Maybe the story of Robert Downey Jr. hasn’t been hailed as the Comeback of the Century just yet, but just wait until next Monday. By then, the entertainment biz will suddenly realize it’s one of the biggest stories to come out of Downey’s role as Tony Stark in Marvel Studios’ Iron Man. That and the fact that Downey and Jon Favreau may have given comic book fans the most accurate portrayal of a comic book character we’ve seen yet.
Any worries the imminent success of Downey’s first big budget blockbuster effects movie might forever change the actor into the type of unapproachable movie star he was always meant to be were alleviated when Superhero Hype! attended the New York junket for the movie. Downey strolled into the room dressed far more casually than his co-stars, let out a loud belch, plopped down across two chairs, lounging back on them as if they were a therapist’s couch, prepared to field questions from his sworn arch-enemies, the dreaded journalistsâ€¦ pretty much the exact same way he’s approached roundtable interviews the last few times we spoke to him.
Don’t take that the wrong way though, because Downey is always a great interview, entertaining and funny with intelligent and candid responses even if a few dumb questions will inevitably get mocked heavily if answered at all.
Downey’s co-star Gwyneth Paltrow, who we talked to earlier, is quite a counterpoint, being far more congenial, and you can read our interview with her here.
Superhero Hype!: How much of this character was informed by the comics books and how much came from you, Jon and the screenwriters?
Robert Downey Jr.: It’s funny to me, because I have all this reference material and people will go, “Oh, we don’t need that.” I’m like, “Wait a minute. People have been tweaking this character for forty-five years. I think everything of value is probably right in there.” But I wasn’t entirely correct because we had to bring ourselves to bear. If there are accomplishments in “Iron Man” we used in the same sentence that Jon and I really created this third thing, which was Tony Stark. We really talked about it and really treated it like it was wildly important. It was and it is. I don’t think you get a lot of shots like this where you get a chance to do a couple more. Everyone’s watching and I’m here talking to you people. I was with friends at dinner with Tobey, Leo and Jon and all these guys last nightâ€¦ I’ve been on the other side of that where you’re doing press with people about a movie you hate and you know they hate and I’m like, “Why are we f**king here?” (laughter)
SHH!: As a kid were you into comics?
Downey: I think so. I wasn’t a comic book enthusiast, but I remember seeing “Iron Man” at Schwab’s, and he was with Spider-Man and this and that and I would think, “Oh, is that a robot?”
SHH!: What was it about the character of Tony Stark that you liked so much?
Downey: I think it’s what it is about a mythology about a genre picture like this that I thought could be fun and cool and maybe wind up turning into more than another paycheck. His superpower is his mind. His superpower is his ability to invent and I think that’s something that all of a sudden makes it applicable to every man, woman and child who will see it. I love this phrase that “there’s nothing more serious than a child at play.” I know that that’s true for me. I think everyone has their thing. I ask around and make it my business to ask someone, “When you’re following your joy, what is it?” It tends to be several things but it usually has to do with tinkering with no particular aim, or it’s a hobby that’s not a hobby at all. It’s a complete spiritual endeavor for that man or woman or kid. I think that ultimately, that’s what saves his ass in the simplest form of the story is his ability to create out of desperation or loneliness or out of industrialism or patriotism.
SHH!: How focused were you on how you wanted to play Tony Stark physically in terms of his sexuality?
Downey: Well, I turned 41 when I was cast. I turned 42 when we were shooting the desert escape sequence and I turned 43 a few weeks ago. After a certain point, it starts to click along pretty quick. So I decided to make an intervention on myself and see if I could actually get in shape. When I was in my 20s, you train for six weeks and you look good for the next six years. Now, I train for six months and I look good for six minutes. The math is getting really interesting too. I think being able to hold that idea of what’s evocative to me is sexual. Regarding women and stuff, there’s an ease and ability to hold your space. I had a lot of help. Jon really made this character for me.
SHH!: There’s the potential for Tony to come off as a womanizer and a jerk, yet there’s also something endearing about him. Was there a lot of talk about finding that balance?
Downey: Well the conversations that I’ve heard throughout my illustrious career were, “We got to make sure he’s notâ€¦” and I’m like, “Well, what do you know what we have to make sure he isn’t? What about the story?” The story takes care of it. He gets his ass kicked so hard. And then how do you transition? The more important thing wasn’t whether he was an a**hole before but if he’s something other than entirely not an a**hole after that, then I can’t understand that person. He can’t go, “Pepper, we have got to have a press conference.” I was like, “He doesn’t want a press conference. He wants a cheeseburger.” He doesn’t know what he wants. He says press conference because he knows he’s going to do something but he’s nervous. I think as audiences and myself as a movie lover, you forgive a lot. Look at the movies we love and look at the schmucks and b*tches people are before the turn, act two or the resolution. You never want them to change entirely because part of the aspect of that aggression, drive or that wit is ultimately what comes to bear at the end. From the little I know about storytelling that seems to be useful.
In that scene with Leslie Bibb, one of my favorite things that we had to cut out: we go to bed and she’s all pissed off and I wanted to say, “Let it all out. Let it all out. I know you hate me.” Jon was like, “You’re talking enough. You can’t improvise everything everytime. Shut up! We got two hours and I got five shots.” I was like, “All right.” She rolls off the bed and in one of these takes and she did this (makes swinging motion) and I turned my head the way I said I would and she just clocked me in the jaw. You actually heard through the body mic *click* and I was like, “Awww!”
I always think you can go further. At the same time, my sensibilities and the sensibilities Jon has, which is so sophisticated and so able to say, “That’s a cool moment for you. That’s a cool moment for adults but that’s not something kids want to see.” It doesn’t matter if kids can’t see it. If it’s important to the movie, we’ll take the edge off it. He was always checking and balancing everything.
SHH!: How was working with Terrence and Gwyneth?
Downey: Terrence was fantastic. We really got close playing these guys who were really close and it’s been an interesting thing because you tend to think you’re making friends, and there are people you really feel a brotherhood with and he’s one of them. Gwyneth is absolutely crazy about me.
SHH!: The chemistry between the two of you is great.
Downey: It’s rare that that happens. Sometimes, you think she’s hot, she’s smart and she’s cool, and then you go on set and she’s just talks like a wench and you think, “I can’t believe I’ve got to spend the next couple of months with this b*tch.” Gwyneth was a very corrective experience for me.
SHH!: Regarding the improvisation and rewriting on the set, can you talk about how that worked?
Downey: We put those guys (the writers) through their paces. They’d go, “Take out the trash” and I’d go, “Take out the trash? You got a better line than that.” It’s the first big laugh of the movie. I was riding these guys all the time while we were doing the movie. I was like, “Congratulations, you got a nomination. Yeah, yeah, I’m not going to respect you. That doesn’t mean anything to me.” My nomination meant something to me. There’s a scene where there’s a weapons test in the beginning where he goes, “better to be feared than respected.” I wrote that line. Then it was “Better to be feared than respected? Why not have both?” And then Jon goes, “We have to talk about the missile. Not your ideas.” I’m like, “Okay, I’ll talk about the missile.” Then I go on about the Jericho missile and it’s the first time it’s proprietarily mine and he goes, “Is that correct grammar? Proprietary repulsor technology.” I go, “Yes. I know my grammar. Period or you got more to say?” He goes, “Period.” I go, “O.K.” They say, “The best weapon is the one that is used only once.” He wrote that. I go, “Dad did it. That’s how America does it.” He goes, “Don’t say that.” I go, “I’m going to say that. That’s how America does it.” He goes, “Where do you end it?” I go, “It’s worked out pretty good so far.” We’re writing all this stuff down on this huge cue card and Matty (Libatique), the poor DP, goes, “I have eight minutes of light. Are you guys partying with your improv over there?” I go, “This is the scene we had. Fergus and Ostby wrote this pretty cool scene.” We used half of it but we’re doing this hodge-podge and putting it up on this piece of cork board and Matty the DP goes, “I see his eyes moving.” I go, “Cut! Props? Sunglasses, please.” We were done and people who enjoyed the film have said that you can kind of sense it’s like puppies just being born.
SHH!: Are you going to be doing more writing since you seem to have such an affinity for it?
Downey: Yeah, I’ll do more writing. Hell, they should probably credit me on this one for it.
SHH!: Can you see yourself doing an “Avengers” film somewhere down the road?
SHH!: If Jon directs?
Downey: Yeah, but I didn’t know that things would end up here. I don’t have this massive career overview. I’m not like, “Well in addition to this trilogy, I can see how we can cross-pollinate with another thing.”
SHH!: Can you talk about your cameo in “The Incredible Hulk”?
Downey: Yeah, I’m so f**king pissed off. I went and did a scene for two hours, which they’re going to run during the end credits in “Hulk” and everyone’s like, “So, you’re role in ‘Hulk’â€¦” I did it as a favor to these guys at Marvel. They’re really cool but I have to talk about it every f**king day, but they’re smart because they get that you’re saying “Hulk” when we’re talking about “Iron Man.” They know what they’re doing.
SHH!: This movie will probably make more money than most of your previous movies combined. Knowing that a lot of younger people will be seeing you for the first time in this, which of your other movies would you recommend them seeing?
Downey: I would start in the order of which I was making films. I don’t know. That’s probably something I should spend more time thinking about. I would start with kids seeing “The Shaggy Dog.” I just contradicted myself.
SHH!: If you could have a superhero power, what would it be and why?
Downey: How do you feel about asking me that question? Let me answer that by not answering it. Statistically, women want to fly. Men want to be invisible. But my one superpower would be to go through an entire press day in four seconds.
Iron Man opens in North American theaters tonight at 8pm! Be sure to stay after the credits!
Source: Edward Douglas