Drew Pearce interview: Iron Man and the Marvel Universe

Drew Pearce chats to us about Iron Man 3, the new All Hail The King one-shot, and getting No Heroics onto DVD.

This interview contains spoilers for Iron Man 3.

Following his stint on the latest Iron Man film, writer Drew Pearce has dipped back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his new Marvel One-Shot All Hail The King, a short film which continues the story of Croyden’s finest, Trevor Slattery, as he finds himself in prison following the events of Iron Man 3.

So, we’ll start at the beginning. How did this get started? Did you pitch the idea to Marvel, did they pitch it to you? How did the ball get rolling?

Oh, it came from us, definitely. Over the last few years, I’ve talked to Kevin Feige and Louis D’esposito about tonnes of different ideas, and then the very first day that Sir Ben came on set and absolutely killed it as Trevor Slattery, I pitched him a one-shot and he said “Absolutely! Go and write it.” So I did, I wrote it in my hotel room that night! The script changed a little over the course of the next year or two, but that was how it came about. Well, that and me badgering Kevin and Louis to the point of utter annoyance almost every time I saw them about whether I could write and direct one.

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Ah, and that brings me nearly to my next question, which was about directing. Obviously you’re best known as a writer, so what prompted this shift?

Well, I got into TV and film just because I love making stuff, to put it in the most prosaic terms. I was a producer and writer, and showrunner on TV, and I directed shorts before I wrote TV and movies, then when I was lucky enough to get a couple of breaks I got sucked into the world of solely writing, which wasn’t particularly my intention. But this gave me an opportunity to get back into directing, which I sorely missed.

It’s a strange thing though, it feels like a muscle that stops working if you don’t exercise it, and then you start to wonder if the limb’s ever going to function again. So it’s gratifying that people seem to like the short, I’ve had some good feedback and I’m happy with how it turned out. Although, it makes it a bit easier when the way you ease yourself back into directing is with a Knight of the Realm. Sir Ben’s not only good at acting and has been for fifty years, but he was probably one of the most magnificent outlier actors of his generation. So don’t get me wrong, the reception probably hasn’t been a lot to do with me and has been a lot to do with my genius cast.

That’s very modest!

And totally true, unfortunately!

Okay, so, because we’re Den Of Geek I’m going to get the geeky questions in…

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I love that you think I won’t be getting geeky questions from everyone.

I bet I can outdo them.

Go for it.

So. Seagate Prison. In Marvel’s comic universe, it’s famously the prison where Luke Cage got his powers, and it’s where Trevor ends up in your one-shot. So what I want to know is where that came from. Was it someone at Marvel saying “Hey, so we’ve got this Luke Cage project coming up on Netflix…” or was it an easter egg you put in, or was it someone else’s thing entirely?

It’s interesting, actually. The thing about Marvel is that while there obviously is a masterplan, it’s not as big as people think. A lot of things go in just from the imagination or will of a very tiny creative team. The reason we used Seagate was just that I needed a prison to go on the back of Trevor’s jumpsuit and I love Seagate, and I especially love that it’s off the coast of Georgia, which seemed like an easy transfer from Miami where Trevor gets picked up by the cops. Plus it’s probably the most iconic of the Marvel Universe prisons.

Also… and this is the logic you can spiral into when you’ve got a whole cinematic universe to play with… one of the things I wanted was in order for Trevor to be as funny as possible, he has to be in the most dangerous situation possible. Seagate, certainly to a fan audience, is shorthand for somewhere that’s genuinely dangerous for someone like Trevor, which heightens the humour. It has to feel like he’s going to get killed by at least 50% of the people in the mess hall and Seagate’s a really quick signifier of that.

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And now even more geeky – the basic idea of a character interviewing The Mandarin to make a film of his life was the premise of one of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man annuals. Was this One-Shot specifically intended as your take on that story?

I’d love to say that was my intent. Obviously I’ve read that annual, I think it’s called the Story of My Life? [it is] And first of all it’s worth saying that I suspect everything I do in Iron Man’s world is influenced by Matt Fraction. I think it’s one of the great runs on the character. It’s as epoch-making and definitive as anyone else has been since the beginning. I consume his ideas voraciously and probably copied every one of them, subconsciously. So while it may well have been in there, it wasn’t my starting point.

Partly, that’s because it’s about a very different Mandarin and takes a very different turn. It’s arguably the darkest story in all of Invincible Iron Man, it’s just super-dark! And I love it for that. But truthfully, everything about the premise comes down to the practicality of making a short film like this. We don’t have much money to make it, we want something that’s dramatic, funny, has a bit of action… And really I only have the budget for two people sitting in a room. So an interview seemed like a good way into that.

So back to questions that people other than me might be interested in… Since you just mentioned the contrast between those two versions of the Mandarin – and not to spoil anything, but there are things in this short that address both versions of the character – what was your reasoning for doing your version? Was it a case of “If I don’t do this, someone else will?”

Well, Trevor in Iron Man 3 – and if this sounds highfalutin, I apologise – but Shane Black is a brilliant writer and director, and his vision going into Iron Man 3 was that it should have basis in real emotion and real themes. So one of the things we were looking at was false faces. In relation to Tony, he’s dealing with Iron Man suddenly being a bigger face than his own. And that combined with us wanting to use The Mandarin but not really finding a satisfying way to tie the character into the overall theme for the story to produce Trevor.

And now we’re done, the journey of the man they called the Mandarin can continue in different forms.

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Still, it’s one of the proudest things in my career, and I know Shane Black feels the same, is that we got Trevor Slattery to screen. Which is why, honestly, the main reason for doing the short was Sir Ben’s utterly incredible performance and getting to step into his head for another 15 minutes.

It is genuinely incredible, I could’ve watched him for hours.

It’s insane! We were so flabbergasted. He delivered the lines exactly as written, but they were so… it just goes to show that for a great actor, sometimes improv isn’t the way that they find the character. Sometimes it’s what they build on which just makes you go “I never saw that coming!” even though you wrote it.

Okay, and for our last question – this isn’t about Iron Man or the one-shot, but I have to ask it: who do we bug to get No Heroics back into print on DVD?

Oh my god! Tell me about it! I wish I knew, but a tiny campaign to get it on DVD or Blu-ray would be amazing. It’s actually BBC Video that hold the rights to it. And while it’s exciting that copies of the original DVD are changing hands for upwards of £200, it is also ridiculous. So yeah, Netflix, Hulu, whoever wants to take it, I wish we could get it on them all.

I’ll have to see if we can start a movement then, because it’s been way too long.

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Yeah, do it! Free No Heroics!

Drew Pearce, thank you very much.

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