Much has been made of Iron Man 3‘s over-the-top action, dark and introspective tone, and how Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) will finally be forced to face the question of where he ends and the Iron Man armor begins. That’s all well and good – but what about romance?

It’s looking like the major romantic subplot of Iron Man 3 will largely hinge around the character of Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). But according to director Shane Black and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, the brilliant mind behind the Extremis Virus will be playing a much larger role.

While the rough description of Dr. Maya Hansen falls into the ‘smart and sexy scientist’ category, those familiar with the “Extremis” comic book arc (which Iron Man 3 will be largely borrowing from) know that her character has far more depth than that implies. Rebecca Hall (The Town, Frost/Nixon) certainly meets both the requirements, but in a film that looks to leave Tony Stark battered and bruised, Dr. Hansen will be offering more than just a shoulder to cry on.

In the latest issue of Empire Magazine (via CBM) Iron Man 3 director Shane Black gave his thoughts on what Maya Hansen’s significance will be, and why Rebecca Hall was the final choice to bring the comic book character to life:

“It’s one thing we loved about the comic book, which was that it’s someone Tony meets in one capacity at one point in his life, and he proves to be touched by that encounter. We needed a snappy and exciting actor to play the part, and not make it this ‘female scientist who takes off her glasses and suddenly she’s beautiful!’ There’s a certain element about her being the female Robert Downey Jr in a way.”

Black’s quote certainly illuminates the potential for romantic tension between Hansen and Stark, even if she’s not the one locking lips with Tony in the first trailer. They are both brilliant scientists, both making advances in physiological technology, and both forced to re-define their ideas of morality in an ethically grey area.

The ‘female version of Tony Stark’ angle might have some issues translating from the page to the screen, since the film series’ version of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) fills that role already. Either way, Dr. Hansen’s intellect is sure to catch Tony’s attention.

Marvel’s Kevin Feige backs up Black’s optimism, pointing to the fact that up to this point, Tony is without someone to share his personal experiences with. He has a friend to fight beside him in an armored suit of his own, but what’s really missing is someone to know what makes him tick:

“Maya is a scientist who makes a pretty astounding discovery that leads her to places – and some are healthier than others. It’s not dissimilar to what Tony’s been through, and it’s a great parallel.”

Rebecca Hall may not have many blockbuster titles to her name, and landing a role – a pivotal one, at that – in a major blockbuster is on every actor’s to-do list these days. But according to Hall, it was her own enjoyment of the series and the talent assembled that convinced her to take the role, not the exposure:

“I’ve never had a huge desire to be a massive Hollywood actor. Yet this is the third installment of a series I’ve really enjoyed, I really like Downey as an actor, and it looked like it would be fun. And it was. It was a very smart set, Iron Man. There’s a whole game of wits going on all the time between Downey and Shane.”

It’s no secret that Downey and director Shane Black shared some serious creative chemistry on set, with the star even confirming that Black’s advice had been sought in previous installment of the Iron Man series. Whether that results in stronger characters beyond Stark remains to be seen, but they’ve hedged their bets by turning to proven talent.

We still don’t know where James Badge Dale’s ‘Coldblood’ fits into the proceedings, and if Guy Pearce’s turn as Aldrich Killian really is just ‘cameo stuff.’ Don’t even get us started on the possible future-Avenger introduction.

Iron Man 3 releases May 3rd, 2013. The new issue of Empire (featuring the impressive Man of Steel cover) hits newsstands this Thursday.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: Empire (via CBM)