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. I hated the Mandarin twist. Absolutely HATED it. Seeing the Mandarin onscreen was the only reason I was looking f

    • Stupid tiny buttons. Didn’t mean to post that yet. I was saying the Mandarin was the only thing I was looking forward to about Iron Man 3. The Marvel “Tony Stark Show” was getting really old for me. I wanted a real, non-tech challenge for him. But we all know what happened.
      What I don’t understand is why everyone’s getting pissed that they’re trying to fix it. Yes, of course they’re too proud to admit that they made a mistake, and maybe the retcon shows weakness, but if it leads to a “real” Mandarin for Iron Man to fight, I’m all for it. Doesn’t the sake of the story take precedence?

  2. I believe Drew is telling the truth.

    I also believe that George Lucas always intended for Anakin Skywalker to have built C-3PO. It just makes sense, guys.

    • Oops, I meant I agree with *you*, lol.

      I hated those stupid “twists”…

    • Oh my word…

      I can’t tell who I’m replying to, lol…

    • I actually thought the Mandarin twist was very clever. It adapted the ideas behind the Mandarin’s creation (being a piece of anti-communist propaganda and modernizing it to terrorism) and said quite a bit about the society we live in. All the while the plot with behind the scenes puppet masters dipped into the public zeitgeist that has largely embraced conspiracy theorists. The movie was fun, it was a vast improvement over Iron Man 2, and it was very successful. Give the boys at Marvel a break, it was fine!

  3. The Mandarin “twist” was the worst move Marvel’s made… so far but another thing that made this movie terrible was Gwyneth Paltrow, guys.
    C’mon, we payed to see Iron Man defeat “The Mandarin”, not his annoying assistant. How does that happen?
    Man, I hate that woman.

    • For your Goop hate, you have to go over to some gossip site. This is a movie website.

      • And I’m talking about the movie. Oh, I’m sorry, I guess I have to talk about hating Channing Tatum and that’d be okay, right? You know, I changed my mind. I loved Iron Man 3.

        • Iam with alex on this one, im3 was such a dreaded mess with asinine twist that the
          hunger games 2 passed it domestically. Real mandarin needs to show and in style
          with the dragon seed saga.

          • Ditto on Alex’s comment. That’s the thing I don’t understand with “movie versions” of comics. Marvel and DC have spent near a century building characters and worlds, sticking to a canon, and we fall in love with these characters and worlds. Then suddenly, the “cinema version” needs to be different cause it “won’t work” with “today’s audience”. Okay, that’s all I could say, otherwise this comment would be filled with expletives. :)

            • @Reev, while I see your point, obviously, should I point out that we’re comparing two different animals here? Well, I just did I suppose.

              But I know what you mean. Why couldn’t they just use the Mandarin, the green-skinned bad guy? My theory is that it was decided at Disney that they would not use him. Plain and simple. Remember, Feige was a bit vocal against the “fu-manchu” villain. That’s why he was rejected for IM2, and they merely worked around that limitation in IM3.

              • If that theory is true, that it was simply not in the plans to have Mandarin in the MCU, then it’s a bit hopeless to think they’d introduce him now. And yes, that diverges greatly from the source material.

                I’m okay with that to an extent. I want comic books to be comic books and I want movies to be movies. Comics are probably more resilient than movies will ever be, and that’s the upshot.

    • Honestly, I just paid for a good movie. I felt that I got that. GOOP aside, I like Pepper Potts.

    • I loved the twist and thought Trevor was very very funny. But – thought the Paltrow’s story-line sucked ! She isn’t as strong a character as they must think she is.

    • I agreed this movie was b*******, the trailers for this movie was selling The Mandarin and all we got was kiss kiss bang bang 2 the Iron man version. No idea what they were thinking with this s*** and I bought the collectors edition of phase 1 and phase 2 is going to s*** and we need Cap to save the sinking ship.

      • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a very clever comedy with great strong characters, brilliant dialogue and an off the wall glorious story of madness. IM3 was a dumb, try hard action movie.

    • Oh my word. Agreed.

    • Well said! ^^ I find that whole thing with Gwyneth Paltrow quite annoying! Especially the part where she (SPOILERS) resurrects

  4. I didn’t mind the Mandarin twist and I thought Sir Ben’s performance was the best thing in the movie, but other than that Iron man 3 sucked big time. The whole middle section with the kid was lame. Guy Pearce, who I usually love, was not an interesting villain. Tony Stark was reduced to a James Bond action hero type with try hard one liners. Not enough Pepper/Tony scenes (although I liked Pepper in the suit) and not enough interesting character scenes. Overall it was a typical shallow Disney movie.
    I am worried about the Avengers!

    • Wow. Different perspectives. I won’t say that IM3 was perfect, but I found it to be the opposite of a “typical shallow Disney movie”. I thought that there was lots of good character development, and that it was comprehensively (if not in terms of pure art) the best thing in the Avengers cycle yet. And I didn’t expect to like it that much.

    • Agreed, the kid part was so terrible, also the whole pepper exploding thing was achin to a 90s comic movie, so lame. IM3 made the most money but was the worst iron man, its not about the money. Hey SHANE BLACK and DREW PIERCE, next tiem your sitting around your “giant mansion” remember you have a responsibility here, these are not your characters to do as you please. the mandarin twist was the worst suprise in movie history. Marvel this is your company your characters, lets step it up cause phase 2 is a joke, Thor 2 was terrible and your starting to look like FOX, bad movies make money quit worryinga bout the bucks!!!!

      • yeah it is,its all abouut the money

  5. Marvel having ideas in the Bathroom… now i know whit this movie was Sh1t.


  6. what really bugged me throughout the whole film was why the heck the mark 47 had a tough time powering up. I mean the whole plot behind IM 2 was Stark working his butt off to find an alternative power source that evidently he uses to power up his building in the avengers film. Heck the first film mentions how importan the arc reactor is to powering up the suit. Plus when he has the shrapnel removed from his heart I couldnt help but wonder why he didnt do that in the second film,it was killing his health so why didnt he do that? also in Avengers he talks about how the arc reactor defines him and how its an important part of his life. It just seems like certain things written for the story don’t fit in well with past films.

    • Good points. I think they took the reactor out in case Robert Downey decided not to reprise the role, in order to give him a send off…or maybe they thought it just made for a dramatic ending. Either way, it feels awkward and forced.

      • the really odd thing is that when he throws it away, he clealy states “i am ironman”, looks at his destroyed helper drones hinting that he’s gonna keep building more suits, and yet people still interpreted it as him calling quits. And yeah the last 5 minutes of the film seem forced and kinda off lazy, i was not expecting a LOTR ending but something better than just a quick summary of plot add ins.

    • Mark 42 was a prototype. It was different from the rest of the armors that only require a single source of power (the arc reactor) because it is able to break apart and the pieces can work individually, requiring each section to maintain charge. Plus since he had JUST built it, it’s unlikely he had planned on using it for long periods of time. Likely he would’ve tested Mark 42 at length to find bugs and issues then Mark 43 would’ve been a fully-capable, charge-holding armor of death.

      • was 42? i thought it was 47, but that stills beg the question, of why, after inviting the Mandarin to blow up his mansion, would he be using that particular suit?
        I mean he knows the prototype is still struggling so why not have a different suit of armor at the ready or heck, why not have all of suits ready to defent his home?

        • The answer to that question is: that’s where the writers wanted the story to go. And when that is the only answer, it’s a bad idea.

        • Because Tony Stark is an egomaniac. In his mind he just repelled an alien invasion and has successfully privatized world peace. Even after challenging the Mandarin, who he thought to be a bin Laden or Guddafi type, he had no reason to suspect that he would ACTUALLY be attacked, let alone within hours of his threat. You have to remember that as viewers we are privileged to information Tony is not, specifically that we go into the movie knowing the Mandarin was a credible superpower and threat even to the Invincible Iron Man (although we all ended up being wrong anyways, as the puppeteer behind him had all the real power, but you get the point). The way I saw it, he was only wearing the Mark 42 to be facetious. As in, he doesn’t feel like he’s actually threatened but he’s mocking the danger by wearing a non-combat prototype. His newest and favorite toy, if you will.

          • Jarvis even says it’s a prototype when Tony tries to fire a missile at the helicopter but has to throw it instead. Also, Maya Hansen was able to drive right up to the front gate. He clearly wasn’t even on defensive lockdown. And why would he be? If Bill Gates told Mahmoud Ahmindinejad he was going to track down and kill him, would anybody expect the Gates’ manor to be blown to smithereens within a few hours?

  7. I was furious with the twist but appreciative of the Kingsley acting. At least they’re trying, listening to the fans. Because of that I’d be down for an iron man 4 with an all-out brawl, Iron man versus Mandarin, in his traditional armor and a ring on each finger and thumb. This could be a phase 4 film, and I can see Banner/Hulk helping him defeat Fin Fang Foom.

  8. Without a doubt the worst movie in the trilogy. Made the second one seem like a decent film. It was a bad idea. Too much Stark/kid not enough Iron Man, way too much Pepper and then too many Iron Men, the ending just looked like a segway into selling merchandise later on….

    • Pepper had only half of the scenes in IM3 than in IM or IM2. It was a Disney movie and Marvel/Disney/Pearce/Black thought it was better if Stark got a kid as a sidekick than film some interesting character scenes with Pepper (which would have appealed to adults a bit more) According to RDJ they even decided to edit out a Pepper/Tony shower scene, because it would have been too inappropriate for kids. But apparently the MPAA had no problem with scenes of Tony choking a woman, putting her on fire (Brand) and giving a kid a powerful weapon to defend himself against bullies. IM3 was a big giant turd!

  9. Even if Pearce is telling the truth with all his bathroom/s*** ideas… what will happen in the future? IM 4 with the real mandarin? how will the fans react to that?

    Mandarin must be, like, in Avengers 3 or 4. not in IM4

    • Should Marvel care how the die hard fans react, though? The general audience is who they want and clearly have now that their films are making 500+ mil each.

      • Yes and no. In the end, yeah, they should just listen to themselves and plan accordingly. With that said, it is great to have a director like, Joss Whedon, who really does care about the source material and how it is represented on the screen. Clearly that wasn’t the case with Shane Black’s Iron Man installment. It was entertaining, though.

        • I agree to your comment until the last part.
          for me and million fans.. IM3 was not entertaining… and Im not even touching the mandarin subject.

          • For me and millions of other fans, IM3 was very enjoyable.

  10. The whole story was not well done, specially the part where the suits are so easily destroyed as if they were made of carton. That scene clashes with IM1 where a tank shoots IM but it doesn’t cause too much damage or in the Avengers where the Chitauris shoot IM with their guns.

    I only hope the real Mandarin appears and is Mr. Kingsley and then he kills Trevor Jar Binks once and for all.

    • The suits in his “Iron Legion” we’re not meant for battle. They were all prototypes for improving his suits (energy saving with Hearbreaker, being able to break apart for increased mobility with Mark 42, etc.) or specific needs (like construction with Striker, deep sea diving with Hammerhead, etc.) Not to mention he built 35 unique suits in about 6 months while sleep deprived when it took him 4 years to build and advance the first 7, I think it’s safe to say he never intended to have a royal rumble against super soldiers in these things. He has his go-to battle armor then his armors he tinkers and toys with. His battle armors were lost, not necessarily destroyed but lost at the bottom of the ocean under the rubble of his house where he couldn’t retrieve them, in the attack on his house and so he was forced to improvise during the 3 day course of the film. Doesn’t seem unreasonable.

      • but there where also armors that were meant for battle and they were getting ripped to shreds.

      • Plus all he does is design the suits while his in house assembly line builds them, most likely out of the same material his 3rd suit was made of, the one that can take a dmg from a tank.

  11. The look for Aldrich Killian at the beginning was/is very very similar to Jamie Foxx’s character in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer !

    Iron Man 3 was not a brilliant movie – but was enjoyable – I prefered the RDj’s chemistry with other strong actors – like in Avengers crew & with Ben Kingsly.

    I also thought Jeff Bridges was superb in Iron Man 1 !

  12. if you have seen All Hail The King ****

    did you notice in the Caged Heat pilot Trevor is wearing a ring also…i might be looking too much into it but they do really focus on it

  13. You know, you would think that the idea for the Mandarian coming out of the toilet was the bad part of the interview.

    But I find it more incredible that two people spent 10 hours a day for 3 months writing it…seriously?!?!?

    • Yeah, that certainly gave me pause when he said that. Ten hours a day for three months and Trevor Slattery is what comes out the other side? Yikes!

  14. I liked the twist. I also like the idea that there is a much bigger story than the one they told. It gives it that “comic air”. Face the fact that Iron Man vs. Mandarin is a trilogy all by itself! I can’t wait to see what happens…

  15. I enjoyed it, and I loved the twist. It was hilarious. However, people fail to understand that it was Tony Stark telling the story of Iron Man 3 to Bruce Banner.

    Along with that Killian did say that the real Mandarin is still out there. The guys who are all butt hurt about Mandarin being Trevor are the same people go get butt hurt over costumes not being the same as in the comics. They totally threw out AIM, Killian, and Extremis which is a very VERY important part of the Iron Man universe.

    I think they did well.

    • Our butts hurt from the huge d***o they shoved up during the movie…just because you enjoyed it does not mean the rest of us did. LOL

    • I guess if I want hilarious I’ll go watch a comedy? Certainly not the third iron man movie whose trailers made it appear as a serious brawl with iron mans archenemy nor the fist movie post avengers that had all this hype around it “how do they follow that up?”

      At no point in the movie does Killian say the mandarin is still out there. He does say
      “No more false faces. You said you wanted the Mandarin, you’re looking right at him. It was always me, Tony, right from the start. I am the Mandarin!”

      So please, for future arguments on your behalf, don’t state a bunch of opinions “I liked, I thought, I loved…” follow it up with false statements, then attack a group of people for not thinking how you do.

  16. Just bring in M.O.D.O.K for IM4.

  17. I’m not a big fan of this guy… he’s come off as pretty pretentious through all this mandarin drama. When news first broke that this one shot was happening he was very adamant that it wasn’t going to be introducing the “real” mandarin, and he wasn’t apologizing for the Slattery twist. I still haven’t seen it, but from what i’ve heard thats basically what it does- real 10 rings terrorist organization isn’t happy with his mockery (I’m trying to avoid spoilers beyond that because I’d like to enjoy seeing it) I don’t buy that this was part of the plan all along either, if it was it would have made a better post credits scene. They used that same logo from the first films to get all of us excited, and then let us down.

    I didn’t hate the twist, but I thought it was disrespectful to Iron Man’s greatest villain, and I never bought Killian as the Mandarin either… that was BS! It also borrowed the worst elements of the Extremis story, and abandoned the best ones. I thought it was a bad ending to the Iron Man trilogy, and because they didn’t have Downey signed long term they essentially ended Iron Man’s solo story in limbo. Even though now he will be continuing via the next 2 avengers movies, I highly doubt either of those will focus on the real 10 rings or the real Mandarin, so unless we do eventually get an Iron Man 4 it will always leave that bad taste in my mouth…

  18. I think they should definitely introduce the real Mandarin. Perhaps as a way to make up for their part in plot, AIM could be co opted into making the Mandarin a suit of his own, mixed with Chautari tech (repulsar on each nuckle with each a different function?) and also provide him with an upgraded Chautari dragon thing as a substitute for Fing Fang Foom….

    • I agree, it would be awesome if they used an upgraded Chitauri whale thing as Fing Fang Foom! nice way to tie in w the Avengers and the comics

  19. To makes IM3 seem better i categorize it with kid movies.

  20. Coincidentally, I watched Iron Man 3 again last night. Still love it. I also really liked All Hail The King. I hope they don’t change the character at all.

    People really hate the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. It’s sad people can’t get passed the fact that they changed the Mandarin, because if they did, they’ll realize how brilliant it works with the story, and the development of the character.

      • I have been reading Iron Man comics for the past few years. Guess what? Still think the twist was brilliant. They took the true essence of why the character was made in the first place. I realize that people are allowed to be mad by the twist, so I respect the way they feel about the movie, but if you can find the time to get passed that and appreciate the way it works with the writing, the story, and the character, that would be great too.

  21. Also, side note: I do believe this was part of Marvel’s plan all along. I really doubt they would change the character, because really, there are only a handful of people who don’t like Iron Man 3, and who minded the twist. Most of the audience likes Iron Man 3, and didn’t mind the twist.

  22. When i saw the movie the first time I hated the Mandarin twist just because I was really hoping to see the true Mandarin as he was in the comics. It was a great moment in the movie though. Now hearing this, it makes me happy to think that the ‘real’ Mandarin will be showing up.

  23. To be completely honest, Iron Man 3 is my favorite of the trilogy. I completely empathize with those who hated the twist, though I do disagree, but I have a hard time understanding people who hate the entire film or call it the weakest of MCU.

  24. Wasnt a huge fan of the Mandarin twist but enjoyed Iron Man 3 nonetheless and after watching All Hail the King am super excited about whats going to happen next.
    Monkey drinking vodka FTW!

    • Yes, this billion dollar grossing critically acclaimed movie will surely tarnish the Marvel legacy.

      Obviously Drew is just a horrible writer because he didn’t dig into the comics and translate a racist characture onto the screen so they’d sell exactly 0 tickets in any country but America. Shame on him for making a deep, modern, political and social commentary instead of two hours of explosions and magic rings that have no place in the current MCU.

  25. At first I was a bit pissedoff at the whole fake Mandarin thing, but I have to admit it was pretty entertaining. I am glad there seems to BE a real Mandarin outthere. I hope to see him in Marvels phase 3. Maybe climaxing in a Thanos and Masters of Evil Avengers 3 thing.

  26. I just thought, honestly, that while the movie deviated from the books greatly, the Mandarin twist served as a commentary on terrorists who were shown regularly on TV.

    They took a perceived bad guy, a bad guy we all saw on television all the time, and asked, “What if he’s an actor?” But meh. The movie was just alright.

  27. Everybody says im3 is a vast improvement over im2 but I’d much rather watch tony and Rhodes cross streams and a stupid house party scene than two guys’ horrible twist on a fake mandarin