Jon Favreau is an actor, director, producer, writer, occasional on-screen chef and one of the most influential people in Hollywood during the 21st century. It’s actually easier to make a list of the things he hasn’t accomplished throughout his career, because his IMDb page, alone, deserves to be on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Favreau is one of the architects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, linked to nine films — all four Avengers films, all three Iron Man films and both Spider-Man films. He recreated “The Lion King,” one of the most beloved Disney properties, for a new generation. He is the executive producer and showrunner for “The Mandalorian,” a massive hit for Disney Plus and critically lauded, and he is set to continue in the Star Wars universe with two of Disney’s most anticipated upcoming series: “Ahsoka” and “Rangers of the New Republic.”
For all of his commercial and critical success, Favreau’s wide array of interests and skills has made him one of the most intriguing people in the industry since his career began.
Here’s what you need to know about the man who has played an invaluable part of Marvel’s past and is a primary part of Disney’s future:
1. Favreau’s Belief in Robert Downey Jr. Changed Cinema History
Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic words, “I am Iron Man,” at the end of his debut as the titular character and echoed again at the close of “Avenger’s Endgame” quite possibly could have been said by someone else if it hadn’t been for Favreau.
Due to Downey’s past alcohol and drug abuse, Marvel was initially resistant to the idea of making him the face of their newest film, according to Forbes contributor Scott King. That past, however, is exactly why Favreau knew Downey was the right choice to play Tony Stark, who has gone through similar troubles throughout his long-running comic book arc.
“We didn’t want to just go with a safe choice,” Favreau told USA Today in 2007. “The best and worst moments of Robert’s life have been in the public eye. He had to find an inner balance to overcome obstacles that went far beyond his career. That’s Tony Stark. Robert brings a depth that goes beyond a comic-book character who is having trouble in high school, or can’t get the girl. Plus, he’s simply one of the best actors around.”
Downey proved to be exactly the right choice for the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” and helped the movie earn $98.6 million in the box office on opening weekend and $585.3 million worldwide to date, according to Box Office Mojo. Given what the MCU has become since “Iron Man,” and the integral part that Downey has played over the years, Favreau’s decision has had resounding ripple effects.
Kevin Fiege, long praised as the architect of the MCU, agrees with the notion that Downey’s hiring changed everything. At a New York Film Academy Q&A period in 2019, Fiege said, “It ended up being great. I always say, ‘No RDJ, no MCU.'”
2. Favreau Doesn’t Just Produce ‘The Mandalorian,’ He Is a Mandalorian
After he helped launch the most popular movie franchise in history, Disney tapped Favreau to help lead its premiere original series for Disney Plus, “The Mandalorian.” Set in the Star Wars universe — the second-highest grossing movie franchise of all time, after the Marvel Cinematic Universe, according to The Numbers — the show follows a character of Mandalorian culture, which was most popularly shown through Boba Fett in the original trilogy.
While not as famous as Boba Fett, Favreau himself has ties to Mandalorian culture. While working on “Iron Man” back in 2007, Favreau visited George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, where he met Dave Filoni, who was working on creating “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” After striking a quick friendship, Favreau offered to lend his voice to the animated show should Filoni ever need it.
“I just happened to need a voice,” Filoni told the crowd at Star Wars Celebration in 2019. “That day, George had created a character named Pre Vizsla. And I said, ‘Would you like to be a Mandalorian?’”
“Mandalorians were my favorite characters,” Favreau said, while on stage next to Filoni. “I mean, if you’re gonna play anything.”
That original conversation led to Favreau playing the character in the show’s season two debut. And many years later, it led to the duo reuniting to helm “The Mandalorian,” which has illustrated the mastery of the subject matter both men possess.
3. Favreau’s Acting Career Began With 2 Instant Classics
It’s hard to have a better start as an actor than Favreau did.
Per his IMDb page, his second credited appearance on any screen was in the iconic 1993 movie “Rudy,” in which Favreau plays D-Bob, a friend of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger at Notre Dame. Favreau then went on to have bit parts in “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” arguably the top two sitcoms of the 1990s, before his true breakout moment with the 1996 film “Swingers.”
In an oral history of the beloved comedy, those involved with the creation of the film shared with Alex French and Howie Kahn of Grantland how it got made.
Favreau told French and Kahn he wrote the screenplay for “Swingers” after a major breakup using “a screenwriting program” his father had given him, not knowing at the time what he was creating. After passing it around with some friends, including “Rudy” actor Vince Vaughn, Favreau tried to get his movie picked up by a studio before he and Vaughn decided to make it themselves with independent funding.
It wasn’t until another friend of theirs, director Doug Liman, read the script and offered to make the movie if he could raise the capital that things got rolling.
“Ultimately, we knew Jon had to relinquish directing,” Nicole LaLoggia, a producer for the film, told Grantland in 2014. “And Doug came to the table and said, ‘Look, I love the script, I get what you wanna do, Jon. We can make it ourselves and sell it, and you’re gonna have to trust me, and we can do this together.’ And they looked at me and said, ‘How low can you do this for?’ And I went back to the drawing board for 12 hours and I came up with a budget of $279,000.”
Favreau and Vaughn went on to star in the film, which drew buzz from a number of studios after its premiere and eventually sold to Miramax for $5 million, the Los Angeles Times reported. The movie has since become a cult classic, launching the careers of both Vaughn and Favreau while highlighting the latter’s talent for creating captivating stories.
4. Favreau’s Hidden Talent Gives Fans a Peek Behind the Curtain
Cult classics seem to be a bit of a thing for Favreau. After working on some MCU blockbusters, Favreau wanted to dial things back a little bit and tell a smaller, more personal story, he told Fast Company in 2014. The result was “Chef,” a 2014 comedy-drama that Favreau wrote, directed, produced and starred in.
“Chef” tells the story of a big-time cook in Los Angeles who gives up that life, buys a food truck and travels around the country with his son and friend to rekindle both his personal relationships and love of cooking. It’s a movie that also features MCU stars Downey and Scarlett Johansson.
In learning how to become a convincing cook, Favreau reached out to Roy Choi, owner of the immensely popular Kogi food truck, for tutelage. That partnership has lasted and is now featured in “The Chef Show” on Netflix, in which the two cook together and also interview top chefs from around the country and notable celebrity guests.
Among the notable MCU guests to be featured on the show are Gwyneth Paltrow, who provided a viral moment in the very first episode when she didn’t know she had been in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The second episode, titled “Avengers Atlanta,” features Downey, Tom Holland, Joe and Anthony Russo and Kevin Fiege.
5. His Superhero Start Didn’t Come in the MCU
Sandwiched in between his roles in “Rudy” and “Swingers,” Favreau got a taste of what Colonel James Rhodes — a.k.a War Machine — might call “that superhero life.” Favreau’s introduction into comic book movies actually came with DC Comics in the 1995 movie “Batman Forever.”
In that role, Favreau played an assistant to Bruce Wayne — portrayed by Val Kilmer in the film — and only appeared in one scene walking in the background behind Wayne. This was prior to Favreau making a name for himself, so it’s not surprising he is nearly an extra in this movie, although he did receive a screen credit as “assistant” in the film.
Perhaps Favreau could have provided some notes for the movie, which isn’t actually nearly as bad as 1997’s “Batman & Robin” but still could use some polish. It was an inauspicious start in comic book movies for the man who would ultimately help launch the MCU, but it’s clear that Favreau — and Marvel — got the last laugh.