Welcome to Round Two of BAM! POW! ZAP! It’s like a great, geeky cocktail party: in this corner we’ve got the spy next door who’s transforming into Asgard's smoothest warrior swordsman for Thor: The Dark World, over there’s the screenwriter who’s putting the snarky bon mots in Robert Downey Jr.’s mouth as both Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes; and by the exit is one of the all-time great storytellers who happens to be the iconic once-and-future Rebel princess of a Galaxy Far, Far Away.
Zachary Levi: From Fanboy to Fandral
It’s rare enough to get the chance to get cast as a nearly 50-year-old mainstay of the Marvel Universe once, let alone get a second chance, but that’s what happened to actor Zachary Levi. The Chuck star and avowed fanboy was originally cast as Fandral, the most swashbuckling member of the Asgardian adventurers known as the Warriors Three and close personal friend of the Thunder God himself in 2011’s Thor, but schedule conflicts with his then-in-production TV series required him to give up the gig to Josh Dallas. For the sequel, Dallas’ own commitments to his hit series Once Upon a Time left him unable to reprise the part clearing the way for Levi to finally cross the Rainbow Bridge and assume the mantle of role he’s been dying to play.
“I loved that he's dashing!” Levi exclaims. “I mean, literally: he's Fandral the Dashing. He's charming and kind of Errol Flynn-ish and good with a rapier – just incredibly confident and just stares fear and death in the face and kind of laughs at it and says, ‘Oh, it will be all right. Everything will be all right, I'm sure.’”
With the sequel upping the ante on the spectacle by further exploring the realm of the Norse gods (with Alan Taylor in the directors’ chair, a veteran of fantasy world-building from his tenure helming HBO’s Game of Thrones), Levi says the landscape Fandral will be cutting a swash through made his jaw drop. “It's amazing, man,” he says. “I mean, some sets were so huge. It was like Cecil B. DeMille Ten Commandments scale. And then, of course, a lot of cool green screen and special effects and things, there was also a lot of practical stuff. You'll maybe see me riding a horse and swinging a sword and kicking some butt – and I’m completely blonde. I'm very blonde in the movie!”
One of the most vital facets of Fandral for Levi was establishing an instant camaraderie with the other tightly bonded members of the Warriors Three – Ray Stevenson’s larger-than-life Volstagg and Tadanobu Asano’s taciturn Hogun, as well as their warrior-goddess pal Sif played by Jaimie Alexander. He says the chemistry came “very immediately – Everybody welcomed me with open arms, even though they had worked with Josh in the first one. They knew the situation and everything and they were very cool.”
Harder to master has been Fandral’s all-important warrior skills, he admits, even with a wide variety of fight and weapons training during his stint on Chuck. Learning his character’s specific style of horsemanship was especially tricky, he says, “because I was more used to riding Western. That was the only type of horseback riding I’d ridden, but they really wanted me to ride English/Spanish style, which is very, very different. So that took a little while just to kind of get that down, but then I felt like I did pretty good. I hope I did – I don't know! You can be the judge of that when you see the movie.”
Even before playing a god on screen, Levi’s had a taste of the deity treatment when he’s visited Comic-Con: he’s long been a beloved presence there, largely because of his palpable appreciation for the fans, and he says he can’t wait to return as a bona fide Marvel good guy.
“I love Comic-Con because it's a real place and people get to be real and get to be themselves, and I get to be myself,” he says. “So I do appreciate the love that I get there, but I also appreciate the realness of it. And it's kind of where Hollywood gets to go to just let their hair down and just geek out and be like, ‘Yeah, man – what are YOU nerdy about?’”
Iron Man 3 Writer Drew Pearce: From Tony Stark One-Liners to Deducing Sherlock Holmes’ Next Case
Iron Man 3 screenwriter Drew Pearce is the first to admit it: as much as he wanted the film to fit alongside the established epics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he was also dying to craft something that played perfectly as a Shane Black movie, given that Black was his co-writer and the man in the director’s chair.
“Young men of my generation have grown up watching Shane’s movies more than anything else,” says Pearce, who was raised on a steady diet of Black-penned films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Black’s directorial masterwork Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. “We’d never worked together before, and we were kind of brought together as an arranged marriage at first. I like to think it’s kind of like a Shane Black movie in and of itself: a grizzled veteran forced to work with young rookie – well, not young – and ultimately they ended up not only respecting each other’s techniques but actually becoming the tightest-knit team there is.”
He admits to prodding Black to include some of his signature motifs in Iron Man 3. “Part of the process was empowering Shane. Weirdly, it was my idea to put it at Christmas, because people assume Shane’s movies are all set at Christmas just because he likes how it looks. And don’t get me wrong: aesthetically it’s brilliant, and we haven’t seen Iron Man in that snowy, Middle America kind of aesthetic.
“But one of the reasons Christmas works in Shane’s movies is that is heightens everything,” adds the writer. “If you’re doing a movie about taking people away from the other people they love, at Christmas that’s kind of a little bit heightened, no? So if you’re doing a movie about lonely people as some of our bad guy characters are, then that kind of resonates at Christmas. And so even though Shane was like, ‘Oh, people will think it’s a Shane cliché,’ I was like, ‘No, it’s not a Shane cliché because you’re doing it in an Iron Man movie and that refreshes everything we’re doing.’
“The same kind of rule system applies for Sherlock 3 as it did for Iron Man 3, which is that Robert doesn’t HAVE to do anything any more. And so it’s more can you find something that is going to excite him? And that’s the part of Sherlock that we’re in at the moment. And we’ve got some interesting ideas that we’re kicking around….The key is a bit like doing Iron Man: You have to honor the history of the character but actually still make it really new and really dynamic. So it’s tough work!”
When Carrie Fisher Let Down Her Braids About Star Wars
And now in time for Star Wars Day on May the Fourth, let’s turn the clock back, not Long, Long Ago but just a few months back to late 2012. It was about a week before the galaxy-shaking announcement that Disney was both purchasing Lucasfilm and launching Star Wars films, and I was sitting with Carrie Fisher in a backstage dressing room at the Improv in Brea, California, where she’d just tested out a new one-woman show, Any Questions, in which she took the stage and spent two hours candidly fielding inquiries about her storied career and off-kilter personal life from the audience with a wit as fast as hyperdrive and cutting as a lightsaber. If she knew the news of Star Wars’ future was coming, she guarded it as secretively as the location of the Rebel Base on the fourth moon of Yavin.
But the lady behind Princess Leia did let her braids down about Star Wars past, onstage and off: For example, Fisher recalled for the audience a trip to London with The Empire Strikes Back cast in which they were received by Princess Margaret, whom her father, singer/lothario Eddie Fisher, had reportedly had a fling with. The story ends with Fisher successfully scoring a Quaalude-style drug made only in England at the behest of her friend John Belushi, and with Harrison Ford remarking, after being cornered for some by the real royal princess, that Fisher’s father “would f**k anyone.” After the show, I remarked how clearly the off-the-cuff memory amused her in the re-telling. “That was f**king brilliant,” she chuckled. “That’s the funniest thing Harrison ever said.”
She also pulled no punches when she showed a series of clips from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, the misguided 1978 TV anti-classic that mixed the worst elements of outdated variety shows with the cheesiest components of the then-recently released space opera – and then had her sing in character as Leia. “It’s shocking,” she told me later. “It was as if you deliberately tried to make something to punish people for liking Star Wars, because people have this huge appetite for Star Wars – something that will kill it. It’s devastating. It’s a total mystery how that happened. It is a car crash. It is a terrorist attack. It’s worse than the worst dental work you ever had.”
“It is strange,” she said of the film saga’s enduring uber-popularity. “It’s like a scent that lives in the rug. It’s our own fairy tales. The Grimms were for a hundred years ago. So what is it for our generation? What is it that we can relate to? With Grimms' fairytales, it’s all folksy and hobbits and we like all that, but this was just a whole other landscape to imagine on, and people had a real hunger for it.”
When I pointed out that the first thing I noticed driving to the venue was seeing the marquee emblazoned with the words “Carrie Fisher from Star Wars,’” her eyes sparkle. “It’s like a land,” she said. “I’ve never seen that before. That made me happy. There was an area code, and there’s a stamp, and we have our own currency. ‘From Star Wars,’ like ‘From L.A.,’ ‘From San Francisco.’ I’m from Star Wars."