What a difference a blockbuster makes. In 2007, Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. came to the San Diego Comic-Con dressed in a finely tailored suit, eager to convince skeptical fanboys that his version of Tony Stark would be legit.
Two years and several hundred million dollars of box office receipts later, Downey showed up at Comic-Con wearing a t-shirt, hat and a pair of eye-catching f**k-you shoes -- as in, “F**k you, I’m Robert Downey Jr. If want to strut around in giant, radioactive-green Reebok Pumps, you bet your ass I’m gonna.”
Minutes after he and director Jon Favreau wowed the convention crowd with some tremendous new Iron Man 2 footage, Downey stopped by for a chat, announcing his arrival by propping said shoes in the middle of the interview table, then pointing out that in Thailand such a gesture would be considered highly offensive.
Indeed, if we’d been in Bankok, Downey might have some pissed off ladyboys on his hands. But this is Comic-Con, where the only ladyboys to be found are on the hard drives of most of the male attendees. So if anyone took offense to Downey’s actions, they didn’t mention it. There were bigger fish to fry -- namely, the return of Iron Man:
Are we going to see Iron Man and War Machine go head-to-head in this movie?
Robert Downey Jr.: “Well, I got that sense from the footage. But it could be a misdirect, couldn’t it?”
What can you tell us about the Tony Stark’s journey this time around?
RDJ: "I think what’s really going on ... If I had to piece together what's going on in that footage, I would say that at a certain point, probably in act one -- or two -- Tony is approached by Nick Fury, who is wondering what it's like for him to not have any backup. And Rhodey/Cheadle’s thing has always been, “Try to work with us.” We see that he’s under pressure from the Senate to essentially turn over the weapon that he designed when he was under contract with them, but the truth is he didn't design it for a government contract. He designed it to save his own life. So he has an argument there. The funny thing is, in saying what I'm saying right now, I’m going right back to our original vetting sessions six months ago, when we were not just reminding ourselves of the obvious but trying to think if this was really happening, what would be the most interesting, entertaining and honest way to move forward? And that’s kind of what we took the risk of exploring, basically, that Tony goes on a much more perilous journey this time than he did when all he had to do was save his own ass."
What was it like bringing newcomers Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell into the Iron Man fold?
RDJ: "There's kind of a certain brother and sisterhood of talent in what's otherwise kind of a small town. Everybody knows Don, everyone’s seen the incredible work he’s been doing over the years. And I just have this problem where I tend to go up to people if they come and join a project, partially due to the fact that they figured that part of what made it work last time was my director and director involvement, I feel really beholden to say that I guarantee you and I promise you that we will work our asses off to really pay this character off and to give them what you would expect for coming to join us. I guess the problem or the challenge this time was I was essentially saying that to three or four new people. Jon and I were telling Mickey that we would just have him to play a two-dimensional nemesis. We were thrilled to get Scarlett and we said you're not going to be some kind of Marvel spin-off story thing because we want a hot chick kicking ass in this movie, and I think we managed that. And with Sam, he's just such a gifted guy that to come in ... obviously it's no secret now that he's essentially filling the space that Tony has evacuated when he says he's not going to make weapons anymore. So what is it like to be quote-unquote a wannabe Tony Stark and how does that add up to what his conflict is and all that stuff. But the real one was with Don, and we were saying that the whole “no man is an island” thing ... It’s always the toughest part, the guy who’s like, 'Tony, you really should need to not go it alone.' But I think underneath it all, I always got from the comic books that if Tony and Rhodey were hanging out, it would be a toss-up which one of them would get laid first. In Don, with his wit, we were just standing outside screwing around a little bit, just entertaining ourselves at each other's expense. He's someone who I feel we have a real repartee and ease and he’s not intimidated by me in any way. So I wanted to bring that to the screen as much as possible, while still having him have his own arc and trajectory and all that."
Did it take some convincing to get Mickey to come on board?
RDJ: "The thing is that Iron Man sold itself here two years ago and then, contrary to numbers-crunchers, it wound up then being a rousing success, economically. So it was kind of a win-win situation; if I had never been involved in it and my agent was pitching, 'They’re doing another Iron Man and here are the opportunities ...' I think the conversation really centered more around that it's not uncommon to be sold a bill of goods and, for one reason or another, usually not lack of intention, it doesn't pay off. I've been in that position dozens of times, so I think Jon and I and Kevin and the Marvel folks and pretty much everybody who was there last time, we knew that as a creative coalition, we really tended to be able to make good on what we hoped we could provide."
What are you going to do with this movie that you wanted to do with the first one but just didn't have time or space to do?
RDJ: "It’s six on one hand, half a dozen on the other. Usually the origin story is the most interesting story because you get to see someone becoming the beloved ones they are. And so we just upped the stakes. He has to be dealing with things that are more pertinent than his immediate survival and he has to be exposed to things that are beyond the realm of easy understanding, even for someone as bright as he is. And those were all there, so we didn't have to reach or create anything. It’s kind of like, you can't tell the story any better than the way it really happened, so we just starting looking back on the stories and then kind of did an amalgam of those. We didn't take ourselves seriously at all, but we took the storytelling really, really seriously."