When Scarlett Johansson and Jon Favreau sat down for a Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, the two reminisced about their multiple collaborations, including Iron Man 2, Chef and The Jungle Book.
And they opened up about dealing with failure.
While Johansson was the interviewer for this exchange — and the actress came well-prepared with a legal pad full of detailed questions — she delivered a few noteworthy asides. In particular, she alluded to the poor performance of The Ghost in the Shell when she introduced a question about some of Favreau’s poorly received films, name-checking Cowboys and Aliens.
“It’s happened to all of us, right? I just had that experience,” she said, seemingly admitting to the box-office struggles of the film that has so far pulled in $162 million at the global box office despite its $110 budget.
With Cowboys and Aliens, Favreau said, every time he “would start to get bummed out” by the film that wasn’t received as well as he hoped it would be, he would try to take his mind off of it by going swimming with his kids, and he ultimately realized he might be taking it a bit too hard.
“By the end of the summer, I was so tan,” he said. “I would look in the mirror and I’d say, ‘I’m going out to the pool a lot.’
Favreau recovered by throwing himself into the well-received indie Chef. But he admitted Friday that he gets really invested in the films he chooses to direct.
“When you direct it, you have to love it, especially one of those that takes like two or three years to do,” he said. “Love it to the point of obsession. So there are things that I might want to see or be involved with or act in but that’s a lot different than I have to live, breathe, sleep it, dream it. If I’m going to do my best work, I have to be completely immersed.”
Favreau is next set to direct a remake of The Lion King, building on the work he did on The Jungle Book to create a live-action-looking film using cutting-edge technology and a green screen. While he didn’t tease any specifics of the film that already has Donald Glover and James Earl Jones in its cast, he did reveal that he’s daunted by the prospect of taking on a title that people have watched multiple times on video.
He said when he adapts an existing property, he thinks about what he remembers about the original, making sure to include those moments.
With Jungle Book, for instance, he said, “I remember Mowgli and the snake. I remember the snake’s eyes. I remember Baloo going down the river and Mowgli riding on him like a raft. I made a big list, and I said those are the images we definitely need. And I remembered the songs. … And then you go back and look at it and realize there’s all these things that you don’t remember, and you have more latitude to shift and change those things. Some things you look back at and they’re very flawed but they’re forgiven in your memory.
“The Jungle Book was 50 years ago, Lion King was 20, and people grew up with it in an age of video where they’re watching it over and over again,” he added. “So, I have to really examine all of those plot points. Also, the myths are very strong in that, so you’re hitting something even deeper than the movie sometimes. What I’m trying to do is honor what was there. … There are certain expectations people have.”
Indeed, he realizes that like a popular performer playing a Super Bowl halftime show, he has to deliver all the hits as well as the audience remembers or better.
“It’s about the audience having the experience they’re hoping they have, and if you can surprise them along the way, they’ll enjoy it even more, but you gotta live up to what they want, so you get greater pressure with these beloved stories,” he said.
Speaking of unexpected information, Johansson, a five-time host of Saturday Night Live, may have surprised audience members when she revealed, as an aside, that she’s “afraid of improv.”
“I don’t know why I’m afraid of it. I think it’s because I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a control thing,” she added.
Favreau argued that she “held [her] own with Robert [Downey Jr.]” on Iron Man 2. But she said she was “panicked: sweaty palms the whole time.”
He also shared that he was a fan of the Fargo third season premiere and that he likes that he feels like TV is less heavily-promoted with focus group-tested trailers. In fact, he says if there’s a movie he knows he’ll see, like Guardians of the Galaxy 2, he deliberately won’t watch the trailer for it.