With big names like Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, James Badge Dale and Rebecca Hall joining returning series veterans Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle, Iron Man 3 is shaping up to be a promising new entry in the popular film series. By comparison, it seems almost trivial that obscure actor Ashley Hamilton is apparently in talks to play equally obscure Iron Man villain, Firepower. Then again, it’s unclear how, exactly, this character fits into the larger story line  based on the Iron Man “Extremis” storyline, leaving open the possibility that Firepower will, in fact, play a pivotal role.

In other Iron Man 3 news: Former franchise helmer Jon Favreau confirmed on Twitter that – while he won’t be directing the threequel – he will be returning to the franchise as Tony Stark’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan.

Ashley Hamilton is probably best known for playing recurring character Cole Deschanel on the soap opera series Sunset Beach in 1997, before being replaced by actor Eddie Cibrian. Hamilton also earned attention for his brief marriage to actress Shannen Doherty, which ended in divorce after only five months. None of this exactly recommends him for the role of a super villain in an A-list Hollywood production. In fact, the closest he’s come to that was playing a bad guy in the family comedy sequel Beethoven’s 2nd, back in 1993. A big reason for Hamilton’s possible involvement in Iron Man 3 likely has to do with the fact that, according to Variety, Robert Downey, Jr. is a close friend.

Firepower is an experimental battle suit much like Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor. It was originally designed and worn by Jack Taggert for the purpose of defeating the superhero, and has more recently been seen in the service of Iron Man nemesis The Mandarin.

A more recent version of The Mandarin

If nothing else, the presence of Firepower indicates a certain level of deviation from Warren Ellis’ six-issue Iron Man: Extremis comic book series, which reportedly provides much of the basis for Iron Man 3‘s plot (Firepower wasn’t in Ellis’ version). Of course, Shane Black and company never claimed to be making a direct adaptation of Extremis, which would be difficult to pull off without earning an R-rating, given the storyline’s often brutal, graphic violence. All that’s really known is that the film will incorporate certain elements from Ellis’ series, and possibly subsequent stories featuring the titular nanotechnology.

Sources close to the production still maintain that Ben Kingsley will NOT be playing The Mandarin, no matter how much fans of the comics may want him to. Kingsley WOULD be a perfect fit (despite not being part-Chinese), and the Mandarin DOES unleash the Extremis technology in a more recent storyline, but the actor has apparently already signed on for a different role in the film.

Iron Man 3 is scheduled for release on May 3rd, 2013.

Sources: Variety