Iron Man 3 premiered in theaters on Friday night, and surprised audiences with the development of one of the installment's most heavily anticipated characters – the Mandarin.

“If you were forced to say, ‘who is Iron Man’s greatest foe,’ you’d probably have to say The Mandarin,” said Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. “He was in every Iron Man 1 script until about 10 weeks before we started filming,” Feige told Entertainment Weekly. “He was a contemporary of Tony Stark [Robert Downey Jr.]. He was younger. He was involved in business deals with [Stark.]”

When it came to Iron Man 3, it was decided that the Mandarin had to be incorporated, but how to incorporate him remained a challenge. “Part of it was that we would rather have the Mandarin be of indeterminate ethnicity than the Fu Manchu stereotype that the comic books portrayed, but that’s not the only reason,” director Shane Black told EW. “I wanted to do something that was an interesting story choice, that felt like there was a little bit of satire, that was a little bit about our own fear and our own ways of viewing villains.”

In the end, the brains behind the third Iron Man installment decided to completely reconfigure the Mandarin villain from the comic books. In Iron Man 3, the Mandarin, as played by Ben Kingsley, claims responsibility for bombings that take place around the world. But the “bombings” are really high-tech bio accidents relating to the Extremis serum and his terrorist persona simply serves to cover up the real cause. What’s more? Kingsley's character is really only an actor named Trevor, and the real Mandarin is Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, the entrepreneurial scientist. “There was a point where it becomes an extreme change,” Feige acknowledged. “It was nerve wracking.”

Getting the untraditional plot point greenlit wasn’t easy, Feige admitted. “Do they hand me a blank check and say, ‘Go break something!’ Or, ‘Go violate some long-standing comic book treaty that fans have supported for years?’ No, but they’ll say: ‘Let’s break something together,’” Black said. “So it’s okay to come up with these crazy things, these far out ideas … and they’ll fly. It’s just that the Marvel guys have to be in the room.”

Incredibly, the studio managed to keep the major twist out of the headlines in the time leading up to the film’s release. Throughout all of the other spoilers, Mandarin’s true identity remained under wraps.

Iron Man 3 is currently in wide release.

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