Typically, the announcement of a big-budget blockbuster is followed by months (if not years) of avoidance. Stars, directors and producers dodge questions like jury summonses, fearing that they could reveal fan-angering character updates,
Jon Favreau is refusing to play that game.
The star of "Swingers" and director of "Elf" and "Zathura" was recently handed the keys to the next great superhero franchise, a highly anticipated adaptation of the five-decades-strong "Iron Man" comic series. Now a few weeks into his new gig, the lifelong comics fan is battling questions with a weapon that even Tony Stark might hesitate to unleash: honesty.
"The questions are coming on the Internet," a grinning Favreau reported this weekend. "I've got a MySpace group set up just to discuss the movie, so I welcome the input."
Favreau is making himself available to diehard fans of the gold-and-red superhero, who will step in front of a movie camera for the first time at the beginning of next year.
"It's the first movie Marvel is self-financing," he said of a new deal that frees the makers of the "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" movies from studio control. "We're set to come out in the summer of '08, and we'll start shooting in January."
Favreau insisted that he's eager to construct his movie using input from the fans — because he is one himself.
"I remember watching the Iron Man cartoons when I was younger," Favreau revealed. "I remember reading the origin stories and some of the Silver Age stuff, and I read 'The Avengers' — 'The Defenders' and then 'The Avengers,' and that sort of brought me into 'Iron Man.' "
"It was later when [Marvel Studios CEO] Avi [Arad] approached me to work on this and we discussed [the history of the character]," he continued. "And then I did a lot more research, and really learned everything that has happened in the last 40 years."
Created in 1963 as an anti-communist hero, Iron Man originally played off national defense concerns and technological advancement themes of that period. The hero's alter ego is (with the exception of occasional fill-ins) Tony Stark, an American industrialist billionaire living out a Bruce Wayne-type life of privilege. His virtually impenetrable armor allows him to soar through the air, possess superhuman strength and unleash everything from repulsor beams to magnetic fields and holograms. Iron Man's suit has constantly changed with the times, a technological evolution Favreau is making plans to portray.
"We're gonna have it take place in the present day, but there will be an origin story that has the old, gray Iron Man suit; eventually it will progress into more of the modern look," Favreau said. "That's the fun of doing the first one."
Favreau is clearly having plenty of fun putting the project together. Recently on his MySpace page, the director posted the film's "first preliminary image." It was a stick-figure sketch by his 4-year-old son, Max.
Acknowledging the darkness of films like "Batman Begins," the director said that Iron Man can get gritty with the best of them. Indeed, Tony Stark's struggles have included alcoholism, bankruptcy and even homelessness — themes he'd likely tackle in sequels.
"The alcoholism doesn't come into play until later on in the story of Iron Man," he said. "[The comic] started off in the '60s, where it was about him as a successful manufacturer who developed this suit. Then, later, it spins off into that story about him fighting against himself. I think we're going to lay the groundwork for it, but the first one's going to explore him taking on this alter ego of Iron Man, and developing the suit, and what happens politically within the Stark Corporation."
Mentioning an eventual "Iron Man 2," Favreau said that actor playing Tony Stark for his franchise is unlikely to be a major star (Tom Cruise was briefly attached to the role years ago). Instead, the director hopes to announce his discovery of a relative unknown from the Brandon Routh ("Superman Returns") mold later this year.
"What's nice is that those movies don't require an expensive star; Iron Man's the star, the superhero is the star," the director insisted. "The success of 'X-Men' and 'Spider-Man' without being star-driven pieces reassures [executives] that the film does have an upside commercially."
"I don't know that a movie like 'Daredevil' did better for having Ben Affleck then 'Spider-Man' did having Tobey Maguire, who was a relative unknown at the time," Favreau said, citing the Man With No Fear dud that he co-starred in alongside Affleck. "It gives you a little bit of latitude, because there's a lot of money that goes into getting that face on the poster."
Instead, the director (who reunites with friend Vince Vaughn in next month's "The Break Up") said he'd rather take those Affleck-level dollars and selectively distribute them on the look of his film. "I'm of a generation of director that came up understanding special effects," he insisted. "I don't throw the same amount of money [around] as some of the older generation directors who are just learning about it. There's a way to be scrappy, is what I'm trying to say. There's a way to get a lot for your money nowadays. There are a lot of talented people in that field, so I'm not concerned about it."
In the months to come, Jon Favreau will be putting those carefully managed Marvel dollars toward a solid script, some young stars and an "Iron Man" movie out to launch the next great superhero franchise. "It's really been a wonderful experience working on the script, and we're going to start talking about actors soon," Favreau added.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, concerns or comments about the details you read, this is one Hollywood star who is refreshingly eager to hear them. "I'm on MySpace," he offered with a broad smile. "Just search for 'Iron Man Movie Group'
and I'm on there, answering questions."