Robert Downey Jr. must have expected a degree of controversy surrounding his latest role, playing an Australian actor who literally turns African American for a role in a Vietnam War movie in the Ben Stiller-directed comedy Tropic Thunder. Wait a minute; did I mention he plays an Australian?
“Here’s the thing: the original script had him as Irish, but then there was the first trailer where he plays an Irishman and I thought, ‘What’s the stretch for an Irishman to play an Irishman?’ So why isn’t he Australian and then you have an Australian, you have an African-American, you have him disguised as a Vietnamese, and in the beginning of the movie, you see him as an Irishman – a very gay Irishman,” he says laughingly in a Beverly Hills hotel room.
Asked how much research he did in order to get these various ethnic stereotypes down pat, the actor says none, “because it was my goal for there to be nothing stereotypical except for when the story demands that he’s momentarily specifically stereotypical – for which the actual black man puts him in his place. So the funny thing about this in retrospect – looking at how we did this and decisions that were made and all that – is that I remember that we had discussions and then the talk is over and you’re out there shooting a f–king movie and so my idea was to try and be natural and entertaining.”
This is not the first time that Downey donned an Australian accent, the first time being in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. “I just think that the Australian phenomenon reminds me more of American as with the British invasion from the ’60s. But when I was thinking about Kirk Lazarus I was thinking about Colin Farrell, about Daniel Day Lewis and about Russell Crowe and whoever was the most effective tool for whatever my thing was, I would use.” He smiles when it’s suggested how much of Crowe is present in his few Australian scenes. “Now do you think he would see it as the highest form of flattery or do you think that he would be less than pleased?”
“Tropic Thunder” pokes fun at the ego prevalent in the Hollywood star, and Downey’s Kirk Lazarus, the actor says, “himself too seriously. I think his fatal flaw is pretty much any and everyone’s who’s in entertainment, which is, on a certain level: ‘Oh if they believe they’re a fraud and that’s creating this neurotic state,’ when the truth is, you are a fraud because you’ve gone too far into buying into your own hype and now you’re, literally crazy. I think Kirk Lazarus is nuts.”
As successful as Downey has been in Hollywood, his career has had its share of ups and downs, often marred by his once publicized drug use. But that was then, this is now, and thanks to a certain comic book hero earlier this summer, Downey’s career is well and truly back in track. So much so, that he has been able to poke fun at his stunning career resurgence while promoting “Tropic Thunder”.
But looking back on” Iron Man”, Downey says he had a feeling it would be successful. “I don’t often say that I know how things are going to go, but I did know that ‘Iron Man’ was going to come out and be received and have the kind of success it did. So it wasn’t surprising, but gratifying because it would have been very disappointing if my feeling and my intuition about it hadn’t been met by reality – as is often the case.”
The actor downplays what the film’s success has done for his career at this particular juncture. “I think it’s like anything. At a certain point, Favreau and I were invited to a dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills and I felt like they opened the books and we were made guys. There was a lot of like power players there and studio people and that we were sitting, and we left and I felt like we, ‘I feel like we were just – like mafia. They just made us.’ It was this weird thing too because I don’t know if any of us had this experience, but sometimes you go from being in one position to being in another or you have a certain sense of achievement and there’s this kind of energy that happens where there literally is an energetic transformation. Then the next day you wake up and it’s just another day.”
Another day perhaps, but “Iron Man 2” is a topic of conversation, as he and Favreau are currently collaborating on a story for the much anticipated sequel. “Now Justin Theraux who wrote ‘Tropic Thunder’, is writing it and Jon and I are working on the story with him. It’s pretty great and I think it’s going to be cool. I think it’s going to appropriately well thought out so that we don’t forget what got us the response that we appreciated so much, which is, we didn’t say, ‘Great, now that this is like this, now we’re going to twist it and do this with it.’ It’s now; I’m not saying we’re going to do bits. I think more of the same; it is a very rich feel, because it was a very simple movie, if you ask me. It was an origin story.”
Which apparently was not the case with the other big summer movie “The Dark Knight”. “My whole thing is that that I saw ‘The Dark Knight’. I feel like I’m dumb because I feel like I don’t get how many things that are so smart. It’s like a Ferrari engine of storytelling and script writing and I’m like, ‘That’s not my idea of what I want to see in a movie.’ I loved ‘The Prestige’ but didn’t understand ‘The Dark Knight’. Didn’t get it, still can’t tell you what happened in the movie, what happened to the character and in the end they need him to be a bad guy. I’m like, ‘I get it. This is so high brow and so f–king smart, I clearly need a college education to understand this movie.’ You know what? F-ck DC comics. That’s all I have to say and that’s where I’m really coming from.”
Well clearly Downey isn’t about to do anything for DC Comics anytime soon. “You know, you’re never too old to burn your bridges because I believe I have offended everyone,” he says, laughingly. “I think I’ve got a couple more. ‘I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it’ is my favourite phrase I’ve ever coined.”
At least Downey is signed for at least two more films, the aforementioned “Iron Man 2” and the starring role in British director Guy Ritchie’s take on Sherlock Holmes. “It’s definitely going to be Guy Ritchie’s take and it’s going to be done in classical 1891 surroundings but not going to be particularly stylised.” With a contemporary tone, he adds. “I think what’s contemporary about it is that you go back to the real truth of Sherlock Holmes – is that he’s a lot more broad and less stoic than I remember seeing him depicted. He’s a bare knuckle boxer, a martial artist and a complete weirdo which is why I said I’d love to do this.”