Why 'Chef's Jon Favreau Can Get Away With Doing Movies Like This

Jon Favreau is so money, and he doesn't even know how money he is, baby. Well, that might not necessarily be true. After all, Favreau directed the first two Iron Man movies (which made a combined $1.2 billion worldwide at the box office), the beloved holiday classic Elf , and even some of his misses have been hits (he penned the panned comedy Couples Retreat, which still went on to make over $100 million at the U.S. box office). Back in 1996 Favreau got his big break when wrote the modest-indie-turned-quoted-cult-comedy-classic Swingers and since then he's turned out one of the most versatile careers in Hollywood, both behind and in front of the camera.

While the 47-year-old actor/writer/director/producer has mostly gone by way of the mainstream flick (he's starred in everything from Deep Impact to The Break-Up to The Wolf of Wall Street) and the big budget blockbuster since his Swingers days (sometimes with disastrous results, see: his directorial misstep Cowboys & Aliens), he's returning to his indie roots with his latest passion project Chef. The foodie film, which debuted at this year's SXSW film festival, is created, directed, written, and starring Favreau as a former celebrity chef who starts over by opening a food truck. A talented guy who hit the big time and then returns to more modest roots? Yep, that sounds pretty familiar.

So how has Favreau built such an impressive, versatile career over the course of 20 years in the often unforgiving landscape of Hollywood? Let's take a look back.

The '90s, Baby

Favreau's acting career kicked off in the early '90s, including his role as the lovable sidekick D-Bob in the football drama Rudy. ("Who's the wild man now?!") While he had a number of supporting roles throughout the '90s in movies like PCU and Deep Impact, he really made a name for himself when he wrote himself his own breakout role: as the lovelorn, out-of-work actor Mike in Swingers. Vince Vaughn may have had the flashier role, as the catchphrase-spouting, womanizing Trent, but it was Favreau who had the last laugh, in every sense of the word. While Vaughn and Favreau have worked together multiple times since Swingers (including Made, The Break-Up, Four Christmases, Couples Retreat), Favreau managed to avoid the pitfalls that Vaughn's career hit (taking on too many similar parts) and has turned out to be the big star. Of course, Favreau still had to film the most uncomfortable phone call(s) in the history of cinema, so there's a trade-off.

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TV Ventures

Favreau has seen tremendous success on the big screen (more on that in a bit), but he's also ventured into television with excellent results, too. Favreau appeared on Season 3 of Friends as Monica's millionaire-turned-UFC-fighter boyfriend Pete, which was one of the funniest and most memorable relationships in the history of the show. While Favreau has done the occasional guest appearance or voice work on television since Friends, he's since gone behind the scenes, as an executive producer for both Revolution and About a Boy.

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Behind the Camera

Throughout the 2000s Favreau took on plenty of supporting roles, sometimes in very good movies (Something's Gotta Give, I Love You, Man, The Wolf of Wall Street) and sometimes in not very good movies (John Carter, Daredevil, Identity Thief), but Favreau's career took its most fascinating turn when he went behind the camera. While his first effort, 2001's Made was a disappointment, 2003's Elf was anything but. The charming Will Ferrell-starring comedy, which earned $173 million at the U.S. box office alone, has become a bona fide holiday classic. Favreau had a back-to-back directorial punch between 2008 and 2010 when he directed both Iron Man and Iron Man 2. The original Iron Man was a big hit with critics and Favreau proved that superhero movies could be as smart as they are sleek. While he hit a roadblock in 2011 with the massive flop that was Cowboys & Aliens, Favreau looks to be returning to form with Chef (the Wall Street Journal calls it "a nice surprise"), and then trying his hand back at the big budget game with the already wildly anticipated 2015 adaptation of The Jungle Book . While more eyes will undoubtedly be fixed on the success of The Jungle Book over Chef, Favreau has carved himself a career in which he can ping-pong between both these kinds of genres. So money, baby, so very money.

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