Iron Man: Behind The Scenes with Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard and the Cast

  If you’ve read the Iron Man review and our interview with Terrence Howard, then you know how serious this movie is. Not literally, of course, as the film has plenty of laughs, action and suspense, but serious in that it’s going to be a major player at the box office for the year. […]


If you’ve read the Iron Man review and our interview with Terrence Howard, then you know how serious this movie is. Not literally, of course, as the film has plenty of laughs, action and suspense, but serious in that it’s going to be a major player at the box office for the year.


We had the opportunity to sit in on some roundtable interviews with stars Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Terrence Howard (Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine), Gwyneth Paltrow (Virginia “Pepper” Potts), Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger) and Leslie Bibb (Christine Everhart), along with director Jon Favreau and the esteemed writing team to get some behind-the-scenes scoop.


One of the biggest questions in the Hip-Hop community right now is: Where is Ghostface? He’d been rumored for months as having a role in the film. As the writers explained to us, he did have a role where Ghostface meets Tony Stark, and they actually know each other. Fortunately for Ghost, his video and song appear in a very fun scene (stripper pole on a plane, anyone?) There is also a big party scene on Tony’s yacht which was cut, but hopefully we’ll see that on the DVD extras.


Was Robert Downey Jr. an instant choice for the role of Tony Stark? Could Terrence Howard have been Iron Man instead of Robert Downey Jr? How much of the movie was made up on the spot? The cast had some interesting and funny stories about how it went down!


On why Robert Downey Jr. was the best choice to play Tony Stark/Iron Man, and the challenge of convincing the studio:


Jon Favreau:  Sitting across from [Robert], the lightbulb just went off over my head, and I realized this was the guy that could  bring me home. This is the #1 draft pick that’s going to take me to the Super Bowl.  I got how to make the movie, how we were not going to just be a poor man’s Spider-Man if I could get this guy. The problem, of course, was [that he was] far too interesting of a choice for the studio and  there was an unequivocal resounding “no” when I presented him.  There were people who were fans of his, and many people said, “Look, it’s clearly the best choice creatively. It’s just the first movie, it’s too much money. Nobody knows Iron Man, so now you’re going to be defining Iron Man by Robert because people know Robert  more than they know Iron Man.”


That was never the case with The Hulk and Eric Bana, it’s not the case with Spider-Man and Tobey or with Batman and Christian Bale, so I understood their misgivings. He’s 10 years older than they would have liked me to hire somebody if they’re starting a franchise, too. Hopefully, if this movie works well, they’re going to make a lot of them. That’s many years, and he’s already in his 40’s, so I got it, but as we went round and  round, we realized that this guy brings dimension, this is like hiring Johnny Depp to do Pirates [of The Caribbean]. People are ready for this guy to play this role.


People want Tony Stark to be Tony Stark. That’s why people make rap songs about him. He captures that  bad boy attitude and makes this movie not be Batman. We had to find the attitude, and that’s why we paid through the nose for heavy metal music that you’ve never  seen in another superhero movie. That’s why we open with “Back In Black,” that’s why it’s Robert Downey, Jr. I wanted to have different imagery, because you change the attitude, you’re doing Dark Knight. That’s the brooding gothic version of the billionaire industrialist.

Batman’s the guy…  Bruce Wayne when he gets depressed, he listens to his music on his headphones and he locks himself up in his study. Tony Stark, when he gets depressed, he gets bombed and wraps his car around a telephone pole. It’s a different type of character, and so we really wanted to play up those differences.


On the chemistry between the Tony Stark and Pepper Potts:

Gwyneth Paltrow:  It’s complicated — they have so many dynamics. [Pepper] is [Tony’s] assistant and so he is her boss. He’s a very powerful, serious guy, so there’s that dynamic. But then there’s also, she’s a little bit of his Jiminy Cricket in a way, and she keeps trying to pull him back to center. And there’s also a bit of a mothering tenderness that she has for him where she worries about him. And there’s also kind of a sexual kick to all, so that’s what I loved about it, because there was so much that was kind of real and fun and it wasn’t just one note.


On what the actors learned from each other:


Robert Downey, Jr.: Terrence was fantastic. We really got close playing these guys who were really close, and it’s been an interesting thing, because you tend to think you’re making friends, and there are people you really feel a brotherhood with and he’s one of them. Gwyneth is absolutely crazy about me. [smiles] It’s rare that that [type of chemistry] happens. Sometimes, you think, “[That actress is] hot, she’s smart and she’s cool. And then you go on set and she’s just talks like a w#### and you think, “I can’t believe I got to spend the next couple of months with this b####.” Gwyneth was a very corrective experience for me.


Terrence Howard: I’ve learned to be a little more courageous [because of Robert]. Robert would sit up and say whatever comes to mind without any fear [and it’s a beautiful word] of being reproached at all, he had no fear of that. Me, I still gauge some of the things that I’m going to say. I never felt as honest as he was. I felt if I gave 70% of the truth then that was good enough.

I’ve never been faced with 100% honesty, no matter what I would say he would trump it, which maybe comes as a result of having been completely exposed. He kept encouraging me to be even more free, he said “You’ve let this huge monster out of you, I wish you could see you the way I do.” I look forward to seeing me the way that he does one day, I’m still growing.


On how much of the script was improvised by the actors:


Robert Downey, Jr.: We put [the writers] through their paces. They’d go, “Take out the trash” and I’d go, “Take out the trash? You got a better line than that.” It’s the first big laugh of the movie. I was riding these guys all the time while we were doing the movie. I was like, “Congratulations, you got a nomination. Yeah, yeah, I’m not going to respect you. That doesn’t mean anything to me.” My nomination meant something to me. These poor guys and me and Jon…


There’s a scene where there’s a weapons test in the beginning where he goes, “Better to be feared than respected.” I wrote that line. Then it was, “Better to be feared than respected? Why not have both?” And then Jon goes, “We have to talk about the missile. Not your ideas.” I’m like, “OK, I’ll talk about the missile.”

Then I go on about the Jericho missile and it’s the first time it’s proprietarily mine, and he goes, “Is that correct grammar? Proprietary Repulsor Technology.” I go, “Yes. I know my grammar. Period, or you got more to say?” He goes, “Period.” I go, “OK” They say, “The best weapon is the one that is used only once.” He wrote that. I go, “That did it. That’s how America does it.” He goes, “Don’t say that.” I go, “I’m going to say that. That’s how America does it.” He goes, “Where do you end it?” I go, “It’s worked out pretty good so far.”


We’re writing all this stuff down on this huge cue card and Matty, the poor DP, goes, “I have eight minutes of light. Are you guys partying with your improv over there?” I go, “This is the scene we had. Fergus and Ostby wrote this pretty cool scene.” We used half of it but we’re doing this hodge podge and putting it up on this piece of cork board and Matty the DP goes, “I see his eyes moving.” I go, “Cut! Props? Sunglasses, please.” We were done, and people who enjoyed the film have said that you can kind of sense it’s like puppies just being born.


Jeff Bridges: Often, we would show up for the day’s work not knowing what would we were going to say for that day. You would go into Jon’s trailer for a couple of hours with one of these little tape recorders and we would jam. We would play each other’s character and we would all have ideas and throw them around and the writers would be in the room and the producers, and it took me a while  to get behind that. For a few weeks, I was panicking and it really rubbed my fur the wrong way. That’s not how I like to work. However, that’s the way to do it. There’s certain ways you would like it and it’s weird, but that’s how it is.


It’s like you go to a ballroom, and you’re all prepare to dance the waltz, and then they just play cha-cha all the time. When I finally got with the program, it was kind of fun, and the fact that Jon Favreau is a wonderful actor himself and knows how different actors approach the material and he tried to give us all what we  needed and was calmed and allowed the way it was to turn into this  movie. That’s because of Jon.


On how it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt:


Robert Downey, Jr.: In that scene with Leslie Bibb, one of my favorite things that we had to cut it out: we go to bed and she’s all p##### off and I wanted to say, “Let it all out. Let it all out. I know you hate me.” Jon was like, “You’re talking enough. You can’t improvise everything every time. Shut up, we got two hours and I got five shots.” I was like, “All right.” She rolls off the bed and in one of these takes and she did this [makes punching motion] and I turned my head the way I said I would and she just clocked me in the jaw. You actually heard through the body mic *click* and I was like, “Awww!” They took the laugh from after the thing.


Leslie Bibb: I socked him in the temple. Literally, we did this whole thing where I smacked him, and I was like, “I hate you.” It was a really funny sex scene. Because a sex scene is stupid anyway, because you’re like worried about your breath, you’re worried about, “Am I sweating? Is the chicken cutlet that’s in my short gonna fall out? What is happening? I’m scantily clad. I’m in my squirrel covers. What is happening? People are everywhere. And I’m kissing Robert Downey Jr. Focus.”


So then he’s like, “Let’s make it funny,” and I was like, “Oh, thank God. I can’t try to be cool in this scene. If I can be funny then I’m down.” So we did this thing where it was like, I smack him and tell him I hate him. It really was kind of fantastic. But you can’t really smack Iron Man—it sort of defeats the purpose. But it was really funny when we were doing it. I’m smacking him, and I was like, “Robert, are you sure?” He’s like, “Do it.” So we did this one thing where I smacked him and we rolled off the bed, and I just came back and start punching him. I was like, “That was dark. Why did I just do that?” He goes, “I like it…” I was like, “Let’s do it!”


So the stuntman came out and we do it again, and… I don’t know what happened, but like it got a little kerflunkity. I mean, I started in Cleveland, and I came to California—into his temple! This crazy scream you here in the movie, of him going, “Argh!” That’s him screaming when I hit him in the temple. I immediately went down on him, and I’m cradling his head in mine. I was like, “Oh my God, I just punched you.” You don’t know. It’s like, “Is he gonna flip out? Is he gonna scream at me?” It was such an accident. I mean, I really hit him hard, and he just started laughing. He was like, “No, it’s my fault.” I was like, “It’s my fault!” And he was totally cool. Then we did it ten more times.


On villains we can expect to see in the sequels:


Jon Favreau:  I think Mandarin for sure, I think War Machine for sure. I think you gotta go with War Machine – you gotta give Terrence more to do. He really had to be patient in this one, and he could have been Tony Stark, know what I mean? If we wanted to go against the grain of what was in the books. He characterizes that, and once you break him out of the role that he was relegated to in this one, I think he could go toe-to-toe with Robert, and it could be a cool buddy set-up.  Then you need some big bad guys, and I think the bad guys are going to be tech-based for the most part, seeing what’s worked about this film.


Does Terrence Howard think he could have played Tony Stark/Iron Man?


Terrence Howard:  I could have. His sensibilities would have been a lot different, I don’t know if he would have been as free thinking and freeform as Robert’s Iron Man though. Robert has a comparative nature, that he’s been a child of privilege. He knows what that life is like, in having his father he’s always been talented. He’s always been recognized for his talent, very early on he’s been kind of led through the world a little bit that he can take into Iron Man.


Me, I’ve had to fight so much that it makes me a little more suited to become War Machine.  Someone that’s always bulldozing right through something, strategizing but bulldozing through it. But I think they made a really good choice, for a little while people thought I was going to be Iron Man and it didn’t hurt my career at all.  


On the possibility of political statements within the film:


Jeff Bridges:  One of the things I like about this movie is that it’s not  ramming  a message down your throat, whether this is a pro-war movie or  an  anti-war movie. Hopefully, it will provoke a lot of discussion  after  the film of those themes and about power and once you have it, what do  you do with it. What are you willing to do to keep things the way they  are? All these kind of things that really pertain to what’s going on today.


On training for the military scenes in Iron Man:


Terrence Howard: You spend a month and a half on a United States Air Force base, that indoctrination is real. You do become part of the “we” mentality. The “I” disappears, the “me” is no longer in existence, it is literally we. I used to run before, but running every morning with them for those five miles and the cadence that you’re singing, at first you’re like, “This is fun” and then you begin to measure the miles by the cadence that you’re on. And you’re no longer thinking about the words you’re saying. You’re being indoctrinated – until when we got to set and I have the Department of Defense and three or four Air Force people around me. I felt uncomfortable except for when I was with the military. You reach that place.

On rumors that Robert Downey, Jr. will appear in the upcoming Hulk movie:


Robert Downey, Jr.:  I’m so f**king p##### off. I went and did a scene for two hours, which they’re going to run during the end credits in Hulk, and everyone’s like, “So, you’re role in ‘Hulk’…” I did it as a favor to these guys at Marvel. They’re really cool, but I have to talk about it every f**king day. But they’re smart, because they get that you’re saying “Hulk” when we’re talking about Iron Man. They know what they’re doing.