Continuing our coverage of the Iron Man 3 press conferences, we got a chance to talk to the film’s director Shane Black and screenwriter Drew Pearce. Together they shared their thoughts on the film, the verison that was specifically cut for Chinese audiences overseas, the Christmas setting, not using the F-word, and most importantly reuniting with Robert Downey Jr. since Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Hit the jump for the full interview.
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?
Black: Yeah. 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 it’s – and to Marvel’s credit, they allowed us – 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, sort of stand-alone film, where we got to be more character centric and look basically back to basics 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.
What will we see in China version of Iron Man 3, 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?
Black: Well, we left out the giant dragon. I – you know, I just – I know there’s additional footage. 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.
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 word?
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, where we – Jesus. That’s 1987, folks, and be careful. But then again, how – you were children then. You were all children. I was – I’m – 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. 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 fuck anyway, and you would just know that they would take it out later.
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?
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.
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 Diehard at Christmas. And that had some – there was some fun to that.
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.
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 – lonely people are lonelier at Christmas, and you tend to notice things more keenly, more acutely, I think.
Pearce: Plus, there was a kind of Christmas carol thing that we wanted to bring in for Tony, as well, a certain sense of –
Black: Meeting the Ghost of Christmas Past.
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.
Pearce: So we’ve post-justified putting it at Christmas pretty roundly there.
Mr. Black. You had said that you didn’t want to use the Mandarin, and identified him as kind of a racist caricature. Is that what kind of led to the Mandarin evolving into what it is now?
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.
Mr. Black, did you cut the Chinese version yourself, or how much time you had to put into that. And also, like did you know that it will be only in this special, special edition that when you – you know, the team went to China to show that part; or it was actually an idea that made, you know, later on, that you had to cut it from this U.S. version?
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.
Iron Man 3 opens in theaters on May 3.