The Big Picture
- The Avengers had to exclude many supporting characters, but Robert Downey Jr. pushed for Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts to be included.
- Pepper Potts was essential to Tony Stark’s arc and played a significant role in the MCU, even donning her Rescue armor in Avengers: Endgame.
- Iron Man’s character development throughout the first decade of the MCU relied heavily on Pepper Potts, helping shape him from a selfish billionaire to a self-sacrificing husband and father.
The Avengers marked the first major team-up of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while the 2021 film had the rare luxury of having the majority of its roster including its villain pre-established in prior films, the bulk of the weight that it had to carry centered on believably tying the heroes together, all within a reasonable runtime. As a result of this burden, many supporting characters from the lead-in films had to be benched for The Avengers. Aside from Gwyneth Paltrow‘s Pepper Potts, the heroes’ closest cohorts didn’t make the cut, and writer-director Joss Whedon credits Iron Man himself (Robert Downey Jr.) for Pepper’s inclusion.
Robert Downey Jr. Made Sure Gwyneth Paltrow Was Included in ‘The Avengers’
In 2012, during a promotional press junket prior to the film’s premiere, the Los Angeles Times reported on Whedon’s initial inclination to exclude the bulk of the supporting characters from The Avengers. “You need to separate the characters from their support systems in order to create the isolation you need for a team,” he told the publication. Ultimately, it was Downey Jr. who brought Paltrow’s Pepper Potts into the mix. “But Pepper, this was really Robert’s thing,” Whedon continued. “He pushed hard …, He really thought Gwyneth would bring something great to the table, and we all thought so as well, but he was the one who convinced her to come and do it.”
Out of All the MCU’s Supporting Characters, Pepper Potts Was Most Essential to Tony Stark’s Arc
With The Avengers, most notably, the love interests had to be set aside. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) got to bring Erik Selvig (Stellan Skårsgard) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) over in service of the plot, but there’s been no room for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) outside of Thor’s solo films. Captain America (Chris Evans) quite literally left his supporting cast in the previous century after being frozen out of time, and the non-super-powered Avengers — Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — wouldn’t get their own solo ventures until after Avengers: Endgame.
The Incredible Hulk didn’t even keep its Bruce Banner, with Edward Norton being replaced by Mark Ruffalo, and its supporting characters would be benched for quite some time. William Hurt‘s Thaddeus Ross didn’t make a return until 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Tim Roth‘s Emil Blonsky is finally seeing a resurgence post-Endgame, and Phase Five of the MCU will reportedly bring Liv Tyler and Tim Blake Nelson back into the fold with Captain America: Brave New World.
However, for Tony Stark and Iron Man’s arc, Pepper Potts has been integral since the beginning. Pepper herself would even grow to become a larger part of the MCU, showing up in her Rescue armor during the final battle of Avengers: Endgame. At the aforementioned press junket, Joss Whedon added, “[Robert Downey Jr.] didn’t want to be sort of, crazy alone guy, he wanted to be crazy in-a-relationship guy,” and that track would ultimately play out perfectly before Tony Stark’s death in Avengers: Endgame. From an entirely selfish billionaire/playboy/philanthropist to the husband and father ready and willing to make the self-sacrificial move, Iron Man would not have been able to evolve over the first decade of the MCU without Pepper showing Tony the man he wanted to become.