreau: It is because you have to make hay while the sun is shining. You are only relevant for so long as a director. You’ve only got so many movies in you, especially when they are that big, and I think the smaller movies like Made were appropriate for earlier in my career. I didn’t know what I was doing that much, but I had a lot of inspiration, and smaller movies were the new voice. They had an edgier take and it lends itself to newer filmmakers. Now that I’ve been around the block, I don’t think I could make an edgy small movie now. I’m too old. I’m a suburban dad, but I can bring a certain different take on a genre film like Iron Man or Elf. There is a clear cut genre and I could maybe do a fresh take on that, so right now I’m interested in trying to bring a fresh voice to a genre that maybe doesn’t always have the originality that the fans would like.
Q: I know that Samuel L. Jackson talked to Feige about expanding Nick Fury’s role in the second film.
Favreau: Oh, good.
Question: So, it’s news to you?
Favreau: I’m not in the loop on that unfortunately. I think that Marvel has their hands full right now. They have another big movie coming out right now with The Incredible Hulk, and that’s coming out in a couple of weeks. I know from when I was in that position on Iron Man a lot of the heavy lifting for the studio comes in at this stage in the game. They are partnering up with Universal trying to figure out how to roll out the marketing campaign for that, so a lot is riding on that film. I know that they are done creatively working on it, but that is only half the game. Right now, [Marvel] is a small studio. There are not a lot of people, and I’m sure they have their hands full on that one. Hopefully when the dust settles everybody will be ready to get their head in the game and try to make some more movies.
Q: It’s obvious that in the Hulk there is the super soldier serum and Captain America’s shield in your film. So, is there a story there already with Captain America that you guys will put in?
Favreau: Truth be told, it’s more like instinctively we are gravitating towards combining certain properties, but you don’t really discover how that happens until you roll your sleeves up and get into the storytelling. You do casting. There are a lot of ideas floating around. We will have conversations as we all gather and paw the ground in the parking lots. We’ll kick rocks around and start having conversations where we let our imaginations go wild. It’s not like we’ve sat down with a dry erase board and wrote through the whole line of stories. For me, I’m pretty confident about who Iron Man is, what that character is, and what the rules of that world are. Maybe Marvel knows, but I have no idea how you relate that reality to the reality of Thor, which seems like a very different set of rules to that universe. Captain America I get, I understand how that would relate, or The Hulk. Especially if you are working towards the idea of doing The Avengers, how do you make those worlds all feel consistent with one another in the look of the film, the casting of the film, and then the look of the visual effects.
Q: I guess you will just have to direct all of them.
Favreau: (Laughs) I would love to. Clearly, I have stated that The Avengers would be fun. But I look at their release schedule and they have announced Iron Man 2 for 2010 and then Avengers for 2011. I know from experience there is no way I could. I don’t know what they have in mind, but there is no way that The Avengers could be done in a year. Either they are thinking about somebody else doing it or they have something up their sleeve that I don’t know. I know these movies take time to get right. I know that you have to have a good script. You have to understand where you are headed when you go into it, otherwise you are relying on blind luck and hard work. It’s good to have a game plan, especially at this stage in the game; it’s important to understand where all of this is going. All of these properties are working together, and I know Kevin has been very diligent about trying to keep a consistency. I will look forward to having these conversations with the guys at Marvel, to laying out all the puzzle pieces and seeing how they fit together.
Q: 2010 is pretty soon if you think about it. Is it just an understanding with Robert, you, and everyone just knows it will be a five year thing and you launch into it?
Favreau: I don’t know how that works. I’ve never worked in that world before. I have never done a sequel to a film, nor have I in the past worked on anything where a sequel felt organic. I think it’s the nature of Iron Man because it comes from a serialized piece of source material, that it does lend itself to having sequels. It’s all new ground for me. It’s new ground for Marvel, although they have been partnered up and done sequels with other studios. There are a lot of different approaches you could take. Hopefully, we end up going for a sequel that is going to be bigger and better than the first one. That’s not always the case with sequels. Sometimes you end up trying to just rush,and hit a release date. Hopefully, this sequel will be driven by the material and driven by good ideas. I think that is what got Marvel the success that they have had as an independent studio. I have no doubt that they are going to continue with that philosophy of letting the source material, and the quality of the story, dictate all the other decisions. They are not shackled down by what a normal studio, with a release schedule, has to contend with.
Q: But the team is pretty much the same?
Favreau: I know that all the actors are definitely in active negotiations. All of that has been agreed to, which is really encouraging, because I think the cast was a big part of the success of that as much if not more than Iron Man the character. I think that as long as you got all those people together, and you have a solid take on the material, then I expect great things.
Q: “Demon in a Bottle”?
Favreau: Yeah, I mean that one is definitely brought up a lot. How do you handle “Demon in a Bottle”, and when does it come in? I think it happened in the 80s, which was twenty years after the first Tales of Suspense, so when do you play that card? When do you play the “Demon in a Bottle” card? We sort of tip our hat to it, and certainly there is a lot to be mined there, but it’s all a puzzle. How does it fit in? “Demon in a Bottle” also relates to “War Machine” and James Rhodes’s arc. What villains are you dealing with and how much effort do you put into revealing a whole set of characters. We really spent most of the time dealing with Tony in this one, explaining who he is, and why he is the way that he is so that now Iron Man comes to life. You then have to reveal, I think, some heavy duty, heavyweight bad guys that you could then counter balance this incredibly powerful super hero.
Question: You introduce “The Ten Rings”…
Favreau: We have “The Ten Rings” in there, but the Mandarin is still there. I’m glad that we didn’t try to attack the Mandarin the first time around. There is a lot that is very relevant about that character, in the pool of the landscape that we find ourselves in, but there is something off putting and distasteful about the way that the Mandarin had been presented back in the 60s. I don’t think that is relevant anymore. How do you maintain the core spirit of what makes that villain so formidable without having something that either seemed out of our reality, as far as what his abilities are, or the way he is depicted.
Q: In “Demon in a Bottle” there weren’t really a lot of villains. It was when Tony realized he wants to be Iron Man again James was like “I don’t think so.”
Favreau: So you have to create. I also want to see what other movies are doing. It seems that Hancock is dealing with a lot of those issues, too. The comic book fans might see “Demon in a Bottle” as a fresh story line, but I haven’t seen Hancock yet. From what I’ve seen, it seems there is a lot of imagery that seems to be shared: him flying through billboards and things. The idea of the hero whose biggest enemy is himself, and him fighting through his demons… you want to come at the audience with something fresh. You don’t want to feel like you are echoing something that somebody else is doing. I think you have to look at the comics, look at what else Marvel is doing, but then you have to look at the landscape of superhero films. There are so many out there. I think that part of the reason that Iron Man was so successful was that we really chose to break new ground in a new area tonally, cast-wise, the way we depict the hero, what his abilities are. It felt fresh in a genre that is beginning to feel stale if it’s not done with the proper amount of inspiration and a strong voice or tone.
I think as the summer rolls out… I’m really curious about The Dark Knight to be honest with you. That was this looming presence that we knew was going to be a great film. I have no doubt that it’s going to be phenomenal. I think our big saving grace was the fact that we had a couple of months between that film and us, and there was room for both of us. We weren’t fighting for shelf space. Even though we weren’t going head-to-head, it was very clear that we could not take this character that on paper could seem very similar to Batman, and I have no doubt that just the inception of Iron Man was a reaction to the DC. It was definitely borrowed a lot from DC because here you have the billionaire bachelor guy, who was struggling with inner conflict, and he has no super powers. He invents his own suit and his abilities come from himself. He’s a self-made hero. We had to really steer clear of everything that The Dark Knight was doing. I have tremendous respect for their cast, for [Christopher] Nolan, and so I want to see what they do. I definitely don’t want to fight for the same territory as them. There is plenty of room to tell these stories. As a fan, I’m really looking forward to it, and I have a lot of respect for the way they approach the material, too. He has no second unit on his films. He does all the directing himself. If they are going to do some IMAX work, then they shoot it in IMAX. He put together a cast in a way that broke ground for me to be able to use the cast that I did. They made sure the script was perfect before they started shooting it, and that’s not typical for all superhero films. A lot of times they just throw them together, and try to do them as inexpensively as they can, then they try to chase the poster and chase the date. They put a lot of care into that film. I’m looking forward to see how it pays off. From everything I’ve seen so far, my hat is off to them. I look forward to checking that film out. I have something to talk about, so that’s pretty kickass.