Robert Downey Jr.: The 'Iron Man' Effect

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Robert Downey Jr.: The 'Iron Man' Effect

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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I understand you just came from shooting a segment for the MTV Movie Awards?
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Oh, well, I rehearsed that all this morning, and then we shoot it tomorrow. And then from shooting that, I go to Jimmy Kimmel, and I'm talking to you on my way back from just doing Billy Bush after doing The Tonight Show. You know, it's real different to show a clip and talk about a movie that none of the audience has seen and nobody can be really bothered to get too excited about unless they see the applause sign blinking. But now...there were some people there [in the studio audience who had seen the movie], and it was just really gratifying to have folks saying, ''Hey, we enjoyed that, and my son enjoyed it, and my teenage daughter was crazy about it — or my wife or my husband who never likes this stuff.''

When you were brainstorming with Jon Favreau, what were the elements that you wanted to bring to the next Iron Man movie?
There's this idea of Terrence [Howard] putting on a suit and coming back as War Machine, who is pretty iconic in the Iron Man and Marvel universe. Just seeing where it can all go, but grounding it in a very modern mythology. I see it as greatest dysfunctional family story ever told.... In The New York Post a couple days ago, [there was a cartoon] of Iron Man suited up, and he's telling the governor even his super-powers can't get him out of the budget problem. That was what Jon was hoping for and excited to see the most, the idea that Tony Stark and Iron Man can become part of the cultural fabric. When we heard posters were being defaced to promote political or social ideas, he just got such a hoot out of that.

A central element of Tony Stark's story arc in the comics is his alcoholism. How much will that be incorporated into the storylines, or, at least, from your perspective, how much would you like that to happen?
Well, you know. [Pause] I think I was reading in the Times, it was saying ''Most Conflicted'' — it was comparing character defects from one superhero to another. Interestingly, Tony's Achilles heel isn't that he boozes too hard and then he winds up becoming an alcoholic in the genesis; his character defect is narcissism. I think there's a way to capitalize on that, and if you want to use the drinking as a metaphor to that, that's fine. But in and of itself, I don't think it's any more interesting than having a superhero who has cancer. That's why I think the mythology of these things is cool, because a Gamma Ray means a lot more than a gamma ray, whereas a non-specific urethritis can be only that. Again, I defer to Jon. He really, really crafted this thing in a way that was so smart. And, also, what I love is that kids are enjoying it. It's important to me, strangely, in my old age, to do something that is appropriate and still entertaining and engaging and evocative, and is about more than you might expect it to be about. I mean, clearly, I'm going to have a lot more juice at the writing table than I did a few years ago.

To that end, I know you're under contract for another Iron Man movie — do you know how far that goes? They just announced an Avengers movie for 2011, which would ostensibly involve Iron Man. Would you be on board for that?
I really don't know. What I'm on board for right now is the ride home. I don't want to start talking out of my league, because that would have certainly been my inclination in the past. I kind of know how to keep my teeth together a little better than I used to.

NEXT PAGE: The Soloist and Downey's other post-Iron Man plans