Chatting to the real-life Iron Man

Two men built Iron Man costumes for thousands of dollars. We had a chat about it.

Ever found thousands of dollars down the side of your sofa and thought, “I’m going to build an elaborate superhero suit with this here furniture change”? No, of course you didn’t. This is the real world, and we’ve all got bills to pay. John Bekkensten from Norway is a little different, however – he and his partner built two full Iron Man outfits complete with flashing chest and eyes. I chatted to him last week.

What inspired you to make the Iron Man costume?

Firstly I’m a huge Iron Man fan, and I’ve always been a big Iron Man fan, so when I heard that the movie was coming out, we actually started the first suit. When you have the means, possibilities and resources to make one, then why not do it?

When did you start working on it and how long did it take to finish?

The first version we did as a prototype in 2007, and we finished the next suit two weeks prior to the release of Iron Man 1. Since then we’ve really improved them and made a new version for Iron Man 2, and that took one year to sculpt from scratch, because we sculpted it in clay as a reference – then we cast the parts in fibreglass and plastic.

How much do they cost to make?

Well, the preproduction and to do all of the sculpting and all of the man hours and materials involved to make a mold – I guess for this project we probably used $12,000 and for the first one we’re close to $25,000.

So what do you do for a living? We’re intrigued…

I actually now have decided to work full-time with special effects and props, and also do environment sculpting for everything from shop displays to movie commercials. So we do a lot of custom sculpting.

So what exactly can the outfit do in terms of functionality?

Well, I can run in the suit, I can sit, I can walk stairs, pretty much get around – the only thing I can’t is fly!

And it lights up?

We have also installed LED lights that rise out of the chest and eyes, and we’re also installing them to the arms and the bottoms of the feet. And the next project is to also install a small smoke machine, so it’ll actually shoot up some smoke when you lift off…or looks like you lift off.

Is it difficult to get on, and is it comfortable to wear?

It’s actually very comfortable to wear. I wore my suit for a maximum of eight hours without taking it off, and yesterday we walked around in London for over three hours and I had my helmet on the whole time, so getting around isn’t any problem. I have very good vision. And we also spent a lot of time ensuring and also engineering it correctly for it to manoeuvre and walk.

Is this the first time you’ve done something like this? When did you learn to build this kind of suit?

This is joint project between me and my partner, who also has earlier film credits – like him, I’m kind of self-taught. I wish I was that good at school. My desk was always covered in paintings. I luckily had a teacher who paid attention to what I was good at, and he emphasised on that, so that kind of made the path to where I am today.

Is it a pain to get through customs or airport security with the costume?

If you tried to wear the suit, it will! But also, at big airport events where they have air shows and stuff, I manage to go through every security checkpoint without showing ID, which is pretty crazy.

Iron Man 2 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday.