When Robert Downey Jr. brings Tony Stark back to the screen on May 3 in Iron Man 3, he’ll be wearing a new upgrade of his weaponized wardrobe, this one with a brassy, reduced-red color scheme that could be viewed as color commentary. These are, after all, golden days to be Downey, the movie star who is ranked No. 1 in the latest Forbes listing of Hollywood box-office heroes. The 47-year-old actor was once the film industry’s most talented and frustrating question mark, but now he’s Hollywood’s human exclamation point, and as the rakish Stark, the world’s favorite canned ham.
EW caught with the two-time Oscar nominee by phone not long ago for a lengthy conversation about the new film, his career, and Marvel Universe after the success of The Avengers.
We’ll run installments from the interview all week. In this first part, he talks about new additions to the franchise (led by writer-director Shane Black, the Lethal Weapon screenwriter whose hiring was championed by Downey) as well as familiar faces (such as Don Cheadle, who returns as Stark’s military pal Rhodey, who will be using some warfare wardrobe of his own).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Iron Man 3 brings in Shane Black, who made his directorial debut with you and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005. You’ve worn the suit in battle scenes in three films now – two directed by Jon Favreau, one by Joss Whedon – and I’m curious if Shane’s arrival changes any of the fundamental approach to action scenes?
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: We’ve just been talking about one sequence – the top-secret name is the Boot/Glove Sequence, I can tell you that, just between you and me – it’s where Tony only has one gauntlet and one boot and he has to escape multiple captors. It’s really fun, dude. We’re taking everything from his first gauntlet test in the first movie up through the most extreme stuff we thought up for Iron Man 2 and The Avengers and pulling on all of it and making this one big, extended challenge of physics.
I loved how the action in Kiss Kiss was such pulpy metaphor. Like when your character is there dangling above a freeway, holding the hand of a corpse that’s jutting out of a casket. So he’s in danger of being consumed by the big city, but if he doesn’t let go of a murder victim, he can figure out a way to get back on his feet? That’s pretty much the film’s plot, isn’t it?
He’s definitely keeping that idea – that way of storytelling – alive. It’s a hallmark of the Shane Black [scripts] since the beginning of his career, and it’s been really fun to bring that to Tony Stark’s world.
You mentioned earlier that the cast and crew of Iron Man had film-appreciation gatherings – a movie club, basically?
It was a group of us going to the Cineplex and blocking out a theater on the weekends and taking in John Toll [the two-time Oscar winner and Iron Man 3 cinematographer] and taking in sometimes a ton of people and sometimes less. We do something that involves movies and our love of movies…. One was [a movie that Toll shot] the Wachowskis’ film Cloud Atlas. We were impressed with how cohesive the direction was, and obviously everything that John shot was amazing. We saw Flight, which was great, and before that it was Argo, which was also kind of cool. It’s nice knowing that you can to theater every weekend and see something good. And it’s great to see what people are doing and to get excited about it.
With Iron Man 3 there are some new faces coming in to the franchise: Guy Pearce, James Badge Dale, Rebecca Hall, and of course, Ben Kingsley as the villain, the Mandarin. And then there’s the returning ensemble with Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Jon Favreau. Circle one of those names and tell us something they brought to the project.
Since I was just talking about Flight and Don is on my mind, I’ll start with him. Rhodey is much more in the dead center of things. He’s much more dynamic. We’ve made this decision that while Tony is a technical guy, he’s not really a trained guy. There’s a lot of fun to be had with Don because he’s really good with hardware and he’s a martial artist, so it’s been really fun exploiting this possibility of Tony having moments like the one in Avengers, like the one with Cap where he decides, “Oh screw it, he probably knows what he’s doing.” So there’s a lot of that and a lot more fun and a lot more depth to Rhodey this time around.
Tomorrow: A cryptic clue about an Avenger cameo in Iron Man 3?