Following a screening of Iron Man 3 on Sunday night, Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Ben Kingsley met with the press at a conference in Beverly Hills on Monday to answer questions about the new Marvel Studios film based on the superhero created by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Stan Lee and Larry Lieber. ComicsAlliance was there to hear the uncommonly jovial cast's remarks about working with acclaimed writer-director Shane Black on the much anticipated sequel; the challenges and pleasures that come with the third installment of a successful event movie franchise; Iron Man 3's peculiar nature as a followup to two different films; and the cast's own kind of on-set armor wars. The group also addresses questions about the film's prominent theme of terrorism in light of the bombing attacks on Boston earlier this month.

SPOILER WARNING: While the major plot twists are not discussed explicitly in this post, some more minor spoiler content remains. Proceed at your own risk.Our detailed Iron Man 3 review and summary is forthcoming, but here's the spoiler-free studio synopsis that will help set the stage for the topics addressed below.

Marvel's "Iron Man 3" pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy's hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

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On Pepper Potts' journey throughout the trilogy:

Gwyneth Paltrow: I feel really, really lucky that I got to play Pepper for that reason, because very rarely do you start at such a distinctive place and end up somewhere else. I really loved their relationship in the first movie when she was a supplicant and cleaning up his messes. To get to where she is all the way at the end of the trilogy, it was a big transformation. I think one of the things that I loved the most was that she really stepped into her power in all areas. You do see her as a very intelligent and articulate CEO; an equal in her relationship with Tony, where she wants her needs met as well, while still remaining a very supportive woman in his life; and of course she turns into... a superhero! Or sort of. It was a great transformation and I felt very lucky to be a part of it.

Gwyneth Paltrow: I have to say, one of the most thrilling things about going all over the place and talking about this movie is people really love to see Pepper in the suit and kicking ass. So I would come back. In the comics she becomes Rescue, her own person.

Robert Downey, Jr.: And she marries Happy Hogan.

On the development of The Mandarin:

Ben Kingsley: It's all in the script. [Screenwriters] Drew [Pearce] and Shane [Black] presented us with a wonderful document and there's very little straying off the written word. Whenever we do improvise, it's minimal, just to really sharpen one or two ideas we were playing with on the set. But it's really all there [in the script]. And I do respond to the written word and I do love to see it down on the page. It was all there.

I tried to give the Mandarin, in his political broadcasts, a rather unnerving sense of righteousness. Make him almost paternalistic, patriarchal. That's where the style of his delivery comes from, and his weird iconography was there to disconcert and completely scatter any expectations about where he might be coming from. The line "You will never see me coming" voices that unpredictability that he has. It was a great script, it was a wonderful read, and we stuck very closely to it.

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On acting in Iron Man movies:

Robert Downey, Jr.: Once we let him off the chain, we found that [Ben Kingsley] was a glorious improvisor. And the ideas, without giving away his character arc, were just flowing out of him. Drew and Shane had a good document; the story is really good, the twist is really good. But I'll leave it to my costars to describe what working with me on most of our other scenes is like. And they've gotten used to it and they're great at it. Don?

Don Cheadle: You want me to say what you paid me to say?It's great to come back this time around. Shane almost coined and put the stamp on buddy action movies. It was great to see the whole movie put together at the end because [the actors are] on such different tracks. I didn't know what Gwyneth was doing for half the movie. It was great to see it. "Oh, that's what you guys were doing over there." I saw Sir Ben twice on the set. So it'd be great to have another bite of the apple, for me personally, [to work with these people]. We have a ball. And Robert is a prince, as you all know.

Gwenyth Paltrow: These movies work because Robert plays Tony Stark. Not only because of the similarities in their own lives and his specific brand of vulnerability and strength and humor and all of those things, but because Robert has a really big picture creative mind about what these movies should feel like. Marvel are amazing at the stunts and the CGI and the action and everything, but I think one particular strength of Robert's that we don't see on screen is the fact he's always asking, what is the big picture here? How can we make it feel real? How can we make it feel like something we care about and want to watch? I think that's why the movies keep working and why they're not a weaker carbon copy of the one before.

Ben Kingsley: It does come from Robert. Whatever the context, whatever the scene, there's always a quest for sincerity, a quest for the genuine, a quest for putting the human dance on the screen. All generations will respond to that. Children respond to sincerity. Robert is a guiding actor who will always debate, where is the sincerity in the film, where is its heart? That will appeal to children of all ages, to use a rather hackneyed phrase.

Robert Downey, Jr.: Sir Ben is correct in that in some way I try to be some kind of guiding light. But every bit as often I would go to Gwyneth and be like, "Oh my god, what are we doing? What is this scene?" She always points true north. Jon said it the first time, she's the heart of the movie.

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On Tony Stark's partnership with Harley, a young boy played by Ty Simpkins:

Robert Downey, Jr.: Shane Black had this idea of a kind of Capra-esque departure. I think we all knew that we were taking risks and we were kind of out of what would have been familiar territory. His idea of a superhero running into a little kid in the heartland of America I think wound up being a wise choice. A calculated risk.

On Tony Stark and James Rhodes' friendship:

Don Cheadle: Something Robert and I talked about was, let's really kick this relationship off. Let's see who these guys are. A lot of fun for me on this movie was getting to do a lot of action outside of the suit. Getting to work with the stunt team and getting to do a lot of the cable work. It's like being a kid playing with the best toys. But I think you see the relationship strengthened in this movie and it answers the promise that I think was made at the end of Iron Man 2, in the Japanese garden where these guys are busting each other's chops. They're friends but they really help balance one another and I think that came to fruition in this movie.

On writer-director Shane Black:

Robert Downey, Jr.: I think it would be nice to go down the row here and use some describing words or anecdotes [about Shane]. When we were night-shooting, they'd yell "Cut!" and then he would run somewhere because it's the only time someone couldn't ask him a question, when he was in a full run. He ran across the street and the next thing I knew he was sitting down on the sidewalk... there was a cable and he hit it at such a clip that it had thrown him on a side, dislocated his shoulder --

Gwyneth Paltrow: This is not a funny story!

Robert Downey, Jr: He's fiiiiine.

Gwyneth Paltrow: He had cracked ribs and he's all bloody and --

Don Cheadle: It just gets better!

Gwyneth Paltrow: I can only speak for myself, but when I started Iron Man 3 I was very uncomfortable with the fact that [Iron Man and Iron Man 2 director] Jon [Favreau] wasn't there directing. Jon cast the movies, he's responsible in part for The Avengers. It was just weird that he wasn't there directing. But as we went on I really warmed to Shane and his terrible outfits. He is so sharp, he is so smart and his dialogue is incredible. What we started with on this movie that we didn't start with on the first two films was a really excellent, finished screenplay. It really shows in the film. Shane is really super-talented. He took it up a notch, which was really difficult to do. I ended up having a really incredible amount of respect for him.

Ben Kingsley: I only remember one terrible outfit, I don't remember plural terrible outfits. He has a great attribute as a director -- one of many great attributes -- is that the director will give you the role and then he will let go. This is a wonderful quality that he has. There are directors, lesser in confidence or skill, who make the actor feel very uncomfortable because you feel you're auditioning for them every day. And that is a terrible feeling on the set. Shane has this wonderful ability with his own confidence to say to the cast, "There's your role, I'm just going to film it." That's a really good energy to have on the set.

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On Iron Man 3 as a sequel to both Iron Man 2 and The Avengers:

Robert Downey, Jr.: It's weird when one movie that's connected to another doesn't reference that movie at all, you know? I think it would [show a lack of confidence] if it didn't. So, I just liked the idea of this kid getting under [Tony's] skin. I like the idea of kids bringing their parents to the verge of an anxiety attack and then saying "What's wrong with you?" after they put you there. But we needed a reason so we looked at the bigger picture of this continuance of stories, and you just kind of plug things in like an operator. "You know what, that fits here." Again, we're always aware [of the audience]. They're going to ask you that question, "In a post-Avengers world, what's it like for Tony..." so you have to have thought about it and addressed it.

Robert Downey, Jr.: It's a complex thing. Kevin and Shane are the ones who really have to hammer out where all these strings go and how everything moves something when you pull [one].

On Marvel Studios' post-credits scenes:

Robert Downey, Jr.: Let me explain this to my costars. We shoot those easter eggs, which are after the credits, which gets everyone real excited --

Don Cheadle: Huh. I've never sat through the whole thing. When Rhodey's off the screen I just walk out.

On Iron Patriot vs. War Machine and general "suit envy":

Don Cheadle: Well Iron Patriot is about three kilos heavier, so I prefer War Machine.

Don Cheadle: I know in the second one, Robert was putting his suit on and I was putting mine on and he said, "Yeah, I told them from 1 to 2 that they really had to make these changes. This is a lot more lightweight!" And I was like, "Mine weighs... seven... thousand... pounds!"

Gwyneth Paltrow: These guys are wimps, okay? The suit is not that bad.

Robert Downey, Jr.: She wore the suit maybe twice. It's an accumulative effect!

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On younger fans, adult themes and the violence in Boston:

Don Cheadle: Especially in light of the events of the last week, we've been asked if there are any allusions between what's happening in the real world and what's happening in the film. Are we trying to make a statement? Clearly this movie was in the can before anything transpired in the last week. But as Robert mentioned earlier, the job of this film is to entertain. If we're lucky enough to, outside of that, have someone's mind changed about something that's happening in the real world or [feel] a sensitivity that wasn't there before or a deeper understanding, that's an ancillary byproduct that we couldn't anticipate. I couldn't have, anyway. We're really trying to give people the ability to go into a darkened room and have a couple of hours of pure enjoyment. If anything else affects them outside of that, it's an unintended consequence.

Robert Downey, Jr.: I think Sir Ben will find it very interesting to have an entire generation of moviegoing folk, also kids, identifying him with this [terrorist] character. I think once you have that kind of feedback, it's not like you don't figure that into what you're doing. Disney acquired Marvel but Marvel was already mindful of this stuff. These aren't those kind of PG-13 bordering on "how did this ever get past the ratings commission?" movies. We're really thoughtful about this stuff. I think even in [Sir Ben's] character's transition, there's something that allows for the air to be taken out of the darkness of it.

Gwyneth Paltrow: We do live in an unsafe world. That's a true thing. I'm dealing with this now with my seven-year-old. He's learning that the world is unsafe and there are people who do harmful things. I don't think there's anything wrong with presenting that idea. We can't lie to our children and pretend that the world is perfect and everybody's happy and everybody's out there to do good. It's part of a bigger conversation. I know that after my children saw the movie, I had a conversation with my son about it. It's a good, contained place to have a conversation.

On the future of the Iron Man franchise:

Robert Downey, Jr.: It's funny, these things tend to come out of creative discussions. You always say when you're shooting, "Oh wouldn't it be great..." but a lot of those things have kind of come true already. I was always saying, "I want to see Pepper in the suit, I want to see her experience what Tony gets from it. I want her to help him transcend it." Wish fulfillment happens pretty quickly in the Marvel Universe. I don't have any particular goals right now.

Robert Downey, Jr: The future, as usual, is uncertain. I think the great thing is that we never could have known what and who was going to come together for the third Iron Man and usually the third of anything struggles to meet the second one, let alone the first one, in all earnestness things are very much in flux right now. Marvel has their plans and we're all living and growing. We'll see what happens.

Iron Man 3 opens May 3 in the U.S.

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