As soon as I hear Jon Favreau's voice on the telephone, I immediately have a flashback to that scene in "Swingers." You know the scene I mean.
As a consequence, I am very tempted to begin our conversation by saying, "Hi, this is Nikki. Leave a message!" But I don't, because Favreau isn't calling from Los Angeles to discuss his "so money" 1996 movie. He's calling to talk " Iron Man 2 ," his soon-to-debut sequel to the enormously successful "Iron Man," both of which he directed.
Our conversation ping-pongs all over the place, from the subject of whether there will be an Easter egg at the end of the "Iron Man 2" credits, to Favreau's feelings about Twitter, to that all-important question I also posed to "Iron Man 2" screenwriter Justin Theroux: if Iron Man could fight anyone, dead or alive, who would you want to see him battle?
Let's just say that Favreau's answer involves some serious trash talk about Batman.
Jen Chaney: On the first "Iron Man" you were on an intense diet, in addition to dealing with the pressure of "directing a major blockbuster. Was this "Iron Man" as grueling, less grueling or about the same?
Jon Favreau: I would say I had more to do as an actor, which seemed like a good idea at the time but was very taxing. There's a lot of times when you have a lot to work out as a director, but then they're pulling you into the make-up chair or telling you to get dressed, and you're back to being just a puppet there in the movie. So it's hard to be in the film as a supporting player and also trying to direct the movie. I think I took on a little bit more than I should have. I don't know that I would have done that again to that extent.
So that was hard. But I have to say that knowing the tone of the film and having a film to look back on and point to made it a lot easier to try to speak with conviction and to try to do something really special with this one. So I actually found it was easier this time around.
Jen Chaney: It was familiar territory in a way.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, we knew people were going to come see it. We just had to not disappoint people. That really becomes the pressure: how do you not disappoint the fans?
Jen Chaney: Is there going to be another Easter egg at the end of the movie? Would it be wise for people to stay through until the end of the credits?
Jon Favreau: Would it be wise for people to stay until the end of the credits? Well, it depends. They're long credits. There are six minutes of credits. But it's always important to stay until the end of the credits. Those people worked very hard.
Jen Chaney: You mentioned the fans earlier. How closely do you monitor fan response? I have to think that you want to pay attention to that to some degree.
Jon Favreau: That's true.The answer to that is, if you use [the Web] properly, it's a great tool. But if you get caught up in the minutiae of it, it's not the healthiest way to spend your time. But if you can get an overall sense of the way people are feeling about your project, if the general consensus is good or bad -- It's almost like taking a test or a poll of a group. You can get a sense of what the zeitgeist is. But there's a lot of effusive praise and a lot of negativity so you have to, you can't get caught up too much in the particulars of the Internet. There's too much white noise there. It's too easy to go nuts reading that stuff so what I like is to get a sense of things from just trends of opinion, as opposed to just the particulars of what people are saying.
And Twitter's wonderful because it's such a short little packet of info and generally, it's related to people who, their identity is connected to their account so they tend to speak a little bit more as you would speak to a person in real life. Whereas the anonymity of the Internet tends to bring out, you know, the extremes of behavior.
Jen Chaney: I know you had seen a remix of an "Iron Man 2" trailer that one fan did online, and that you actually sort of helped him get hired by Paramount, which is very cool.
Jon Favreau: Here's what happened. A lot of people said, Hey, check this guy's thing out. And I looked, and it it was on YouTube. He had taken the trailer and used that and actually made it like what a DJ would do with the music tracks, he did with the video tracks and added music to it. And it was great.
We're trying to come up with [marketing] ideas for different ways to present the film, I said, Look, here's a different take on this that I haven't seen before. Like, this looks so much cooler than what we're talking about doing. And then, you know, we discussed the feasibility of a reaching out to a guy like that. And because of Twitter, I was able to locate him through the internet. Paramount Marketing reached out to him. They made some sort of a deal. We went back and forth a little bit and he came up with a fantastic piece that we're actually now going to put on television.
It's one of those things where the talent rises to the top, it's something that's going to be very hopefully cool and helpful for the campaign. Something I certainly like and would like our movie to be associated with and something that could be a career changer for this guy. This is a unique moment.
Jen Chaney: Since you saw the remix trailer clip, I don't know if you also saw the clip that's been circulating online with Iron Man punching Hugh Grant. Have you seen that?
Jon Favreau: Oh, yeah. That's part of a series.
Jen Chaney: That's right.
Jon Favreau: There's that one. There's the one from "Dirty Dancing." Which is funny because, I've got to show it to Clark -- Clark Gregg, who plays Coulson in the movie, is actually married to Jennifer Grey so I'm going to have to show it to him.
Jen Chaney: --oh, I haven't seen that one yet!
Jon Favreau: That one's a little more understated. It's really weird, they don't just put -- they pick a weird emblematic scene, they replace one of the characters with Iron Man – which is a pretty sophisticated visual effect, by the way. It requires rotoscoping, and they're doing some sort of modeling, post-viz-level, 3-D animation, and they also lay some AC-DC music over it. That seems to be part of the meme as well.
I think it's incredibly interesting and captivating and oddly, flattering. But I love it. What happens is, it's hitting a cultural ripple. We're creating a ripple through the culture, which for me, is one of those things where, that's a level of success I have only experienced a couple of times.
I felt it with "Swingers," how I saw it affect things. I saw it resonating with the tourism in Vegas and with the ad campaign associated with that, with "Vegas, baby, Vegas." And the music resurgence and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy playing at the Super Bowl the next year. Those were things that, it felt like something that I had made was somehow influencing the entire culture.
"Elf," it feels like that now because it plays every Christmas on a loop.
Jen Chaney: It's like the new "Christmas Story."
Jon Favreau: No, it's great. That was our goal! You know, we want this movie to feel like it's been around forever and you'd see it as a Christmas classic. It's become that. And "Iron Man" also has changed, just the use of the music and a lot of the visual effects, those images, those graphics I see in a lot of movies now. And just that everybody even knows who Iron Man is. Nobody knew who he was before. And that music – they'll play it during – there are certain relief pitchers that they play "Iron Man" when the relief pitcher comes onto the mound.
It's really, it's fun to be in that cultural dialogue, to have presented something that everybody shares and reflects upon and changes. It's like a game of hot potato. And it's a positive thing, it's a playful thing.
There's usually such negativity associated with things that the culture is fixated on: scandal, tearing a hero down, somebody very popular seen as a disappointing figure. I don't think it brings out the best in us. And I think that this, there's something playful about what they're doing with the "Iron Man" stuff and the Mr. Potato Head toy. It's just silliness, but to me there's something, it's a nice, innocent escapist thing and I'm excited that people are excited by something that I've put so much work into.
Am I making any sense?
Jen Chaney: You totally are.
Jon Favreau: In print I am going to sound so stream of consciousness.
Jen Chaney: Well, I'm running this as a Q&A, so it will all make sense.
Jon Favreau: Okay, good.
Jen Chaney: That Hugh Grant video made me think of a question that I asked Justin Theroux the other day and I want to ask you: If Iron Man could fight anyone alive or dead, who would you want him to fight?
Jon Favreau: If Iron Man could fight anyone alive or dead, who would I want him to fight? Wow. I bet Justin came up with a good answer for that one.
Jen Chaney: His immediate, reflexive response was Osama bin Laden.
Jon Favereau: [Laughs] That's so "Iron Man 1." Anybody real, alive or dead? Because I keep thinking about superheroes.
Jen Chaney: Well, obviously there are no rules in this completely ridiculous, hypothetical scenario.
Jon Favreau: In that case, I would like to see how he stacks up against Superman. Because he's sort of the gold standard, you know? Nobody can defeat Superman unless you have Kryptonite. Batman would be a pretty quick fight. It would be over in 15 seconds.
Jen Chaney: You think?
Jon Favreau: Oh yeah. What's Batman going to do? Ride his motorcycle away? Throw a boomerang at him? It's Iron Man, dude. He's got repulsors, he's got missiles – he's pretty decked out in this movie. Batman's good if he's got shadows and he can hide from you and sneak up on you. Or do martial arts against you. But Iron Man – Iron Man's like a tank.
Jen Chaney: Yeah, but I think most people would say that if that's true, he would also crush Superman in five seconds.
Jon Favreau: I don't know. Superman's an alien. It's a whole different thing. Superman's rough. Iron Man? He's strong and I wonder how any of them would stack up to him. The big showdown that you want is Hulk. Hulk and Iron-Man. Because I know in the comic books, Iron Man had to build special Hulk buster armor because Hulk is so strong. So I don't know how it all stacks up, but as these Marvel characters get combined, they're going to have to figure out – some of these academic questions are going to become a reality when "The Avengers" comes around.
Jen Chaney: Well, I was going to say, aren't both Hulk and Iron Man in "The Avengers"?
Jon Favreau: Yeah, they should be. I mean, classically they are, and the table is set. I'd love to see [Ed] Norton and [Robert] Downey in a movie together. That would be great.
(Favreau is executive producer of "The Avengers" movie that's currently in the works at Marvel Studios. And clearly, he's already trying to build momentum. Well played, Favreau.)