Jeff Ford became a part of MCU legend when Joe and Anthony Russo revealed that their longtime editing partner came up with Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) last words to Thanos (Josh Brolin), “I am Iron Man”, in Avengers: Endgame. When I recently sat down with Ford—who also worked on the Russo’ previous MCU entries The Winter Soldier, Civil War, and Infinity War—on the Disney lot, he revealed that there were dozens of alternate versions shot of Tony’s last moment, thanks to Downey Jr’s process.
“The way Robert works is, he sometimes likes to explore,” Ford said. “He likes to try different things. And because he’s an intuitive actor, he likes to do that on camera in case he hits something that is special. Very often he does.”
The editor went on to explain how most of these alternate takes were improvisations from the long-time Tony Stark actor.
“When we were putting together the end of the movie, when we shot Tony’s last moment in the first round, we shot a bunch of different options. Robert had different ideas…We give him space to do that. Joe and Anthony are great about improv. We shot a run of different performances for that last moment. Some of them were crazy. Some of them we would never have used.”
Pressed for specifics, Ford wouldn’t exactly go into detail on the crazier takes—”Part of that is the actor’s process, I don’t want to peel back the curtain on it too much,” he said—but he did dive into the “emotional, raw” versions and why the finished product eventually needed to act as a counter-balance to Thanos.
Some of them were jokes. Some of them were obscenities. Some of them were completely emotional, raw, insane things that he was doing. And then some of them were combinations of all three of those things. What we found as we were cutting the scene wasn’t so much that we needed a special last line for Robert, but that we needed a moment between Thanos and Tony. A moment that wasn’t some kind of transaction, but literally ‘this is how I want it to be’ and ‘this is how it is.’ That would give the audience that moment. The exchange where Thanos says ‘I am inevitable’ and Tony says ‘I am Iron Man’, that couplet is what makes that work. When we found Thanos’ line, it led us to Tony’s line. We found Thanos’ line as part of a structure in the script, he says that line three times in the movie. At the beginning, before his head is chopped off, in the middle he hears himself say it again, and then at the end. That symmetry is also why it’s interesting, that was a discovery while we were editing.”
Surprisingly, the take that was the creative team’s favorite for the longest time featured Tony, firmly established as being all about them quips, not saying anything at all.
“In that version, Thanos didn’t say anything either. He had the gauntlet. He looked at him like, ‘I got you.’ Snapped. Looked. Couldn’t believe it. Turned to Tony. Tony raised his hand and snapped. It was beautiful. It worked really, really well. But what we found, though, was Thanos needed an arc in Endgame. That arc was his sense of inevitability. The story we’d been telling was that Thanos’ pitch in that movie is ‘no matter how many times you try and stop me, you can travel in time, you can do all these things, you’re never going to win.’ It’s a sense of destiny, of ‘I will always be the one who wins.’ They’re trying to undo destiny. They’re going against what happened. For the movie to have thematic coherence, the end of the movie needed to be Thanos saying, ‘I told you. You cannot win,’ and for Tony to say, ‘But we can’.
Be on the lookout for more from our interview with Ford throughout the week, and for even more Endgame good0times here’s a preview of the upcoming Simpsons MCU parody featuring the Russos and Kevin Fiege.