Robert Downey Jr. Interview on the Set of IRON MAN

     March 31, 2008

Back in June of ’07 I was able to go to the set of “Iron Man.” I just posted a report of what I saw, and now you can read an interview with Robert Downey Jr. from the set of the movie. As always, if you’d like to listen to the audio of the interview click here.

While many other sites like to say they were the only ones there when posting an interview, let me be very clear…this interview was conducted with around 12 or 15 other online journalists. So if you see this interview on other sites….that’s the reason.Sorry, it’s a major pet peeve of mine when sites like to say they’re the only ones there.

And about the interview…remember, this was conducted before any trailer was online and before Comic-Con. This was before anyone knew if the movie would be good or bad. As you read the interview or listen to the audio, you can hear a quiet confidence. It’s a great interview. Enjoy.

Robert Downey Jr: It’s so great to be back on this set

Question: This seems it might be an unusual choice for you.

RDJ: Well, I mean, all my friends are doing it. I remember the original Superman and Brando was in it, I thought, ‘Wow, these things must be getting legit.’ I was already, I guess, fairly opinionated when I was seven. I’m kind of like a nerd about this stuff and I think there’s been this onslaught obviously of these genre films, and I hope this one is different enough to accommodate whatever snobbery might be unleashed on me by peers and friends. With my buddies, when you want to do stuff, they say, ‘You’re doing what, man? Shaggy Dog?’ No one’s given me any guff about Iron Man and it’s funny too. It’s a particular type of fan likes it, really smart, highly educated entertainment lawyers like pulling me aside at parties going, “Dude, Tony Stark, man!” The tie gets loose and they start just geeking out.

Q: Can you talk about the bruises and the cuts?

RDJ: I can. He goes through a lot. I don’t know what I can talk about or not. I guess it’s safe to say that he’s in captivity for some time, and the fact that you’ve just seen a sequence where he’s returning home and a lot has occurred means that obviously he figured out a way to escape. I don’t know much about these sorts of things, but I know you can get pretty bruised up escaping.

Q: What are you shooting today

RDJ: He’s been back home, he’s had a press conference and he’s talked to his partner in front of this legacy energy device that he’s in essence miniaturized, which is keeping him alive, but he’s back home. But back home, there’s nothing that’s normal in this whole film, he’s just back home – did you see that pad? And he’s not just back home, but he’s home and there isn’t a big wait staff, and he doesn’t have a gal on his arm, and his assistant’s not around, so it’s a very kind of isolated opulence. There was this last round of Iron Man comics, Extremis and those very kind of graphicy looking ones, and I remember in pre-production, without wanting to be derivative which is a very specific design, and that’s what I like about anything, that’s why I’m such a fan of Matrix and stuff like that, and people go, ‘Not two and three?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, if I love it I love all of them,’ I’m like the boyfriend that needs to grow up because if I love something and it impacts me, then I’m in until the wheels fall off.

Q: If you met Tony Stark on a street corner, what would you guys have to talk about?

RDJ: First of all, he’d be an imposter. So we’d probably throw down right there. It’s so funny, because I think I’m old enough to have a pretty strong aesthetic distance and I remember the days if it was Less than Zero or Chaplin where I would throw myself into this tizzy of prep for the roles for 16 hours. The same makeup gal doing this did Less Than Zero and she was blowing menthol in my eyes and putting latex on my lips and I was doing pushups before the scenes and my heart was racing forever. And I feel like as much as anything nowadays, it’s not that we’re phoning it in, we really care and we really prepped it into practical oblivion, but I still try to have some distance but it’s really almost even more narcissistic to be talking to some department head going, ‘I don’t think Tony would’ which is essentially saying what I want to do in the scene. But if there’s ever been a character in the history of my career, that I would happy to meld with and associate myself with, it’s Tony Stark, because it’s the coolest job I’ve ever had. The history of it, and I got to meet Stan Lee. I took him to the Grill in Beverly Hills, and I asked him, “What was the real origins of this?’ And he said, ‘I kind of did it on a dare. Could you make a billionaire industrialist, womanizing heathen, somehow through this vulnerability of his own…” I’m sorry, this might be more fun [unbuttoning to reveal the chest piece]. They don’t give me the pin. That’s the funny thing too. Yeah, we need to save the battery but what if I want to walk around with the light on?

Q: So you met Stan Lee?

RDJ: Stan Lee and he said he did it on a dare to see, and also you think about it, it’s interesting, roughly 30 years ago and history and da d a da, but it was a time when there was a very strong anti-establishment, anti-military industrial complex, anti-rich, over 30 energy, and so for him it was just a huge challenge. They said they got more female fan mail than for all their other heroes combined because there was this sense of him being very vulnerable and not knowing from day to day whether this very precarious device that keeps him alive and drives him, but is clearly a metaphor for something else, but sometimes it’s not a metaphor. You’ve got a small token-like reactor in your chest, that’s the reason you’re not dead in the movie, how can that be a metaphor? It’s like saying, “This aqualung under water, this reed I’m breathing through…”

Q: Terrance told us about you all having to relight a scene when you suggested that the reporters at a press conference sit on the floor. Were there any other times you did that because of your ideas?

RDJ: Well, first of all, as a martial artist you want to be as efficient and effective and use as much linear striking as possible, don’t fight force with force, there are a lot of these concepts that everything’s like everything else for film, so I’m not coming in going, ‘This is all wrong, relight.’ But I’ll come in and say, ‘Given the time we have, we can probably get this many shots’ and Jon has been very flexible and very fun because we’re very similar, because Tony Stark is really, I don’t know how this could come across, but it’s really Jon and I are creating Tony and through that half the lines are his and half the ideas are mine, and then we have all these really great people at the top of their field who are either simultaneously exasperated with the fact that we are vetting an idea – I come in every day and say, ‘I’ve seen this in a movie before, no offense, but if we do this, I haven’t seen that.’ And some of them are so far out they go, ‘Will you just go put on your chest piece?’ But more often than not – if anything I feel the onus and the responsibility to not venture into this genre without an understanding that it’s actually inhabited and enjoyed and me being amongst these people by very apt, bright, perceptive, and often times educated in the arts people, so just because it happens to have this two-dimensional aspect to it in its origins doesn’t mean that it doesn’t go deep and it shouldn’t be an art form. I think audiences are continually underestimated, at the same time I love CHUD. I can go see a pretty crappy movie and love it, if it’s got a couple of things that work. I’m like a soccer coach with kids who probably shouldn’t be playing soccer.

Q: What made you ask the reporters to sit down?

RDJ: What was going through my mind was I walked in the room and everyone’s standing up and I go, ‘Here we are’ and they’re screaming, ‘Mr. Stark, Mr. Stark!’ and all that thing. I was just like, ‘Can he come in- – ‘ He’s also supposedly gone through this massive transformation. He’s been humbled. He’s seen things through new eyes and I think even the people that he’s interacting with, like reporters, like that’s the press and we do our sound bites and we do our damage control and we do our propaganda and that’s it. I think he’s starting to relate to seeing large groups of people as not an idealist, because I think he’s too educated in the dark arts of weapons manufacturing and also his family and their legacy to be a moron, or suddenly be waving flowers and wanting to join hands and sing Kumbaya but I think there’s an equalization that occurs. Still that is a little bit strange. It’s not like he raises his finger and everyone sit down. I think it was just kind of making him nervous and I thought it’s a strange thing to do and also later on, they’re supposed to think that maybe Tony’s gone a little koo koo and I thought that would demonstrate, even though that’s not why he did it. It’s that thing of miscommunication of intentions and ideas.

Q: Can you talk about the wardrobe and getting into the suit?

RDJ: Yes, I love Stan Winston and Shane and all the guys on him team. There are several stunt men, Oakley we call one of them and Mike Justice and these guys. Again, if Jon and I are Tony Stark, then it’s me and those fellows, my stuntman, and my stand in who wind up really being Iron Man, because it’s just such a massive undertaking. We said at the first that we wanted to do as much of is practically as possible. I was coming into the set going, ‘Oh yeah, practical, practical.’ I was like, cool. But it’s tough, really tough and really great. Like that first time you try on the suit, I swear to God you could put the least mucho superhero looking man or woman in the suit… I swear to God in 15 seconds you could believe that any of them could destroy the nemesis. So it really is the long game. It’s about how do you not have a personality meltdown in hour seven when you kind of feel like you’ve been tarred and feathered and covered in machine parts. It’s like, ‘Here’s the moment when the RT…’ and you’re calling up every therapeutic moment you’ve ever had with friends, family and strangers, every book you’ve ever read, they’re saying, ‘Hey, have you read The Secret?’ I’m like, ‘I’m living The Secret. I need more information. I have the entire Bohdi Tree between my ears.’ Nonetheless, what it really is is that’s the thing. When I’d come off doing Zodiac before this, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang which is a movie which I really loved a couple years before that, and a Scanner Darkly, all these films are really kind of about character and once in awhile you get finger cut off, or you have a bad day or you’re wearing an ascot, so I’d really gotten used to these none technically driven movies, and as much as we’ve been able to in this we’ve tried to have it feel like if Bob Altman had directed Superman.

Q: How long did it take to get used to it?

RDJ: Well, I like to say I’m the first person who’s been able to relieve themselves while wearing the suit. It was precipitous. Wouldn’t it be weird if that was the rest of the interview? There was a zipper but the zipper was still covered by a hip piece that actually had a groin attachment. Suffice to say, it was like that thing where you say, ‘How did that guy escape from jail?’ You go, ‘Well, he was thin.’ There’s a lot of thin people in jail, but ‘Yeah, that guy’s head was just the right size and he got out between the bars.’

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Q: Does it ever get frustrating wearing the chest piece?

RDJ: Look, wearing a watch can be frustrating if you’re not in the right head space. There was this time a couple of days ago where they said, ‘You’ve been through a lot, and this has been a really grueling shoot, it’s also been a really magical shoot, because I shit you not, every day we’ve come in – and it reminds me of reading about Chaplin in the early days, where he’d go in without an idea in his head. It’s not like we don’t have a script and one that we approve of, but we’d go in and say, ‘How do we raise this to a level of something we want to see, or something that addresses all the different elements of these kind of films?’ I’m actually starting to think that they’re a really, really, really high order of art because there are so many things that you have to professionally have gone through and understood and experienced to be able to not be overwhelmed by the fact that, ‘Now, in this scene, you’re going through something but actually the boot is out and you’re welding and the phone rings and all this other stuff and you have a relationship with your shop…’ And why I’m so glad, I’m actually really comforted being here right now is we, you ever feel that that summer in that place or in that apartment creatively, we did every single thing we could, or wrote my best, I was the most honest, I was the most disciplined and we had those… back when you used to say, ‘I’m not just going to go out and eat again. I’m going to look at this new menu from this cookbook I’ve had for five years and actually try to make a pasta that doesn’t suck.’ But really number six, eight minutes, not 10 or 12. We really came in and on this set in particular, because this is where so much of his work happens and creation of the mark two suit and then the armor. What was the question?

Q: The chest piece.

RDJ: Oh yeah. No, it’s fine.

Q: What has you training process been like for this film?

RDJ: The funny thing is there’s some museum in Miami and I got this little key chain and it looked like Iron Man. This was like six month before I even knew this thing. For the last five years I’ve been doing martial arts and then when I got the part, they said, ‘So, do you want to put on some size?’ I’m not 28 or some guy like Daniel Craig who’s already got meat packed on his shoulders and they just swelled them up for that. You’ve seen me in all the movies, I’m not like Mr. Buff guy and now I’m in the over 40 crew, so it has literally been this excruciating process of working out so hard and so often just to not look like a little pot bellied pig. There’s a couple scenes where we finally got together and I’m banging on the thing and I go, ‘Matty, dude, do you got any?’ And goes, ‘Dude, I know what to do. I’ve done this before.’ And they light it right and I’m like ugh, and rubber band sand and we do all this stuff. I was like, ‘Wow, that looked great, you’re really in shape.’ And 20 minutes later, errr. Yoga and eating right and all the supplements and sleeping right and all the obvious stuff that is probably more important than working out. You just got to keep your head right, it’s so easy to get spun out, and you see people who have no challenges outside of their Hollywood problems come in and they regularly have meltdowns on sets, or they turn into a bitch, or they say and do things because they’re under pressure, or because they think they’re something they’re not. It’s really a trip to be number one on the call sheet and getting a movie like this, and it’s always kind of an inside game and I forget that occasionally but they keep writing the shit and the toggle switch, it’s that thing. Like life is 85% maintenance and you realize at the end of your day that you spent most of the day just making sure that all that other people’s energy and all your own mindtalk wasn’t ruining what had started off- – like the day plans to be good and then you come in like [crash, crash, crash] trying to [vroom vroom vroom]. Can I just dot something in your eye, can I just blow some sand in your eye right before the take? Why? I don’t know. I’m the head of the blow sand in your eye department. Uh, Jon? Then there’s a whole thing. I look at the comic books and the guy’s like… we did a photo shoot in here the other day and it wound up going great but you see this picture of Tony Stark, kind of looks like Tom Cruise except more handsome and more buff, the suit and his hair’s blowing in the wind and it’s curly and you go, ‘Can we do a shot like that?’ And the hair lady’s like, ‘I can try.’ And I’m like, ‘Let’s not go Something About Mary here. This, I’ve got this.’ So it’s been a lot of that just outside issues, like, ‘Hey, look, man, the suit.’ You’re tired and you get swayed back or it’s like I’m not particularly tall and I’m surrounded by giants and I was like, ‘It’s a kind of weird- -‘ I’m not walking around like Don Adams on boards or anything but all these elements of what when I see this movie, I want to be able to believe that this guy is the guy.

Q: Do you draw on any playboys like Dean Martin, Sinatra?

RDJ: Well, I’m sorry, this might sound a little weird, but I’m not drawing on other things for him. I consider him to be a real entity for the most part. That works for me and then I come into work and there are hundreds of people around and without abusing the influence I have, it’s like things are made very easy and available to me and I see $100,000 cars and things. All this stuff that regardless of how much dough I’ve made over the years, I’ve never lived a day. I’ve never lived four seconds like this guy’s lived every day, so it’s been this really kind of like amazing experience to see what it would be like if you had unimaginable resources and you had this change of heart and then you decided to pool those resources into something that became very fetishistic and obsessive but obsessive in a way that you kind of have to figure out as you go along what the moral psychology is of that. So I think it’s a very human journey. But to continue not answering your question, I tended to actually go more into mythology and the real basis of mythology and how men and women are capable of, at a certain subtle level, of god making, of making themselves godlike, of clearing themselves of these earthly things and walking into a purpose or some sort of divine idea, whether it seems dark at the time or not. It’s like you can see through perception and you have this heroic experience. I can say that about single mothers. I could say that about a variety of different type of folks that I’ve known growing up or whatever.

Q: Sorry to bring this up, but it’s the natural questions given the character.

RDJ: It’s funny you’re just sitting dead center and that’s the last question. I really wasn’t expecting this. This never happens. Yeah, yeah, give me all the fuckin’ preambles. Just bring it, dude.

Q: How much of your struggles have anything to do with how you’re playing the role?

RDJ: Well, I think when someone has had a fundamental change and they’re not just trying to backpedal and make it seem like, ‘I’m goig to rehab again. Everything’s fine. But I’m still clubbing tonight’ or whatever. Or whatever, friends of yours or mine who are just in a different place in their own evolution. By the time you’ve seen the light, by the time you get out of Dodge and start doing the right thing, you really don’t relate to the person that historically people still say… but it’s like that thing, it’s like the guy who says, ‘If you Google me, all you’re ever going to see is that I was accused of raping those two kids on the boat’ or whatever. It’s like, ‘Why am I googling you anyway?’ ‘My life has been ruined.’ That’s a really nice headspace. So my thing is what else was attractive is yeah, Tony Stark is like he’s been known to go bonkers and be so irresponsible that he’s too hammered to put on the suit. I was like, ‘Really?’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ I thought all these times when it seemed like in the atmosphere that there was another one of these, because you know, it’s like your superhero of the week thing and there are so many. I was like, ‘Green Hornet. No. But Green Hornet! No.’ Or other different ones or some of the other ones that have happened where the first thought would be, ‘We need you to play the bad guy in our movie like this.’ I was like, ‘The bad guy, yeah, bad guy, yeah, I’m a bad guy.’ But the fact that Tony is so conflicted and at a certain point in the later years, Demon in the Bottle and all that stuff, there’s so much stuff going on in this movie as it is, we decided not to do the Pirandello thing too. But I get it. That’s why in a way it’s ideally suited for me and I’m ideally suited for it.

And if this interview wasn’t enough for you…here’s some links to interviews I did at last year’s Comic-Con for “Iron Man.

Jon Favreau Comic Con interview, Robert Downey Jr.Comic-Con interview, Kevin Feige – the President of Production at Marvel interview, Gwyneth Paltrowand Terrance Howard. Finally,if you want to see some images ofthe Mach 1 from Comic Con, click here.

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