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Iron Man - Robert Downey Jr DVD interview

Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man

Compiled by Jack Foley

ROBERT Downey Jr reflects on the cinematic success of Iron Man, how he got into shape, why he felt right to play the part and what can be expected from the sequels. Iron Man is released on DVD on October 27.

Q. Congratulations on the success of Iron Man. Now there’s talk of an Iron Man 2 and 3. What can fans expect from the sequels?
A: There are so many different ways you can go. I really don’t know. That’s the cool thing. I feel like with this character we can do so many clever things with him.

Q: Should we expect the unexpected?
A: Sure. That’s how I see it. You know, if this is the expectation at the end of the first movie, well, let’s turn it another way. If these films usually seem very two dimensional, let’s make it more naturalistic. I still love what Danny Glover and Mel Gibson did with the Lethal Weapon movies because of the way they interacted with each other. You bought into their friendship and their journey.

Q: You looked physically pumped up in Iron Man. How much training in the gym did they give you?
A: They said I’d be fine to start shooting the way I looked, but I took it upon myself to get into really good shape.

Q: So you hit they gym?
A: Yeah weights, martial arts, yoga.

Q: Why did you decide to take part in this big action adventure film. A movie based on a comic book seems so out of the ordinary for you?
A: Right. Well, I’ve never been offered a role like this. I had a feeling that I was supposed to do it. Then I thought: “Am I wrong? Am I just convincing myself? Am I just trying to set myself up for disappointment?” Then I thought: “No I think I am supposed to do this movie.”

Q: Were you offered the role or did you have to go after it?
A: I guess that’s the interesting part. I wasn’t offered it and I had to kind of go for it. It just reminded me of the only other time in my career when I felt the same way and it was when Richard Attenborough was casting Chaplin. I went in to meet him and I said: “Dude, I really feel like I could do this.” And Attenborough was like [puts on a very proper English voice]: “Right. Nice to meet you. Good day.” Then it came to just after screen test and he said: “Robert you have been offered the role of Charles Spencer Chaplin.” And then I had this amazing journey with him. It’s funny that my next Attenborough would be [Iron Man director] Jon Favreau. It was kind of a big homecoming for me.

Q: How is this role as Tony Stark in Iron Man close to you?
A: Well I’m a billionaire weapons manufacturer and I have superhuman powers [laughs].

Q: Can you relate to him?
A: I mean, I know people who have a lot of stuff, but I still think Tony’s house is very cool. If I were in that position, and by the time I’ve done three of these I just might be [laughs], but if I were really in that super crazy rich powerful position, I would feel very much like the way Tony ends up feeling, which is: “What are you really doing with your life? How can you contribute something greater?”

Q: How much time did you spend in the Iron Man suit? It looked quite uncomfortable…
A: A fair amount. The guys who designed and built the suit will tell you it’s not user friendly, but I think it comes up great on the film. Initially we thought there is no way you could shoot any of this stuff practically, that it would all have to be animated or CGI at the end of the day, but as it turns out, there’s been a far larger percentage of being able to do it practically.

Q: How much mobility did you have in the Iron Man suit?
A: Well that’s the funny thing. One of the challenges is that the design of it is not shaped to me. I have to fit into it. The answer is not very. I try to stay in good shape and I do pretty complex martial arts and I’m very co-ordinated, but you could take the most co-ordinated person, put them in the suit and they’d look like an idiot. It’s a tall order.

Q: How do you have a toilet break in the suit?
A: That was probably the greatest stunt done in the entire movie [laughs].

Q: What was it like performing the flying scenes?
A: The flying sequence, where he’s testing out the boots, that was a huge deal for us. I’d been prepping for that and training for that moment. It winds up being maybe a minute and a half in the movie. We really felt like that was the thing, that’s where Iron Man achieves something no-one has ever done before. And he does it alone and we felt that was really important. I felt like we delivered something that was more than what was just expected on the call sheet.

Q: The Iron Man sets must have been amazing. What was it like when you saw them for the first time?
A: I guess I was a bit like how Ben Kingsley felt during the cool parts of Gandhi that everywhere you go from the sets, to what’s around you, is incredible.

Q: What did you know about Iron Man before you started to shoot the film?
A: I knew he didn’t get bit by a bug and he doesn’t get all trippy around bats [laughs]. He’s a real guy in the real world of the military industrial complex. When I went to meet Stan Lee for lunch at The Grill in Beverly Hills, he said: “Thank you because maybe now I can get a table here every day.” I said: “Thank you because if you hadn’t written this character I wouldn’t have this great job to do.”

Q: Did Stan tell you why he created the character?
A: He said he did it on a dare because back in the mid to late 60s there was a very strong anti-military industrial complex movement, it was a time of not trusting anyone over 30. There were so many different revolutions going on. Stan also wanted a character that showed vulnerability. Stan said they got more female fan mail for Iron Man than any of their other characters.

Q: Did you do a lot of research on the comic?
A: Yeah. I said: “Can you guys send me everything you have?” And they were like: “Oh, you don’t want that.” Then one day everything arrived and there were volumes of stuff. When I’ve worked a 12 or 14 hour day, half of the nights I go home I’ll leaf through to get some more information. Jon is a great director, we have a great cast and it’s definitely a big undertaking.

We were not doing the Batman Begins, dark, barely OK to bring your kids to version. It’s a lot more, I believe, accessible than that without being insulting to a wide range of filmgoers. I actually believe a lot of these superhero films are a very high art form and many times, the writing is well above par and the art is really evocative. I really like it.

Q: What parts did you tweak about your character?
A: I just wanted to attempt to make him real and conflicted. Even after he has this big transition, he’s not all of a sudden like this awakened spirit. It’s a career change for him.

Q: How was it working with Gwyneth Paltrow?
A: Gwyneth is fantastic. She’s my favorite.

Q: And Jon Favreau?
A: It’s been wildly collaborative between he and I. Sometimes, he’d let me co-direct how the scenes are going to go.

Q: Many of the your Iron Man co-stars said the came on board because they wanted to work with you. How do you feel about that?
A: I felt like, boy, I really better make sure we make all these parts and all these scenes good because if they came into the movie and it sucks they’re going to blame me [laughs].

Q: Are you a comic book fan?
A: I guess so. I mean, now I am. But not of all of them, just Iron Man because I feel like it’s mine. Actually it’s not mine, I’m just a gun for hire.

Q: What was the biggest challenge for you in Iron Man?
A: Staying balanced and focused for the entirety of the shoot. I wanted to push the envelope and I wanted to feel good at the end of every day if possible.

Q: Did you manage to do that?
A: Yes I did. I feel it was my greatest accomplishment.

Q: Some people say this movie marks your extraordinary comeback. How do you feel about that?
A: I try not to get involved in those kinds of things because where there’s a comeback there’s a setup where there’s a setup, there’s a fall, where there’s a fall there’s goodwill and where there’s goodwill there’s a comeback. I’ve just been around too long. But to give your question some credit and value, it feels really good. It feels like it’s been a long time coming for me to do something of this scale and have it turn out pretty well.

Read our review of Iron Man