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Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr. Gets to the heart of Tony Stark

By Rob M. Worley     April 17, 2008

Actor Robert Downey Jr. recreates one of Marvel's flagship heroes in the upcoming 'Iron Man', directed by Jon Favreau. The film co-stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges. Comics2Film got a chance to sit down with the actor as he talked to the press about his role in the film.

Downey enters the room wearing the same pin-striped suit he's seen wearing in the 'Iron Man' footage that was screened at the convention.

Q: Is that outfit yours or Tony Stark's?

Robert Downey Jr.: I wore it in the movie, but you'll notice it's my name on the inside, which I always thought would be weird, like if, in the scene I just went, [opens his jacket and flashes the label] you know! That wouldn't make sense.

I think I probably bitched out the costume person, "why doesn't it say Tony Stark on the inside?"

"Cause…I mean…well, cause you're real and he's not."

But I don't see it that way.

Q: Looks like you're having a hell of a fun time with this part.

Downey: Yeah. I mean, come on.

I'm the guy who can see a mediocre trailer in the theater, and everyone else goes, "oh, whatever," and I'm sitting there feeling embarrassed because I have chills. So to see something that really works, and people responding to it favorably, and to also be the person who's the guy in that…I still don't quite get it…

Q: How did it feel when they showed the trailer and people were so psyched.

Downey: I was in Kawaii shooting on this picture I'm doing there right now and all of a sudden…

I mean we're there in the middle of the jungle doing this Viet Nam comedy sequence and even out there, literally in the bush, people's blackberry's and cells going off and we were like…[pantomimes excited thumbs ups]…out there covered in mud

Q: The beard is a good look.

Downey: It's actually a totally different looks. [In Iron Man] I have sideburns and a wig.

Q: What attracted you to the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man?

Downey: He just starts off as a guy who is desperate to save his own life and is very surprised that he was put in a position where he has to do so. I don't think he had a sheltered life. I think he just was just probably in a lot of denial about the ramifications of what he did for a living.

I don't think it's a film about someone's conscience getting the better of them. I think it's a film about survival and being conflicted. I think it's a pretty apt metaphor for the 21st century human being.

We have such a wealth of information and ability and yet, twenty years ago you couldn't just go online and say, "Oh that's my opinion, I'll register it here." You tended to go out and say or do something about it, or write a letter or whatever.

I just love that kind of take-action…basically someone who has been sheltered by choice and then takes action and it's all…it's just so weird.

You go to work all these days and then the whole film is all about heart. It's subtlety laced through the footage you saw, but I got it. Every day they'd be gluing an arcade to my chest and I'd be like, "I wonder what the essence of…oh yeah! There it is! The heart, the heart center, what's your heart, what's the truth of your …?"

I read a lot of Bodie Tree bullshit and now I literally have it glued to my heart.

[mocking] "I still don't understand where this guy's coming from…"

Q: How critical was director Jon Favreau in helping you develop your version of Tony Stark?

Downey: The character is a combination of Jon and I. Tony Stark is his direction and my execution and sometimes my ideas and then his direction of those ideas. My line of dialogue that he scratched and challenged me to write something better and then his dialogue that I judged and we shot anyway.

Something that we wrote on paper and said "Wow, this isn't gonna work." And then we shot it and it really worked. Or sometimes it looked really great on paper and we got there and said, "We knew the other shoe had to drop."

We were so lucky and fortunate every day, always made the day. Always were happy with what we'd done at the end of the day. If we were less happy some days we'd give it another shot or we'd realize that it was how it was supposed to be, or maybe we didn't need it.

Q: Did you respond to the flaws in Tony Stark as something you could sink your teeth into?

Downey: Again, going back to that obvious metaphor, in that his wound or his weakness ultimately winds up being the source of his strength.

I guess Stan Lee said that he created this character on a dare to see if, in the very anti-establishment, mid-to-late 60s he could make a Howard Hughes-esque billionaire, weapons manufacturer in a very non-military-industrial-complex-oriented society…but have him have this wound. He said they'd gotten more fan mail than they'd gotten for any of their characters, particularly from women, who felt that somehow or another they could turn Tony around.

Q: You're known for being a character actor in smaller movies. What was it like working with the other actors?

Downey: I said it on the panel and she said that I was bullshitting, and I wasn't. I reminded her that I wasn't and she just shrugged me off anyway.

Gwyneth's instincts were really, really sound. John's and mine tended not to be far off on any given day, but if we weren't sure we checked with her.

Terrence is so smart and has such a knack for it. A lot of the dialogue and the ideas and things were stuff that he would be watching rehearsals for a scene he wasn't gonna be in, and then he would contribute to that.

We were really concerned about the Rhodie and Tony relationship, there are so many relationships you're juggling, and you'll see, and I won't say much about it, but we went through a series of events together, both in him coming on my massive private plane to come on this weapons test, to being in the weapons test, to after the weapons test, to after my escape and/or rescue, that are really good by kind of any movie standard, even if it wasn't an action movie. Some of it's really touching, or remarkably funny and offbeat and really pushes the limits of what you might think

That was all stuff we created.

I'm so sad that Jeff Bridges isn't here because he was kind of our…he's the old school master. During the time we were shooting I said to my son Indio, "are you ready…to see The Dude"

He goes, "Who's The Dude?"

I said, "We're going to blockbuster. We're buying 'Big Lebowski'"

[After watching it] he was like "That was awesome!"

Q: Would you do an Avengers movie?

Downey: Oh yeah! I'd probably be the best deal in the lot.

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