While he spent more time with Batman than Iron Man, director Christopher Nolan has praised the move to cast Downey Jr. in the title role.
Although he had been on a minor roll by 2008, starring in Zodiac, A Scanner Darkly and, uh, The Shaggy Dog, Robert Downey Jr. was far from being a box office draw. So it was a major risk for Jon Favreau to even consider casting Robert Downey Jr. in the movie that would launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man. It of course paid off in huge dividends and the casting has been cited as a major reason for the MCU’s success. Now, it’s someone with ties not to Iron Man but Batman that has praised the move.
Speaking on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, Christopher Nolan lauded director Jon Favreau for taking the risk of casting Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man aka Tony Stark. “I thought when [Jon] Favreau had the insight to cast him as Iron Man…It’s one of the greatest casting decisions in the history of movies. And you look at what that did and where that went with everything. And I think that was Jon just knowing what an incredible actor, what incredible potential it was from Downey. And then the movie star charisma, that wonderful charisma comes into play.” However, Nolan also noted that the star had to tone down that charisma to play Lewis Strauss – a key antagonist to J. Robert Oppenheimer – urging Downey Jr. to instead “lose yourself in this real life human being.”
With Iron Man headlined by Robert Downey Jr., the movie would go on to be the second-highest grossing movie of 2008, behind only Nolan’s The Dark Knight, something of a miracle considering the actor’s reputation at the time and that many didn’t think Iron Man had quite the box office appeal of any of the bigger Marvel properties. Yet, it clearly did, putting the wheels in motion for the most profitable franchise in movie history. As Marvel president Kevin Feige put it, “I do think, still, the biggest risk — which seems outrageous to say now — was casting Robert Downey Jr. It was both the biggest risk and the most important thing in the founding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Without Robert, we wouldn’t be sitting here today. I really believe that.” Downey Jr. would go on to play the character multiple times, including in his own trilogy and the four Avengers movies. One wonders if it would have turned out that way had Timothy Olyphant gotten the part…
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