The Marvel One-Shots have continued to increase in quality, and the latest one, All Hail the King, is the best yet. Written and directed by Iron Man 3 co-writer Drew Pearce, All Hail the King is funny, clever, has some exciting twists, and is probably best viewed with a group of friends. At the very least, it’s a welcome extra on the upcoming Blu-ray for Thor: The Dark World.
I recently spoke with Pearce about the short film, the process of creating a One-Shot, the “brutal” shooting schedule, the generous support from Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and Co-President Louis D’Esposito, working with Ben Kingsley again, and more. We also talked about the possibility of his British sitcom No Heroics reaching a wider audience, his script and enthusiasm for Runaways, if he’s ever talked with Whedon about it since Whedon did a run on the comics, and more. Hit the jump to check out the interview. Thor: The Dark World will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 25th. Click here to pre-order.
DREW PEARCE: Yes, I apologize. I sound like I’m talking to you like I’m underwater, but hopefully I’m coherent, but if I go into some micro-ramble, please edit me to sound like a normal human.
Oh, there’s no way I’m doing that. It’s going to be so much more entertaining.
PEARCE: [laughs] Okay, that’s good to know. I feel reassured.
I hope you feel better. I wanted to start off by asking how early in the process did you all start developing the One-Shot and how do you make sure it fits in with Marvel’s plans for their vast universe?
PEARCE: The thing about the One-Shots and Marvel in general is that, as you clearly know, it’s a very tight-knit, small creative team that drives…It’s basically a cottage industry that’s driving a gigantic juggernaut of a universe. So these things tend to come up organically. In the case of this specific One-Shot, “organically” is perhaps putting too fine a point on the fact that I hassled Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito every day for two years to get them to let me write and direct one of their shorts. There were tons of different characters and versions I went through over the course of those couple of years, and then we were on set, in fact of Iron Man 3, and it was the first day Sir Ben had come in and done Trevor. And Kevin and Louis and I were sitting together at lunch and roughly at the same time, Kevin and I turned to each other and said, “I’m just wondering: should we do a Trevor Slattery short?” And that’s where it begun. I actually went back to the hotel that night and wrote a first version—in the glamorous corporate housing at the outskirts of Willmington, North Carolina—the first version of All Hail the King.
PEARCE: First of all, you have good eyes. Well spotted. One of the versions of the movie that was shot, Trevor does indeed…What happens in the version of the movie was shot is that I think one of the reasons we got away with, let’s face it, quite a few drug references to Trevor in Iron Man 3 because that’s actually a plot point. Trevor has stolen one of the Extremis injectors, basically comes out onto the oil rig, and says “You tried to lock me in the cupboard, you incandescent nobs,” and jabs himself, and then promptly blows up. It was, quite frankly, the most Monty Python of all of the beats we had in Iron Man 3. And it’s a testament again to how much latitude Kevin gave Shane and I in the script. But what we had was much, much better than that version.
So the original short was more of a prequel that explored some of Trevor’s past life. And when we were in the edits and the reshoots and Trevor lived, it became…Prequels inevitably lack a sense of drama. They’re engine has to be foreboding and foreshadowing rather than genuinely exciting because you inevitably know where the character is going to end up. What is more exciting, especially when you’ve only got 15 minutes to make a movie, is to put the character in a position where you don’t know what’s going to happen. And Trevor is a character who’s kind of become synonymous with zig-zagging and surprises, so it’s a much better place to put a Trevor Slattery short. A “What happens next?” version
Is there a sense of the One-Shots where you have to keep upping the ante? So for instance, the last one, Agent Carter, has more action than the one that comes before and the one before that. So when it came to you, what was your thinking on this one?
PEARCE: [laughs] I think it was a natural sense of that happening like in the Marvel movies themselves. Iron Man 1 barely has any action in it comparatively to the shape of the Marvel movies now. And partially that’s budget and partially it’s ambition. You have to beat the bar you already set yourself. For me, this One-Shot, I was aware I didn’t want it to just be a skit. The whole point of the One-Shot is, truthfully, to play with Sir Ben and Trevor Slattery again. But I feel like everything is better when it has a dramatic and dynamic engine at its heart. So going in I knew I wanted it to have action elements and almost sci-fi elements in some ways. But really what it is is a kind of character piece. I know that sounds grandiose for a Blu-ray extra and I know that, but it’s definitely all of those lofty tensions that we approached Iron Man 3 with and what I approached the short with as well.
You mentioned Marvel being a “cottage industry” with blockbuster ambitions, and I was curious what the experience of working with them has been like as opposed to your British TV series, No Heroics.
PEARCE: Well there’s not really any comparison because it’s like the shapes of those experiences are so different that it’s apple and oranges. What I can say is that Marvel, compared with the other Hollywood stuff I’ve done is also markedly different too, and that’s because they’re both the producer and the studio, so there are less hoops to jump through. The filtration system is more direct. It also means that if you want to do something and Kevin doesn’t like it, it’s not going to happen (heads up). But if you do have an idea, however bold, and Kevin likes it, then he’s going to fight for you the whole way. And that’s remarkable. And I think the ongoing and even increasingly quality of Marvel movies is a testament to Kevin’s—not just his vision for an MCU—but his second-to-second, moment-to-moment energy and obsessions with quality. A Blu-ray extra, albeit the most extravagant Blu-ray extra in history, there was absolutely not reason for the President of Marvel and the Co-President Louis D’Esposito to spend as much time in the edit suite with me as they did with Captain America 2. And I think that speaks to Marvel’s approach to moviemaking more eloquently than anything else could. Kevin cares so much about everything that goes out the door, and he never lets it go out the door unless it’s up to his standard.
PEARCE: I think the word that springs to mind most is “brutal”. We had three days to shoot it all.
PEARCE: And we were unbelievably lucky to get Sir Ben for those three days. I am eternally grateful to him for the fact that he flew in, and I think he had done seven movies back-to-back. He took three days out to come slum it with me on my student film in a 100-degree, disused women’s prison in the east side of L.A. And not only did that, but brought his AAA-game every single second of it. It’s ridiculous and amazing to be making something like this and be running two small units simultaneously. Trying to shoot Caged Heat while also shooting All Hail the King was a challenge in and of itself. So there was a little bit of sweating. I won’t lie; I was a sweaty mess for three solid days, but it was worth every second of it.
I’m starting to run short on time with you, and there are a couple of other things I wanted to touch on. Circling back to No Heroics, I know DirecTV has the rights to the series, but are there any plans to bring it to a wider audience by releasing it on streaming or DVD?
PEARCE: It’s a funny thing when you’re a showrunner in that you have an idea, and then battles for three years to get the pilot script paid for, then get the pilot made, and then the series happens, and then suddenly you realize at the end of the process that you have zero control over the property itself. As Edgar [Wright], Simon [Pegg], and Jessica [Hynes] found, there was a “rogue” remake of Spaced a few years back for an American network.
I would love for No Heroics to get a wider audience, although I suspect I would be ashamed if that happened because it’s a bit like showing someone your primitive first sketches five years later. But I wish there was a world where it was on Netflix for sure both here and in England. It’s reached this ridiculous thing where copies of the DVD are going for $350, which is stupid because it’s really just six half-hour episodes of a silly TV show, that I love dearly, and was definitely my calling card to doing other stuff. But there must be—it would make sense that there’s a more direct and cheaper version of accessing that show.
I was over at my dad’s place and I happened to see it was on and I watched it and really enjoyed it.
PEARCE: Oh, I’m glad! I didn’t even know DirecTV still had the rights to it. I didn’t know it was still on. It was on it for a couple of years, but they still may have it. Basically, the BBC still owns the rights. I really hope at some point—I guess basically I have to become much more appreciably successful than I already am at the moment, and then someone might go, “Hey! We can make some money off of this!” and that will be the driving force behind getting it to a larger audience.
I think if they say “From the writer of Iron Man 3” it might move some copies.
PEARCE: You’d think, but then maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe it looks like “From the co-writer of Iron Man 3” looks like some bloke who wrote some sequel one time.
I think you’re being a bit harsh on yourself.
PEARCE: Try to put that on a sticker!
Also, I’m a big fan of Runaways, and I know that process is in stasis right now, but I was curious: When you were writing the script, were you working from the first arc of the series—which had a pretty surprising twist—or did you move to later in the comics.
PEARCE: My take on Runaways was in a few cinematic ways. I adore the comics, and the first thing I ever talked to Marvel about. In my first general meeting with Marvel, they were like, “We love No Heroics! If there was anything you’d like to do at Marvel, what would it be?” and Runaways was at the top of my list. I think Brian [K. Vaughan] is—often a misused word—a genius. Saga currently shows that as well as anything else.
PEARCE: So yeah, I had used the first arc as my template. It’s a hugely cinematic arc. I can’t really comment on how I used the twist, but I think thus far you can see from some of the stuff I’ve done I do quite like a twist. You can definitely presume that some of the zig-zagging that goes on in Runaways the comic made it into the movie. But I think the big difference being that—as grandiose as it sounds—cinematically I wanted it to reflect (and this is going to sound ridiculous), but for me, Runaways can be The Godfather of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And The Pride in my version were an even more branded crime syndicate. I think if you then look at the arcs and character twists you were talking about, and that lineage, it’s in a very analogous way. Plus, what I think is so original about Runaways is that it takes sort of the Spider-Man conceit of “With great power comes great responsibility” and I actually played that out on the other side of the fence. The kids realize that through the misuse of power by their parents, and then have to find their own journey like it’s a mirror of that. I think there is nothing like it in the world, in the world of superhero comics and in superhero movies. And I think it could be brilliant. As you can hear, I’m so deeply passionate about it, and I have no idea whether or not it gets made.
PEARCE: No, actually. I never have. Whenever I see him, he is rushing down a corridor to a vis-effects meeting for one or another Avengers movie, and I’m slightly walking less busily in the other direction, and we say, “Hello.” It’s not actually something we’ve talked about. His run on the comic would definitely be a contender for third in the movie trilogy you would do with Runaways when it starts to get deeply cosmic and time travel becomes more of an expansive part of the story. And I love what he did with it. If anyone’s going to take over for BKV, it has to be Joss Whedon.