How Robert Downey Jr. Became The Phenomenon Known As The Iron Man

Someone recognized his potential and it wasn’t Marvel Studios

The legend, Robert Downey Jr. turned 56 yesterday. While every role he plays today contributes to his status as a highly bankable Hollywood star, there was a time when the biggest production houses hesitated to work with him because of his publicized drug and alcohol habits. His hefty resume, full of fantastic performances in renowned films paled before his status as a drug addict who wasn’t reliable. All this changed, once he got the chance to play the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man. But it was no stroke- apart from Robert Downey Jr.’s phenomenal impersonification of Iron Man, someone else played a big part in ensuring that he got the role. 

The late 2000s was the time when Marvel Studios was busy formulating plans on how to re-launch the MCU this time, such that it ends up being a success. Their starting film for MCU Phase I was Iron Man and they were in search of an actor who would bring the character of Tony Stark to life.  

Jon Favreau, the director of the film, was the one who suggested Robert Downey Jr

In a chat with Texas radio station 100.3 Jack FM, Favreau shared how he was the one to pitch Robert Downey Jr.’s name and was shot down multiple times because of the actor’s “reputation” at the time. But the director knew in his heart that Downey Jr. had the talent that the role of Iron Man needed and above all, the character’s journey- from a millionaire playboy to a man who realizes he can put his money and intelligence to good use– was very similar to the actor’s journey in life.

“It was my job as a director to show that it was the best choice creatively … and now the Marvel Universe is the biggest franchise in film history. Everybody knew he was talented… Certainly, by studying the Iron Man role and developing that script I realized that the character seemed to line up with Robert in all the good and bad ways. And the story of Iron Man was really the story of Robert’s career,” he shared.

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For the MCU star, being Iron Man was his “hero’s journey”

During an interview on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Robert Downey Jr. shared how much he is in tune with his MCU character. 

“Whenever you get handed a true period of humiliation. I’ll speak to my own experience seeing it with other people; I give them cred for dusting themselves off. I hate to say it – it’s a very American thing to build up, break down, and come back. In its own weird way it is the hero’s journey. By the way, I could relate to Tony Stark a lot by the time I played him. A guy who really needed to be handed a dose of ouch,” he shared. 

Choosing him to play Iron Man was a “big gamble” 

“That was a big gamble on whether or not he was really serious about it… and now history has definitely proven that he was dead serious about it and now he is the biggest star in the world,” Favreau explained. Slowly but eventually, Favreau was able to make Marvel Studios see Robert Downey Jr.’s potential to be an excellent Tony Stark and it paid off! Apart from the ensemble MCU films, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man films have been the ones that have earned the biggest bucks for the studio. The actor has played the iconic role in 10 MCU films and even now, that he has hung up his armour, he will still be Iron Man forever. 

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