Robert Downey Jr. is one of the more interesting interviews I’ve done in my career. He always gives a full answer, but in the case of last May on the set of Captain America: Civil War, he may not be giving an answer to the question you asked. And yet it’s immensely entertaining all the same as he serves as a total raconteur who not only clearly relishes playing Tony Stark, but also being at the beginning of this whole crazy MCU we have now.
During an interview with a group of fellow reporters and me, Downey spoke about Civil War’s “Sokovia Accords”, how superheroes don’t really use passports, the rift between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man, Tony’s need for control, and more. Check out the full interview below.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Well it’s never fun when he’s in a good place is it?
DOWNEY JR.: Tony is… Well I think maybe a more efficient way to answer the question is where the universe? And I started thinking back with the first Avengers like, “These folks don’t use their passports that often, do they?”
DOWNEY JR.: You know, metaphors and similes aside, pick an industrial complex. I thought that the grounded-ish nature of the first Iron Man and where I think the success of it was based was I think people got excited that this was a technologically possible occurrence; and didn’t Obama order an Iron Man? It’s become this really odd thing where even some of the folks who build the things that we wear for entertainment are contacted by DARPA-esque companies who are saying, “Yeah, we’re really doing that, and we want to talk to you.” So, mind-blowing, I love that stuff. But to answer the question, it kinda went carefully into these other realms, rather quickly into the Thor world which I think played on the strength of [Chris] Hemsworth really just coming on the scene as someone who was doing something difficult and then doing it; and then [Chris] Evans I think has the toughest job of launching Captain America. But then by the time the first Avengers came out [Jon] Favreau was like, “What do we gotta do now, wormholes?” so when Jon came back and played Happy Hogan in Iron Man 3 he says, “I’m not coming in unless I make fun of you and your super friends and all this stuff that you’re doing now. Because I understood the first Iron Man, and I knew how to do that. But Joss [Whedon] and these other guys know how to do the other stuff”. But the bigger question came up of like, just for arguments sake, “What is the credibility factor?” So we find ourselves in, I’m calling it Cap 3 even though it is Captain America: Civil War, so that question is raised and there are the Sokovia Accords which–I love aesthetic distance, you learn it in like your first year of theater arts, but I sometimes go to work and I’m like, “Man, these Sokovia Accords are a big problem” [Laughs].
DOWNEY JR.: They really are, God. We could use some Sokovia Accords. And it’s where does Tony find himself in the midst of that.
How bad does it get between Tony and Cap?
DOWNEY JR.: Well, again, I wanna credit the Russos, who I just really adore these guys. It’s all talk until you start shooting, but I read their take on what the story was gonna be and I was like, “Wow!” and they said, “This is the Godfather of superhero movies” and I said, “You just said that, and now you’re gonna be held to it” Which in a way, it deflates itself. The same way that Todd Phillips called The Hangover Part 2 because he said, “This is the Godfather of comedies” Ultimately what we didn’t want was a story that’s just a bunch of ideologue nonsense going back and forth because it’s like, “Why are you guys talking? We like it when you’re doing witty stuff or when you’re in a weird position or when you’re really hurting or when you’re fighting,” so I just as a fan of these movies, I wouldn’t want to see anything irreparable happen, but I also like it when seemingly irreparable thing occur and men and women find a way to move past it.
With Vision, you didn’t really get to spend too much time with your son, your creation.
DOWNEY JR.: I know, this is a very good point, I feel a little odd about it.
DOWNEY JR.: I really do. But I have lunch with [Paul] Bettany just about every day, so I, Robert, has gotten very comfortable with my offspring. What a lovely, lovely man. But also I want to say that that’s blood in and blood out it’s like, “Welcome to the Marvel universe, get out the glue gun, turn him purple, get that cape on him; now why don’t we put him in a harness too?” He’s like, [Imitating Paul Bettany] “My brother!”
So JARVIS and Tony had a baby and do we get to spend more time with him in this movie?
DOWNEY JR.: If you look at what happened in Ultron, it was an immaculate conception. Tony was not setting out to have a baby with JARVIS. It just kind of happened anyway.
Is it weird for you to take this character from Iron Man 1 where he’s this reckless guy and he doesn’t want to get in the hum-drum-vee, safety is that last thing he gives a shit about, to a guy who is now worried about safety on a global scale where he’s done also a complete 180 as a character?
DOWNEY JR.: I thinks it’s just a function of age, I don’t know. I mean, I know some reckless 60-year-olds and some very practical 30-year-olds, but generally speaking to me it seemed like the most viable arc. But also I didn’t wanna be like, “Alright, what’s good for the story?” Tony’s all of a sudden like, “You know what? These Accords mean the world to me,” because that’s usually what people do when they get on something, and I don’t wanna say I despise politics, but I don’t think there’s any way to win–particularly for the kind of person that I am–a political argument. And what did Emerson say, “Tell me someone’s political leanings and I’ll tell you everything else about him?” And I like to be a little more difficult to nail down that that just inside myself, but when someone’s motivations, even if they wind up falling in one side or the other of the debate, when they’re personal and also when they’re masked by something that only the audience knows is really their motivation, that to me is just what I call entertainment. So I like that sort of stuff.
We saw a scene in Age of Ultron where Cap and Tony are on the barn and had sort of a brief confrontation, was that laying the seeds of what’s coming in this film?
DOWNEY JR.: You know, it’s funny, I never know when the seeds are being laid, I’m just like, “Wow, that’s a pretty cool scene. Is that? Are we laying seeds here?” [laughs] And the other thing is I think it’s hard to know, you plant seeds and then the ones that flower –I remember when people said, “Man, that’s a powerful scene in the movie!” and I was like, “We just shot this thing before lunch, I don’t know, he tears a log apart, I said some words,” but I was really thinking, “Do I have to go in there to fix the John Deere? Oh, no, no, that’s because…Alright I get it,” so I’m just trying to keep up with everything too.
Tony’s whole arc in the movies has been about getting or maintaining more control, so what is it that happens in this that he goes, “I have to get even more control than I had”?
DOWNEY JR.: Right. Well, I mean, conversely I think what’s interesting is not so much that he’s looking for more control but that he’s saying that as a group of individuals we all require a little bit more supervision than we might imagine. And that for me was just a really straight line, because I don’t like words coming out of a character’s mouth that I adore because not only is he a little bit duplicitous but he’s kind of practical in the way he thinks, and he thinks in terms of everyone’s humanity and how quickly we can go against what we think we meant when we said it or what we believe or blah, blah, blah. But I think what’s great is it makes space for Cap, and I’ve always said this and I’ll say it again, Chris Evans had the tallest mountain to climb out of any us. I would put Chris Pratt kind of in the second because that was not an on the radar, beloved character, but I think that what Chris was able to do that first time around with Cap and even more so in Winter Soldier was take this character that seems like a real stretch that a mainstream audience is going to embrace this and he did something that was very, very hard to do, which was make it kind of credible and make it relatable. So in this Captain America: Civil War I think the biggest surprises and the biggest challenges, again, are being put to Chris, to Steve, to Cap, and given his history with the Russos of having maybe kind of been wondering if they were building toward something like this when they started working together a couple of years ago. The nice thing too is I’m able to fold into something that already has a history and a process and a set of expectations and unspoken promises made about upping the game for each other, and it means I get to spend a little more time in the [Georgia] Aquarium, because I have kids, I have kids everywhere now, and they wanna do stuff.
As you mentioned, this movie is called Captain America, so with you as an opposition that kind of makes Iron Man the antagonist for the first time, not a villain, but an antagonist. Is that fun for you to explore and to think like, “Is the audience supposed to be rooting against me here?”
DOWNEY JR.: It’s difficult for me to think of Tony in those terms, but when you read the comic it’s like, “Man, Tony, you’re blowing it dude!” [laughs] But again, it’s very odd, all these different worlds really kind of tip their hat to each other but they don’t require one or the other to be literal about it. And again, the writers and the directors and as always big Kevin F[eige] at the top of the food chain there, I realize how big the universe is, there are these folks in New York, there’s Alan Fine, now there’s Disney and there’s all this stuff, every email has got a lot of CCs on it. But there’s still this thing that I think the Marvel universe has been able to do that’s helped it succeed in an unprecedented way that is it doesn’t become bombed down with its own CC list. Ultimately I think that the right people delegate the most important decisions to the people who actually have to execute those decisions on the day. And then furthermore the directors in most cases are really flexible within letting the people who are playing these characters –Like I was just with Scarlett [Johansson] the other day and we have a scene that I’ll tell you nothing about that I was kind of like, “Wow, that’s setting something up” and she wasn’t quite feeling it and she had a thing she wanted to say and I was like that is exactly the sentiment of it, because she’s been with us since 2009. She’s been with us for almost six year doing this! But you know, these things move quickly so, again, I think they’re also really folding the individuals who kind of are the spokespeople for where they think their characters may or may not be most beneficial. It’s really cool.
In Iron Man 3 there’s a big part of the story where Tony was very concerned about protecting Pepper, and even in Avengers they have that nice scene where he calls her when he thinks he’s gonna die in space. There wasn’t much of her in Age of Ultron, is she a stronger presence here as far as how Tony is thinking?
DOWNEY JR.: Well she damn well better be! Again, it always comes down to not just the characters and how they–Favreau used to say this from the beginning, “We’re not gonna be able to fit all the groceries in this bag,” but I talk with Gwyneth [Paltrow] and she’s very game and the Russos have really smart cool ideas. There other is, by the time we’re talking about these things they’ve gone from, “This is definitely what’s going to happen in this story” to “No it’s not, actually it’s this now too” it’s this very fluid process, but we got used to it on the first one because Jon and I used to come in and go, “We’re not shooting that scene” and they were like, “We have 300 extras” and I go, “Keep the extras, but we’re gonna do something else. Probably gonna ask them all to sit down,” “Sit down?” “Yeah, it doesn’t mean anything, we’ll be back in 20min just get rid of all the chairs!” “Alright.” In a much bigger way just because there’s so many concerns and particularly in the terrifying notion of directing any one of these, is there’s key decisions your holding on to and then they slip away because another opportunity or idea comes in. All I do is fight for Pepper, and I lean on those relationships, that’s my go-to thing, that and Don Cheadle and War Machine and Rhodey. Because to me there’s been two hearts that have gone through it, and then a little mini heart who was JARVIS and whatever he’s up to now, he’s A.I. basically. And then I have those two little robots Dummy and U and nobody wants to talk about them anymore, “But I pulled them out of the ocean! Where are they?” “Relax about your robots!”
In this one you have Paul Rudd, you have Black Panther being introduced, how are these characters? Are they fun to play with? What do they add to the field?
DOWNEY JR.: Well, it’s early days. I’ve had contact with certain of them but not all of them. I look at Paul Rudd and I go, “Man, Ant-Man is tracking well, you’re a really talented guy, you’re like a cool, down to earth, family guy, funny, great” and we just had one little beat together and I was like, “Alright, watch out for that guy!” but in a good way. And then I’m getting to know [Anthony] Mackie a little bit, when Chadwick [Boseman] comes on I think that’s huge. I just realized, I think I was told about the origins of Black Panther the comic book and Black Panther the organization and I go, “Man, it’s so odd what Stan Lee was up to in those days when he was just kind of, [In Stan Lee voice] ‘Chucking out ideas!’” We’re like investing our lives and our creative credibility on these things, and so there’s this sense of oddball destiny in it all. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed too and you think, “Man, what this thing has turned into and now there’s all these new people and all this” but it’s also kind of like reserves coming up from the rear, it’s a very difficult task to take on by yourself. I think in this one it really falls on Evans, which I’m enjoying.
For more of our Captain America: Civil War set visit coverage, click on the links below:
- ‘Captain America: Civil War’: 115 Things to Know about Marvel’s New “Sprawling, Epic” Film
- ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Directors Joe & Anthony Russo on Crafting a Psychological Thriller
- ‘Captain America: Civil War’: Chris Evans & Sebastian Stan on Playing Men out of Time
- ‘Captain America: Civil War’: Chadwick Boseman on Bringing Black Panther to Life
- ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Screenwriters Explain How This Is Not an ‘Avengers’ Movie