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article imageRobert Downey, Jr. finds his inner superhero in ‘Iron Man 3’ Special

By Earl Dittman     May 3, 2013 in Entertainment
It’s been a long 30 year career for Downey, one fraught with pain and glory, both professional and personal. In 2013, life is great and he's considered one of the biggest stars on the planet. Iron Man 3 should propel him even further across the galaxy.
Robert Downey, Jr. has been a Hollywood celebrity since the mid-'80s, when he was a regular on Saturday Night Live and starring in such diverse films as Less Than Zero, The Pick Up Artist and Chaplin. He was a widely-celebrated actor with two Academy Award nominations under his belt (for Chaplin and Tropic Thunder) and was in high demand for the best roles the studios had to offer. Downey, however, had a tiny problem dealing with stardom, and slightly before the turn of the century, he began to cope with his sexiest man alive status with alcohol and other substances. It didn't take long for Robert to realize he was headed down a dark path of no return. "I knew something had to change in my life," he said in an earlier interview, "or I wouldn't be around much longer."
Much like the superhero he portrays in Iron Man 3, Downey was able to triumph over his inner demons and bad guys in 2003 and emerge clean and sober – which he remains to this very day. Robert began to rebuild his career by delivering dazzling performances in films such as Gothika, Good Night and Good Luck and Tropic Thunder. Downey became a mega-star when he landed the lead roles in Sherlock Holmes and the first Iron Man installment in 2008 (with Jon Favreau directing). "Jon has always been the biggest supported of the big screen Iron Man," Downey said at the time of its release. "He's the real brains and brawn behind its success."
Robert Downey  Jr. and director Shane Black on the set of  Iron Man 3
Robert Downey, Jr. and director Shane Black on the set of 'Iron Man 3'
After starring in Iron Man 2, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, The Soloist and a stint in The Avengers, Downey is back on the big screen in film number three of the lucrative Iron Man franchise. This time around his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black collaborated with Robert in transforming Tony Stark's universe.
Robert Downey  Jr. in  Iron Man 3
Robert Downey, Jr. in 'Iron Man 3'
One of the primary reasons the 48-year-old Downey agreed to do a third Iron Man film was his genuine affection for the character and the superhero's affect on our culture (even as a comic book icon). "In our society, it's the same thing as when (creator) Stan Lee wrote the original in the '60s, you know. It was this kind of very conservative, military industrial complex guy who kind of gets injured by his own weapons of destruction. It was wish fulfillment for like a counter-culture generation. The nice thing is that nowadays with the market flooded with all sorts of people who are also on TV and the movies is Tony and the people he's in contact with in his non-Avengers world are all real world things. It's about technology helping you overcome crises, and often times also the challenge that crises technology can occur."
In Iron Man 3, the brash and brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey) is pitted against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. Once Stark discovers his personal world is obliterated at his enemy's hands, Stark embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible for this heinous act. His trek to bring those to justice tests his very mettle. Feeling as if his back is against the wall, Stark must use his own devices in order to survive. He relies on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he begins to fight back to maintain his version of normalcy, Stark inadvertently discovers the answer to the question that has haunted him from the day he donned the Iron Man suit – “Does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?” Iron Man 3 also features the talents of Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau and Sir Ben Kingsley. Along with Drew Pearce, director Shane Black wrote the screenplay.
After making two previous blockbuster films based on Stan Lee’s superhero, Downey admits his biggest challenge in making Iron Man 3 aiding in ensuring that was distinctively different from its cinematic predecessors. “The Iron Man movies are only ever as good as their bad guys,“ Robert explains. “Additionally, what we wanted to have happen with Pepper Potts (Paltrow) in the arc is that she got – that was kind of overdue – was that I really wanted it to feel like that between Tony and Pepper there was this kind of power of their partnership and that expanded in The Avenger. So, all that was left with the movie was that we had a nemesis who was as bad as Iron Man was good. Once we cast Sir Ben Kingsley (as The Mandarin), half our troubles went away. The other half had to do with him executing this very peculiar and awesome arc."
Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in  Iron Man 3
Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in 'Iron Man 3'
Giving Gwyneth Paltrow’s character of Pepper Potts more power and visibility in Iron Man 3 could have been a risky move for the successful franchise, but it's a incredible thematic vision pays off wonderfully in the spectacular Iron Man 3. Was Pepper's new prominence made at Downey’s request? I'd like to think it was,” Robert says with a laugh, “Look, it had been a desire of mine, but I think honestly it came from several places. You can only get so much fan feedback that goes, ‘I want to see Pepper in the suit before you.’ That's the great thing about these movies is that the kids at Comic Con, and the people who kind of talk back on a website, we listen to them. I mean, we work weekends. We think about this stuff. We really take our kind of two-dimensional genre movie job very seriously."
Sir Ben Kingsley in  Iron Man 3
Sir Ben Kingsley in 'Iron Man 3'
Iron Man 3 also maintains a different tone from the first two films. At times, the new motion picture harbors a large number of incredibly comedic moments. Downey explains that the humor came from the filmmakers and his fellow cast mates. "Drew and Shane had a good document, he says. "The story is really good. The twists are really good. But I would leave it to my other co-stars to describe what working with me on most of our other scenes was like. They've gotten used to it and they're great at it. "
In another of the film’s sequences, Tony/Iron Man experiences a panic attack. Where did these come from? Where they the thoughts of the writers or Downey’s himself? "At one point, we had these big kind of creative meetings and then they would generate material, and it's hard to remember who came up with what,” he remembers. “My simple question was a worm hole opened up and he saw extra-dimensional beings, and he just goes back to New York and he's fine after he gets back out to L.A.?
Tony Stark (Downey) and Colonel  Rhodey  Rhodes in  Iron Man 3
Tony Stark (Downey) and Colonel "Rhodey" Rhodes in 'Iron Man 3"
“To respond to your original question, this time around what we needed was a better bad guy than we'd ever had, and Sir Ben delivered that in spades,” he continues. “We also needed to deepen the relationship with Tony and Colonel Rhodes (Cheadle). We needed to stay true to the heart of the movie, which Jon Favreau said from day one, when we cast Gwyneth and she walked into Jon's office, he started welling up. I kind of went along with him. I was like, 'Yeah, yeah.' I'm an actor. I get emotional over anything. What is this about? And I'm looking and there was just this feeling, and he goes, 'Now, I know this movie is going to work.' So we had to continue along that line."
Robert Downey  Jr. and Ty Simpkins in  Iron Man 3
Robert Downey, Jr. and Ty Simpkins in 'Iron Man 3'
Another major change in the Iron Man film mythos is Tony’s interaction with a young boy (Ty Simpkins). Downey found the interaction personally gratifying and perfect for Iron Man 3. "Ty Simpkins is great and I think we'll be seeing a lot of him,” Robert predicts. “Shane Black had this idea of this kind of Capra-esque departure. I mean with a lot of things in Iron Man 3, I think we all knew we were taking risks, and we were kind of out of what would have been the familiar territory. His idea of a superhero running into a little kid in the heartland of America, I think wound up being a wise choice and kind of a calculated risk."
While there is an incredible amount of action, adventure and destruction in Iron Man 3, Downey still believes this film, out of the film trilogy, makes Iron Man an ideal role model for kids. "With Iron Man, I like someone who has been cosmically humiliated,” Robert confesses. “I think it's a mythology, and I think mythology is good. I can't think of any mythology from any society in any point in time for the most part that wasn't about positive processing of psychological experiences, you know? So, I think it's pretty good."
Young audiences from across the globe feel in love with Iron Man’s appearance in The Avengers. Surprisingly, Tony Stark makes reference to his fighting buddies from The Avengers. Downey says it was a no-brainer to mention his superhero pals from the other film franchise, of which he is a major component. "We just wanted to play with that in kind of a binary way, to be weird,” he begins. “It's weird when one movie that's connected to another doesn't reference that movie at all. You know what I mean? It seems like we were so busy trying to make our thing work that we didn't have space. So I think it would lack confidence if we didn't. I thought it would be helpful.
“I also like the idea of this kid kind of getting under my skin," he adds. "I like the idea of kids bringing their parents to the verge of an anxiety attack, and kind of going like, 'Oh, what's wrong with you?' Once they push you there. I thought that was a nice way to refer back to it. We needed reasons, and sometimes you can just look at the bigger picture of this now kind of like continuance of stories. Just this morning, I was reading about the new Thor and I'm like, 'Oh, wow, oh.' You just kind of plug things in like an operator. It's like, 'You know what, that fits here real nice.' And again, we're always aware. Even more so. You know, with Jon Favreau on the first Iron Man, we went out and we went to Comic Con, and he had a flip phone in his hand and he goes, 'This is how it's working from now on. The filmmakers, the artists and the departments heads are all showmen and the audience is talking back, and they're going to ask you that question. In the post-Avengers world, it’s going to be, 'What was it like for Tony and this and that?' So you kind of have to have thought about, and you have to have addressed it creatively."
Gwyneth Paltrow in  Iron Man 3
Gwyneth Paltrow in 'Iron Man 3'
Iron Man 3 offers audiences the see more than Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit. This time around Pepper and Rhodey try on the superhero outfit. Robert says it was another decision that came out of talks about how to make Iron Man 3 stand out from its two celluloid brethren. “These kind of ideas are things that tend to come out of creative discussions,” he offers. “I mean, when we're shooting we are always saying, 'Oh, wouldn't it be great if these guys could wear the suit, too?' But a lot of those things have kind of come true already. I was always saying, 'God, I just want to see Pepper in the suit. I want to see her experience with what Tony gets from it, and I want her to help him transcend it, and all that stuff. So it's kind of like the wish fulfillment happens pretty quick in the Marvel universe, you know.”
In an earlier chat, his costar, Gwyneth Paltrow, joked that she had fun in the Iron Man suit. However, Downey and Cheadle complained a great deal when they had to don the iconic outfits. "I admit we're wimps,” Robert says of Paltrow’s admission. “In Iron Man 2, Don's suit was so hard to even pick up to put on him. The hardest thing about this stuff is really again it's like any of this CGI stuff. I mean Ben (Kingsley) was essentially in special effects makeup the whole time. He would just come on the set, and we've all had these moments, but you always wonder where your lot is going to come grab you. Don has had that for some reason or other. I promise Don, ‘I will never allow that to happen to you again.‘ Gwyneth, by the way, she did come in and she was having a ball, and her kids were there and she was in rocking shape. So it was all nice and easy. I think she wore it once or twice. It's an accumulative issue."
After portraying Iron Man over the course of three films have had a profound effect on Robert Downey, Jr. – the actor and the man. “When you're looking at the back nine, and you're not a kid any more, you start to realize how you share things with a character like Tony,” he admits. “I will never be more like Tony than I was three weeks before we started shooting the first one when it was all the promise. Back then, I was like, 'Wow, look at this role I get to play.' But, that was a lot time ago. When you're a professional, you have an aesthetic distance. The older you get and the more life continues to whittle you down and smash your ego, the less you identify with things that are essentially just metaphors for narcissism or vain glory, or deep seated fear and all this stuff. As Iron Man has become more real and more kind of out there in his own way, I become just moderately more humble and more humanized."
One of the more surprising aspects of Tony Stark that audiences discover in the latest film is that the industrialist superhero will do anything for the people he loves. Downey felt it was about time to let audiences into Tony’s real feelings. "This time, with Iron Man 3 – without taking it too seriously – it's about transcendence,” he asserts. “It's about this thing that you become identified with. ‘Are you capable of letting go of it, because it's impeding your actual human experience?’ What is an actual human experience, and who's been humanizing Tony all along? The nice thing and the reason I can get onboard with this is Rhodey must have thought Tony was not so much of an asshole. He could have been his buddy all these years before – he was Iron Man. He has a history with someone who really knows him, and also really knows the ins and outs of what you're supposed to do in a legitimate military or conflict situation. Then he has someone who knows the ins and outs of an emotional life, and that what you achieve is about the kind of human being you become. Not about how many toys or how much fame or how much fear you can instill in your enemies."
While Iron Man 3 gives the distinct feeling of finality and that it will be the last time audiences will be experiencing the adventures of Tony and his super alter-ego in a solo movie, Downey doesn’t discount the possibility of more sequels. "I'm not at liberty to discuss that,” he says with a huge smile. “The future, as usual, is uncertain, and I think the great thing is that we never could have known what and who was going to come together for the third Iron Man. Usually, the third of anything struggles to even meet the first two, let alone the first one. In all earnestness, things are very much in flux right now and Marvel has their plans and we're all living and growing. We'll see what happens."
Now that he has learned how to live life in the spotlight with any negative influences and is an icon to millions Downey recalls the first moment he felt like he had “made it” in show business. "I remember it like it was yesterday, because I was doing Saturday Night Live,” Robert fondly remembers. “I was 20 years old. I was rushing between playing like a caveman and a Martian. I came around a corner and there was David Bowie in a three-piece suit. I just kind of stopped, and I was supposed to be in one of the next acts. I was just like, 'Whoa.' And Bowie said, 'You must be Robert Downey, then?' And, I was like, 'Yeah!' That was a long time ago. With this business, there are always extreme highs, like meeting David Bowie, and extreme lows, like all the trouble I had with the perils of the high life. You just have to learn from it, put it all into perspective and keep working on your passion for the thing you love the most. Professionally, for me, that’s making great movies that people love and being the best actor I can be. If nothing else, I’ve learned that you can’t expect anymore from yourself. I’ve been given a wonderful gift, and I’m surely not ready to give it back,” he jokingly concludes.
Iron Man 3 is currently playing in theatres in most countries across the globe and possibly, the universe. Check your local, territory, country and planetary listings for show times.
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