Jeff Bridges starred as villain Obadiah Stane in Marvel’s Iron Man, the first entry into their cinematic universe. We’ve come a long way since then, haven’t we? Bridges sat on The Hollywood Reporter’s latest actor roundtable, which also included other comic book adaptation actors such as Luke Cage’s Mahershala Ali and Amazing Spider-Man’s Andrew Garfield, and had some interesting stories to tell.
While Ali didn’t touch on his villainous role on Netflix (he’s currently promoting Moonlight), actor Dev Patel got the ball rolling on some superhero troubles. He shared an anecdote about feeling overwhelmed on the set of The Last Airbender after coming off of the much smaller film, Slumdog Millionaire. “I came out of that and saw a stranger on the screen that I couldn’t relate to,” he said. Garfield picked up with an interesting story of his own from his time as Spider-Man:
I love what you just said, that you were looking at a stranger and feeling like you were perpetuating something that’s toxic and something that’s shallow and something that has no depth, no matter how much depth was attempted. Spider-Man was my favorite superhero, my first superhero costume when I was a 3-year-old at Halloween. I was like, there’s millions of young people watching who are hungry for someone to say, “You’re OK. You’re seen very deeply.” And more often than not the opportunity is not taken, and it is absolutely devastating and heartbreaking because there is so much medicine that could be delivered through those films.
Heroes, particularly superheroes, are constantly an inspiration to many but Garfield hits the nail on the head here. While we’ve gotten quality superhero films the last ten years, they’re more focused on action than anything else. It’s why we keep reminding people that comic books, and by conjunction comic book films, should be tackling politics and social justice issues. Because they always have. I’d argue the MCU films have done that in the past, but they and others can always do more.
Bridges chimed in after that but with a separate comic book movie issue:
But can I just riff off that? Iron Man, we [director Jon Favreau and actor Robert Downey Jr.] read the script and it wasn’t really right, you know? We had two weeks’ rehearsal and we basically rewrote the script. And the day before we were going to shoot, we get a call from the Marvel guy saying, “Oh no, no, no. None of this is right.” So we would muster in my trailer and rehearse while the guys were in the studio tapping their foot, saying, “When are they going to come?” We were still trying to figure out the [scenes] we were going to shoot.
Saying he helped rewrite Iron Man is a step further from what he’s said in the past about that particularly frustrating acting experience. Speaking to In Contention in 2009, the actor revealed he was made very anxious by the lack of script:
“They had no script, man,” Bridges exclaims. “They had an outline. We would show up for big scenes every day and we wouldn’t know what we were going to say. We would have to go into our trailer and work on this scene and call up writers on the phone, ‘You got any ideas?’ Meanwhile the crew is tapping their foot on the stage waiting for us to come on.”
Bridges, director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. would literally act out sequences during primitive rehearsals, Downey taking on Bridges’s role and vice versa, to find and essentially improvise their way to full scenes, the actor recounts. Bridges says that the entire production was probably saved by the improv prowess of the film’s director and star.
“You’ve got the suits from Marvel in the trailer with us saying, ‘No, you wouldn’t say that,’” Bridges remembers. “You would think with a $200 million movie you’d have the shit together, but it was just the opposite. And the reason for that is because they get ahead of themselves. They have a release date before the script, ‘Oh, we’ll have the script before that time,’ and they don’t have their shit together.
I’m sure the four screenwriters credited on the film aren’t too happy to see Bridges continue to talk about it but whatever the case, it seems it’s a wonder we got the final product we did. Could you imagine one of Marvel’s films these days going into production without a complete script?