Shane Black On Iron Man 3: ‘I Didn’t Think We’d Get Away With That Much Womanisation’

We speak to the director of Iron Man 3, along with writer Drew Pearce.

We’ll be able to bring you a review of Iron Man 3 on the 24th April (although if you follow @DIYfilms you’ll know it’s amazing), but before then, enjoy this illuminating (and spoiler-free) interview with the team behind the sequel, in cinemas 25th April.

When Shane Black took over from Iron Man director Jon Favreau for the third film in Marvel’s hit franchise, it was a promising sign. The screenwriter of Lethal Weapon and Nineties actioners The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight made his underrated directorial debut with the incredible 2005 comedy noir thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which starred one Robert Downey Jr during his comeback period.

Black co-wrote Iron Man 3 with British sitcom writer Drew Pearce (No Heroics), with the rising Hollywood screenwriter since working on Godzilla, Pacific Rim and Sherlock Holmes 3.

DIY had the pleasure of taking part in a round table interview with Black and Pearce in London last week. My question to the pair regarded the remarkable (by Hollywood standards) portrayal of the film’s two female characters - Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). Consider this: a blockbuster superhero film that passes the Bechdel Test? Inconceivable but true, and only a wish to remain spoiler-free prevents me from revealing more refreshing aspects of Iron Man 3.

I’d like to thank you for the great scenes between Pepper and Maya - was that a conscious response to the way women are sometimes written in superhero films?
Drew Pearce: [Punching Black’s arm] Yes!
Shane Black: Yeah, I fought to have the women seem intelligent, realistic and have something to say. In particular I didn’t want them to get lost in the shuffle; to give them moments with each other to establish the presence that an actress like Rebecca Hall brings to the picture, before you start clocking her on the head or some such thing.
Pearce: It was a conscious thing about Pepper first of all. It was a shame when in the trailer there was almost a heroine strapped to the railway shot, and we were like, God, it’s the one shot in the movie where she’s not entirely empowered. But it was a massive deal to us to do Gwyneth justice and do Pepper Potts justice. In the comics she’s absolutely empowered, and she’s not just Tony’s rock - that’s what she’s always been in the movies. She’s now a rock of her own.
Black: I didn’t think we’d get away with that much womanisation.
Pearce: These movies are often not just ‘boysy’ but teenage ‘boysy’ in their emotional spectrum. The moment you put grown-up female characters in there, it tips the balance. The story that Maya tells [to Pepper], we fought so hard to keep that in the movie, both at the script stage and in the edit. It was all Shane’s words - that and Wikipedia probably - but I think it’s just a lovely oasis of calm before the plot and superhero-ness of it kicks back in.



[The rest of the round table interview]

Allegedly you two were hesitant to work together - can you tell us about how you co-operated?
Pearce: It was pretty simple. I got brought on to the movie ever so slightly before Shane. Shane came on, and was like, ‘But I’m a writer!’
Black: Marvel had not previously used directors that were writers. Avengers had not been shot.
Pearce: There was some circling in the beginning. I like to refer to it as being in a Shane Black movie - I was the company cadet the grizzled vet was forced to work with.
Black: I was the older guy, ha ha… So we shook hands, and said ‘Drew, it was so nice to meet you.’ I then turned to Kevin [Feige] and said, ‘I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘You’re going to have to write a draft with him, because we hired him.’ ‘So unhire him! I have partners I work with, I’ll pay them myself.’ Finally, I had some meetings, and in five days hanging out my house or at Marvel, bullshitting across my couch. Instantly, I said ‘What would you do here?’ I completely acquiesced to his commitment to, and passion for, this project. He knew all things comic book and had a literary sense of good writing.
Pearce: I’ll say in return, there was this next stage where I did thirty pages of draft, and I was nervous. Shane called, and said, ‘Yep, that’s great. Keep doing it.’ Now I’d take a bullet for him!

Why didn’t Jon Favreau direct it?
Black: I think there were other things going on. I will tell you this - I’ve never seen someone who didn’t direct a picture be so gracious with advice, and be friendly and helpful. Any tip I needed - ‘Jon, you’ve done this’ - he was right there. How do you handle the parts you can’t see? How do you know what this movie is going to look like when so much of it on any given day is a big wall of green? Jon would say don’t worry about it - ‘You’re never going to know what these movies look like until two weeks before they open.’
Pearce: The other contribution he gave was that he was so funny in the movie. He just showed up and brought his A-game and stole every scene. One of the things we both loved about the first movie that Jon did was tone. The first has such an impeccable, real, kind of rom-com tone at points. That was a huge part of what we wanted to capture. The biggest compliment was that Jon gave me a call a few weeks ago, and said ‘You guys nailed it - you brought it back to the beginning.’ For me, the first Iron Man movie is the best superhero movie of the modern epoch.
Black: We came to the realisation that if in Iron Man 1, Tony was locked away in that cave building that suit, if Thor had walked in, the audience would’ve thrown their arms up, ‘Who’s that guy?’ In the first movie, it wouldn’t have made any sense. We wanted to go back to less Thor, while acknowledging it.
Pearce: The good thing about Iron Man is that he’s based in a real world context. Because of that, he’s about more real world concerns. It was really important to us to bring it back to that as well. You’ve got a set of really grown-up characters in the Iron Man movies, which is one of the amazing things about having Gwyneth and Robert as Pepper and Tony. There are very few other movies, let alone summer movies, where you have a grown-up relationship in it, something we’ve lived with for years. That’s something else we wanted to look at. [Shane] always said the rom-com of the first one was one of your favourite colours of it.
Black: I’m tired of superhero movies that don’t have that extra flavour.



Shane, what is your obsession with Christmas?
Pearce: [Laughs] To be fair to Shane, he wasn’t going to put the movie at Christmas, and when we first started working together, he was like, ‘I’ve kind of done it before.’ I kind of pushed him into it! I was like, even if I’m only on this movie for another four weeks, if there’s going to be a Shane Black Iron Man movie, I want it to be at Christmas, as a fan.
Black: The Christmas thing is more a sense of… when I used to watch movies in the seventies, the time and place of it always intrigued me. Christmas provided this exaggerated stage for me, where everyone’s at a hush in their life. Lonely people are lonelier, and you have to take reckoning in your life. More people commit suicide at Christmas. There’s a context, where something globally is going on that affects everybody.
Pearce: There’s also an inherent countdown with Christmas as well.
Black: It’s a homage to… if it’s a Christmas movie for Tony Stark, Drew and I talked about how it could be his Christmas Carol, his ghosts could visit him.
Pearce: In the beginning, we sat in Shane’s house for four months, just talking about what we wanted from a film. There are some things we formed just for the audacity as well. When we put Christmas on the list, we thought ‘They’re never going to let set a summer movie at Christmas.’ Hats off to Kevin Feige, the Marvel producer, who didn’t even blink and said it was great.

Shane, do you share a special relationship with Robert Downey Jr?
Black: I like Robert and have had for a long time. Without understanding the depth of what he was going through, I remember running into him in a market in LA, and there was a strange feeling as I didn’t want to run up and be a typical fan, but we shook hands and he sort of knew who I was. I really felt like I knew him before - I don’t know why I felt comfortable walking up to a celebrity, but it felt like I knew that guy. He subsequently said that was similarly what he felt. I don’t know what it is; maybe’s it’s because we both had a history of being foolish. I haven’t been to the pen…
Pearce: That’s what Shane and Robert bring to the movie - there’s a kind of danger and swing to Tony Stark. You feel like he’s lived a life as well. One of the reasons we put Bern in the movie was part of the fun of seeing asshole version of Tony as well as the cleaned up version. Robert’s always reminding us on set - just because you’re a superhero, doesn’t mean you can’t be a tiny bit of an asshole as well. That’s why it’s a big risk to put a scene with Tony and a kid in the movie. That could go so disastrously, but it was about riding the tone and making inappropriate jokes.

You’ve referred to going full circle with Tony - are you done?
Pearce: From a legal point of view we can’t answer that! Avengers wasn’t even filming when we were writing, so we didn’t even know where that would go. What was interesting is that it felt like the third part of Tony’s trilogy in a way.
Black: I said look, why don’t you shoot three and four at the same time? I can write two of these. Drew was game.
Pearce: We wanted to write a story that felt like we brought Tony to a place of rest as a person. It felt like Avengers brought Iron Man to a place of rest - he’s suddenly the hero of the world. Actually, Iron Man 3 has a sense of dealing with the person. It’s not even the morning after The Avengers. It’s the life after the three movies we’ve seen before.
Black: It’s just some kind of game change from what we’ve seen. Stylistically it’s different to The Avengers - content-wise we get it a little more grounded. If you said to me next week, do a Tony Stark film where it’s all about the armour, I could. There are infinite variations.
Pearce: I don’t think it’s a full-stop at all. What’s great about bringing it back to the phrase ‘I’m Iron Man’, it’s just a statement of infinite significance now. He’s realised he can be both things. He’ll always be Iron Man, and I think that’s true of Robert as well; the symbiosis of the character is so strong. There’s a part of our movie I feel mirrors Robert as well.
Black: I actually think Robert’s got two more in him - Avengers and Iron Man, or whatever, at least. He’s a really healthy-looking guy. There’s always more comic book - comic books tend to repeat every twenty years or so. [Grant Morrison] once said that the greatest mythology that’s never broken is comic books. If in 2013 you wanted to know what Batman is doing, you can walk to the store as someone is writing about Batman. It’s been like that for 75 years. There’s always another story to tell, and there’s always another Iron Man movie to make if you so choose to.

You’ve written roles for Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis, but what do you think of the alpha male of the 21st century? Why are films like Die Hard 5 failing?
Black: I think the problem is that the more formulaic these things are, the more they tend to fail. There is a template that is more of a business model than a literary one. You say, we need a strong male lead, action picture, buddy sidekick, villain played with one of these guys, you can patch together any one of these cookiecutter films. I haven’t seen Olympus Has Fallen, but I can’t imagine it’s a particularly amazing movie. I get the sense that people who are doing it, don’t tend to be loving it. Or they’re basing their work on other movies.
Pearce: You said something to me early on about action beats, about tropes that writers think are exciting to reference, like the hero walking away with the explosion behind them. They were there in the Eighties because they were fresh beats. People have to have stopped looking for the new thing, and just do what’s expected. That was interesting.