Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is in a large room with sky-high ceilings using a two-monitor computer terminal with additional 20-foot tall computers loaded with lights and other components all around it. While it’s not officially named, the room is an extremely vital component of the World Wide Web with astounding access to information. Stark has come to the location to investigate why weird things are happening and as he types, studies the monitor and talks to himself, it’s clear he’s starting to get some answers. A few seconds later, director Joss Whedon calls cut.
Last June, when Avengers: Age of Ultron was filming outside London, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. While most of what we saw and learned is still under embargo, Marvel/Disney is letting us post some of our on-set interviews. During a 20-minute interview, Robert Downey Jr. talked about his reaction after reading the script, where Tony is mentally after the events of Iron Man 3, Tony’s relationship with Ultron, Paul Bettany as The Vision, Scarlet Witch, how Whedon leans on Stark’s credibility to deliver exposition, and a lot more. Hit the jump to read or listen to what Downey Jr. had to say.
Click here to listen to the audio of this interview.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR: Sure. Well, first of all, he’s a good writer, so I always tend to think generally speaking,”Is this a movie I wanna see?” Because all the fine points are going to get worked out. At this point, as the Mayor of Marvel [laughs], there’s going to be so many squeaky wheels along the way, many of them practical and others just creative departures or differences or whatever. So to me, this kind of started with the third Iron Man, which is like, “Alright, I’m going to read the script. Who wrote it?” “Shane Black.” “I like it.” This time I think that from jump I thought, “Wow, this is really what Avengers: Age of Ultron should be.” But I was done with the first draft and I said, “Cool, I like it.” Kevin was like, “Wait, what did you just say?” [Laughs] I’m sure there was a bunch of iterations and things that changed over time. Then I read the second and then the third draft, and he’s continuing to write. Even as we’re setting up shots he’s going, “I know what I want it to be,” or bringing back in a line that was in the first draft or whatever. I always love – you’d think was like the ingredients to that salad dressing that makes girls go into labor. I guess it is.
Joss mentioned he had a lot of ideas for the second Avengers movie even before he took on the first Avengers movie. Were you kind of privy to where he wanted to go with Tony, with the Vision and Ultron and everyone?
DOWNEY JR: Not really. Honestly I didn’t really even get to know Joss until we started this movie. Because Avengers was so – I don’t wanna say disorienting – but it was a thing where it was like this very kind of well-managed, compartmentalized attempt to do something unprecedented. I didn’t feel necessarily the stress of it, but I could tell that it was a little bit of a different approach to the process. And I remember the first time saying, “Look, scene one should be Tony.” And he was like, “Alright, scene one isn’t Tony.” I was like, “But it should be!” [Laughs] As it turned out it was really smart the way it all worked out for everyone.
Where is Tony now at this point because by the end of Iron Man 3 there’s a real sense that he doesn’t wanna wear the suit and he doesn’t wanna be the physical guy doing it. So how are you now playing this role as this progresses?
DOWNEY JR: Yes, Well, I would counterpoint that by saying that I thought that the third Iron Man was about him transcending his dependence on the merits of continuing to wear your wound. And I thought that that was kind of what Shane and I thought was the real win. Was that he throws that thing that had become a dependency away because – that was the question I was always asking is, “Why doesn’t he get those shards out? It’s dangerous.” So it kind of reminds me of like all that stuff, particularly as you get a little older or if you have any existential queries whatsoever. It’s like, “Why aren’t I dealing with that which is going to destroy me any second anyway?” And then the armor was kind of an extension of that. Also, there was just so many suits, but I think he realizes that tweaking and making all the suits in the world, which is what he has been doing still didn’t work for that thing of his tour of duty that left him a little PTSD. So his focus is more on how can we make it so that there’s no problem to begin with, that there’s a bouncer at our planet’s rope. That’s the big idea.
Joss was telling us yesterday that one of the big themes of the entire film is being destroyed by power. I’m curious how you think that applies to Tony and his story.
DOWNEY JR: How does it apply to Tony? Well, I mean honestly I think it’s probably that thematically I think it’s the best thing Joss decided to go after, you know what I mean? It’s a very kind of typical gung-ho western iconic thing to be like, “There’s nothing wrong with me. Now let’s begin.” It’s kind of like an objective introspection at the whole idea. I think he always thinks about it. Like he says, “All right, let me just pretend I’m being pro-offered this narrative at first glance. What do I think? All right, they’re nuts.” [Laughs] He’s doing a bit of the Noam Chomsky approach Avengers in retrospect, which I think is healthy, and I think it also just opens up a whole other avenue of creativity for it, you know. That’s what I really notice, there’s a lot of dots that could have connected a certain way, but because there’s that theme of, “Could it be that we’re the problem and therefore a bad guy – if you wanna call it… I can’t really say there’s a bad guy. It’s hard to call Jimmy Spader a bad guy, but he’s scary and he’s bright and hurting and all that, but his thought is, “I see what’s wrong here. And guess what? It’s y’all.”
So Tony throws a party for the Avengers in this movie in his tricked out Stark Tower. How does an Avengers house party differ from a normal house party?
DOWNEY JR: It was so funny. We were on that stage a couple days ago, and I just see it’s just leveled and I go, “This guy just can’t throw a party. I don’t know why that never gets old. Maybe it would get old if it happened again, but this time it still feels like it’s now the norm. It’s like when McClane has to run over the broken glass thing, you know what I mean? It’s just that. And probably in a lot of ways thanks to Mike the best production design there has been, in my opinion. Save for the fact that the entirety of the walking, running, sliding ,and stunt surface is not just like ice, it’s like future ice. [Laughs] Which to me is the great ah-ha of… Every time I go like, “All right, I’m going to run through this then I’m going to jump through that sugar glass then I’m going to roll and then the wire will go…” And then you go, “All right, but I have no footing here, because they didn’t put a step there.” “And rolling!” “Nope, can we just put a step there ‘cause I got plans for Christmas.”
Can you talk a little bit about Tony’s relationship with Ultron? You said that he’s sees it as sort of they’re the problem. Is he kind of a reflection of Tony’s dark side is there a father/son?
DOWNEY JR: No, it’s not really that. It’s more… It’s so funny too, I always revisit the concept that every impulse starts off as a positive impulse. Even impulse to kill starts off as an impulse to change, to rail against, to challenge the authority in a very direct and permanent solution to a temporary problem kind of way. I think because Tony’s solution is what becomes the problem in a way that’s really kind of interesting and also ties in to the Vision. Again that to me was… there was a Rubik’s Cube to how not to make these things have an act three that you’re going, “I really hope you like acts one and two because now we’re just going to do all this stuff.” I think it was the same thing in Iron Man 3 – act three was the strongest act. I think that this is really gunning for that sort of thing, because, you know, I love movies. I love these kinds of movies. So I feel like I’m just a very tolerant kind of consumer with these things, but I also feel like the half-life of – if you noticed just how flooded the market is becoming and likely to become potentially even more so – I think that there has to be a bit of a transcendence of formula. And so without giving too much away I think, and why I generally just kind of like stamped it when the first draft came in, is because I thought, “Oh wow, it didn’t fall into that trap.” And I read the last page and I got chills for a reason I definitely can’t explain. [Laughs] But there’s a lot of new talent coming in, with Aaron Taylor Johnson and obviously Lizzie Olsen. Just even seeing Paul Bettany within a thousand miles of the set where we’re shooting is just like, “Wow. This is going to be really cool.”
That was amazing yesterday to see him and he’s recognizably the Vision but there were like little Iron Man touches, like the gauntlets look kind of like your suit. There’s something really fascinating about having Bettany finally in this and have you have some role in his creation.
DOWNEY JR: I know. Yeah, it’s really cool. Again, that to me was another one of those things. In my opinion there’s been a lot of movies that, even if they didn’t entirely work, they headed towards something that was new territory, whether it was Watchmen or the second and third Matrix. I always feel like too if you’re a fan of the first one, I don’t wanna hear anything bad about the next seven. That might be a bit extreme. But there’s a lot of elements without being derivative of other groundbreaking films in the genre that are kind of like reinterpreted in a way that’s really cool.
Back to Bettany, there is no one I would rather have the delight of seeing in the extreme discomfort that we’ve all been in than Paul Bettany. [Laughs] Because when he’s literally doing his – literally, this is his Hamlet moment is going on – and an operator starts going, “You got to move it up, move it, move it up the side. Move it up the side.” I’m just used to it because I just did a movie with Janusz Kaminski as director of photography. He will literally just walk in while you’re weeping and go, “Asshole, bring the light over here. More smoke! More smoke!” [Laughs] So I’m just kind of like, “Should I just keep crying or do you need a minute?” But it started to happen, and Bettany was literally like, “Ah, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Will you be done in a moment?” And he’s just there just like, “Do we have five seconds? Good. Put more glue on Paul’s neck for no reason, because we’re literally going to CGI the whole thing. Just to make sure he’s hurting.” As I call it “Glue gun Garry Glen Ross.” But it’s the Brit approach to being boiled alive which is just very like, “I apologize, my skin is sloughing off. Do you mind? Like five degrees less.”
In the first Avengers, Stark is maybe a little skeptical or suspicious of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury and I’m curious how he reacts to what happened in Captain America 2 and how that plays into the reunion of the Avengers?
DOWNEY JR: Right. Well regardless of principles, there is a personality factor there that was represented initially in Colson and then in Fury that are kind of like friendships that developed under bizarre circumstances that are kind of genuine. So while they might be seen as some kind of inevitability I think that… again, if you think about it, you know, the last time he kind of goes, “Alright I’ve actually dealt with one of my fifty core issues.” And now I feel rather than him kind of like putting it all down, he was just kind of saying, “Alright, job one, roughly taken care of.” And I think this was job two. Job two was go back East and get people organized and do what I can. Also, I love that Tony’s not one of those superheroes who’s ever lost his money, which is great. [Laughs] He’s never lost his dough. The stocks have gone down, but anyway. So I think what he’s trying to do is kind of set up shop where eventually this can be… it’s like with our vis-effects guy, Chris Townsend. It’s like eventually you just got to hand this over to the vendors so they can finish the job. And I think that’s kind of what Tony’s thinking.
Tony is very much a man of science and technology, how does he reconcile some of the things that this character can do which is very much not of this world.
DOWNEY JR: Which character?
Like Scarlet Witch You know, she’s got some different kind of abilities than we’ve really seen from any one.
DOWNEY JR: I know. I love it. You know, I mean just personally as, I’ll say it “artist”, I think it’s just one of those things that like you can’t have… You know, once actors start complaining about something, there’s no end to it. So I’ve honestly this time just tried to been like that’s a given. The given is people can get inside your head, so I just think of it as a kind of a metaphor for relationships. And she’s like that gal from college who was crazy or whatever. [Laughs] And the way that they’ve been put together and their kind of origins take on Joss’s behalf to me is just like, “Dude, I never would have thought of that, and that’s the absolute coolest way you could have done it.” Is just a guy who’s – you know, everybody was always the fast gun at something when I was growing up, and he’s that. Also, I think he’s a very mature actor from what I know of him. I just like him and he seems really kind of like wise beyond his years, but he’s also I think he’s just youth, you know. As I’m pushing 50 now I realize like youth is just an incredible advantage. Whether you use it or not is another matter.
In Iron Man 3 we saw a lot of Tony Stark. We got to follow his journey more than Iron Man in some ways. In this movie, obviously you could have Iron Man be in a lot of scenes because there’s a lot of fighting, so how much of Tony are we seeing versus Iron Man in this one?
DOWNEY JR: Well, it’s funny and I’m happy to do it for Joss, because I trust him. There’s a lot of times where by nature we’re standing around talking about the plot. But I would rather do that now than do it in November when the first test screening and it’s said, “We need you guys standing around talking about the plot more.” To me, it’s always a trade off, too, so actually as far as action goes, this time I got my beak wet to the point of shutting down production for a couple months last time, which I enjoyed. This has been really just more of a fluid thing of being in the relationships and being – because he’s the guy who is the kind of technologically possible superhero, I think that Joss is leaning on me a little bit to mean like, “If this is credible to you, even if you snark about it a little bit, then other people are going to buy it.” And I’m like, “That’s true.” He goes, “Great. Here’s the scene I need you to do.” And I go, “Okay.” But also, this time around I just wanna say in summary, it’s been fun, and we all have become close. Last time was kind of like, you know, “Thor’s in. Cap’s out. Tony’s in. Everyone’s together…” Twice. Because that’s all they could manage ‘cause it was like working with mercury and herding cats, and this time it’s that, but this time it just seems like we really are genuinely developing relationships with each other. And I think that what is really the start and end of it is in trusting Joss. That he kind of really, really knows what he’s doing, and that, in the broad strokes, this movie’s going to be great. I really think so.