Iron Man 3 is officially the biggest move of the summer- as at the time of writing, the fifth most successful movie of all time! Its not hard to see why- as well as coming off the back of The Avengers, it has a stellar cast, masterful direction from Shane Black, big laughs and a bigger heart beating at its centre. But so much of that is down to its screenwriter. Drew Pearce may not be a name youd heard of before Iron Man 3 hits out screens, but the creator of cult hit sitcom No Heroics is now the hottest man in Hollywood. Pearce is currently writing the fifth film in the Mission: Impossible franchise, and has a slew of other projects on the go. Drew Pearce is here to stay, and Hollywood is all the better for it. Our conversation went well beyond Iron Man, and even though we touch upon Mission: Impossible and Sherlock Holmes, the sequel to which he is developing with Robert Downey Jr, we went way past that and into our attitudes to terrorism, the definition of leading men, the greatness of Sir Ben Kingsley and why the 70s was the best time for cinema. So rather than limit this to a traditional interview format, this writer has given you the transcript to my conversation with Drew, edited only to keep it punchy, relevant and on-topic. Read on for not only an insight into comics and screenwriting, but the nature of the industry and the state of cinema. Youve had a hell of a Hollywood debut- to hit the billion dollar mark in less than a month
Yeah, its one of those weird things where you go No, Im not going to get used to that. I mean, theres an odd kind of bittersweetness to it as well- theres a part of you that when you get to the end of it Ive been working on this for two and a half years, and we finished the film four weeks before it was released- we when right over the picture lock time, very exciting but edge-of-the-seat stuff. You emerge, blinking, from the series of small rooms and sound stages youve been on into a world where theres a ton of posters for your movie. So its only in the last week or so that its down that theres the realisation of Oh- theres a very chance that I never work on a movie as big as this again. Even if I go on to have a long and fruitful career, which in and of itself is a roll of the dice, you may never work on that gets people so excited .One of my favourite lines in the film, amongst so many other great ones, is when Tony turns to the glasses-wearing little brother of the girl asking him for an autograph and says I loved you in A Christmas Story
That one was Downey. Whats weird about that is going from the British premiere , and then the American premiere a couple of days later, you realise theres a lot of British in there as well as American. At the UK premiere and subsequent screenings, the line his Hamlet was the toast of Croydon gets a big laugh, but in America it gets a snigger and thats mostly down to Guy s delivery of it. Similarly, in the UK I dont think is that well-known. But in America, its a on Christmas Day television- its of that kind of culture significance over there. So every member of the American audience gets that joke. As a British writer working in the states, its kind of that theres some cultural reference points that you havent got covered. The kid who played in A Christmas Story, Peter Billingsley, was actually in the original Iron Man and was one of the executive producers- he played one of the technicians that Stane shouts at. Hes part of the Favreau gang. Theres an even deeper connection with that gag!A while ago it was circulating around the internet that J. J. Abrams had consulted on an early draft of the film, but of course it turned out that had happened with the first film. Out of interest, do you have any idea what his level of involvement was?
Yeah, its weird! Im now working with J.J. and it was something I asked him about- my new job is the next Mission: Impossible movie.Actually, I was going to bring that up. Congratulations, obviously- thats a hell of a franchise to be a part of. I appreciate that youve literally just come on board, and if you have any ideas yet you cant reveal anything, but could you discuss your attitude to the franchise so far? Its pretty unique, in that Tom always gets a different director with a specific vision for each instalment so it never gets stale.
has been doing for a while what Marvel is now doing, particularly for Phase Two, which is trying to bring a different flavour to each of the movies. To be honest, weve really only been working on it a week or so. J.Js very involved, despite the fact hes got Star Wars. I believe a Directors about to be announced very soon. Tom is very hands-on, as is Robert in the Iron Man franchise, but in a very different way, as you would expect as per their personalities. Theres nothing really to talk about yet, but its interesting when you look back at the other four movies because theres a fairly intimidating roster of talent- from De Palma, Zallian Robert Towne (Screenwriter of Chinatown) co-wrote the first film, and obviously J.J. as well. I almost hadnt considered the lineage when I took on the job. Ill hold my hands up and say that I was a little bit reticent to take another sequel, because Ive got a lot of my own original projects and I want to get them out there and kick in with directing, but the bare-faced truth of it is that Im very much just starting out and this could all just disappear tomorrow, and I do need to get a couple of movies on the score sheet. The trouble with most things these days is that theyre just very unlikely to happen. So Mission felt like a way of working on a franchise that I really love, plus also working on a movie that is virtually guaranteed a greenlight.So are there any influences youre looking to draw from to construct the story- the original TV show? Any novels? Films from the same genre? Is there anything at all youre revisiting to prep yourself for writing?
Were just getting into that , so even telling you the movies that I want to start screening for the gang would be giving too much away. I think my approach is actually kind of similar to Iron Man- what comes first is as true and genuine as possible an emotional journey for the central character. Everything else- the villain, the action sequences- has to come off of that. Like with Iron Man 3, what we tried to do with the villain was reflect or antagonise the areas of emotional difficulty that Tonys going through at that moment . Its not that hard to keep secrets about Mission: Impossible 5 because I dont have any yet!Id like to briefly discuss Sherlock Holmes 3
To be honest, right now its all about Mission, and Robert has just moved to Massachusetts to shoot his next movie, which has a brilliant script, called The Judge (David Dobkins drama about a successful lawyer who returns to his hometown for his mothers funeral only to discover that his estranged father is a murder suspect, due to be released sometime next year), so right now my involvement is paused for the moment because of all that.Anyone can adapt Sherlock Holmes- hes the second most filmed character of all time behind Dracula- but perhaps because youre British its something thats closer to home. Do you have any relationship with the books or interpretations weve seen onscreen? Or is it more a case of youre looking to collaborate with Robert again?
Im a huge Sherlock fan! When Robert and I started talking about it, I actually managed to find my complete Sherlock Holmes Compendium that Ive had since I was 12 in a box wed shipped over to the States. But its all up in the air right now, so I have to keep a lid on everything to do with it.Are you a fan of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have done with the character?
Honestly, what theyve done is brilliant. Its obviously very different to what Warners do with the character in their movies, but I think theres room for all the adaptations- and thats testament to Arthur Conan Doyles genius character. But I truly love Moffat and Gatiss version.What initially inspired you, at whatever age, to get into writing? Where there any inspirations from certain people, books, music, films?
You meet a lot of people from the British and American industries who have a link to the Entertainment business, or have a leg up there. But my Mums a teacher and my Dad was an engineer and I grew up in Suburban England, so I grew up without even a sense that I would be allowed to work in TV or Film, let alone that I would get to play with the characters that I was reading in W H Smiths every week- the terrible Marvel reprints you had in the 80s, and of course 2000AD. So I really hoped to do it and I always loved writing. First of all I became a musician, partly because my Dad was a musician and I felt it was in the blood. But it was only in my early 20s, when I got to meet people who were doing the same sort of thing that I am now, that I thought I could do it well. Its just a case of doing your s****y job during the day, not going to the Pub and staying up til One in the morning trying to write. Id love to say Im this beautiful and precious snowflake that is a creative genius, but I that hard work and luck, boring as it sounds, are the key things. Having said all that, I find that even today at the age of 37, I still tap into the ideas and stories that I was writing when I was 14. Theres always a kind of Well you go back to- your relationships, your experiences, your insecurities, or even just silly ideas inspired by a choose-your-own adventure game. Bits and bobs like that just stick around.Do you find you have a particular method for writing, and has that changed over time? Theres a difference to writing on spec as a student, and then working with some of the biggest people in Hollywood
Im pretty brutal with myself . But its interesting, Shane grew up in a very different era and came through a very different - he wrote Lethal Weapon when he was 24, and only wrote specs from there on in, selling them for gargantuan amounts of money and wrote one every four years. Thats not the way I got in, partly because I joined the film industry later on, and the shape of it is very different to me. I spend a lot of my time pushing my own projects and ideas but the industry seems to break into massive tentpoles and indie movies now. Theres very little middle ground- whether that middle ground be the adult movies of the 60s and 70s- The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge- or Miramax Pictures in the 90s.For me, the 70s is the greatest era of cinema- and whilst that was the era where independent cinema started to come to prominence, the 80s seems like the greatest time for mainstream cinema. Everything Spielberg produced and directed, the stuff Shane came out with
What happened was that the brilliant movie brats of the 70s who made some of most grown-up, audacious, fringe mainstream pictures then graduated in the 80s to make full-blown mainstream pictures and brought their talents and fantastic skills with them- I was that was still bred . I think its still important, even when youre writing franchise pictures, to constantly fight for the same things you know your heroes from the 70s were doing. Thats I stand by. You know, Iron Man 3 is not a perfect movie- its a wild ride with some crazy tonal shifts. Shane and I sat in a room and talked through themes and images and ideas for a very long time before we started writing. Whether even 0.1% of all that stuff comes through in the movie, I think something grows in the bones of a project, through its DNA, that means that even if theyre weird ideas they still lie in the body of the film. But I dont think one should ever talk that all up with any grandiosity, because at the end of the day its a sequel to a superhero movie. , I am proud of the stuff weve managed to it.Something that affected me as an audience member were the viral clips the Mandarin transmitted everywhere. As soon as I saw those initial cutaways, it really stuck with me. Its not something you really see in a big summer blockbuster.
We did a lot of the Mandarin footage in additional photography. Part of the criticism weve had for the Mandarin twist is that people wanted to see The Mandarin that we created in the first hour. That makes me oddly proud, because it means we did our job properly for that first hour. In the first few cuts of the film, The Mandarin didnt feel real enough- there wasnt a sense of him being the real world, mostly because he was just looking down a lens and threatening the world. Shane and I always meant him to be, as well as an analogue for real life, a riff on Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now- and we both realised what we needed was a sense of the reality of what that character might be. But its almost like theres this second layer too- those images purposely connect with images from the last 15 years of terrorism weve been shown. Its interesting to note how quickly you can find those hot-button images go straight to a place of fear for us, and I think that that also relates to how the last 15 years have played out in news coverage. Heres the thing with The Mandarin- over commentary and satire and everything else, it was just the most entertaining and surprising version we could find. But the evolution of and how they ended up on screen is interesting.I think the problem with the heroes that Marvel Studios have brought to the screen so faris generally, for the public, none of them have a particularly memorable Rogues Gallery. If you think of the Hulk, theres really only a few interesting villains and theyve been covered. Nobody really knows any Iron Man villains apart from maybe the Mandarin
I honestly dont sympathise with the fans , and Im sorry didnt work for a really tiny, but vocal, minority of them. But there isnt a version of The Mandarin, for me, that wouldve worked in the Iron Man franchise.None of the heroes so far really have a timeless villain. Perhaps with someone like Captain America or Thor, for example, you have Red Skull and Loki- but thats it. Theres not many there who could be as great a cinematic villain for the general public as The Joker or Green Goblin.
I think it goes back to what Jon Favreau and Kevin Feige set with the first Iron Man, which is they set out a very clear, real-world context for who Tony Stark is. Sure, hes builds a suit that can fly and that is fantastical, everything else in that movie feels like it could exist in a real world, however heightened. I have a feeling if you look at that compared with the other characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that may be the reason Tony hits harder- it could also be because Robert is just so brilliant in that role, thats a huge part of too, I cant help but think that one factor is what Favreau put into the first movie was a sense of real life. Theres no Magic and no Space in Iron Man 3- those two things dont exist in an Iron Man movie (not including the Avengers, which is an ensemble piece). What we wanted was a techno-thriller set in a more real world than even The Avengers.When you were offered the job of screenwriter for Iron Man 3, what was your approach? Did you come to it with reverence and respect of both the comics and the previous films? Or did you come to it with almost an arrogance? With the mind-set that you were going to revolutionise what Jon had done before and make this a sequel worth doing?
Iron Man was beyond a passion project for me- I hold Iron Man as probably my favourite Superhero movie of the modern epoch. Because for me personally, what connected was the ability to real world dynamic but also not lose some of the colour and the literal vibrancy that Marvel Comics have- Iron Man managed to do all that, plus it had the kind of danger and swing that you dont normally get from your Hero in other Superhero movies. The second one didnt do that for me. It didnt connect as well- it was a trickier production and that was part of it. So when I took it upon myself to write a ridiculous, late-night Jerry Maguire-style document about what I would do with the third movie- which I hadnt been asked to do and was roundly ignored by Marvel when I first gave it to them- it all came down to a lot of things I loved about the first film, but also a sense of where does Tony go next?. I hadnt read any version of an Avengers script because there wasnt one around at that time! A lot of the feel of that initial document made it through. In it, I talked a lot about the American James Bond that is Tony Stark- its not a direct analogy because theyre such different characters, not least because Tony is a free agent, both of the World and of Capitalism, whereas Bond is essentially a ruthless authority figure.I see where youre coming from. Im sure most people would agree that the two major characters that have made it into the public collective conscious in the last decade would be Jack Sparrow and Tony Stark.
Yeah, I think so too. And I whats interesting about them, and also Daniel Craigs portrayal of James Bond, is that all of them are heroes with a sense of danger to them, and unpredictability. Thats definitely something people respond to- and if you look back to 70s movies, the idiosyncrasies of the heroes is what made them exciting. Even Redford, who was the kind of straightest arrow of 70s heroes- if you look at his roles now, there are some brilliant and peculiar choices there. I also think that the leading men that we have today are the ones inspired by those characters in the 70s, and I hope that our leading men of tomorrow dig deep into that history, too.Nowadays youve got great leading men like Downey and Cruise, but I personally connect more with them, or someone Redford or Gene Hackman, than what we seem to be getting now- studios get fresh-faced young actors in now to head up a tentpole franchise. They may be honing their craft, but they dont bring as much life experience to the screen- as an audience member its not as easy to relate to them.
I think thats absolutely true- its a personal thing, but thats true for me as well. I think thats whats interesting about Downey. He grew up a showbiz brat and he did it in public- his tribulations came in his 20s and 30s, so now what he brings to the screen is a version of that kind of damaged brilliance that the 70s guys had, its just that his came through a life in the industry, rather than through a post-World War Two, working-class existence which is what Hackman was . But even then, he was an anomaly. I just read William Friedkins autobiography , and even back then it was hard to convince the studio to have Hackman as the lead in The French Connection.And you had that with Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, as well.
Yeah, absolutely. The interesting thing was that the reason Friedkin was allowed to push Hackman into the picture was because Schneider was deemed enough of a leading man to kind of tick the boxes. And The Graduate was a very small movie when it was put together, and even then Mike Nichols had to fight . I think its always a fight- what I hope is that theres a weirdness allowed to sneak through in our leading men today. I think part of the problem is that in order to make it in your 20s or 30s, you have to been working in the industry for many years, and its harder for people to steal in the back door. I love James Badge Dale in Iron Man 3, I think hes brilliant. And he really reminds me of those character actors from the 70s, who would turn up in the sixth-on-the-bill role, and just steal their scenes. Theres something to him that feels really authentic. In real life, Badge keeps himself to himself- he brought his dog down to North Carolina, and spent most of his time jogging on the beach with it. Just solitary and kind of awesome, to be honest. Authenticity is a funny old word, particularly in the Entertainment industry, but I think when someone brings some rougher or quirkier edges from their real life to what youre doing, it cant help but make it more interesting. I was talking to someone about this the other day- about what defines a leading man. What defines a star, opposed to an actor? I think theres an argument that an actor bends themselves towards a role, and a star bends the role towards them. What makes it all so exciting, as well as difficult to predict, is What is that chemistry with the camera and the audience that makes a person feel like a leading man, rather than just having the role thats top of the call sheet?. It fluctuates and I dont think people manage to stay there as long as they want. A lot of the people coming through arent as old yet as our 70s heroes were when they were in their heyday. One of the things Im proud of is with Sir Ben- I love Sir Ben, I think Sexy Beast is one of the best performances of the last 15 years for my money- you cant look at his resume and say that every one of those movies is a classic. And I feel genuinely proud that we gave Sir Ben a forum to play, technically, two characters, and be the best that he can be. Hes loving it, he is f***ing loving it! Hes been massively complimentary about the material, and what I love about that is that Sir Ben is always offered great roles, but people will see our movie and are reminded of how good he is. As a screenwriter, its a reminder of your responsibility to service your actors with as distinctive a character as possible. Thats the reason that every actor in the world adores Quentin Tarantino. There is no character, big or small in any of his movie, whether you like them or not, that doesnt feel fresh. Theres no trope character in a single one of his movies.Coming back to Iron Man 3- If the opportunity arose to work on a fourth film, Would you be interested? Or do you feel youve given all you can to the mythos of that particular superhero?
It would involve me sitting down with Robert and Kevin, and working out whether I felt there was a story we could do that could top Iron Man 3, and I know that Robert will feel the same. And by the way, theres every chance I wont necessarily get invited to that table- because theres a chance that what works for Iron Man is what works for Mission: Impossible- a fresh team each time. But who knows? I adore the character- the more I work in this industry, the most I realise the importance of a genuinely magnetic leading man. So, its a discussion Id love to have, but if there is a fourth movie and Im not involved, Ill be proud of what we did with the third one.Is there anything you can tell us about your other upcoming projects? I notice that you seem to be involved with The Other F Word, Secretaries Day and The Mighty
The Mighty is something I boarded very briefly a couple of years ago- Ive not been a part of that for a long time, so Im not entirely sure what the status of it is, but its a brilliant comic book and if they can get it made, itd be great. Secretaries Day is an original idea of mine that Will Gluck is directing. Ive done a draft, but I cant work on the next draft of it because Ive got Mission: Impossible , so we found a couple of brilliant writers who are going to do the next draft, and hopefully at a certain point thatll go into production. The movie that Im writing and producing with Jason Segel (The Other F Word), is the most gentle thing Ive ever made, and Im loving it because of that. Its very loosely based on a really good little documentary that got made a couple of years ago about aging musician fathers. Theres a draft written and were just pushing forward with that and it might actually shoot next year. Its all in the hands of the movie gods. Directing is something Id love to do, but I want to take baby steps into it- Im working on a spec package Id like to direct with a producer called Mary Parent who is producing Godzilla and Noah.Iron Man 3 is out now in Cinemas.