Actor and filmmaker Jon Favreau has an unlikely career that went from improv acting to directing Hollywood blockbusters.
Born in Flushing, Queens, New York City in 1966, Favreau originally wanted to be an actor so badly that he dropped out of Hebrew school to pursue his dream, later dropping out of Queens College in 1988 to move to Chicago and perform at several improv theaters including such star-making establishments as The Second City and ImprovOlympic.
After being an extra in a few films, he got his first major role in the 1993 sports biopic Rudy.
But the film that really propelled Favreau’s career (as well as the careers of Vince Vaughn, Heather Graham and Ron Livingston) was the comedy hit Swingers written by Favreau and released by Miramax in 1996.
Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) the plot of Swingers revolved around a struggling comedian played by Favreau who moved from New York to Los Angeles to find success while suffering from depression following a break-up that happened six months earlier, prompting his friends to try and make him feel better by getting him back into the social scene.
The movie was a critical and commercial success making over $4 million on a $200,000 budget. Many people who saw the film found it to be heartfelt and humorous, with Roger Ebert calling it sweet, funny and observant. It even established some lingo that entered the pop-culture lexicon in the years following its release, including the use of the word “money” as an adjective to approve of something of quality.
As an example, “Eli’s blogs? Money.”
Favreau continued to act in films and on television, appearing in such popular shows as Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show, Friends, The Sopranos and the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars in which he voiced Pre Vizsla.
He also continued acting in feature films but his skills behind the camera were where he was at his best.
Favreau’s feature film directorial debut was the 2001 mafia crime comedy Made starring Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Peter Falk and Sean Combs. It wasn’t as good as Swingers but it had some inspired moments. He had much more success with the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy Elf which was so popular it became a holiday classic.
Following Elf and the sci-fi Jumanji spin-off Zathura: A Space Adventure which got decent reviews, Favreau got the ultimate gig when he directed the film that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man (2008) starring Robert Downey Jr.
Iron Man had been in development hell for years before that point. Universal first bought the film rights to the Marvel comic in 1990, later selling to 20th Century Fox in 1996 who later sold to New Line Cinema in 1999, with actors like Nicholas Cage and Tom Cruise reportedly showing interest in portraying the character. However it was constantly put on the back burner in favor of bigger Marvel franchises like Spider-Man and X-Men, leading to the film rights eventually returning to Marvel who decided to set up Marvel Studios and make the film themselves. Many filmmakers turned down working on the film because they were uninterested in the character, but Jon Favreau saw potential in the film as a high-concept Tom Clancy-like political thriller although the indie film director managed to keep the human element intact as well as the sense of humor he was known for.
It was actually Favreau who had the idea to cast Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and fought for him when Marvel opposed the casting, so you can thank Favreau not only for kick-starting the MCU but also for giving us the MCU’s first superhero.
Iron Man, which co-starred Favreau as Tony Stark’s bodyguard Happy Hogan, made $585 million and was a huge success, putting the character of Iron Man in the spotlight and increasing his mainstream popularity while ensuring the expansion of the MCU and the feature film debuts of Thor, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy and others.
Favreau would also direct the 2010 sequel Iron Man 2 (which introduced Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow) as well as executive produce Iron Man 3 and the Avengers films all while frequently reprising his role as Happy Hogan in the Iron Man, Avengers and Spider-Man films.
After getting a mixed reception with the 2011 sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens, Favreau made the entertaining slice-of-life film Chef in 2014 which proved that even after creating huge blockbusters he still knew how to tell small-scale human comedies (and his passion for cooking isn’t relegated solely to this film either since he has also hosted The Chef Show on Netflix since 2019).
Afterwards he directed The Jungle Book (2016) and The Lion King (2019) which were both visually stunning advancements in realistic CGI that were gorgeous to look at. A sequel to The Jungle Book is even said to be in the works with Favreau making a possible return as director.
In addition to his movies, Favreau has a good television resume as well, directing episodes of Undeclared, The Office, The Orville and Young Sheldon as well as creating the Emmy-nominated Disney+ series The Mandalorian which is a space western and Star Wars spin-off set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi that follows the life of a mysterious bounty hunter played by Pedro Pascal. For many Disney+ customers, it is the main reason why they have subscribed. The show might be the best thing Jon Favreau ever created. Here’s hoping he hasn’t reached the peak of his amazing career yet.