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'Chef' director/writer/star Jon Favreau talks about social media and Marvel

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After directing a string of big-budget films that include “Iron Man” and “Cowboys & Aliens,” actor/director/writer Jon Favreau returns to his independent root with his latest movie, “Chef.” Favreau plays Carl Casper, a chef at an elegant Los Angeles restaurant who quits his job after having he takes a negative review from a food critic a little personal. With the help of his son (Emjay Anthony), his best friend (John Leguizamo) and his ex-wife (Sophia Vergara), he decides to start up a food truck so he can have creative freedom in the food he is cooking. I had the chance to talk with Favreau at the Fountainebleau in Miami Beach a month ago about the origin of the story, the importance of social media and helping create the foundation of a movie franchise.

One of my favorite aspects of this movie is how you incorporated social media. Why was this something that was important to you to include?

Jon Favreau: I just felt that social media was part of the language now. I did not think of it as a social media movie, but it is like going back in the time when we were doing “Swingers.” The answering machine is a big part of that movie because that was part of the culture. Twitter now is very much a part of the culture that we are dealing with. I thought that there was an opportunity to have good dramatic and comedic effect to show what could go wrong if somebody gets involved with social media who doesn’t know what he is doing – especially if he is somebody who is overly emotional and not too restrained.

How exactly did you come up with the idea for the story?

Jon Favreau: I am intrigued by food culture. It is fascinating to me that chefs are like the new rock stars and that people will watch hours and hours of television shows with food that they’ll never taste; they are so intrigued by the specificity of the preparation and what the vision of each chef is. I just felt that there had not been a movie that showed that world yet.

“Iron Man” was ground zero for what has now become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How does it feel looking back, especially now that Marvel has expanded into such a hugely successful franchise?

Favreau: It is cool but it’s also very weird, because when we started with “Iron Man,” it was the first movie of Marvel Studios. Marvel Studios was a company that was going to negative pickup independent films with a bank loan and have it be distributed through Paramount. If we screwed up “Iron Man,” the whole company could have gone under. There was a lot of pressure on us and nobody expected much of the name “Iron Man” because they never heard of it before. And now seeing that the audiences liked it, seeing the sequels make more and more money, and now expanding it out to “Captain America,” “Thor” and “The Avengers” – now they are really on a roll. I have read that Marvel is the most successful franchise in movie history. So it’s very strange to watch something go from being an underdog to being part of the establishment. But I’m happy to be a part of that family and still continue to collaborate with them.

This movie is not just about one thing whether it is bonding with children or trying to find your own way in life, but it also says something of the adverse effects of social media especially with the negative aspect. Did you ever find yourself in the position your character was in?

Favreau: I see the comedic possibilities in the situation I am in. Thankfully, I am a more measured person. I am very careful about what I write and what I read. You learn very quickly the first time you Google yourself, which must have been ten years ago, you learn not to do that again because you are asking for trouble and you will find the most wonderful and the most horrible things written about you. It is like reading a bathroom wall. In my case though, I have been a pretty responsible member of the social media community and I think that the movie shows that although it could be terrible if you do not respect it and know what you are doing, the son’s virtuosity with online communication is what leads to the chef’s return to a career that he loves in the culinary world.

Your character in this movie is a guy who has pretty much lost all creative control and is yearning to cook things that he believes in. Have you had a similar experience working with big studios, where limitations were put on you?

Favreau: Fortunately because I have done well as a director, I am given a voice in the movies that I am involved with, even the big ones. Although you have to collaborate on the higher budget films, I have never felt that I have not had my fair say in the creative process. I think I am more understanding of the real economics of dealing with a movie where you are spending over 100 million dollars. There is a lot on the line and people have to be comfortable with what you are doing, but I will say that there is a freedom and an excitement when you make a smaller film and do not have to answer to anybody. It is nice to go off and do a solo album every once in a while where you could just express yourself completely. And especially knowing that you have the safety of going back to doing studio movies – like I’m going to do “The Jungle Book” next with Disney. So it’s a different set of challenges and a different set of opportunities that each medium provides you with.

“Chef” opens tomorrow at AMC Sunset Place 24, Cinemark Paradise 24 Cobb Dolphin 19, Paragon Grove 14 and Regal South Beach Stadium 18. Click here for showtimes.

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