You obviously have a strong grasp of Tony Stark and where you’d like to see him go. Does that expand to the entirety of the cinematic Marvel Universe? Do you have insight into projects that you’re not acting in?
RDJ: I think I do. I also live with a producer. Before Iron Man came along and she was working with Joel Silver, it was kind of foreplay for us. We’d be like, (whispering) “What’s that project? Look at the trailer!” We find this stuff to be catnip anyway and I love spitballing on stuff. It never ceases to amaze me how little of my input they actually require.
At a certain point during the production of this movie, Joss Whedon was hired as a sort of universal overseer. What did he bring to Iron Man 3?
RDJ: I think, honestly, what he brought was momentum. It’s a twofold thing. When you have something that’s just an unprecedented smash, you can sort of relax for a second, but you’re also following that. He brought us a lot. He brought us a lot of comfort and a fair amount of performance anxiety (laughs).
The Tony Stark character is very linked to you. That’s not to say they couldn’t one day recast the role —
RDJ: I’m sure they’ve thought about it. I feel like I got sold to Disney for $4 billion.
Does the fact that you’re so connected make you want to stay around as long as you can?
RDJ: Yeah, but, quiet as it’s kept, that’s how I’ve always been. The thing about playing this kind of inherent narcissist, whenever you kill one of Tony’s egos, another one just pops up. I’ve had that experience, but I’ve found the whole thing to be a very quieting journey for me. It’s been remarkably humbling. You realize you’re just kind of part of this thing. I think the problems begin when any one person involved in anything — particularly anything successful — decides that they have some sense of ownership to it. This is really something that Stan Lee scratched down going on 50 years now. He touched on something really, really cool with Iron Man and, strangely, Iron Man was sort of second-tier superhero who laid the groundwork for these other guys and gals. Where I’m at right now is that I’ve always thought of myself — particularly since I’ve been married to this high-functioning Jewish girl from the Midwest — I think of myself as being a company man. I like showing up and I like doing press. I like being able to say, “I’m going to take a break because I don’t want to burn out.” I don’t want to be doing a roundtable or a press conference and have people say, “He looks tired!” I want to be there. I want to communicate and kind of experience this. The funny thing is that, though I can be quick-witted, I tend to have a slow take experientially for things. These five or six years have not been enough time for me to process what has happened.
It seems that you must getting towards the end of whatever contract you originally signed. Are you going to sign on for several more or will you take it one at a time?
RDJ: I don’t know. I honestly get uncomfortable with leverage. I was annoyed for awhile about having a contract where, in success, not very much changes for you. But then I got to thinking, “What was I really doing before I got ‘Iron Man’?” Then I think, “Don’t lead with that, Robert! You’re a big prime mover!” I go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I get that. I can talk about that for two hours. But I’m a big believer in being really straight and saying, “Okay, let’s really look at this.” I not going to pretend I’m over it and whatever. Obviously, it’s better to have a contract run out than it is to have one go on indefinitely. But I guess that’s why contracts have limits on them. Let’s just say that me, the agents and the lawyers are having a bit of a ball right now. I don’t like this whole — and I think it’s a particularly Western thing. Well, maybe not anymore, because we’re being outpaced by the east business-wise — of “We’ve got him! Let’s screw him to the floor!” Is that what gets you off? Making people feel bad? It shouldn’t be, “Man, they really put the screws to us, brother.” It’s like, “Weren’t we excited about the future a couple of years ago. Now we’re just laying the boots to each other. It’s just so digesting. I’m an artist!
In the Iron Man movies, you are, naturally, the lead. In The Avengers, however, you’ve got those other guys co-starring. Do you miss having them around?
RDJ: I don’t have to be the lead in Iron Man if that’s going to make everyone comfortable. But hell is other people (laughs). Somebody said that and sometimes I think, “What if that guy’s right? All I do is hang out with other people! And I’m another person to them?”
RDJ: Yeah, it’s entirely the same thing. They come and say, “Robert, we have this project” — and the next movie I’m doing is as much of a departure from a genre movie as you can imagine — but I think that people underestimate that everything really is just like everything else. We’re talking about the story and we’re talking about the themes. It’s the same things, it’s just the red carpet that’s shorter.
Is it ever really shorter for the movies you’re in?
RDJ: Thank you. You know, it’s so weird. Or not weird. I live for it. It’s just part of the job that I think I’m strangely suited for. I like hell. I like other people. I like being out. I like going, “Oh, you’re here! I’m in town promoting this.” Particularly if I like it. It’s been a good run with Marvel and now Disney.
The Avengers is now one of the most successful movies of all time. How did that raise the bar as far as action sequences for Iron Man 3?
RDJ: Again, there’s people who are, strangely, smarter than me making these decisions, I’m told. The funny thing is, Iron Man 3 is simultaneously a much smaller storytelling style, but it also feels just personally — because I’m not on the mountaintop with Thor and Loki in Cleveland — I mean New York — with Cap and Black Widow and Hawkeye and all that. I’m in every second of every action scene in this movie. I’ve never done so much action in my life. The scope feels really, really big. Again, I think Marvel’s intention is to defy expectations again. Let’s not just start with this thing that starts and gets to a big bang at 11. It wouldn’t be nice counterprogramming for The Avengers.
Iron Man is very grounded in reality but, over the course of the films, they’ve moved to a very different world. How has playing Tony against that been?
RDJ: The nice thing is that it is fairly compartmentalized and, I think, pretty seamlessly so. If there’s one person that I would think of just in the third person who could have the world be one way and then wake up in the morning and be another way, it would be him. He lives in this cocoon of his own world anyway. All he really cares about is Pepper and his Dummy. He doesn’t care about any of his material stuff except some robots, this girl and his one friend. I think he became friendly with Bruce [Banner] maybe a little more than the others but it’s like he went and did a big action movie and then came back and lives in Kansas or something.
RDJ: They’re very similar. You also can’t really work with one without reaching out the other. Jon and I reached out to Shane on several occasions and Shane definitely would refer back to Jon on a lot of stuff. Jon has an incredible sense of showmanship and Shane is much more kind of introverted. When he does become ectomorphic, it’s very entertaining. For instance, we were night shooting and he just went running across this thing. He caught his head on something and dislocated his shoulder. He just sat there and we were like, “Well, back into the emergency vehicle.” He was like, “Just two more shots! I’ll stay, I’ll stay!” I said, “You have to go to the hospital.” Jon is very smooth and Shane is a little more like myself and a bit spiky at times. But I’ve also changed. There’s the Jon that directed the first “Iron Man” and the Jon that directed the second one and the Jon that has done all the things he’s done. What I’m really happy about is that, as things have changed, that Shane has stepped in and run with this obviously fantastic opportunity. I’m just so comforted that nobody has suffered for all of it, including the franchises and the movies themselves. Jon and I have offices across the street from one another. Shane and I are still speaking. It’s a nice relationship, you know? Again, I think it’s a testament to Kevin and the real central people at Marvel. They’re very, very thoughtful about their choices.
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Here’s the official synopsis for Iron Man 3:
Marvel’s “Iron Man 3″ pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?