So let’s start with the important stuff. Will there be another “Iron Man” movie, Robert Downey Jr?
“I’m not at liberty to discuss that,” smirked the actor, sitting alongside co-stars Ben Kingsley, Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle at the “Iron Man 3” press conference in Los Angeles on Monday. “The future as usual is uncertain, and I think the great thing is that we never could’ve known what and who was gonna come together for the third ‘Iron Man,’ and usually the third of anything struggles to meet the first two, let alone the first one. So in all earnestness, things are very much in flux right now and Marvel has their plans, and we’re all living and growing, and we’ll see what happens.”
For now, the focus is of course on “Iron Man 3,” the upcoming superhero threequel that for the first time in the series sees someone other than Jon Fwavreau taking the helm – namely Downey’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” director Shane Black. It was a switch that initially proved unnerving to Paltrow – back for her third turn as assistant-turned-Stark-Industries-CEO Pepper Potts – though she ultimately came to embrace the change.
“When I started ‘Iron Man 3’ I was very uncomfortable with the fact that Jon wasn’t there directing,” said Paltrow. “You know, Jon cast the movies, and he’s responsible in part for ‘The Avengers,’ and it was…just weird that he wasn’t there directing. But you know, as we went on, I really warmed to Shane and his terrible outfits. …He is so sharp, he is so smart, and his dialogue was incredible. And I think what we started with on this movie that we didn’t start with on the first two films was a really excellent finished screenplay. And I think it really shows in the film.”
Another addition to the franchise this time out is of course Kingsley, who stars here as the Mandarin, a bin Laden-esque figure who puts out propaganda videos designed to induce fear in the American populace following a series of terrorist attacks.
“I tried to give the Mandarin in his political broadcasts a rather unnerving sense of righteousness and make him almost paternalistic, patriarchal,” said Kingsley. “And that’s where the timbre of his delivery comes from, and his weird iconography was there to disconcert and completely scatter any expectations of where he might be coming from. I think, again, the line that ‘you will never see me coming’ sort of voices that unpredictability that he has.”
Indeed, “unpredictability” is the name of the game for the kick-it-up-a-notch threequel, which features a truly surprising twist involving the Mandarin (no specifics will be offered here) as well as an interesting new dynamic that develops between Tony and a child named Harley (“Insidious'” Ty Simpkins).
“Shane Black had this idea of this kind of Capra-esque departure,” said Downey. “I mean, a lot of things in ‘Iron Man 3’ are…I think we all knew we were taking risks, and they were kind of out of what would have been the familiar territory. And his idea of a superhero running into a little kid in the heartland of America I think wound up being a wise choice and a kind of calculated risk.”
Harley’s appearance also serves as a sort of emotional catalyst for Tony, still shaken by the otherworldly events depicted in last summer’s “The Avengers.” Given that “Iron Man 3” is in some ways a sequel to the Joss Whedon blockbuster, it also gave the filmmakers an organic entry point into referencing the events of that earlier film.
“It’s weird when one movie that’s connected to another doesn’t reference that movie at all,” said Downey. “I just like the idea of this kid kind of getting under my skin. I like the idea of kids bringing their parents to the verge of an anxiety attack. Kind of like going like, ‘Ah! What’s wrong with you!’ once they put you there. And I thought that was a nice way to refer back to it. We needed reasons. And sometimes…just look at the bigger picture of this now kind of like continuance of stories. I was reading this morning about the new ‘Thor’ and I’m like, ‘oh wow!’ You just kinda plug things in like an operator like, ‘You know what? That fits here real nice.'”
Given that the film overtly references terrorism in the form of the Mandarin, talk also of course veered to the subject of last week’s Boston Marathon bombings, which left three people dead and 183 injured and which has dominated the news cycle ever since.
“With the events of the last week, we’ve been asked a lot – I’ve been asked a lot, anyway – about if there any sort of allusions between what’s happening in the real world and what’s happening in the film, and are we trying to make a statement,” said Cheadle, reprising his role as Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes from the second film. “And clearly this movie was in the can before anything happened, transpired in the last week. But as Robert mentioned earlier, the job of this movie is to entertain. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”
One entertaining aspect of the “Iron Man” films has always been the very palpable on-screen chemistry between the cast members, and Cheadle noted that this latest installment delivers when it comes to amping up the Tony/Rhodey repartee.
“I think you see the relationship has strengthened in this one, and it sort of pays off in the promise that I think was made at the end of ‘Iron Man 2’ at the Japanese Garden where these guys started busting each other’s chops,” said the actor, who also noted that Rhodey gets much more action outside the suit this time around: “A lot of fun for me in this one was being able to do a lot of action outside of the suit, and getting to work with the stunt team, and doing a lot of the cable work. That was just a big thrill for me. “
Speaking of the suit, Rhodey’s “War Machine” armor from the last installment is here re-branded (by Presidential initiative) as “The Iron Patriot,” a jingoistic symbol of national unity that’s intended to inspire warm feelings in the American citizenry. So which armor does Cheadle prefer?
“The Iron Patriot [suit] is about three kilos heavier, so I prefer War Machine,” joked Cheadle.
Speaking of which…
“In the second one, Robert, when he was putting his suit on and just had the top of it on, and I was putting mine on, he said, ‘Yeah, I told ’em from [‘Iron Man’] one to two that they really had to make these changes, and this is a lot more lightweight,'” recalled Cheadle. “And I was like, ‘Mine weighs 7,000 pounds! You talk about lightweight!'”
“The suit is not that bad!” interjected Paltrow.
“You never put it on,” retorted Cheadle. “She was CGI!”
“I did wear the suit!” Paltrow responded.
“You didn’t wear my suit!” said Cheadle.
“I think [Gwyneth only] wore it once or twice,” Downey noted, clearly feeling Cheadle’s pain. “It’s a cumulative issue.”
Nevertheless, the fact that Paltrow dons the armor at all is, in Downey’s mind, symbolic of the anything-can-happen nature of the expanding Marvel universe.
“It’s funny, these things tend to come out of creative discussions. …I was always saying, ‘God, I really…I just want to see Pepper in the suit,'” said Downey. “So it’s kinda like, wish fulfillment happens pretty quick in the Marvel universe.”
“Iron Man 3” hits theaters on May 3.