Jon Favreau has quickly become one of the royalties of Pop Culture. Between kickstarting the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, creating a Christmas classic with Elf, and giving the internet its newest obsession with Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian, it’s hard to imagine he originally considered becoming a fireman.
It’s clear that pop culture would look very different without his contributions, so with the start of a new decade, let’s take a look back at how Favreau rose to power
“I’ve always wanted to call the shots because I would rather fail than not have a chance to figure it out on my own”
Favreau studied at Queens College in New York but dropped out (twice) to pursue a career in comedy in Chicago. While there he scored a role in Rudy where he befriended Vince Vaughn on set. He had a few smaller roles, including a clown on Seinfeld. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he would get his big break.
While in LA, Favreau wrote and starred in Swingers where he plays a struggling comedian from New York. Vince Vaughn, who plays a struggling actor, befriends him and helps him get over his ex-girlfriend. Despite the low budget and guerilla filmmaking, the film was a success, making a star out of Vaughn and director Doug Liman.
“For a movie – any movie – to work, all the bread has to fall jelly side up; everything has to go right. You have to hit the zeitgeist “
After Swingers, Favreau had a few more acting jobs. Including a billionaire UFC fighter who dated Monica during several episodes of “Friends”. He also appeared as himself in an episode of “The Sopranos”. He plays a Hollywood Director faking interest in a screenplay, in order to use the material for his own.
He also made his directorial debut with “Made”, a film about aspiring boxers getting involved in mafia crime. While it recived positive reviews, it had a very limited release. A few years later he played Foggy Nelson in Daredevil, his first interactions with Marvel.
But before Marvel came “Elf” the first post-SNL film from Will Ferrell. Favreau wasn’t initially interested, as it was “too dark” for him, but another rewrite and it became the classic we all know. This was the biggest film Favreau had ever worked on, but things were about to get much, much bigger.
“‘Batman Begins’ set the bar very high for the superhero movie, as it showed that you could get a great cast for these movies and take a real filmmaker’s perspective”
After Elf, and several TV cameos, came his next film, Zathura: A Space Adventure. It received positive reviews but was not very successful at the box office.
In 2008 Iron Man was released. The film had gone through an arduous development process but was finally moving ahead. His experience on Daredevil had introduced Favreau to Marvel producers, and they liked his grounded, spy take. The casting of Robert Downey Jr in the title role raised many eyebrows, but Favreau insisted he was the perfect choice.
Downey proved his critics wrong of course. Iron Man went on to be the eighth highest-grossing film of 2008, and launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many of the films in the MCU follow Iron Man‘s structure, as well as tone.
“I think the bigger the movie is, the harder it is to maintain the idea of an auteur. You’re servicing something beyond just your own vision”
After directing the follow-up, Iron Man 2 and serving as a producer on crossover team-up, The Avengers, Favreau decided to step back on the third film. Instead choosing to direct Magic Kingdom, he still worked as a producer and appeared in his role as Happy Hogan though. He directed the adaptation of Cowboys vs Aliens which did not do well critically or commercially.
After working on several multi-million dollar studio films, Favreau decided to take a break and developed a pilot for the TV show Revolution as well as directing the first episode. He then made Chef a “back to basics” indie film about a travelling chef. Several people saw the film as a response to Favreau’s experience with Marvel and wanting to strike out on his own again. It was well received and has even spun off into a Netflix show
Although the Magic Kingdom project has yet to move forward, he did work on two beloved Disney properties, the “live action” remakes of The Jungle Book and The Lion King. He has continued his work with Disney, creating and show-running The Mandolorian a series set in the Star Wars universe, for Disney+. This has also received widespread acclaim, as well as introducing the “The Child” or “Baby Yoda”.
With a second season on the way, as well as the Jungle Book 2 in development, it doesn’t look as though he will be slowing down anytime soon.
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