The untold truth of Jon Favreau

A true Renaissance man, Jon Favreau makes great films in front of and behind the camera. As an actor, he’s best known for his buddy comedy Swingers alongside co-star Vince Vaughn. The movie helped launch both men’s acting careers, plus screenwriting for Favreau who wrote the screenplay. After directing Iron Man in 2008, the first movie in Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Favreau transitioned into one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood — especially for big-budget Disney live-action remakes like The Jungle Book in 2016 and The Lion King in 2019. You can also thank Favreau for gifting Baby Yoda to the world as the director of The Mandalorian.

Favreau’s Hollywood domination almost never happened, and it’s not because he almost ended up working in the restaurant biz, as his well-known penchant for that industry might indicate. No, the Couples Retreat star took an even more unconventional path to stardom, as we’re about to detail.

So, which of his projects do you enjoy the most? Do you have a favorite film by the multi-talented marvel? Grab some cutlery because it’s time to devour the untold truth of Jon Favreau.

A New York childhood

A native New Yorker, Jon Favreau grew up in the borough of Queens as “the son of two educators,” via the Los Angeles Times. And sadly, Favreau experienced heartbreak at a young age when his mother died of leukemia “when he was in middle school.” Around this time, Favreau turned to films. He particularly watched storylines filled with “loneliness and sadness” because as he told ABC News, later in those movies “a sense of community and love and togetherness takes over.” This planted the seed for his future career in crafting character arcs. And his love of science fiction grew as well. “His youth was defined by Lucas,” according to the Chicago Tribune, referencing the famous director and creator of the Star Wars universe, to which Favreau would later contribute. 

Favreau attended the Bronx High School of Science and there, the young man became engrossed with “playwriting and acting,” according to The New York Times. ”Sometimes we’d — how should I put this — we’d cut classes and go to revival houses in the Village,” Favreau remembered. ”The Village was kind of my film school in a way,” he added. One of Favreau’s high school English teachers, Arthur Feinberg, remembered the future director was ”enthusiastic” but ”not a star pupil by any means.”

Jon Favreau left school for a big opportunity

After high school, Jon Favreau set his sights on Cooper Union, a specialist college in Manhattan. He applied to the engineering department but was put on the waitlist and “never got called up,” he told Tim Ferriss. Favreau then decided on Queens College but didn’t flourish there, either. “[I] ever really found my footing, what I wanted to do. Was more interested in what was going on socially at school rather than academically. I didn’t really have a major,” he told Ferriss. In the midst of a lackluster school career, Favreau learned of a chance to mix his life up. He dropped out of school to work on Wall Street “for a friend’s dad who needed to hire an assistant. And I worked there for a year. And it wasn’t a great fit for me.”

Favreau earned another shot at Wall Street later in his career, though this time in a fictionalized version. He appeared in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and the stunning Margot Robbie. Favreau explained to Rolling Stone, “I was there the day depicted in the film, when the market crashed in ’87. I was in facilities planning at an investment banking house.” Favreau also revealed he was on the way out at this moment, “a week into my two-week notice. It wasn’t for me. I was getting out of there. I was in my twenties, and I went back to school.” 

Improv comedy informed Jon Favreau's whole career

After discovering that being a Wall Street financier wasn’t for him, Jon Favreau “bought a motorcycle and moved to Chicago,” The New York Times reported. While in The Windy City, Favreau turned to improv comedy. And no group there is more famous than The Second City, which helped launch the career of huge names like Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey. While he was close to the action, Favreau didn’t quite make it on stage. ”Actually, I washed dishes at The Second City,” Favreau confessed.

The actor found other groups and honed his comedic timing and acting skills. “Learning improv, I learned about storytelling, writing, editing, directing, and acting. Everybody did everything,” Favreau told IndieWire, adding, “It was nice to have that freedom, and I wasn’t judging myself early on and I got better as I went along.” But the life of an improv actor isn’t necessarily glamorous and requires a talent to keep the audience engaged. Favreau credits this process to forming his career path, telling Tim Ferriss, “The laughter doesn’t last if there’s no story. Story is the king. And you think it’s about the laughs, but really, it’s about investing in the story being drawn in.” 

Jon Favreau went from 'rotund tutor' to writer/director

After getting a taste for the entertainment biz in the fast-paced world of improv in Chicago, Jon Favreau landed his first role in a major motion picture with Rudy. The 1993 film starring a young Sean Astin turned into a sports movie classic. And Favreau appeared as “a rotund tutor,” as summarized by the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps more important than the role was the connection Favreau made with his co-star on set, Vince Vaughn, after which “the pair became close friends and collaborators.” Following this first big role, Favreau moved to Los Angeles with aspirations to keep the success rolling. “I thought that was going to be my big break. But things weren’t really popping for me,” he admitted to Tim Ferriss. While down on his luck, he still felt “comfortable tapping away at a screenplay” and began to craft his masterpiece.

Favreau penned Swingers and starred in it alongside Vaughn. The movie helped launch Vaughn’s career and was a smash hit for both men. Even as Favreau’s career transitioned into many directorial roles, he still finds himself acting in motion pictures. As he told Collider, “The nice part about acting is that I get to just focus on that for when I’m on the set.”

How Jon Favreau crafted a favorite holiday film

After writing and starring Swingers, Jon Favreau pursued a third job, directing. Made was Favreau’s first try at the helm of a production, and although the “film just isn’t all that memorable,” according to Screen Rant, Favreau was set to follow up in a spectacular fashion. His second film, 2003’s Elf, became a “modern holiday classic” according to Rolling Stone. “Our goal, even then, was to make a movie that could be part of that pantheon,” Favreau explained, adding, “The fact that it’s in rotation is the highest honor that movie can have.” 

Surprisingly, the film almost never made it to the screen. Or at least, the version people know and love. Judd Apatow, the acclaimed director and producer, handed Favreau the original script to Elf. “I took a look at the script, and I wasn’t particularly interested. It was a much darker version of the film,” Favreau recalled. “So for a year, I rewrote the script. It turned into more of a PG movie from a PG-13,” he explained. With his clever rework, Favreau helped launch Will Ferrell’s movie career too after his long run on SNL. Despite the success of the film and calls for a sequel, Elf 2 never materialized. As James Caan — an actor in the film — claimed to Insider, “the director and Will didn’t get along very well. Will wanted to do it, and he didn’t want the director.” 

The MCU has Jon Favreau to thank

In the early 2000’s, the most notable superhero movies were a few releases surrounding the X-Men. Comic-Cons were barely on the radar compared to a decade later, so in 2008, the success of Iron Man was not guaranteed. Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man, recalled to the Los Angeles Times that “nobody really cared about or was thinking about when it was announced.” Fans loved the film, however, which broke the “$100-million mark in its opening weekend.” Iron Man also launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history.

Favreau also revealed his process to creating comic-book movies that both heavily feature special effects, and also keep viewers engaged with more than just the visual spectacle. “You have to get the set pieces ready because it takes over a year to get the action stuff on the screen,” he said. Favreau explained that this timeline makes the script a constant work-in-progress. And sometimes, it means a jumbled mix of story and action. “It explains why a lot of action-orientated films don’t always make the most sense. Some dots never get connected,” he admitted.

Jon Favreau's creative process is surprisingly old school

As one of the biggest names in Hollywood to sit in the director’s chair, Jon Favreau clearly figured out a winning formula. Whether writing original screenplays or directing big-budget remakes, Favreau claimed (via IndieWire), “I live, breathe, sleep, and dream [the material] … I have to be immersed.” And with his talent for using special effects so well, it’s surprising that he is still old-school when it comes to jotting down notes. Reportedly, “Favreau believes in filling an old-fashioned black-and-white Composition Book … with scribbled notes and ideas before he’s ready to outline and write a screenplay.” According to the director, there are no bad ideas in his notebook phase. He admitted, “I have a lot of unfinished scripts.” 

His directing style is old school, too, even when working on movies completely in 3D like the 2019 remake of The Lion King. Favreau told TechCrunch he learned to direct in a physical environment. “It wasn’t sitting, looking over somebody’s shoulder [on a] computer,” he said, adding, “There’s something about being in a real 3D environment that makes it — I don’t know, just the parts of my brain are firing that fire on a real movie.”

The highs and lows of Hollywood

As any director or actor will tell you, the movie biz is volatile. And in spite of Jon Favreau’s later successes, he had some early bumps in the road with lesser known work, including Made and Zathura: A Space Adventure. “You ride the wins as well as the losses,” Jon Favreau confessed to IndieWire. “You’re going full speed down a railroad track for such a long time that when you hit a wall, it’s disconcerting and overwhelming. Success can be just as jarring,” he further explained.

The director’s comments came from a discussion about Cowboys & Aliens. The high-budget space western starring Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, and Harrison Ford disappointed fans and critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes. The movie grossed “just $175 million worldwide despite costing about that much to produce,” per The Hollywood Reporter. And to add insult to injury, the studio faced a lawsuit from a comic book artist who created a story decades earlier — also called Cowboys & Aliens.

Despite other failures, like his film Zathura, the director has grown from the disappointing results. “You don’t learn from success,” Favreau told IndieWire, but rather, “You learn from failure.” He further explained that he can thank these lows to appreciate the highs. “I don’t take anything for granted,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Jon Favreau is a major foodie

In 2001, Jon Favreau launched a series on IFC called Dinner for Five. As the host, Favreau “would sit down for dinner with some of the most interesting people in Hollywood and just talk,” Slashfilm recalled. And the guest list was incredible, via IMDb, including the single and over 40 hunk Colin Farrell, Peter Dinklage long before Game of Thrones, and many more. The series lasted four seasons and likely influenced the steps later in Favreau’s career. Following the failure of his big-budget Cowboys & Aliens, “Favreau made the scruffy low-budget family comedy Chef, which was an indie success, earning “$46.8 million worldwide,” via IndieWire.

Chef also helped the career of Binging with Babish star Andrew Rea, who recreated a dish from Favreau’s film, Pasta Aglio e Olio. And the two became buddies. “I’m still stunned that I’ve met him,” Rea told Forbes. Apparently, Favreau’s children were big fans of Binging with Babish and convinced their dad to watch. Favreau and Rea talked on Twitter and soon after, “I’m on a plane out to L.A., and I’m going to his studio to meet him and be on his show and [have him] be on mine. Utterly surreal and it’s still the greatest day of my life,” Rea revealed.

Favreau’s show mentioned by Rea is The Chef Show. When making Chef, Favreau needed a real-life chef so he consulted chef Roy Choi. The two became friends and created The Chef Show on Netflix.

The charitable Jon Favreau

Even as an up-and-coming actor in Hollywood, Jon Favreau used his position and funds to help those less fortunate. For example, he appeared on a 2001 episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? as a celebrity guest. In the fourth “Celebrity Week” of the series, Favreau won the “fastest finger” component at the start and answered 12 questions in a row correctly. He walked away and “won $125,000 for his charity,” per Millionaire Fandom.

Later, Favreau celebrated incredible feedback from his film Chef in 2014. He premiered the indie movie at the Tribeca Film Festival in his hometown of New York. Attendees voted Chef with the audience award for “Best Narrative Film.” This also came with a $25,000 cash prize. Favreau, in a heartwarming gesture, “revealed the funds will be going towards City Harvest, a group which aims to provide fresh produce for poverty-stricken residents across the Big Apple,” via Young Hollywood.

Jon Favreau is a directing dad

As if being a famous actor, director, and amateur chef wasn’t enough, Jon Favreau appears to be winning in the family department, too. In 2000, Favreau married Joya Tillem, a physician based in Los Angeles and niece of Len Tillem, an attorney and radio show host, according to J Weekly. The couple have a son and two daughters. Favreau talked to Tim Ferriss about how he juggles family life as one of the busiest and most in-demand men in entertainment. He explained that as a father one needs to be “very present as you spend time with your kids, making sure you’re not checking your emails when you’re tucking the kids in.” He applies the same philosophy to his relationships with his friends and his wife. Favreau admitted, “it’s not something I did effortlessly a decade ago. And it’s something I’ve grown into.” One of his secrets to be a great dad might be a side hobby of sculpting. He revealed that on parent-teacher days, his impressive creations out of Play-Doh give him “some street cred” among the students. 

The director also started his one kid in the movie industry at an early age. His son Max appeared in Iron Man 2. And for all the comic book fans out there, the cameo was as a young Peter Parker. According to Uproxx, “Peter Parker’s first appearance in the MCU was played by Max Favreau.”

Jon Favreau's surprising inspiration

Dungeons & Dragons isn’t just reserved for the kids on Stranger Things. The fantasy game may have a nerdy reputation but it also served as a major inspiration for Jon Favreau. The director credits the game as a reason for getting into filmmaking. “It was Dungeons & Dragons, but I wouldn’t have owned up so quickly a few years ago,” Favreau confessed to the Los Angeles Times. At least the MCU fans have his back, right? “It’s rough. It’s one of the few groups that even comic-book fans look down on,” Favreau revealed.

Even with all the shade, the director claims the game “gave me a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance.” It’s true, the game involves magical worlds created by its players. “It allowed me to not tamp down my imagination,” Favreau explained, saying that people often lose this ability. And the director revealed that in high school, he actually turned off his childlike imagination. Luckily, he learned how to harness the creativity and continues to put these magical thoughts into his projects.

How much is Jon Favreau worth?

As an entertainment industry veteran, Jon Favreau lives the high live, albeit not as high as Tony Stark, the billionaire Iron Man lead character. Starting with his breakthrough acting and screenwriting highlight, Swingers, followed by more blockbuster films, and the award-winning TV series The Mandalorian, Favreau has enjoyed a fruitful career with no signs of slowing down. According to The Wall Street Journal, Disney reportedly spent around $15 million on each episode of the first season of The Mandalorian. With such big financial support, the director surely received a handsome payday. Combining all of his projects, Celebrity Net Worth estimated Favreau’s net worth was $100 million in 2020.

What would you spend this amount of money on? For Favreau, he’s purchased at least one beautiful car on his rise through the entertainment industry. He reportedly owns a vintage Ford. And if you look closely at the original Iron Man, you may spot that car. According to Best Movie Cars, as Tony Stark walks through his garage, there is a 1932 Ford Model B Flathead Roadster clearly visible. Supposedly, this hot rod belongs to Favreau, who lent his rare vehicle for the scene.

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