This week, the first film in Phase Two of Marvel’s plan for world domination hits theatres. That’s right, folks. Iron Man 3 hits North American shores on Friday and recently, we had the chance to sit down with Don Cheadle, who stars in the film as War Machine, or should we say, Iron Patriot.
During a roundtable interview, we discussed with Cheadle what it was like working with director Shane Black, who took over the franchise from Jon Favreau, what he thinks about a solo War Machine movie, when he first got into superheroes and comic books and much more.
What do you think Shane Black brought to Iron Man 3 that makes it different and distinct from the last two entries in the franchise?
Don Cheadle: Well, I think this ear for the “buddy cop film” definitely came into play in the relationship between Tony and Rhodes. His focus on irreverence and comedy in the face of insurmountable odds really feels like a trademark of his and it’s something that I think makes this film a lot of fun. I think he filled the movie with humor and strong character beats against the backdrop of a huge spectacle. He’d never done anything on this scale before and he really stepped it up. We all had to in order to pay off the setup of the first two films.
Since Marvel tries to be collaborative and you’re a mainstay in the Iron Man franchise, were you able to get involved with the development of your character at all?
Don Cheadle: Well, Kevin Feige, Robert, and I all stayed in touch over the last year and a half to two years while they were working on The Avengers. We all just sort of talked about how to make it bigger and better if we came back. Not so much in terms of the size and scope of the spectacle, but more in terms of the characters and strengthening their relationships. We came to a greater understanding of why Tony and Rhodey are who they are, and why they work well together. It was nice to get out of the suits in that third act set piece and work with the stunt team. That was a lot of fun and I got to have a certain wish fulfillment satisfied.
So much of the film is about how Tony deals with the events of The Avengers, but you don’t get to see much of how Rhodey reacted—
Don Cheadle: No you don’t, he probably should have been in The Avengers, right? [laughs]
How do you think he’s coming to terms with the new world order of the Marvel Universe?
Don Cheadle: Well, that’s what [War Machine’s] rebranding is about. As the president says in the movie, Washington wants to look strong and have their own public sector superhero. I think that’s what the propaganda behind The Iron Patriot is about. But I don’t think that matters much to Rhodey. He just wants to uphold the oath he took when he agreed to put on the suit and protect home.
I know Jon Favreau was a big proponent of improvisation when he directed his Iron Man movies, but Shane Black comes from a screenwriting background, so was there much of a difference in his approach?
Don Cheadle: Well, Shane isn’t one of those writers who are super-precious about his words. He understands that he can come up with other ones that work. Now obviously there are plot points that you try to track to keep the stories on the rails, but when characters are interacting he wants to make that as natural and realistic as possible. So when you have Robert and I, or Sir Ben Kingsley, he’s like “this is the blueprint, let’s go.” Now obviously when we start shooting and have camera angles locked and effects to worry about, we’ve pretty much nailed it down. But yeah, there was a lot of improvisation that goes into the discovery of it and some of that found its way into the film.
Was it a bit odd to still have Jon Favreau on set as Happy even though Shane was directing, and how was that transition?
Don Cheadle: Oh, there were fist fights every day. They were trying to force sides, you know, a lot of “Who is with me?!” [laughs] I actually never saw Jon on the set, but I know Shane kept Jon very close to him. Help is help. Jon had done this dance and Shane wanted to know how to do the dance without tripping over his feet. Shane obviously has his background as a screenwriter, but this thing is a juggernaut and at a certain point we’ve all got our arms around each other and it’s us against this movie. None of us know once we wrap the film what it will actually be. You show up to ADR and the special effects department has animated in what you’ve been looking at as green screen for months and you go, “oh that’s what that scene is about!” This type of movie is a huge magic trick to us so Shane was smart to keep Jon in his corner to help survive.
I wanted to ask you about Ben Kingsley or “Sir Ben” as you referred to him—
Don Cheadle: As the world refers to him.
You’re right. I sincerely apologize. But how was it working with an actor of that stature in a summer tentpole kind of movie?
Don Cheadle: Well, I think it speaks a lot about Sir Ben and his desire to continue to expand and flex different muscles to increase his joy for his craft. We get into acting because we want to be excited every day and do something new. At some point you don’t want to just play Gandhi every day. He was the dude in Sexy Beast. He was also in The Dictator with Sacha Baron Cohen. He’s been in everything and done everything. He’s great and it was exciting to see him be a part of this.
Now that you’re fully installed into the Marvel Universe and have House Of Lies up and running as well, do you have time to even consider other projects or are you locked into bouncing between these titles for the time being?
Don Cheadle: They went back-to-back last year. I wrapped Iron Man 3 and then literally a week-and-a-half later was on House Of Lies. Then I finished that up and started the press for this movie. So it’s been pretty packed right now. I’m not sure if when the wheels are up for Avengers 2 whether Iron Patriot is going to make an appearance or Rhodey. But the writers go back to work on House Of Lies next month and we’re going to hit the stages in August. So there’s not a lot of time next year if Avengers 2 or another Iron Man or a War Machine movie takes off. We’ll see. I still like to look at other things because I like to believe that I’ll have the opportunity to do something other than these two things.
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