You mentioned the comedy in the short. Are you encouraging improvisation from Kingsley the way Robert Downey Jr. will mix it up with his lines in the feature films?
Often in the Iron Man movies there’s a lot of improvisation, but actually Sir Ben’s whole thing is, being a Shakespearean actor, the reason he signs up for a role is on the page. He’ll bring new ideas into the room when you’re shooting together, a lot of which are great like reprising the “Ole, Ole, Ole” from the Liverpool chant as his actorly warm up. That was his idea and very good, as was throwing in an actual Sean Connery impression, which is still one of my favorite bits [in All Hail the King]. So, he’s super collaborative but he read the script and had zero changes at all which again is incredible and never happens.
You see the Captain America/anarchy symbol on his neck again in this short. Will we eventually learn what that means?
It’s another one of Killian’s co-opting concepts. I think the whole of Iron Man 3 is about symbols and fake faces we’re creating around demons and what are heroes, you know so the idea of a cross between the Captain American shield and an anarchy sign felt exactly like what Killian’s think tank would put together as an incendiary tattoo that the Mandarin would have. But I like the fact that Trevor really has got all the tattoos on him as well. That was part of it.
It’s not a role he can just walk away from. Trevor’s infamy at the start of this short reminds me of those actors who get known for one part and end up going to the same conventions year after year, saying their famous line. Only he’s doing it for his fellow inmates.
That’s absolutely a part of it. When we find Trevor at the beginning of this short, other than Tony, he’s the only one out of Iron Man 3 to get what he wanted. And even though he was arrested and beat up and had guns pointed at him, now he’s the celebrity that he always wanted to be and he loves it. He absolutely loves it. He is living a somewhat curtailed version of the celebrity life, but he’s also leading arguably a better life than he did when he was living with, like, four other actors at the age of 52 in some bedsit in the south of London. That’s the other fun thing about the starting point is that when we meet Trevor in the short, Trevor won. The Mandarin didn’t, but Trevor in his own way was victorious.
You flashback to some of his past. In the ‘80s he starred in a CBS pilot called Caged Heat – were you like, ‘I just have to get Ben Kingsley into some Don Johnson gear?’
Well spotted. Don Johnson pictures were the ones hung up around the office.
For people who won’t see the short yet, you describe it sort of like a Magnum P.I. mixed with the Cold War.
Exactly. It was a Magnum P.I. rip off pilot by CBS in 1985 and it was absolutely Trevor’s big break, a KGB agent private eye let loose on Los Angeles, partly there to clean up the Russian mafia in Los Angeles, partly there because of the dark secret in his past. What’s brilliant about Sir Ben is, he doesn’t stay in character but he definitely stays in the zone, so whenever we would do the Dmitri stuff, the Caged Heat stuff, he would be asking me tons of questions about who Dmitri was – we were literally just shooting these shots for a title sequence, and he’s like, “Why is he running from Russia? It’s not just that he’s coming to America, he’s running from Russia.” I was like, “Absolutely, there was this terrible thing – there was this drug bust that went wrong –” Suddenly I was writing Caged Heat!
I’m impressed that Marvel let you include such a complicated sequence as, essentially, a laugh. Especially in a short film like this.
I put it in [the script] as a single cut away gag essentially in the first draft of the script. And that was one that Kevin [Feige] said, “Oh you can go to town on that” and I was like, “Really? Because we don’t have that much budget.” And he was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Do the shots you want.” And it was that night and I actually mailed Stephen [Broussard], “I’m putting in a monkey with a Russian hat drinking vodka. Kevin did say to write whatever…” It made it through! Crystal the capuchin, best known for the Hangover trilogy, makes her Marvel debut in this short.
We do see other previously established Marvel characters in this One-Shot. Not to spoil anything, but that seems to be a running theme of the shorts.
There’s a kind of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern quality about it, what happens when a movie ends but you follow off a character to the side. That’s a huge part of their appeal. But I think again, it’s a testament to the comics themselves, and then the work that goes in to making each of the movies. A lot of these characters are rich enough that you care, you even give a s–t to follow them off screen. Or in the case of Item 47 following a prop off screen into a different story. That’s why there hasn’t been another cinematic universe that functions in the same way Marvel does. Star Trek and Star Wars, they have universes, but the way that they were explored was very linear. This one is you know, following different paths.
The One-Shots are credited with inspiring the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D…
Yeah, well that’s the incredible thing. I think it’s unlikely that we’ll do that because [All Hail the King] is more kind of like a character piece.
I’m thinking Caged Heat as a spin-off show!
Yes! ABC can pick up where CBS dropped the ball. It would have to be Caged Heat: The Next Generation, obviously. Maybe Adam Driver as the young Dmitri or Dmitri’s son in modern days. Caged Heat Jr.
Since the shorts follow all sorts of side characters, maybe the vodka-drinking Russian monkey could get a One-Shot.
[Laughs] That would be a Half-Shot.