The highly anticipated Iron Man 3 hit the big screen yesterday. In an exclusive interview with Tonight, Drew Pearce, who is the co-writer of the film, chatted about the screenplay, romance and working with the most inappropriate man he knows. By Helen Herimbi.

Drew Pearce loves his job.

This British film and television writer and producer created a popular comedy called No Heroics, which delves into the lives of off-duty superheroes. Hired by Marvel Studios to adapt the Runaways comic book for film two years ago, he now adds co-writing Iron Man 3 to his list of career highs. Iron Man 3 picks up a little while after where The Avengers left off.

Robert Downey JR reprises his role as Tony Stark (who becomes Iron Man when he dons the shiny suit), while Gwyneth Paltrow returns as his girlfriend Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau become are even more badass as James Rhodes and Happy Hogan, respectively. The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) keeps bombing spots and leaving no trails and Stark doesn’t take kindly to that.

See why Pearce loves his job?

When he phones me from London, Pearce apologises, nearly 15 minutes into the conversation, if he sounds weird because he’s “suffering from incredible jet lag.”

But I didn’t notice that this chatty man who has a witty way with words and laughs easily and, from the sounds of it, from the soul, was suffering at all.

After looking back at how most of his work has involved comic books, this 37-year-old laughs: “When you say it like that, it doesn’t sound like a job for a grown man.”

Except it totally is. And writing the script alongside director Shane Black – who replaces Favreau, who was in the director’s chair for Iron Man 1 and 2 – has taught him that.

“I didn’t know who the director would be,” he reminisces. “The thing about these kinds of blockbusters is that they’re always on a schedule. When you are brought on there’s already a release date which means there’s already a date to start shooting which means they already need a first draft.”

Pearce was roped in first, then “a couple of weeks later, Shane was brought on to direct. I’m a huge, huge fan of his work, both as a writer and of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his directorial debut. But I was suddenly aware of the fact that not only did I have a new director, but here was a guy who is a more famous writer than me who had been brought into the picture.”

“Luckily, Shane and I sat in a room for a week and kicked ideas about and slowly but surely Shane was like: ‘Great, let’s just do this together’. Part of the fun is hanging out with the most inappropriate man I know – Shane Black.”

Pearce explains: “Shane’s stock-in-trade has always been the raunchiest, darkest end of action comedy and that’s one of the reasons why I love his work so much. He’s a huge influence on me. I was more intimidated about turning in pages to Shane than any of the actors.”

Pearce pauses to chuckle: “He didn’t believe me for about two whole drafts that you couldn’t say the F-word in PG-13 movies. Because he’s never made a movie that wasn’t R-rated. I was like: ‘Shane, have you been to a Pixar movie? People don’t F-bomb and have sex the whole time.’ But he soon learnt. Readers, don’t be alarmed, there’s only mild inappropriateness in this movie.”

The inappropriateness, if you’re a die-hard Tony Stark fan, will probably just be the dislike you’ll experience for The Mandarin, whose sole mission is to destroy Iron Man.

Pearce says: “Sir Ben was the guy we had in mind when we were writing The Mandarin and we were just unbelievably lucky that he loved the script and agreed to do it. He’s so good as The Mandarin that I think people will be talking about his performance for the rest of the year.”

Another talking point will probably be Paltrow’s Potts, who finally gets to wear a superhero suit.

Unsurprisingly, Potts has widened the audience of such movies from just fanboys and action junkies. As is shown by an episode of The Mindy Project, where the title character is asked what she’s reading and she points to the book and responds: “It is the novelisation of Iron Man and I thought Gwyneth Paltrow would be in it more.”

Pearce laughs loudly and heartily into the phone and says: “That’s a very good joke. I know a couple of the people involved in The Mindy Project, in fact.”

He continues: “Yeah, the audience has grown hugely, and not least because The Avengers was five times bigger than any of the other movies that came before it in the Marvel universe. That instantly opened things up. And one of the good things about Iron Man is at it’s core, there’s a grown-up and real romance.”

“I think that’s why someone like Gwyneth or Pepper Potts is probably on Mindy Kaling’s radar more than a Captain America movie might necessarily be. That’s definitely something that, in this movie, we’ve really run towards. There’s a lot of romance and, I’d like to think, a big emotional core. After something as grand and intergalactic as The Avengers, Shane and I felt like the thing we had to do was bring it back to being personal. To being about him – Tony Stark as a human.”

There’s also a sign of things to come: we’re back in the era of the superhero film. Especially with Runaways still in developmental phase and rumours of Pearce – whose favourite comic book is 2000 AD and who cites Iron Man as “definitely up there on my list of favourite superheroes of all time” – being roped in to write the screenplay for DC Comics’ The Mighty for Paramount Pictures.

“There’s lots of cultural theorists who probably explore that and (superhero films’) links to the zeitgeist better than me,” says Pearce, “but on a prosaic level, these things are cyclical and we’re in the era of the superhero just like there was an era of cowboys. It’s continuing because in the past 10 years, partly because of the magnificent work of Kevin Feige who runs Marvel Studios and produces all of these Marvel movies, they kind of cracked the code that was so elusive in the 1980s and 1990s when they tried to make these kinds of films.”

“It’s basically a deep knowledge and healthy respect for the canon of the comic books themselves,” he explains, “but also the realisation that you have to make your own movie. We have this almost 100-year legacy of the densest library of heroes and stories to tap into and hope that people are doing it properly.”

Obviously, Pearce believes he, Black and their team have done Iron Man 3 properly. So well, in fact, that after editing what started as a 195-minute movie down to 122 minutes, Pearce would be okay with this being the final Iron Man movie.

“Robert Downey jr has a phrase: you leave everything on the field,” Pearce shares. “It’s an American sporting term, but I think what it means is that you put everything out there. In doing that you make sure that when you walk away, you did everything you could. From the actors and from Shane and my point of view, it really feels like we’ve left it on the field. There’s nothing more we could have done to further or maybe even finish the Iron Man story and that’s why I hope people go and see it.”

This article appeared in Tonight on 2 May 2013.