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Iron Man 2 – Director Jon Favreau on the pressures of his first sequel

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Iron Man 2 - Robert Downey Jr
Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) aka Iron Man is back © Marvel

Director Jon Favreau admits the first inkling he had that his movie Iron Man was going to be a hit was when he and Robert Downey Jr went around to cinemas in Los Angeles and stood in the back of theatres and watched the reaction of the audiences to the film. They knew then there would be an Iron Man 2, which opens on May 7, 2010.

With the world now aware that billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Downey Jr) is Iron Man, the news has reached Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a mysterious figure from the Stark family’s past, who sets out to destroy Tony by revealing his own devastating weapon based on Stark’s technology.

Favreau and the cast were supposed to do the publicity for the movie in London, but due to the volcano in Iceland, which prevented them from flying to Europe, the press junket for the film was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, where the director enthusiastically spoke about both films.

How did you feel when you saw the reaction of the audience to Iron Man?

Iron Man 2 - Director / Executive Producer Jon Favreau
Director / Executive Producer Jon Favreau behind-the-scenes © Marvel

It was inspiring and extremely gratifying to see Robert beat the odds and, with the success of the film, come back bigger and better than he was before. That’s the ultimate success story and it was oddly parallel to the character of Tony Stark. Sometimes when art imitates life, you can really catch lightning in a bottle.

Did you feel pressure doing a sequel to such a successful first film?

I’ve never done a sequel before, unless you count me being under 5 (lines) on Batman Forever, as an actor, as a sequel. But, for me, there wasn’t the same pressures that you’re used to seeing, especially with smaller movies where you’re throwing a party and you don’t know if people are going to show up.

Here, we knew people were going to show up. We just wanted to make sure that everybody that showed up had a good time and this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. It was a different kind of pressure.

How did you choose Mickey Rouke for the role of Whiplash aka Ivan Vanko)?

Iron Man 2 - Mickey Rourke
Mysterious Russian Physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) © Marvel

I met with Mickey at the Four Seasons Hotel and I brought him some artwork. Whiplash, in the comic book, is a guy wearing tights with a big purple feather coming out of the top of his head. That wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted the tech version of that. So, we were concocting a version of the Russian, thinking of Viggo (Mortensen) in Eastern Promises, with the tattoos. That was a cool in.

Then, it was like Marv (from Sin City) and The Wrestler. Between the fanboys and the independent film community, Mickey was back with a vengeance.

There are a lot of people in the film and we didn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time, so it was about who was going to be there and make an impression, so that you feel like Tony Stark is in trouble. Mickey brought a lot of intensity to both of those roles. We did some artwork and I met with him, and we talked about everything. It was before all of the awards things started to happen.

We had a nice little connection. I talked to people who had worked with him, and they said great things about him. His talent is undeniable. So, that conversation ended and then Robert was on the road with him doing the awards tour, and he was lobbying, every time they sat together, to try to get him to join the movie.

How hard was it to naturally weave in the new characters to the story?

Iron Man 2 - Scarlett Johansson
Stark Industries newest employee, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) © Marvel

The trick is to feather the characters in, so they don’t overwhelm the story and you don’t suffer from villain-itis. By having Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Mickey Rourke’s character come together fairly early on, you really have two storylines that are weaving. You don’t have five separate storylines.

The same thing with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, working her way into Gwyneth and Robert’s story. We really tried to keep narrative flows going, so it didn’t get too convoluted because I lose track of that stuff, especially in sequels. As the franchises get more complex, I don’t always remember what happened in the last movie.

I like to watch the stuff blow up, but I’m not going to do homework before I go see a sequel, to be up on everything, so we tried to keep that simple. Sam Rockwell was somebody that I had known and thought would work really well with Mickey. He doesn’t get intimidated by talented performers and movie stars. He’s done a great job with a lot of people.

Is it true that you considered Sam Rockwell for Tony Stark in the first film?

Iron Man 2 - Don Cheadle and Sam Rockwel
Col James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) © Marvel

Well, we were putting lists together, long before I even met with Robert. I thought that he would’ve been a fun and non-traditional, other way to go. We were listing a lot of younger actors that didn’t have a lot of experience and were a little bit more traditionally what you’d think for a superhero role.

Then, when I met Robert, we pretty much clicked and I knew that he was the guy. But, Justin Hammer wishes that he was Tony Stark, and Sam really embraced that aspect of the character. I think it’s really fun for that, and he had a ball with it.

I think people who didn’t know who Iron Man was were intrigued by the fact that Robert Downey was playing the character. He is an amazingly talented actor and I think people were waiting for him to do the right project.

It was one of those situations where the material and the actor married well and probably my single largest contribution to Iron Man was recognizing that connection and making it happen. Robert really delivered and put to rest any doubts about how serious he was about being a movie star and being a major player in Hollywood.