Actor, producer, and musician Robert Downey, Jr. made his screen debut at the age of five. Overcoming a turbulent past, Downey has settled into an amazingly productive and successful life and career. Buzzine’s Emmanuel Itier sits down with the mega-star and gets the inside scoop on the upcoming blockbuster sequel, Iron Man 2.
EI: Great reaction for Iron Man 2 at the recent Comic-Com. Probably the best they’ve had so far!
RD: We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em.
EI: Although, I think they might have been cheering War Machine and not you, I think.
RD: That takes the pressure off.
RD: Not really. [Laughs] I was just trying that on for size. Cheadle!
EI: How different is the second movie from the first one, in your point of view, in your work? Now the cat’s out of the bag — everybody knows Stark is Iron Man, so what kinds of challenges does this represent?
RD: Well, we set ourselves up for this one by having Tony says he was Iron Man last time. So you have an origin story, at the end of which you give away the one trump card that usually every other trilogy or franchise doesn’t. I think we got a lot of brownie points for that because it was somewhat unexpected. So how do we keep doing the unexpected? I think we just look deeper into — and Jon [Favreau] has always said this — what is the reality of what it would be like if you were that guy and that had happened to you, and you said you were Iron Man? I said, “I would probably really need a drink.” I would probably be also like really high on myself and feel like I had it all going on and I would feel invincible, but I would also know that pride comes before fall, particularly with the likes of Nick Fury and Sam Jackson telling me that there’s a much larger universe than I could ever understand and like, “Oh sure there is,” and then meeting some of those elements firsthand. Obviously, there are some of the sins of the father stuff going on, because Ivan (Mickey [Rourke]) is kind of saying that he sees me for who and what I am and he is going to take me to school. So there are some really serious threats looming from inside Tony and from outside Tony, whereas last time, the inner threat was if he had just kept going along as he had, maybe he would have been killed after that weapons demonstration, or maybe he would have just kept going along and never change. It just reminds us — like Jaws 2 – just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water… [Laughs]
EI: What do you think is so obviously engaging with Iron Man?
RD: Jon and I are naturalists — not saying we collect butterflies and discover new species, but we like playing things like they might really be happening and, as an audience member, what I love in films is where I suspend my disbelief and I can imagine — because they’ve convinced me just well enough — that this could really be going on. That’s why I love films like The Matrix or Jurassic Park, because they’re just within the realm of possibility. Obviously, Jurassic Park more than Matrix, but… I think it’s that we really care, and also we have a really twisted sense humor.
EI: Do you think this anti-hero attracts people?
RD: I guess so. There are so many elements. I swear the funny thing is being put in a position… It’s like if you want to really learn, become a teacher, and because I’m supposed to be kind of an authority on this stuff, because I’ve played it and I was very handily involved in the creation of the storyline and the dialogue and the sequences in this time, I’m still kind of figuring it out. I just know that, as we move forward and we put this Iron Man 2 in the can, I feel really satisfied that we at least have two pieces of this puzzle that make sense.
EI: How does it connect with this bigger Marvel Universe that is being played on the screen? How does you connect with Tony Stark?
RD: Jon and I are both a bit reticent to just blow open the walls and dimensions of space/time because the first Iron Man was rooted soundly in technology and reality, so if we’re going to start heading that way, we have to do it with much caution. That said, you know the most far-out stuff that happens happens to all of us, and obviously the metaphors of all the other goings-on in the Marvel Universe are examples of the metaphors for that.
EI: You mentioned you and Jon are naturalists? Do you mean butterflies…
RD: What I mean is that our approach to filmmaking and the way we are as actors is really about having it seem kind of improvisational, and we were a lot more prepared than we led on, but sometimes we are literally flying by the seats of our pants because, if you know what the scene is about and you know what the characters have to do, then your work is done and it’s just finding a cool or a sexy or an evocative way to say and do that.
EI: You’re perfect for the role of Tony Stark; it’s like you sort of grew into it a lot…
RD: I guess so.
EI: If you had any choice to portray another superhero, who would it be?
RD: I wouldn’t even know what to say. It would feel so weird to be playing… I don’t know. I play for the home team.
EI: Were you ever interested in anything before Iron Man came along?
RD: No, it wasn’t really on my mind, but it is weird that 42 years ago, Stan Lee created a character that 39 years later I was cast to play and, in a lot of ways, there are a lot of similarities. In so many ways, I’m nothing like the guy at all, and I actually really had to play a much cooler version of myself. I was in the elevator last night and there were some guys going up to the club on the roof of this hotel, and they said, “Man, you play Tony Stark. That’s so smooth. You were so cool.” I’ve just seen a lot of cool guys in the movies and on the street as I was growing up, and I just kind of did what they did.
EI: Like who?
RD: Well, like the cool guys. [Laughs] I saw Steve McQueen movies, I saw Paul Newman movies…I saw a couple of Marlon Brando movies…
EI: Are you set up for Iron Man 3?
RD: I think there is Avengers and Iron Man 3…
Paramount Pictures' 'Iron Man 2' is in theaters now