On the last day of postproduction work on Iron Man 2, I caught up with Jon Favreau over on the Fox lot. He was sick, haggard, weary, frustrated and emotionally singed. The movie was a grueling experience because the script was a work in progress (or perhaps a work in triage). Favreau told me he felt like El Cid that day, which has to be one the great quotes I’ve ever gotten from a filmmaker: “I feel like I’m finishing this one the way El Cid finished the war, strapped onto his horse by his men and sent into battle dead.”

Robert Downey Jr, who returns as the title star of Iron Man 3 this summer, says the experience of Iron Man 2 has echoed in the memory of Marvel Studios and he said this new installment won’t be making the same mistakes. This is Part 4 of our five-part interview with the movie star. Part 1 ran on Monday, Part 2 on Tuesday, and Part 3 on Wednesday.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were a big factor in the hiring of Shane Black as director and it’s natural in that kind of matchmaking situation to monitor how things go. What did you see as far as the Shane Black indoctrination to the Marvel Studios system, which is rare — if not unique — in its campus approach and the interlocking mythologies.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR: The first six months of pre-pre-production when you get hired to a Marvel movie is like taking a four-year college course in humility. The strongest ones survive and they move into prep and then they shoot the movie and they still look like a human being. The great thing about Shane is the same thing that’s great about Shane’s movie is that all the moving parts within the frame of his story are so poetic and inherently entertaining and then thought out and rethought out. And then everyone all the way through really put their nose to the grindstone this time and I really felt like we were in a much safer playground [than we were with Iron Man 2] just because it was Shane’s vision. And he had a lot, lot, lot of time to figure out just one thing, which was to figure what the story would be.

It was a very different situation on Iron Man 2, where major parts of story were being added on the fly. That spontaneity is great to enhance a film’s electric possibilities but if you’re relying on it for story there’s going to be days when everything falls apart.

Jon and I were still kind of recovering from our lives changing so much [with the success of the first Iron Man] and then next thing we were back in the saddle again. We made do.

There’s a shifting Hollywood focus toward China — which only makes sense after you do the math on the potential for audience and resources — and a Beijing company was brought in as a partner on Iron Man 3. But the Los Angeles Times reported that the plan to do substantial shooting there last summer collapsed when your ankle buckled during stunt work in North Carolina…

Truth be told, we [did shoot in China for about a week in December] after finishing principal photography and there will be some action there in the film. My main interplay through the whole thing was that China figures in as a destination spot for Tony for a reason but I can’t explain [more because it would reveal] one of the ongoing themes of the movie. It’s tied-in to that theme in much the same way the 10 rings [mentioned in the first Iron Man film] are tied-in to Mandarin — and always have been tied-in to the Mandarin.

On the business front, Disney [which recently stepped up its official website in China] and Marvel had expected the deal would qualify Iron Man 3 as “native coproduction” which translates to a far better distribution deal. If that’s in jeopardy, does that mean the overall venture might actually be a setback to Hollywood’s push into that market?

Let’s just say Tony has a lot of karma in the east and therefore I’ve been meeting our new Chinese partners and one of their actors — kind of the Gene Hackman of China — can and worked with us, which was a thrill and a pleasure, and I will be figuring in [a visit to] the Beijing Film Festival in our promotional tour. You know, often as business partnerships start up and form it takes time. It hasn’t really hit a critical mass, but it’s there, it’s real and it’s happening. But I suspect the real fruits of it are down the road a little bit.

Iron Man
  • Movie
  • 125 minutes