Drew Pearce Explains The Real Story Behind The Mandarin in ‘Iron Man 3′

1 year ago by  

2008′s Iron Man kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe and as Marvel Studios’ most bankable individual character, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) already has a trilogy of solo films, the latest of which sits as the fifth highest grossing film of all-time. For fans of the Iron Man comics, it was hoped that by the end of the trilogy (and previous end to RDJ’s contract with the studio) moviegoers would meet the hero’s archenemy from the comics known as The Mandarin.

The marketing campaign for Iron Man 3 seemingly promised as much, using imagery and voiceovers of Ben Kingsley suited up as The Mandarin, to tease the epic confrontation that had roots dating back to the first time Tony Stark was captured by the Ten Rings organization and built his first mechanized armored suit. But nothing was as it seemed and the twists and turns in the plot of Iron Man 3 made it Marvel’s most divisive film yet.


 Warning: We’re assuming if you read ahead that you’ve seen Iron Man 3. Spoilers abound.


As it turns out, Ben Kingsley isn’t really playing the Mandarin. He’s playing a drug-addicted British actor named Trevor Slattery who was pretending to play the terrorist figure on behalf of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Killian reveals that he’s the Mandarin, but what he actually reveals is that he’s behind the Mandarin – not actually the Mandarin himself.

iron man 3 poster ben kingsley Drew Pearce Explains The Real Story Behind The Mandarin in Iron Man 3

So, when chatting with Iron Man 3 co-writer Drew Pearce – who brings Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery back for the All Hail The King Marvel One-Shot short film coming with Thor: The Dark World on Blu-ray - on the phone last week, I had to ask him about how that whole idea came about – since there was quite a bit of outcry from diehard fans about how The Mandarin (who wasn’t really The Mandarin) was portrayed in Iron Man 3.

So my question is, when you came aboard Iron Man 3 with [writer and director Shane Black] did you know how the Mandarin story was going to play out and what input did you have on that?

Shane and I basically came up with it in his gigantic mansion in LA where we sat for ten hours a day for three months hammering out what we actually wanted the movie to be thematically, and we quickly latched on to the idea for Tony of false faces and the idea of the dual personality of Tony as an out superhero who is basically using his self-definition through the false face of Iron Man. We wanted something that would reflect that, not as an exact mirror but thematically in the bad guy characters. And at one time I came back from the bathroom and said, “Shane, what if the Mandarin is an actor?” and it escalated from there. Now, I did not come back from the bathroom and pitch an alcoholic, British lovie with a pair of hookers in his bed and an incredibly detailed history in local British theater but that is weirdly what it turned out to be. (laughs)

On whether or not reaction to Iron Man 3 dictated the return of Slattery or another change in the character or the “Mandarin” identity:

I actually just felt like it was in the lineage of the information we already dolled out in the movies. In the first movie there was the Ten Rings and in the second movie there was a deleted scene where the rings appear again, and in the third movie we were quite clear in the movie and in the press that there was a mantel that had been co-opted by Killian – partly because if we hadn’t said that it would have completely invalidated a huge part of the first movie which is Raza works for The Ten Rings. So for me I was just joining dots to be honest and using that to give the short some drama and some form of momentum. I didn’t want the short to feel like just a skit. I felt like it had to earn its place in the MCU so that was really the driving force behind it.

The Aldrich Killian/Trevor Slattery act was never the real Mandarin nor was it meant to seem that way. Instead of Iron Man 3 being about the actual Ten Rings organization and their mysterious leader, it was about the Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) think tank and their calculated plan to use that Mandarin identity as a distraction. There really still was (and still is) a Ten Rings organization out there. So, why the Marvel One-Shot about Slattery now?

The idea for a short based around Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery character wasn’t conceived as a result of the mixed reaction to the film – although according to Pearce it did have an impact on some of the dialogue – but rather, upon first seeing Kingsley play the character. During meetings about future One-Shots, Joss Whedon (current overseer of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) said that if they can get Kingsley interested in doing a short for Marvel Studios then that is definitely the direction to go in. More details soon.

Maybe there is a real Mandarin out there and maybe, if Iron Man 4 happens one day – and we know Marvel very much wants that to be the case – then we can see Stark face off against him.


More: Our Full Drew Pearce Interview!


All Hail The King releases with Thor: The Dark World on 3D Combo Pack (3D Blu-ray, 2D Blu-ray, Digital Copy), Single-Disc Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand February 25, 2014.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie news!

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT: iron man 3, iron man 4, thor 2


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  1. Here is a theory/ possible leaked info on The Mandarin that made A LOT of sense. Possible Spoilers of course but either way here we go.
    The Mandarin is supposed to be a being that inhabits peoples bodies and gives them great power when he is controlling them as his vessel. Hes been doing this for centuries with different vessels. During Iron Man 3, the reason Killian calls himself the mandarin was because the real one took ahold of him granting him powers, however not everyone can regulate these powers. The Mandarin wanted to pick a suitable new vessel, but those who could not “regulate” were deemed weak. Now after the events of All Hail the King, it is revealed that the Mandarin is real and wants to punish trevor for his mockery. What better punishment than to serve as a controlled vessel for a warlord? Mandarin will supposedly be in Avengers 2 as well as a variation of the masters of evil (which we do remember hearing rumors of with crossbones,strucker, etc) and will have some ties to Ultron himself (more on that later). Either way this is how marvel is supposedly going with the character, and has planned this all along. Just a rumor from someone who is supposedly an insider from Marvel, so take it with a grain of salt…a cool grain.

  2. The one shot was awesome and totally sets up for Iron man 4. Iron man 3 was a good movie. People who dismiss it because of the twist are just one dimensional with thier view of the movie. The whole point was false faces. Marvel has a plan and knows what they are doing. In an interview Feige has said that they have a plan and path for all the characters. The actors are in the planing process of their characters and their growth. People did not believe Avengers was going to work or the first Iron man film with Downey. Just sit back and enjoy and marvel will take care of you. Also remember there is comic book world and MCU. Not the same. I personally am excited to see the path all the MCU characters are on and how they are about to merge. PS good job Drew Pearce on the one shot!!!!! Oh and I am a pepper potts fan and hope they do introduce Rescue at some point.

  3. I hated the twist it was a major let down mainly because of all the hype. I have been waiting since IM1 for a Mandarin, Ironman, and War Machine fight. And I get a drunk imposter. I couldn’t even enjoy the rest of the movie.

    The Mandarin is Ironman’s best archenemy and they just ruined him. The only villains Ironman has that are even good are Mandarin and MODOK. All the other bad guys Ironman face are B-list villains.

    IM3 as a whole was not good to me. Thor 2 was disappointing also, but it was better than the first Thor, I just expected more. The villains were so weak in those movies I just couldn’t enjoy it.

    A hero is only as good as their villain. If the villain is weak it throws the whole story and movie off.

    I just don’t know if they can try to make a real Mandarin now, or if I will go spend my money on another Ironman movie as well.

    • I chose not to see iron man 3 at all because I did not trust it ever since the first trailer came out. I saved my money and now I get to read how bad it was from other people.

      This is why I have told folks to hold onto their money and don’t just run to see a superhero comic book movie just because it’s a character from the comics who you know or grew up with. WAIT. Also, don’t rely on the trailers to make a determination of whether the film itself will be good or not, because studios (imo) will put the best pieces of a movie into the trailer for the sake of window dressing to cause you to think that the film is really good when it is not. In addition, I have seen things in trailers that were not even in the movie itself. Therefore hold onto your money.

      Word of mouth from everyday ordinary people (NOT FILM CRITICS via TV or the internet) is still the best indicator to use to determine whether you should see a movie or not.

      Every time people rush to see superhero films which they discovered to be disappointments (after they have already paid to see the film, but by that time it is too late), those same movie-goers continue to give the studios excuses to make more disappointing films out of our characters, because the studios know that you will rush to go see the not well-handled film if/as long as they (the studio) put together a really good trailer. Thus the cheesy, disappointing superhero comic book movie continues to be made. Because after all, it’s not like the movie theaters will refund you your money just because you disliked the movie. if they did that I think directors will take great care in making films, and probably will be more meticulous with them as well. In other words, we — the movie-goers — would get better films (especially comic book superhero films).

      • Seriously man what a asinine way to approach movies. Just go and see it & make your own mind up?! Who cares what other people think, watching films are fun. Listening to others opinions & then b*tching about it on the internet without even seeing it is absolutely ridiculous. Relying on people as an indicator to see a film is vacuous.

  4. As we sat in an IMAX theater, watching this movie unfold, sitting through pratfalls, slapstick comedy, random characters that added near nothing to the plot, I still found myself engrossed enough in Guy Pearce’s great performance and RDJ having so much fun in his roll to suspend critism and just watch it for what it was.

    However, when the big “reveal” happened, my son leaned over to my daughter and whispered “Dad officially hates this movie” without me hearing. As soon as the credits rolled and he asked me how I liked it, I couldn’t find the words. To which he look at his sister and said: “See? Told ya. He hated it.”

    And he was right. It ruined the experience for me. I don’t care if there is a true 10 Rings out there and a real Mandarin. IM3 is dead to me.

  5. I like Sir Ben Kingsley he’s an amazing actor, his Trevor Slattery performance was good. But I preferred his Mandarin performance which up until that stupid twist was amazing. I would still like to see him play the REAL Mandarin. But I am also still not thrilled about the blu-ray packaging and being pushed into getting 3d versions now. I liked blu-ray + dvd + ultraviolet/digital or even just blu-ray + dvd.

  6. Why try and explain it? It was a horrible idea. Bring on Captain America, the only Avenger that I can take seriously these days.

  7. Yeah, I don’t buy that the All Hail The King had nothing to do with the reaction to Iron Man 3. But I wouldn’t expect them to admit that screwed up and the one shot was a sort of “make good” move.

  8. marvel didnt screw up and they were clearly mocking the hardcore fan reactions.

    what i find hilarious is the fact that no one cared for iron man and mandarin is hardly an enemy to get excited about.
    and if you think marvel did this because of the reaction you are clearly wrong. tenrings have been a part of the movies since the beginning.

    i just hate that people after all these years still dont get that the movies are not trying to be like the comics and will never be able to be 100%. you never hear this reaction to the nolan movies which i find really weird.

    • “i just hate that people after all these years still dont get that the movies are not trying to be like the comics and will never be able to be 100%”

      It’s not that people don’t get it, it’s that people WANT it to follow the source (the comics). It’s what people have been saying for years, and there is nothing wrong with them wanting that. I believe it has to do with Disney. The comic books marvel has made over the years, before Disney purchased the company, were serious in tone and geared toward their adult fans. Stan Lee started this trend when he became marvel’s editor in chief. This is why Marvel, for years, had sold more comic books than DC, (because of their books’ adult orientation). Even the 1990s x-men toon was serious, as it had not just action, but also drama (no camp and no comedy). It was so good that 75 episodes were made.

      However, after Disney purchased marvel I feel that the movies made for their characters (the films made by marvel themselves) have been cheesy, and dumb downed for the sake of children. Disney is a kids company, therefore it appears that all they do is cater to kids. Marvel, however, was an adults’ company when and after Stan lee took over; but now it seems (imo) to be geared toward kids because of its new owner, Disney.

      This is why I am hoping that DC learns from marvel’s mistakes and let their movies be adult oriented (no camp, no comedy, and no kid friendliness). Their Dark Knight film proved that an adult oriented film can and will break the box office. DC toons (Young Justice, for example) and waaay more serious than marvel toons, and DC xbox and PS games are waaay better than marvel games.

      “…and will never be able to be 100%”

      How do you know that it will NEVER be able to be 100%? It’s simple economics of supply and demand. If you don’t demand better from the studios do you really think they are gong to put out real quality stuff? It seems that in today’s business world, businesses are trying to get consumers to pay more for less. If that’s the case, allow people to get a refund if they don’t like the movie. Let’s figure out a way movie theaters can refund all or half of the money a consumer spends to see a film when they (the movie-goer) have determined that they don’t like the movie. How about giving the movie-goer 30 minutes of viewing time, and if they feel they don’t like the movie (anywhere within the first 30 minutes) they can get a refund for half their money. The time on their ticket of when the movie starts to when they ask for a refund will indicate the 30 minute grace period for a refund. If movie theaters did this, I do believe film studios will make quality comic book superhero movies.

      Also, no one minds NECESSARY changes that NEED to be made, so long as those changes make sense.

      “…mandarin is hardly an enemy to get excited about”

      That’s your opinion, not a fact.

      • “That’s your opinion, not a fact.”

        Maybe you should take your own advice. Kevin Feige, et al, have all been very clear from the beginning with the first Iron Man film, that these films were not going to be a carbon copy of the comics. That was YEARS before Disney bought Marvel. Disney didn’t “dumb down” these movies, in fact, they’ve actually been very hands-off in letting Marvel do their thing.

        The changes that Marvel Studios have made for the MCU do make sense, and contrary to your statement “It’s not that people don’t get it, it’s that people WANT it to follow the source (the comics). It’s what people have been saying for years, and there is nothing wrong with them wanting that.”, not everyone wants the films to follow the comics, and we have not been saying it for years. The comics have dome some really Grade-A stupid things over the years that are best left buried. Think of the MCU as a way to tell these stories anew without making the same mistakes, and appreciate it for that.

        • The comics don’t even follow the comics anymore, I doubt people who stopped reading in the 90′s would know what was even going on right now if they picked up most Marvel and DC comics.

      • “How do you know that it will NEVER be able to be 100%? It’s simple economics of supply and demand. If you don’t demand better from the studios do you really think they are going to put out real quality stuff? It seems that in today’s business world, businesses are trying to get consumers to pay more for less. ~ Mr Day”

        While I would like to see the films better and more accurately reflect their Comic Book roots the reality is that the comics consumer base is not large enough to support the Comic Book Based Movie genre and so those making these comic book based films have to find a broader appeal meaning the movie has to target those who do not read/follow the comic book universe and therein lies the difficulty with making a comic book based film. The reality is that you will never make everyone happy, not even %100 of the comic book fan base will share the same opinion. Thus you make the movie like you would any other, with as broad an appeal as possible and if you can still be true to the things origins that’s great but the end goal is to make money.

  9. To everyone who hated the twist, look at it this way.
    “The Mandarin” was never in Iron Man 3. How can they ruin a character if they were never in the movie in the first place?

    And I’ve seen All Hail The King, and I must say, I am liking the way it links all previous Iron Man films.

  10. 10 minutes into IM3, I knew it was doomed.

    • Was it 10 minutes into the movie? Or 10 minutes of reading other people’s opinions of it. :)

      • Don’t be a smart ass… I saw that garbage opening day. There was no opinion on it yet.

  11. Seems like this fellow loves living out his little moment of fame until the very last drop. “Please, please, please recast me in Iron Man 4.”