The high-tech and introspective film from Shane Black and Marvel Studios casts Pearce as Aldrich Killian, an endlessly ambitious and wealthy man whose numerous, insurmountable disadvantages -- both physical and, well, socially -- cause him to run afoul of seemingly everyone he meets. Most notable among them is Tony Stark, whose brutal snubbing at the start of the film forms a crucial link in a devastating chain called Extremis.
Killian's complex journey was the subject of our candid interview with Pearce, who also addressed what he described as a sometimes hazardous relationship an actor can have with an adaptation's source material, like "Iron Man" comic books. Pearce also discussed with us the film's references to the theme of anonymous power in a world of technology, and why he thinks that notion could be bogus, and reveals an element of his character's prowess that was left on the cutting room floor.
WARNING: Mild spoilers
Moviefone: "Iron Man 3" is inspired by the Warren Ellis-scripted, Adi Granov-illustrated "Extremis" comic book. Did you read that to get a background on your character, Aldrich Killian? In the early stages of arriving [on location] in North Carolina and starting the film, I started asking questions about when [the comic] was out and [Marvel] sent me a bunch of stuff. So I read it and said, "Okay, you've taken from this and from that," and then I put them down. Because ultimately I find that unless the source material is really helpful, it actually becomes more of a hinderance, to be honest. You start to realize you've got to sort of go through all the processes and all the steps that the writers have done to compile the character you're actually playing in the movie.
You mean, at that stage you're doing the adaptation yourself? Absolutely. So I find if i don't have a problem with the script, if everything is making sense and working for me, I'd almost rather not go back into that world [of source material]. I know it's a tricky run at this because the comics are sacrosanct. And it's not even so much about the changing of [the material], it's actually more about sitting down with people who are comic fans and them going, "What do you think about this?" and you just don't want to be the guy that goes, "I don't know because I haven't read it." But the truth is, I don't know because I haven't read it [laughs].
Your character goes through a big change in this film. Someone described it as him having an Act I and an Act III, but we don't see what happens to him in the intervening years, between when he was introduced as hopeless and returned in a position of power. What's your take on who Killian is when he starts out and how he gets to where he is later in the film? The word "difficulty" was a prominent word when I was thinking about the earlier Killian. He's having difficulty physically, he's difficult for other people because he's irritating. His eagerness and his ambition and his social awkwardness are a little out of control. It was important to try and get my head around someone of that ilk, who was sympathetic but also annoying such that Tony was able to say, "Keep away, buddy, you're really too much for us" without Tony being a total a**hole. Tony's got his stuff going on [with Maya Hansen] and I've just jumped into a lift to get an invite to a party that I'm not invited to.
Do you see Killian as a victim of bullying? Totally, he is.
Bullying by Tony Stark? No, not just by Tony Stark. We don't see the thousand other times that Killian probably annoyed somebody and got told to piss off as well. I just think that's relevant to see it happen by Tony Stark. I would hope that people don't think that's the only time he's been bullied and that's the only thing that propels him forward.
Speaking of that moment, there's a line there that I was hoping you could expand on because it was very intriguing. The notion of Killian finding "power in anonymity." It's a really strange one. He sees himself as anonymous because people like Tony don't see him, or do but they go, "Yeah, yeah, whatever." So he talks about the power of utilizing that and taking advantage of that and working from behind the scenes. Which as you know after having seen the film is sort of a clever stroke.
Ironically, though, with the advent of Extremis and him proving his physicality and social graces and charm and so forth, he becomes somebody that people might notice more than they had before. Strangely he's not as anonymous now as he was then. And because of the creation of this ego... you know when someone commits a crime -- apparently this happens, I don't know [laughs] -- they sort of hover around the crime scene because they want to see the reaction to it? I think, subconsciously a part of them wants to be caught. I think when people do negative things they kind of what it to end, they want to be caught and they want to be found out. I think Killian probably wants the limelight. It's complicated. I think it's an odd, messy sort of ground. It's a tricky thing because the story's not about Killian, you don't see all the moments offscreen, obviously.
Killian is framed as a tech guy, and the concept of anonymity is interesting in that context. If you look online you see a lot of people who find anonymity as a place where they find power. That's a way they can express themselves, band together and fight back against people. It's kind of weird, though. It's a little like when people say Facebook and tweeting is all about communication. I actually think it's narcissistic, I don't think it's about communication at all. I actually think the internet, as much as people talk about being anonymous, there you are elevating your ego and you are being seen in a way that's a little bit like an actor. You go, "Oh, it's not me, it's the characters that I play." But there's a connection that you make with people. It's a strange psychological question, whether you're anonymous or just using that as an excuse.
When Killian presents Pepper Potts with the opportunity to get involved with Extremis, if she'd accepted would Killian had stopped his plans? No, I don't think so. I think being in the world of Pepper Potts automatically opens up the world of Tony Stark, so then he's got to deal with Tony as well. And I've always found this a little bit tricky just for my own understanding of whether he goes to see Pepper really just to develop the technology that he's got going, or ultimately because he's in love with her and just wants her back. He's obviously asked her on some dates in the past and knows that now she's going to take notice. And not just because of how he looks. There's one reference that we make which I don't think is actually in the film anymore, that when someone has Extremis pumping through their veins it doesn't matter what they look like, people naturally find them attractive. People are just drawn to them. So it shouldn't just be about the fact that he looks really good, but when he kisses her at the end of that scene and he leaves and she goes, "Wow, what just happened then?" That's not because he has a nice aftershave and a nice suit, that's the Extremis talking.