Robert Downey Jr. Interview – TROPIC THUNDER

     August 12, 2008

As most of you know, opening this week is the new Ben Stiller directed comedy “Tropic Thunder.” Since we’ve already run a bunch of reviews (here, here and here) and I’ve already written how much I loved the movie…let me keep the intro brief.

For those that haven’t yet heard of the film….

Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. lead an ensemble cast in “Tropic Thunder,” an action comedy about a group of self-absorbed actors who set out to make the biggest war film ever. After ballooning costs (and the out of control egos of the pampered cast) threaten to shut down the movie, the frustrated director refuses to stop shooting, leading his cast deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia for “increased realism,” where they inadvertently encounter real bad guys.

Trust me…that synopsis doesn’t do the film justice. There are many, many scenes that had the entire theater laughing out loud and parts of the film are so filthy that you won’t believe what is said. Again, I loved the movie and completely recommend it.

Anyway, I recently sat down with most of the cast and below is the roundtable interview with Robert Downey Jr.

During the time we had, Robert kept all of us laughing and this is one of those interviews that’s really worth listening to. But, for those that need to know the highlights…we of course talk about “Iron Man 2,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “The Soloist,” how he might do a musical, and we spend a ton of time talking about “Tropic Thunder” and how great he is in it. If you thought Robert’s performance in “Iron Man” was the best you’d get out of him this year…wait to you see him play Kirk Lazarus in this movie.

As always, you can either read the transcript or listen to the audio by clicking here. Finally, if you’d like to watch some movie clips from “Tropic Thunder,” click here.

Robert walks in with a lunch box and it’s closed…

Question: What’s in the box?

Robert Downey Jr: This recent maelstrom of success has put me in an interesting political position. Actually, I’m working for the department of defense. If something alarming goes down I might have to enter my coordinates and be picked up by helicopter [laughs].

Your performance in this is great. What did you think when you first read the script?

Robert Downey Jr: I thought like that thing when someone says, ‘Hey, you want to come over for dinner.’ You say, ‘I’d love to.’ They say, ‘Great and would you like me to soak you in lamp oil and light you on fire right after dessert?’ Then you go, ‘I don’t want to come to dinner.’ So the idea of doing a Ben Stiller movie and I love the guy and read the script and thought that it was so funny, but then the idea of the actual playing the actor who’s playing a black guy, it’s more of a fun read than it probably is a good idea of a thing to do in your career. If it goes well maybe it goes well and maybe you open up the ‘L.A. Times’ and it says that Robert Downey Jr. is flat out hilarious, like it did this morning, or you’re vilified for having made a decision to do something that people thought was offensive.

When did you finally make the choice and how did you make it?

Robert Downey Jr: Honestly, I don’t remember. I just know that I thought about it and I came to trust Ben and it’s also at DreamWorks and it’s all these people. It’s not like we were just trying to do some lowbrow, the jokes aren’t funny type thing with a director who has no fucking idea to gage what an audience might want or what is appropriate – whatever. So I knew that these were, all the involved entities – we’d do something good.

You guys have had some great viral stuff to promote this movie. Is there a lot of improvising when you do it?

Robert Downey Jr: When Favreau and I do something I go, ‘Do you want to work up a bit for this?’ He goes, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, go do that with Ben.’ Then he goes out and he has something funny written and he pisses all over me and that’s the bit. With Ben you get together and you get an idea and then you write this thing and then you have something to look at or sometimes we’d write something on the way down to Vegas for an exhibitors thing. We just wrote an idea on the plane and then drafted it and did it so that it was actually quite rehearsed, every beat of that. So different strokes. Favreau’s thing is like, ‘Hey, that’s a great bit. Hey!!’ It’s because he’s just goddamned jealous because I’ve been the front man and the performer so that when we actually go live I’m like a dear in the headlights and Favreau’s like, ‘Look at that dumbass dear! I’m Jon Favreau.’ So I’ve had a well rounded experience.

Did you do a lot of research for this or did you step into the role and just go?

Robert Downey Jr: First of all, kind of like now with ‘Sherlock Holmes’ that I’m prepping for I’m like, ‘Okay, they’re going to pay me to do this movie and I don’t have a fucking idea in my head.’ Now on the accent, the English accent I go, ‘Wait, maybe it should be like this.’ ‘No, you don’t want to do that.’ I’m kind of like, ‘Goddamn it. I hope I figure this out before we start shooting this -‘ or even when we start shooting I can change the voice later and then go in later. Now I’m in fear and anxiety. But for this character, I was like, ‘Okay, Ben, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it! Woo!’ Then I sat there and thought, ‘Oh, God, this is terrible. I can’t do it. I can’t do it!’ Then I don’t know what it was, but I was supposed to call him and so on the phone I said, ‘What about this?’ I tried the voice on the phone and he laughed and my first thought was that he was just placating me, that it’s not really that cool and it doesn’t mean anything. He’s just trying to help me feel comfortable and he’s trying to contain my anxiety. I just kept following those little things, like once I got the voice I got the thing and then once we got the make-up and the look right then I started thinking about kind of how he should move. But to me it was so much more of an attitude thing and who you’re playing off of. So for instance when we’re doing that full retard scene I thought that I had to be so relaxed that when I’m telling him, I’m having fun with the fact that he’s telling me that we’re both serious actors because he did ‘Simple Jack’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, you really swung for the fences on that one -‘ kind of like I have when I’ve been around certain peers who are for some reason or another telling me, ‘You know, I totally understand what you went through for “Chaplin” because when I did this Advil commercial -‘ but the truth is that unlike Kirk Lazarus I’m actually like, ‘Dude, an Advil commercial. I don’t know how anyone would ever be able to do an Advil commercial. How do you do that?’ Then there’s the box and they say, ‘I had a rip roaring headache. Thank God for the ibuprofen in here. Let me tell you something -‘ and you’re looking in the camera, and I go, ‘This is impossible. It can’t be done. You’re a genius. Your brilliant.’ They are.

With the heat you have right now, what are the chances of working with Shane Black and doing another Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or anything with him?

Robert Downey Jr: I love Shane Black. We’ve talked about doing something else together just a ways back. God. I love Shane Black. When we were doing ‘Iron Man’ we would go to him every once in a while like Obi Wan or Yoda. We’d go to him with these ideas. We’d go to his house and he goes, ‘Hold on -‘ and would pull down some old library book and open it and go, ‘You know, you might want to do this.’ So the scene where Tony Stark says he’s not going to make weapons anymore I just wrote stuff down on napkins that Shane Black had said the night before and then put it on cue cards the next day and Jon was like, ‘Wait, wait, wait? What is this?’ So we started calling them…we’d go over to his and he’d go, ‘Do you want anything? Some salmon, some blueberries?’ So we started calling him blueberries because he’s like a bear basically. ‘What do you want?’ ‘Just bring me bear food.’ He’s like the holy grail.

Iron Man has to be in the works right now.

Robert Downey Jr: Yes. Are you mad at me? I’m just asking. ‘Iron Man II’ is in the works.

It’s not going to be with the Hulk is it?

Robert Downey Jr: No.

Thank you.

Robert Downey Jr: I’m partial too. I want to keep everything focus and keep it focused on me [laughs]. I think it’s for the best of the movie.

But the idea has been thrown around for other characters to be in it, I’m sure, with the Avengers project?

Robert Downey Jr: Yeah. It’s this big world that’s kind of hard to navigate because you want to be able to setup ‘Avengers’ in ‘Iron Man II’, but you don’t want to –

Take the focus off you?

Robert Downey Jr: Ever. Or take such a big leap where as before we were grounded in reality and now we start going into the Marvel Universe. I don’t know much about this, but I just know that we go scene to scene to scene and we have some great scenes that I think will be really surprising, that having taken all this goodwill and success and decided to do something even more kind of risky and something that represents the way that Jon thinks and the way that I like to develop a character. So it’s going to be good.

Do you know what heroes will make appearances, Captain America or anyone?

Robert Downey Jr: I can neither confirm nor deny that. There are a lot of rumors and honestly nothing is set in stone right now.

There was talk of doing the Demon in the Bottle storyline for the 2nd or 3rd film. Then Hancock came out. Did that change things at all?

Robert Downey Jr: No.

So it’s still whatever you guys want to do?

Robert Downey Jr: Yeah. It’s not any more than we’re not going to make our ‘Sherlock Holmes’ because some other clowns have made ‘Sherlock Holmes’. As a matter of fact ours already has a start date.

more on page 2 ———>


Are you going to have any time between the next Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes?

Robert Downey Jr: No. Straight back to back. Nothing. Sometimes it’s hard to stay grounded in the best of times, but I think that when things really start spinning – any can relate to this – it’s like you go, ‘Usually, things are unmanageable, but I still managed.’ Then there are just times when it’s the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and you’re house is spinning like this and you’re like, ‘Alright, well fuck it.’ What are you going to do, be like, ‘I need this house to stop spinning right now!’ So when unmanageability goes to complete and total powerless over the momentum of the way that things are going all you have, for me anyway, all I have is the only that matters anyway which is like, ‘Am I cool right now? Am I being honest right now? Am I taking care of myself right now? Have I offended anyone? Do I need to make an apology to anyone? And have I eaten before noon -‘ because that can effect all the other things.

What’s your start date for Sherlock Holmes?

Robert Downey Jr: October 6th.

And where are you filming that?

Robert Downey Jr: London and then some stage work in New York for ‘Sherlock Holmes’. You go to England and you do a movie and you do all the locations in the UK and then we’re going to do the stage here.

Is it a brand new script or is it based on the books?

Robert Downey Jr: It is a brand new book. It’s interesting and it’s very bold, what it does which is that already assumes – it’s not an origin story at all – that Watson has been into this for some years and is already trying to get away from him as he did many times during the genesis of their relationship.

Have they cast Watson yet?

Robert Downey Jr: No.

Can you enjoy the moment of this time or like a lot of actors…do you think it’s downhill from here?

Robert Downey Jr: I mean, sometimes that’s like, can you enjoy the good times right now, the same is whether you can enjoy the bad times. I think you can either have a good day regardless of what’s happening or not. I think there’s more pressure to have a good day when things are good because you’re supposed to feel a certain way and if you don’t feel that way does that mean that there’s something wrong with you? No. It means that you have the whole thing wrong, which is that a good day or a bad day the way that you feel is the way that you feel and it usually doesn’t match up.

There’s a lot of footage for Tropic Thunder that was shot that’ll be on the DVD. Do you have approval of that footage when it’s not going to be in the movie?

Robert Downey Jr: We were night shooting and I went off in one of the hotel rooms by where the set was and the idea occurred to me, what if Kirk Lazarus started taking the actual Lincoln Osiris’s psyche meds to try get to know his mental state better and then what happens in the mockumentary over the course of the week. He moves in with the deceased guy’s wife that he’s playing who is now like a sixty five year old Vietnamese woman. They have a torrid love affair and he’s trying to reconnect with the children they had who are like, ‘You’re not my dad. I actually liked you in that other movie though.’ Now he’s on the psyche meds and so he’s freaking out. That to me could be a whole other movie. God. That’s good shit, isn’t it.

Have you seen The Soloist yet?

Robert Downey Jr: I’ve seen many scenes, but not the complete project, but what I’ve seen is pretty marvelous. Jamie [Foxx] is definitely at the top of his game and it’s amazing. He played Nathaniel [Ayers]. But Joe Wright is the real star of ‘The Soloist’ and the kind of filmmaker he is.

He has great shots in all of his movies. Were there some long shots that he did or special ones that you remember?

Robert Downey Jr: There are some shots that honestly we would watch, one of them we watched and people were crying and I thought that was such a base old Hollywood thing where you’re watching a certain shot on playback and people are like [crying]. I was like, ‘We’re watching a monitor and a take from a movie. What’s wrong with us?’ But there was something about the way it was executed and where it was at in the movie and what it meant metaphorically that I think everyone was projecting their own lack of emotional fulfillment on it.

Are you ever going to do a musical?

Robert Downey Jr: Yes. I am.

Which one?

Robert Downey Jr: I don’t know.

You made a record back in the day.

Robert Downey Jr: I made a record. I’ve got a lot on my plate, thanks. I’m feeling enough fucking pressure that I have to bang out a musical [laughs].

But do you really want to do one?

Robert Downey Jr: I seriously do. In fact that’s just about all I want to do aside from the stuff that they’re paying me to do that I still have to do that I want to do.

So the next thing you pick could be a musical?

Robert Downey Jr: Yeah, but please don’t hold me to that because I might feel toxic like I violated your trust.

You did The Singing Detective.

Robert Downey Jr: Obviously it was such a resonant project that no one even remembered it.

You’re not going to say what’s in the box?

Robert Downey Jr: I’m not going to tell you what’s in the box. This is literally the only mystery that I have left.

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