Robert Downey Jr: ‘Iron Man 2’ was ‘a screaming, wild-eyed bar fight’ to make

Oct. 03, 2010 | 6:04 a.m.


robert downey jr and iron man Robert Downey Jr: Iron Man 2 was a screaming, wild eyed bar fight to make

Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of "Iron Man 2." (Marvel Entertainment)

Iron Man 2” just hit stores on DVD and Blu-ray and appears poised to be one the bestselling titles of 2010.  In theaters, the movie pulled in $622 million worldwide, which is more than the first film (although the reviews weren’t as glowing this time around). I thought the movie was satisfying, and I especially liked Mickey Rourke’s muttering menace as the Russian villain Whiplash and marveled at Robert Downey Jr.’s endless and seemingly effortless ability to make every scene crackle with scoundrel charisma. The Monaco race track sequence is also a gem of action filmmaking, and the clever concept of the Stark Expo will pay dividends in the expanding Marvel Universe on screen. The movie, though, was not unified like the first one and nothing seemed to come easy for the two men at the center of the project, director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr.  — that much was clear during filming.

I dug out the tapes from one of my set visits and found some interesting quotes and scenes that didn’t make it into Hero Complex’s previous coverage of “Iron Man 2.” Listening to them with the benefit of hindsight, I could hear the anxiety in the voices of the filmmaker and actor who were trying to make a film that was nimble of spirit but built out of heavy metal. It was a late-night shoot at a high school on the edge of downtown L.A. and director Jon Favreau looked weary from the marathon hours he was putting into the movie. There was apprehension in the air, caused by an ever-changing script that was under daily revision. The approach was meant to showcase Downey’s improvisational leaps but only led to plenty of wear and tear and left one prominent newcomer to the franchise a bit dazed.

The first question I asked Favreau was about the double-edged sword of success. The first movie had taken the filmmaker to a new heights, but its success also cast a big shadow.

“The challenges are to maintain the tone and the personality,” Favreau told me as he watched the crew prepare for a shot that would include a cameo by comics icon Stan Lee. “You can’t fall into the trap of getting too precious with the material or taking yourself too seriously. You also need to escalate things appropriately. You can fall into a real trap with these things of telling the same story over and over again — playing it too safe and relying on familiar things — or just the opposite of being too ambitious and letting the plot become too baroque or cluttered with too many characters. In this case, we added people to change the dynamic of the core group. We didn’t want to do something that felt like another episode of a sitcom. There was a very comfortable dynamic with the characters after the first one and there’s a temptation to just become episodic when that happens.”

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Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in "Iron Man 2." (Marvel Entertainment)

Later in the night — actually, it was well past midnight — I hopped in a golf cart with Downey and headed toward his trailer. “Mr. Toad’s wild ride,” he muttered as we zipped along at a somewhat alarming clip. An oncoming cart slowed and we slowed to a stop as Downey winked at the driver, Susan Downey, the actor’s wife and producing partner. “What are ya doing?” she asked in a silly accent. Downey replied with an equally goofy affectation, “In-ter-viewing.” She looked at me. “Who dat?” He answered, “That’s Geoff from the L.A. Times.” “We like the L.A. Times,” she replied with a contemplative nod. The star then told his wife, “Me and Geoff are going to hang out and sell some soap today,” which left me puzzled. Her answer hinted that I was hearing some meaningful shorthand: “Sounds like a plan. Have fun, keep clean.”

Downey’s scorched history of drugs and career calamity will never fade from view completely, nor would he want that — he’s active and passionate in his recovery and part of that process is keeping the bad memories close at hand. We reached his trailer and sat down, and as he bounced around inside he was in classic Downey mode — restless brain, open heart and wicked wit. Christina Aguilera was singing from the laptop speakers and I studied his staggering vitamin collection. There was a framed “Thor” image in one corner with an inscription from Kenneth Branagh.  I asked Downey a question I ask every actor or filmmaker I talk to: What was the thing you needed to avoid to make this project a success?

“I needed to remember not to forget,” he said, reminding me of an old Elvis Presley record. To not forget what? “I didn’t want to forget the way we made it happen last time, which was very seat-of-our-pants, very synergistic and open to finding the big ‘ah-ha’ moments…. We said last time that we couldn’t imagine that we’d get so lucky to get a shot at doing it [a second time in the same fashion]. It was tantamount sometimes to making a crazy, cosmic double entendre. Our thing is order out of chaos. The hours are weird but it pays pretty good.”

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Jon Favreau at work on "Iron Man 2." (Marvel Entertainment)

I mentioned how refreshing it was to watch the franchise veer off from the fairly tired set-up of a super hero protecting his secret identity. “It was one of the big keys to our success,” he said. “You’ve got to break the mode as many ways as possible. That, by the way, on the day, was an ‘alt.’ That scene in the first movie, I mean, where I tell everyone that Tony Stark is Iron Man, that was [a departure from the script] where Jon said, ‘Just do one take where you look right down the barrel of the camera and say it.’ We decided that it made it more interesting. And the first one,  where I stuck to the cards, that didn’t go so well; I start talking about my dad and get real stoic and seem traumatized. So we went in a different direction. And that’s what we do here more than anything is that we try to defy expectation, if only for ourselves and our satisfaction as fans of these kinds of movies. It’s kind of PickfordChaplin thing of the lunatics taking over the asylum. Look, you imagine this film is going to have a certain amount of success whether we do it in an interesting way or not just because of last time. The first will get people to come see the second. We felt more motivated to countermand that [moviegoer] tendency. I feel like this is our generation’s chance to sit in the catbird seat and make movies for the present and future generations…we’re trying to make it really deep. Or maybe we’re trying to make it seem really deep. Half the time we’re just trying to entertain ourselves.”

We talked more and the wildly veering subjects included his vitamin stash, mixed martial arts, Bobby Darin, the islands of Hawaii, 12-step programs, jet lag and sushi. The most interesting thing that he shared, though, was his feeling of joined destiny and trust when it comes to Favreau. The tandem was part of a team that had caught lightning in a bottle with “Iron Man” and, with the sequel, they were starting to feeling their fingers singe and shake.

“Here’s the thing,” Downey said. “We realized pretty early on with this second one that there was not going to be much of anything elegant about the way we did this movie. It was essentially going to be a screaming, wild-eyed bar fight just to get that naturalism that we got in the first one…there’s all these thing you’re juggling and some of them are on fire. It all goes back to Jon and I. That first screen test and me bringing everything I had to bear on it and getting the opportunity for this role. Jon and I are the same exact guys but we’ve also changed a lot internally; some of that was prompted by external things like success and a deep feeling of accomplishment after connecting with an audience that embraced this whole thing. There’s a possibility to have legacy with this thing. We’re not fooling ourselves — it’s entertainment for a general audience — but to me that is the most exciting realm of creative activity. There is a possibility of a legacy.”

— Geoff Boucher


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3 Responses to Robert Downey Jr: ‘Iron Man 2’ was ‘a screaming, wild-eyed bar fight’ to make

  1. Edward Douglas says:

    Great stuff, Geoff… love seeing "extras" from a set visit similar to extras from a DVD/Blu-Ray

  2. Emmet says:

    Interesting, I wonder in what capacity "legacy"


  3. Andy says:

    Did Downey just imply that Favreau screwed up "Iron Man 2" because he let the success of the first movie get to his head?

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