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Re: Robert Downey Jr. Talks ‘iron Man’
New Wizard interview
THE WIZARD Q&A: ROBERT DOWNEY JR.The man behind the Armored Avenger on his 'Hulk' cameo, taking a leak in that suit and talking to Tobey Maguire about playing a Marvel icon
By Danny Spiegel
A while back, when Robert Downey, Jr. was first cast as billionaire Tony Stark, it seemed the impossible had happened. The comic community seemed nearly united, as it so rarely is for such things, in its support of the once-troubled actor. "I was honestly amazed," says Downey. "I think it was the most favorable casting response they'd ever had which is just so weird to me." Not so weird, really. Because you just knew that Downey’s innate charm, his glib self-confidence and pure acting chops were the perfect fit for Stark as well as his supremely confident alter ego. ("Thanks, man," he humbly responds when we happen to mention this.)
And now it's time. The final leg of this Iron Man race is about to commence when on May 2, 2008 the next big Marvel film jets its way into theaters with stars Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard at the helm. (Technically, director Jon Favreau is at the helm, but for the sake of that rockin' metaphor, let's not be picky.)
The buzz for the film is there but Downey knows this isn't your typical superhero flick. "It's a different kind of superhero genesis," says Downey, "Even though it's an origin story, we're talking about someone who doesn't have a bat fetish and wasn't bit by a radioactive spider and there are no gamma rays involved. He's just someone who can't stop tinkering and his field of expertise is weapons."
And thankfully Downey's expertise includes delivering a candid interview on everything from his Tony Stark cameo in the "Hulk" film to whether or not he'll be getting gobs of free comics from the House of Ideas.
WIZARD: When you're acting in a suit like this, especially one that doesn't even have a cowl, aren't your acting "tools" kind of taken away from you in some ways?
DOWNEY: They are. I remember being on set in this one scene in a tracking suit from the waist down and an Iron Man composite suit from the waist up and because the suit is 6'5" tall and I’m not [he’s 5'10"], once they called "Action!" and slammed the helmet down, I realized that I was not looking through the eye slots but, basically, through the nostrils. And there are no openings in the nostrils. I was completely in the dark. So the answer to your question is it was like driving with a blindfold on.
Did this "blindfold" experience possibly prepare you to take over the role of Daredevil if that ever comes up?
[Laughs] Uh, I don’t know that anything can prepare me for that. That’s Ben [Affleck's] arena.
Did you have the opportunity to talk with any other actors who’ve played superheroes and had some of the same acting challenges?
Yeah. There was one day, and I'm really grateful for it, I happened to get Tobey [Maguire, whom he knows from "Wonder Boys"] on the horn. Rather than reveal the situation, let's just say it's one of those times when the hero is rendered impotent and has to basically be knocked around like a mouse by the cat nemesis. I said, "Look, what the hell am I supposed to do? I'm struggling like crazy to try to make this not, like, embarrassing and stupid and whatever." And Tobey said, "Don't think about what's uncomfortable for you. Don't even think about the nemesis. Just concentrate on the lives that will be lost and how you're being kept from your call to duty." And I said, "Is it that simple?" And he goes, "I don't know. Try it—it worked for me." So I’m basically calling one of my younger peers who's been down this road and he knew completely where I was coming from and he gave me a sound bit of advice and it worked.
The suit also had bathroom challenges for you. For the average person, the thought of, for instance, a stomach virus kicking in during a long plane ride is bad enough, but you had months of limitations. Did that type of strange paranoia hit you at all?
Yeah. But you know that weird thing [when], say, you have a flu and then it's, like, your sister’s birthday party and it's important and suddenly you're not sick for those four hours? We basically all had that experience for four months.
What was your favorite of the Iron Man suits? The original, the silver one or the main one?
You never forget your first time. So…
Hey, what a great time to ask you about when you lost your virginity!
Just kidding. Please go ahead. Your favorite suit?
[Laughs] The Mark I suit because even though some of that wound up being either painted over or CGI'd for aspects of it, we got to finally see, "Wow, you know, this can work." And even though the suit looks very rudimentary, the fans, when we were at [San Diego] Comic Con, really responded to how true we had stayed to the transition between the '60s and the mid '90s. It was such a relief to us.
[And] the Mark I suit was the clunkiest of all of them. Whoever was wearing it—and sometimes it would be me, sometimes a slew of other stunt guys—was always lying down on a stunt pad as the other one was coming in to take over. We were basically doing tag team wrestling with these damn things for months but it created such a camaraderie. I would go up to Oakley [Lehman, a stunt double], for instance, and be, like, "Dude, what do you need?" and he'd go, "God, I wouldn’t mind a double espresso and some Advil. Can you get it?" And then the next time I'd see him he'd just come over with, like, a Starbucks and some Aleve or whatever, and so we all kind of went into it.
You really invested in this role and character. Any specific times when this hit you the most?
I went to the set one day and there were these two kind of very retro-looking robots and I was, like, "Why the hell are these here? Why would Tony Stark have robots that don't do anything?" So that was my first reaction. But I thought, "Wait a minute. These should be, like, the first two robots he ever built. And he's a little bit sentimental so he can't get rid of them, but he doesn't like them. So he calls one of them, "You," as in, "Hey, You!" and the other one, who's not as good as "You," he gives the name "Dummy." So part of this character is that he tends to get along with machines better than people and he doesn't even like the machines so what does that say about him?Tony Stark and Jim Rhodes have a tight bond in the comics. How did that camaraderie carry over to your rapport with Terrence Howard who plays that character?
Well, Terrence Howard is a phenomenal guy. Very, very educated guy and a very centered guy. So we got along literally like brothers. Also, if there's someone else I had to say on the talent side who was most responsible for me getting the part besides Jon [Favreau], it would be Terrence. He was signed on before me and he really, really pushed for me. It meant a lot to me.
You guys worked out together, right?
Yeah. One morning [when] it was still dark out, we were in Lone Pine [California] in the high Sierras and he goes, "Hey, man, let's go for a jog!" We went out jogging and we jogged so far in such a small amount of time—without stretching, that the next night when we were having a steak dinner at one of the two and a half restaurants in town, we just looked at each other and I was, like, "Dude, we should have stretched" and he was, like, "Aw, dude…" Then we had to go do some action scene in the desert the next day. Yeah, I don't want to say we trained together so much as we over-trained together in a very short amount of time.
William Hurt, who plays General Ross in "The Incredible Hulk," has talked about the scene that you did with him as Tony Stark for that film. How weird was it to be performing as your character in another film?
It was a bit odd but I got to go and spend an afternoon with William Hurt and their director Louis Leterrier. And by the way, we weren't doing it because we felt like we'd like to work on a day off, we were doing it because we hoped that the fans would enjoy it. That's been the other cool thing about doing movies like this—everybody knows that the onus is on us to please the people who've put these characters in a position to maybe be a franchise film.
In this scene, have you "become" Iron Man at that point?
I have become Iron Man and I believe that's about all I’m allowed to legally state.
But are you excited by the idea of this cross-pollinating universe that could actually result in a film with you, Ed Norton and others?
Yeah. I mean, look, it's hard enough to get one of us schmucks on the phone for 15 minutes so it would be a pretty huge undertaking, but where there's a desire there's a way.
To go back to when you first got this role, since Iron Man isn't as well known as, say, Spider-Man or the Hulk, did anybody think you were going to be starring in a movie about a tri-athlete?
[Laughs] That's a funny thing because for a while, I'd go online and punch in "Iron Man" and it says, like, "Ironman training socks," "Ironman post-workout supplements…" and I'd be like, "Damn, they stole our gig! We should sue them!"
So, in general were non-comics fans confused regarding the role you had taken on?
A couple of people would be, like, "Who’s that?" And I'm, like, basically sleepless I'm so excited, so they weren't gonna piss in my cornflakes. Much more often, I would have educated women or, like, entertainment lawyers literally charging across the room at me in an event to go, "Dude, did you know that in issue #417 that Tony Stark actually traveled back in time and that was his own son but it wasn't his son, it was him, and then he came back and that's how..." Or someone else would be, like, "Wow, so you actually get to play the only superhero who was ever too drunk to use the suit?" And I was, like, "Uh, let me look into that. Thanks!" Oftentimes, more than anything, I think people were just very happy for me. It was a really big deal for Team Downey. I just kind of looked at Jon [Favreau] and the fellows and said, "You know, I'm going to earn this. I'm going make you glad that you gave me this shot."
It seems like it's been a while since public perception was focused on just your troubled past. But when did you feel that you took that corner for yourself?
The thing to me is I just stopped concentrating on the things that I used to think were fun and cool and started going for the things that I knew I'd always missed out on. And it's a really simple equation, you know? I got in shape. I got my head screwed on straight. I married a great gal and I just started working for the sake of working and getting back to what I’d wanted to do since I was in my late teens. So ultimately, it comes down to love of the game. And I never lost the love of the game. I just forgot what was important to me.
All things considered, what does it mean then when ShoWest, the event for movie theater owners and film distributors, named you "Male Star of the Year" for 2008?
It's cool, dude. Like, hell yeah! I also figure, over the last 25 years, pretty much everyone else I know has gotten one so maybe everyone's turn comes up at some point ... or sadly, sometimes a person's turn is never going to come up. And that's on them. All you can do is be ready to play.
Considering that arguably 20 years from now people will still be asking you about Iron Man, and here you are in the middle of it when things are about to ignite, how do you think you're going to look back at this time?
I'm going to look back on this as really the beginning of the second chapter of my life as a husband, father, son and actor. I have a feeling at that point I'll probably have tried to parlay this into being able to be behind the scenes a little more and I have a lot of ideas and I write and I'd like to direct even though it’s a really tough job. But I'd like to look back on this time as a time [when] our hearts were in the right place. That's what I would like.
Lastly, on the trivial side, we have to know—are you now on Marvel's comp list for the free comics each month?
Dude, I told them, any and everything that they could imagine I would enjoy.
Have you been getting them yet?
Not just yet. They're still probably waiting for the first weekend's grosses. [Laughs]
Iron Man Three - May 3, 2013
Thor: The Dark World - November 8, 2013
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - April 4, 2014
Guardians of the Galaxy - August 1, 2014
The Avengers 2 - May 1, 2015
Iron Man will return