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Tony Stark’s Characterological Origins: Musk, Trump, Jobs

As one of four credited screenwriters in 2008 Iron Man, Mark Fergus had a big part in shaping the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s foundational superhero: Tony Stark, the inventor-billionaire-industrialist-playboy played by Robert Downey Jr. According to Fergus, the character was inspired by an amalgam of real people — but none so much as Elon Musk.

Howard Hughes had blazed the trail for all the stuff that Elon is doing now. He established that turf back in the ’40s — the way he’s running his companies, dealing with the SEC, the government, politics, Hollywood, and investors. That was our rock-star industrialist model for Tony Stark. But Howard Hughes — I think people don’t know who the hell that is. Back in the early 2000s, when we were saying, “Who would be the Howard Hughes of now?” Who’s an industrialist who would also be on the gossip pages? Is there even anyone like that?,” Elon’s name was definitely in the conversation as the guy who grabbed the torch.

Him, Trump, and maybe a little Steve Jobs. Trump was fun before he became president — he was actually kind of a goofy celebrity. Steve Jobs was always serious and angry; he never quite had that gift of the bullshit, the working the crowd that Musk has a real natural talent for. Musk brought the brilliance of Jobs with the showmanship of Trump. He was the only one who had the fun factor and the celebrity vibe and actual business substance. I’m not sure we talked about too many other people; there are not many people like that around. It’s dangerous to be a celebrity businessman. One scandal and it’s billions of dollars. People want their CEOs to shut up and be good, quiet figures who aren’t in the paper dating celebrities. Because shit can happen.

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