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Iron Man 3’s Kevin Feige on taking Tony Stark “back to basics”

Marvel’s Kevin Feige on the journey of Tony Stark and breaking him down in Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark in Iron Man 3
Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark in Iron Man 3

Iron Man and Iron Man 2 saw Robert Downey Jr’s playboy crimefighter prodded and cajoled into action by circumstance, but Avengers Assemble witnessed him become a hero in the true sense of the word – rising to Captain America’s challenge. Speaking exclusively to SciFiNow, Marvel Studios president and Iron Man 3 executive producer Kevin Feige reveals just where it is that ol’ shellhead goes from here…

Highlight the arc of Tony Stark over the course of these films and where we find him now in Marvel’s Iron Man 3.

The journey of Iron Man, and frankly the journey of the entire Marvel cinematic universe, started with the journey of Tony Stark. The exciting thing about Iron Man 3 is, yes, it’s the culmination from Iron Man 1 and Iron Man 2, but it’s also a follow up to Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. So it’s one of the first situations I can think of where you have a movie that is the sequel to two movies and in a way that liberates it to be more unique than anything that has come before, which is what we’re most excited about.

Tony is a guy who is all about his journey; he’s all about the arc. When we met him in Iron Man 1, he was a pompous fellow building weapons and almost immediately suffered a life- changing, dramatic accident by being blown up by one of his own missiles in Afghanistan. He galvanised himself into building this Iron Man suit, giving up the weapons game and dedicating himself. As he tells Pepper, “I finally know what I have to do. I know what’s right.” Iron Man 2 tested that and he had some health problems. In Avengers Assemble he was faced with something world-changing, again.

Not only did he encounter all of those crazy characters with hammers and capes and shields and gamma-radiated strength, but a portal to another world opened above his head. Tony Stark is a very scientifically minded guy, who thought he was at the cutting edge of science and suddenly learned in those brief moments at the end of Avengers Assemble, that there is an infinite amount that he doesn’t know.

I think that made him feel small in a certain way and I think even encountering those other superheroes in Avengers Assemble made him feel like he was not the most powerful person in the world, which I think Tony likes to feel like he is. He may be the smartest person in the world, but not necessarily the most powerful. So when we meet him at the beginning of Iron Man 3, he’s using the suit as a shell almost. It is a shell to shield himself from all of this new information, this new influx of reality that is crashing around him. At the same time, as tends to happen in good movies, another villain arises. And suddenly, when he’s sort of at a state where he’d much rather stay in his lab and work on his suits, something happens that forces him to get out of his house, to get out of his lab and even in some cases, get out of the suit, to confront this new evil.

How has Robert Downey Jr’s performance over the years surprised you?

A: The reason we cast Robert in Iron Man 1 is because he’s a spectacular actor and since then, he’s obviously become the biggest movie star in the world and has shown us each time why that is. He’s not resting on his laurels. He doesn’t come in and say, “I’m the biggest star in the world.” He comes in and shows you why he’s the biggest star in the world.

And the way he does that is by giving this unbelievable performance that can be, of course, snarky and, of course, funny, which Tony Stark is all the time and Robert can do in his sleep, but it’s the more touching moments too. There are scenes with Pepper in Iron Man 3 that are really emotional and really loving. In a fun way, not in a dour, sort of movie-of-the-week way, but in a fun way and in a way that you don’t usually see between men and women in these kinds of action movies.

It was important to us that the relationship between Tony and Pepper carry through all four movies including Marvel’s Avengers Assemble and certainly into Iron Man 3 and it sort of reaches its pinnacle in Iron Man 3 in a very nice way. He also encounters along his surprising journey in Iron Man 3 a little boy, named Harley. We’ve never seen Tony interact with children necessarily. Iron Man saves a few occasionally along the way, but we’ve never seen him interact with a child and I don’t think it’s something Tony does very often.

So it’s fun to see Robert’s performance as he’s a little standoffish at first about this kid and sort of treats this kid like an adult, but also clearly embracing a little bit of the fatherly overtones that this kid wants to get out of Tony Stark. And again, it’s a surprising thing to see from Robert. That it’s not just the snark; it’s not just the humor; it’s not just romance that he can do with Gwyneth so well, but these very sort of touching moments with this little kid.


What would you say is going to be different about his character in this film?

Our favorite moments in the saga that is Iron Man really go back to the first act of Iron Man 1, where Tony Stark, who you meet in the back of that humvee with those soldiers, is clearly on top of the world. He’s a very famous guy; he’s a rich guy; he’s a successful guy and he is ignorant. Sort of happily ignorant to the ramifications to what his work is doing to the world. Then that comes crashing down around him when that convoy is attacked. He’s thrown into a cave, a bag over his head, tied to a chair—the very first image we see before the Iron Man title appears in Iron Man 1. We thrust him into literally a cave with a box of scraps and we need to see him get out of that situation.

We like painting Tony into a corner and taking away all of his toys and all of the immense wealth and assets and leave him with just his mind and see how he can get out of that situation. You’ve seen in the trailers that there’s an attack on Tony’s house. So by the end of the first act of Iron Man 3, his house is gone. His technology is gone. All he has is a barely functioning, prototype suit that, soon after he escapes from the house that’s destroyed, is not functioning at all. So Tony finds himself in the middle of the United States of America, in Rose Hill, Tennessee, completely out of his element. A guy who lives in Malibu and goes to Monaco and gallivants in Manhattan in the middle of Rose Hill, Tennessee, with a suit not working, doing an investigation about the villain known as the Mandarin, to try to figure out where he is. Tony believes there are clues here that are going to lead him to find where the Mandarin is, so he drags the broken suit into a shed that he finds and takes an axe and opens it up. It turns out that he is in the little workshop of this young boy named Harley.

It is a lot of fun to see Tony out of his element, without any of his toys, with just his mind, to see how he can overcome and there are villains that come and attack him in this sequence, with no suit at all to grab. I won’t give away whether he is successful or not, but you can probably guess and it’s that ingenuity that’s fun. How is he going to get out of that cave with a box of scraps again? And that’s something that we really didn’t see in Iron Man 2. We didn’t see it in Avengers Assemble either and it is something that is wholly unique to Iron Man 3.

Why was it important to set the tone to have Tony get back to basics?

Early on in the development of the first Iron Man movie, we did talk about back to basics for Tony because we wanted to see him just use his brain. We wanted to see what he could do when the odds are against him and he doesn’t have anything. You wonder how he is going to get out of this one and it also allows you to be with Tony while he’s figuring it out.

But how do you take a billionaire, industrialist, playboy and make him relatable and make him into somebody that you can root for? One way is to have Robert play Tony, who is a very likeable hero. The other way is take away everything he has and make you root for the guy. How do you make the biggest SuperHero in the world into an underdog in a small town in the middle of the United States? Take away everything he has. And that’s really what we wanted to see there—how he then fights to build and get it back.

Iron Man 3 is released 26 April 2013. Read an exclusive interview with Robert Downey Jr and screenwriter Drew Pearce in this month’s SciFiNow.