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Iron Man - Robert Downey Jr interview

Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ROBERT Downey Jr talks about taking on the role of Iron Man, some of the risks involved in his casting and why the comic book character struck such a chord with him, personally.

He also jokes about why he’s useless when it comes to technology and lets us in on a surprise injury that co-star Gwyneth Paltrow suffered while filming.

Q. Is it any accident that both Charlie Bartlett and Iron Man have the line “I’m a guy with problems?” Does this reflect on your experience of rehab?
Robert Downey Jr: What are you getting at? Now what kind of answer do you want? Just tell me… Thank you for the lead in. If I was Arnold Schwarzenegger I’d just somehow start a sentence that ended saying “Iron Man”. Tony Stark offered me a chance in a lifetime and one of these things was talking with Jon and the process before I was cast. It’s rare in movies like these, like Favreau says, because the first thing you get is a release date, then a poster, then you talk about the trailer and you think about a director and casting and maybe at some point a script.

What was really great about this – and there was some hesitancy for obvious reasons that are obvious enough in having all this dough and this big idea and putting me out in front of it – but the cool thing is that Jon and I got to have a series of conversations when the process was we thought it could be a great idea. He was meeting other people, and some of them, whose money it was, were hesitant for the same reasons that I or maybe anyone else would be. And then it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. There was even a point when Jon said: “Look, I don’t think this is going to work out.” And I said: “Well, look if you don’t mind I’ll just have to pretend I didn’t hear that.” And it came down to a screen test.

But what I’m trying to say is that this has really been a journey for all of us but essentially for Jon and I – in trying to creating this character– it was how do you keep it true to its form? At some point there’s going to be obvious questions of art imitating life and all that. But for me, I just call it the $165m catharsis.

Q. How collaborative a process was this in the end?
Robert Downey Jr: Well, I came to the set at the start of the day and I’d ball up the script and throw it against the wall and Jon would say: “Good morning.” And I’d say: “What do you want to do?” Or Gwyneth [Paltrow] would say: “Oh my God you guys, we HAVE to shoot something before lunch today, you’re crazy!” We’d sometimes run through how we thought the scene should with Terrence [Howard] and he’d have some comments or kibosh it. But Terrence, Jon and I really wanted to find out how to transcend the usual “I represent the military but I have to go another way”. We tried to make the scenes the way we wanted to see them because I’m used to being pretty disappointed and embittered when I actually pay to go see these movies that promise that I will be entertained.

Q. So, here you are in your tin man suit. Are you concerned that a role like Iron Man might distract from the fact you’re an actor with a range?
Robert Downey Jr: Well, first of all I’d like to note that there was a slight note of condescension in your voice. Oh sure, first of all you call it a f**king tin suit. That said, I kind of like you and I think we’d have a great time hanging out. [Laughs] Yeah, I get it. Look, I’m not so far gone that I can’t see to the other side of these things. But I was looking at all the merchandise for Iron Man and there’s a little flip book for kids that says “for ages 4+” and at the end of the flip book it says: “Iron Man defeated Evil Iron Monger. Obadiah Stain would never hurt anyone again.” I got really choked up by that and I thought this is an opportunity to give back to a system that I remember impacted on me greatly when I was a kid, and to a certain degree, even now.

Q. You play a technical genius in the film. Are you a master of technology yourself?
Robert Downey Jr: I was actually trying to get online in my suite upstairs and almost lost my mind. But I have a great love for it. I’d also like to say that unlike the director Jon Favreau, I was on nobody’s list to play Tony Stark but here we are.

Q. How did you find the physical demands of this role?
Robert Downey Jr: I trained a lot because if you’re 22 or 32 you train for six weeks and you look good for six months. I trained for six months and I think I looked good for about six seconds. Interestingly enough, Gwyneth showed up for work one day and Jon had her running from a green screen and she said: “You know, I think my knee hurts a little bit.” And Jon was like “Yeah? Anyway…” because that’s your typical actress royalty issue. But as it turned out, she had quite a devastating injury and immediately went into surgery the next day [laughs]. So, if it ever looks like she’s standing when she should be in action, that’s a little inside thing for you guys.

Read our review of Iron Man

Read our interview with Jon Favreau