Both Shane Black and Kevin Feige know how important Iron Man 3 is. Not only is it a sequel to two successful Iron Man films, it’s a sequel to one of the biggest movies of all time, The Avengers, and the first prequel to a slew of other films, such as The Avengers 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy. That meant lots and lots of care was taken in preparing not only the script, but the connections within the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as balancing the action in regards to the other films.

A few months ago, we were among a group of journalists who sat down with Black and Feige to discuss all those things related to Iron Man 3, and more. Below, you can read quotes about the development, filming and context of Iron Man 3 as well as the mystery of post-credits sequences, Black Panther, Runaways, the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show and PG-13 vs. R-ratings.

Did Shane Black have an influence on Iron Man movies before this one?

Black: Only insofar as I knew Robert from a previous movie. Jon and he would come over kind of grumpy, sort of groping for ways to fix the script and they asked me a couple questions. I don’t think that I contributed anything too terribly important, although Robert’s been kind enough to cite it as having been helpful. I don’t remember that very well, frankly. I just remember they came over, we ate some food and I think one of the things Jon’s done since then, however, has been very helpful to me on this one. As an actor coming in he had every opportunity to be kind of weird or resentful, like “I did these picture for four years and now you’re doing them?” But instead he was the nicest guy in the world and was extremely beneficial in helping like, “What would you do here Jon?” And that kind of thing; he’s great.

How early did Shane Black come into the process and what story elements was he interested in?

Feige: Well we first started meeting with Shane in spring of 2011 maybe because you came in on the mix day, I think we were mixing Captain America at Fox and we were having meetings with him there. We knew a few of the elements that have remained. We had pillars: we want it to be a Tony Stark-centric story, we want to blow up his life and see how he deals with a nemesis without his suits working- get him back metaphorically to the cave with box of scraps, like the first movie. That has remained and carried on through, and it was one of the reasons we connected with Shane.

Because if we wanted to do a big “It connects to The Avengers and then Nick Fury comes in and stuff”, I don’t think Shane would have been interested in that and I don’t I don’t think he would have been the right guy for it. But to take a Tony Stark journey and explore his character deeper than we had since the first act of the first film, he was the man. It evolved over the next 8 or 9 months after that into basically what it is now.

On how Shane Black’s love of comic books influenced The Mandarin:

Black: I consider the fanbase to basically be Marvel’s job. Mine is to be a fan and I am one and I have been from a young age, of Iron Man. So for me, I just please me and I hope that pleases the rest of the fans. It should. For instance, one of the joys for me has always been seeing how you take a villain from the comic book and realize him in a slightly more realistic way for the movie, render him for movies in a way that’s recognizable, but different. And that’s fun.

Like the Joker in The Dark Knight is not the Joker from the comic book, but there’s just enough of him that you recognize him and go, “Wow, what a creative way of interpreting the Joker for motion pictures.” So that was our task here too. The fans love this character The Mandarin and we just said, “Well, what we don’t want is this potentially racist, stereotype of a Fu Manchu villain just waving his fist.” But we found a way, I think, to get an iteration of The Mandarin that we like. We got very excited about bout having cracked this story when we found out that we could include The Mandarin and give him a character that would be a perfect match, the ultimate Iron Man villain, but without relying too heavily on what the comic book stereotype was.

Talk about the idea of grounding the Mandarin as a 21st century, media-terrorist:

Black: From the very beginning we were all about the idea of just a real world interpretation of this guy who, I hate to break it to you, but he’s not from space in this. The rings are rings. They’re showmanship. They’re accouterments. They’re paraphernalia of warfare that he sort of drapes himself with. He studies Sun Tzu. He studies insurgency tactics. he surrounds himself with dragons and symbols of warlords and Chinese iconography because he wants to represent this sort of prototypical terrorist who- we use as the example Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, this guys who may have been an American, may have been a British National, someone who is out there doing field work, supervising atrocities for the intelligence community who went nuts in the field and became this sort of devotee of war tactics, and now has surrounded himself with a group of people over which he presides, and the only thing that unifies them is this hatred of America. So he’s the ultimate terrorist, but he’s also savvy. He’s been in the intelligence world. He knows how to use the media. And taking it to a real world level like that was a lot fun for us.

Have the fantastic elements introduce in previous Marvel films, specifically The Avengers, changed Tony Stark?

Feige: Yes, and it sort of answers your other question, which is that the only real connective tissue we wanted from Avengers in this movie was Avengers effect on Tony’s psyche. This man who comes from this grounded universe- I always say it’s grounded enough although he builds an iron suit and flies around. the notion that Tony Stark, who is the shit and always thought of himself as top dog, now has been to outer space, nearly got killed by freaking aliens, has encountered a god that can smash him across the forest with a hammer, has encountered a guy that his father used to talk about from the 1945. It’s no mistake that we meet Tony at the beginning of this movie and he’s just building suits, putting himself in the suit, and he’s much more comfortable when he’s in the suit. And a lot of this movie is about Tony learning to become Tony Stark again outside the armor, and he has a little help in that his house is completely destroyed.

Black: He’s in a world where all of the sudden, without this armor, there’s elements with which he cannot hope to compete. So his comfort in his own skin has diminished at the start of this movie by the fact that he feels like, unless he can build the perfect man, he’s going to be outdone and outshone by these people who are literally gods. So how he can then have those suits taken away from him until he’s just a man and he can’t possibly compete, that was the impetus for this movie, rip everything off him and say “Yes, you’re alone with these incredible forces aligned against you, and you don’t even have your armor.”

It’s almost like a subgenre in a way of taking a comic book movie and then imposing on it what would happen in the real world if this happened. And people have done that with “Damage Control” or whatever, so this is just more about trying to maintain the sense of reality form the first Iron Man given that there’s a god from space. Because if in the middle of Iron Man, when he was in the cave with Yinsen and Thor came in you would say, “What the hell is this movie? That doesn’t make any sense?” But now Thor is there so what does that mean for our character?

How early did Marvel map what Iron Man 3 was going to be and how wary were you of the scope of The Avengers?

Black: The touchstone of the first meeting was that we can’t go bigger than we’ve just gone.

Feige: Well it would be a fool’s errand to do that. There’s no reason to do that. Shane was in early days. Again we wanted to get Tony, we were sort of internally talking about, back to basics, metaphorically blow him up on a convoy, put him back in a cave and see what he can do with a box of scraps. That was about as far as we had- and it was not an Avengers centric story outside of just the effect that all of it has had on him. So no Nick Fury, no Black Widow; those were really the only parameters. And we did want him to have a mystery to uncover and solve that he would on his own for. That was about it and then Shane and Drew brought it to life. And we certainly are looking over their shoulders and giving them input every step along the way, but it was a collaboration form that point.

New suits are so important to the Iron Man movies. Talk about the suits in this film such as the Mark 47 and Iron Patriot?

Feige: Yeah, you know we’ve seen, through Avengers, 7 or 8 suits and we wanted to progress that in this one. It’s part of, again, the effect Avengers had on him is that he’s tinkering even more than he did before and he’s building much more than he ever did before. The Iron Patriot is also kind of a response to Avengers. It’s a government rebrand of War Machine, frankly because the US government felt that they were slightly embarrassed by the events of Avengers. These crazy heroes known as The Avengers were the ones that saved the day, saved New York City, saved United States; not the government. The government felt they needed a hero of their own, they have a military officer that has one of these suits, and they paint it red, white, and blue. They pose it next to the president and Tony sort of rolls his eyes you saw a little bit of that today. They want a hero of their own. And Tony’s like, “What do you mean, I’m a hero?” And they say “Well you’ve been spending a lot of time in your work shop. We want somebody we can rely on.” So that’s sort of how the Iron Patriot came about. And, again, it’s a thing from the comics, we just thought the Iron Patriot suit looked equal parts cool and slightly goofy in the comics, it’s not Norman Osborne or any of that stuff obviously, but it gave us a place to go with Rhodey. We wanted to take Rhodey and his sort of split loyalties between his friend and his duty and keep carrying that storyline through.

Jumping off that, can you comment on the Deep Space Suit photos that have leaked?

Feige: Well I would say that I’ve owned a number of “Jungle Attack” Batmans in my time and I don’t remember any jungle attack batman sequences, so.

How did the Air Force One action scene develop and get shot?

Black: Well the filming of it was interesting. We decided early on, Drew and I, that I wanted to- I like hijack stuff and I wanted to have people in the sky, just falling, and Iron Man is confronted with that image and he’s got to get them out of it somehow. The challenge was on the days we said, “Well we’d really love to do this, but we don’t want to do just green screen, can we just toss people out of a plane?” and they said, “Well that would probably be unethical.” But we found the Redbull Skydiving team that was willing to jump out of a plane and have their backpacks erased digitally. It’s kind of compelling, the first images you see of people falling in clothes, because people are always in jumpsuits, orange or yellow jumpsuits, and when you just see some girl in a skirt and a guy in a business suit falling it’s pretty scary.

Feige: Over the course of almost a week, we did 8 to 10 jumps a day, for a week. It was amazing, amazing footage.

Since the post-credits tease was almost necessary in Phase 1, now that we’re in Phase 2, do you feel obligated to link the films together in that way?

Feige: It’s sort of case by case. I don’t want to be in that theater for the first time when even 2 people stay behind and nothing happens, frankly. I like that we’ve trained at least some people to stay behind and get a little reward, but you’re absolutely right it served a different purpose. It was a part of the, “Hey surprise, these are connected. We’re building towards something here.” Shawarma, which everyone knows famously was an idea we came up with much, much later and shot after the premiere just because we thought it would be fun. There was not going to be a tag until that point. So it’s a little faster and looser now because people know, and frankly the whole purpose of Iron Man 3 is to say that these characters can exist just as successfully on their own again. But, as I said I don’t want to be there when nothing happens after people sit through 8 minutes of credits.

How did the working relationship between screenwriter Drew Pierce and Black work?

Feige: We hired Drew before we hired Shane. We didn’t have a director yet. Drew Pearce had done an amazing draft of a script called Runaways for us, which is a movie we ended up not making.

Black: It sounds amazing.

Feige: It’s so amazing we didn’t make it, but we hired him to do Iron Man 3 because we were meeting with various directors and most of them were not writer-directors. When we were meeting with Shane we realized he was the best guy for the job and knew obviously he was also a writer. We didn’t want to just toss Drew aside; we didn’t think that was fair.

Black: I kind of did.

Feige: He did. We said, “Shane this is great, why don’t you have the job? By the way we have a writer.” “What do you mean?” He thought all these things; he was political enough not to say them. I think he grumbled a lot and to his credit and to Drew’s credit they now seem to be two peas in a pod.

Black: Yeah, we got together and I said, “Okay, basically, I don’t know why you’re here.” And he said, “I guess we’re supposed to write together,” and this is not usually how great teams start [laughs]. But we said, “Alright, let’s see.” And pretty soon I realized very quickly that this guy had an affinity for this and he and I became friends and rode back and forth to work every day talking about it.

Feige: About four weeks into it we were in a meeting and they, together, were kind of pitching us some ideas and directions and Shane kind of kicked it off and said, “You know, I initially thought that Drew Pearce was the devil, the demon that you hired, and now I think he’s great. I really do.” And Drew was not in the room when he said that, which is how I knew it was true.

How do you come up for excuses that The Avengers can’t help Tony in the film?

Feige: It’s a good question, and it’s sort of half and half. I am betting that like the comics you don’t have to keep- if you are reading a standalone “Iron Man” comic, they don’t spend every page explaining where every other Marvel hero is. The audience kind of accepts that there are times when they’re on their own and there are times when they are together. I’m betting that movie audiences will feel the same way. That being said, there is a little bit of lip service here and there to that. There is also just the very nature of Tony wants to, once he barely survives that house attack you saw today, and even you saw it in the message he left for Pepper, he’s basically saying “I’m going off the grid to try to figure something out.”

Does he know that Phil Coulson is alive and on S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Feige: Does Tony know that? No.

Shane Black on setting yet another movie at Christmas and how much leeway he had to make it his own:

Black: [Christmas] just evolved oddly enough, it just seemed to organically come out of planning a story that took him to a different place and left him stranded in the snow. I don’t know if I have the keys, I have the keys but, you know, at some point there’s a course you have to run, which is to say, you can’t take it anywhere you want. You can’t open it up on Main Street and then go 150 miles an hour, but what can happen is you find ways without going back to my old bag of tricks. I’m saying it’s like a comic doing- they say, “You can’t do the midnight show, you’re doing this for the local church group, its 8 o’clock and were serving stew. So can you please tone it down and just leave out the blue material?” So I had to find innovative ways to be less of “They fuck you at the drive through.”

Feige: I don’t think Shane knew the difference between a PG-13 and an R, frankly. We would say, “Shane, you can’t really do that.” “You can’t?” “No.”

Well, you do call a little kid a pussy.

Feige: Well, it’s not like we’re completely backing off that tone. And, by the way, in maybe I think the first assembly I was like “Shane, we’re not going to be able to say that.” There was another insult that he has later in the movie and I said, “You keep that one, we’re not going to be able to say pussy.” Shane, to his credit, said “Let’s leave it in the test screening.” It was the first test screening we did, the audience, as you guys did today, went crazy for the curse word, crazy for it, and nearly burned down the theater on the second one, which I had not predicted. So we took out the second one and left that one in.

What other characters does Shane Black have an affinity for:

Black: I don’t know I always thought that certain characters could be adapted in a cool way. I wanted to do- Quentin Tarantino kind of poisoned the well with Django, but I always thought there was a 1970’s version of “Black Panther”, which was period that could be really cool and involved a lot of the racial tensions of that time. That’s not going to happen. Other Marvel movies that I really loved, or marvel comics growing up, God, mostly just the typical ones. “Nick Fury Agent of Shield” the Strenko years. But you can’t do them because Sam Jackson is 60 years old and he plays this sort of patriarchal figure now, but Nick Fury was what I adored growing up. If you ever read the ones [Jim] Sterenko did for “Tales of Suspense” followed by “Nick Fury” standalone 1-8, some of the best comics ever made.

What was the most physically challenging thing about the shoot?

Black: The most physically challenging thing is that everything involving these suits flying is either on wires where you’ve got to take forever to rig somebody or it’s invisible. So there’s a guy on wires and he turns and gets hit by an invisible thing that throws him backwards and you have to match everything and nothings there. So in the editing room it’s constantly vexing to me. On Kiss Kiss Bang Bang we’d show up on the day and we would say, “Alright, we’re doing an action scene, the car crashes, where do we go?” You couldn’t do that. You can’t show up on the day and say “Okay he jumps of the tower and the building explodes, let’s begin.” You have to have it so meticulously planned in advance. The invisibility factor was for me the daunting thing of not knowing where anything is because it’s all just going to be there later.

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