Marvel short films (known as Marvel One-Shots) have traditionally explored supporting characters who have appeared in the films’ universe, including Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson, now the central character of the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Captain America’s 1940s flame Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell (soon to headline her own TV project).
Now it's the Mandarin's turn. Ben Kingsley reprises his delightful and surprising Iron Man 3 role as the daft thespian Trevor Slattery, hired to impersonate an international terrorist in the Marvel short All Hail the King, an extra on the Blu-ray release of Thor: The Dark World (new this week).
Drew Pearce, who shared screenwriting duties on Iron Man 3 with Shane Black, wrote and directed the new short, which was green-lit after the enthusiastic response to Kingsley’s feature-film performance.
“I spoke to Sir Ben about it while we were the shooting the movie, but these things kind of tend to come and go,” said Pearce, with Kingsley at a recent Hollywood screening and Q&A for the short. “And then we were in a big meeting, just like kicking stuff around, and it was Joss [Whedon] who said, 'Can you get Sir Ben to do one of these?' I was like, 'I don't know. I mean, if he likes the script, I guess. There's a chance – he loves Trevor.' And Joss was like, 'If you can get Sir Ben Kingsley, you should probably do the one with Sir Ben Kingsley.' And he was right, clearly.”
Kingsley recalled initial talk of a prequel concept exploring how Trevor Slattery was recruited to pose as the mysterious Mandarin, whose existence was hinted at in earlier Iron Man films, “so I knew that something might happen, but then after the movie, I didn't hear anything for a bit. Then suddenly, Drew approached me out of the blue with, 'You know what? We're not going that way, we're going forward: we're going to see what happens to him after he's arrested, after he's taken out of that police car and goes off into prison. So let's see how he survives it.' Trevor is a great survivor – that's what I like about playing him.”
At the screening, Kingsley, Pearce and Marvel head Kevin Feige recounted what sounded like a deliriously fun “making of” experience, including creating an elaborate '80s-era TV credits sequence for Caged Heat, Trevor Slattery’s near-breakthrough role as a transplanted Russian cop. It also features a cameo by Crystal the capuchin monkey of The Hangover fame and actual music by the ubiquitous '80s TV-theme composer Mike Post (The Rockford Files, Magnum P.I., The A-Team).
Kingsley, who admitted he hopes he gets another chance to inhabit his hedonistic Marvel alter ego, said he's been offered more comedic roles than have typically come his way throughout his career. “It's very gratifying,” he mused. “I started life in theater as more of a comic actor, and the skill of it, the technique of it, and the pleasure of making people laugh always appeals to me.”
Asked if his short film directorial debut might be a prelude to a more extended stint behind the camera or a second screenplay outing, Pearce laughed off the notion that he might have any control over that choice. “You don't call Marvel – they call you, I think,” he said. “I love working with them. I've worked with them for four years now, I owe Kevin Feige an awful lot as regards to my career, so I would love to do more stuff with them. I think they like working with me, too. I think it all just depends on the right project coming along. I know at the moment, as ever, the projects that are being made are the ones that take up everyone's mind space, but we shall see. There are conversations.”
And in a perfect world, would Pearce like to write for Tony Stark again? “Look, there are a bunch of Marvel characters that I'd love to write for,” he says. “Tony was one that I just enjoyed immensely. You're working with Robert [Downey Jr.] – there aren't many Roberts in the world, so yeah, I'd love to go back there. But I have a feeling that Iron Man now exists in the Avengers’ universe. I'd be very surprised if there was an Iron Man 4.”