Robert Downey Jr. on Being Tony Stark, What He Wants for ‘Iron Man 4’

By October 3, 2014
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It’s hard to find a more compelling Hollywood comeback story than that of Robert Downey Jr., whose plethora of personal issues would eventually give way to his becoming one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. Much of that success, as most would probably agree, is due to his first turn as Tony Stark in Marvel Studios’ inaugural film Iron Man. While Downey has seen a great deal of critical and financial success in the role he’s portrayed five times so far (with the fifth being next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron), he’s also seen new success in his career as an artist, including a comedic role he absolutely vanished behind in 2008’s Tropic Thunder, leading to an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Still, though, people love Tony Stark, and Downey has recently spoken of giving the role up to make way for a new actor in the ongoing saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it seems that the actor has slightly changed his tune.

Downey has had five turns (and counting) as the Armored Avenger, but seems to feel like the end is in sight for him.

Downey has had five turns (and counting) as the Armored Avenger, but seems to feel like the end is in sight for him.

In an extensive and revealing interview with Deadline promoting his new film The Judge, Downey talks at length about his relationship with Tony Stark, what keeps him interested in playing the part, and what will ultimately make him hang up the suit for good. When the outlet asks him about what his relationship will be with the character going forward, Downey answers frankly about the benefit he gets from playing Iron Man, as well as what Marvel Studios gets out of it.

To me, it comes down to what’s the half-life of people enjoying a character? It’s different on TV, where you expect the longevity over seasons while movies get a two or three year break. Marvel keeps stepping up its game, and I appreciate the way Kevin Feige and all the creatives there think. They are as in the creative wheelhouse as any great studio has been at any point. So it becomes a matter of, at what point do I cease to be an asset to what they’re doing, and at what point do I feel I am spending so much time either shooting or promoting these films that I’m not actually able to get off the beachhead and do the kind of other stuff that is good for all of us.

Each one of those movies is spread over two years and some people fit other things in. But I’m not 42, I’m turning 50 and now I’ll have two small kids instead of one grown one, and eight Team Downey projects with people who are imagining I’m not just spending Warner Bros’ money out of vanity, but that I’m taking it seriously. It all has become this thing that has to be figured out. It has come to a head, right now, where the points of departure will be.

Although largely panned, Downey's performance in 2003's The Singing Detective was praised, a movie he was able to do largely because of Mel Gibson.

Although largely panned, Downey’s performance in 2003’s The Singing Detective was praised, a movie he was able to do largely because of Mel Gibson.

Fleming also spoke about Downey’s own resurgence as a force in Hollywood, and how his status as a pariah was overlooked by actor-director Mel Gibson. Gibson was influential in Downey’s career comeback, as studios would not hire him due to his personal problems, which caused difficulty with insurance bonds for projects he was attached to. For 2003’s The Singing Detective, Gibson came to Downey’s rescue, paying the insurance bond and allowing the actor to start working again. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, and Gibson is being relegated to the background over several controversial and offensive statements he’s made, Deadline asked Downey about the case he can make for Gibson’s return to the Hollywood limelight.

Nobody should make a case for somebody who just wants forgiveness but hasn’t changed, but he’s a fundamentally different guy. I think it was just the very worst aspects of somebody’s psyche being treated as though they were the blanket statement about a person. But honestly we are talking about a competitive business and it all comes down to this: because he is so gifted as a story teller and a director, I don’t know that he requires some sort of mass forgiveness.

He has changed, but at the same time he’s still Mel. He and I are so similar in so many ways. He really, honestly is the first to admit his character defects and also is just a great, great collaborative guy. I always say too that if you want to judge a man or a woman then look at their kids. He has the healthiest, happiest, most productive kids you could ever meet or know, and I’m fortunate to be friendly with several of them.

When asked if his reluctance to do Iron Man 4 could be alleviated if Gibson were offered the director’s chair, Downey seemed to agree with that statement (but keep in mind that he was most likely joking). When asked if that should be the headline for their interview, Downey responded in characteristic style:

Why not? That movie would be bananas.

The Judge hits theaters on October 10th, and Iron Man will return in Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1st, 2015.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.