It’s been three years since I interviewed Robert Downey Jr and the actor is as affable as ever. At his press conference for Avengers: Endgame (read our review), the 54-year-old actor was once again as charming, spontaneous and witty as he is on screen playing Tony Stark.
I suggest that his career encompasses four chapters, his earliest just out of his teens when he was living with his father, filmmaker Robert Downey, Sr. He appeared in two of his movies.
His second chapter began with a year on Saturday Night Live, followed by his big break when he was selected by James Toback to star in The Pick Up Artist, which established his screen persona.
His third chapter began when Richard Attenborough chose him to play the titular role in Chaplin, a performance which won him both a Bafta, a Golden Globe and the endorsement from famed director Robert Altman, who called him the greatest American actor, which he then proved in diverse roles.
Chapter four, of course, was being cast as Iron Man, which made him one of the few bankable stars today if not the wealthiest.
So how difficult was it saying goodbye to Avengers?
Look, we’re show folk. We’re very used to a lifetime of making close associations and breaking away and coming back together. The thing that (Marvel president) Kevin Feige has provided all of us with is this opportunity to keep reuniting, almost like a regional theatre or a travelling group of odd balls.
Did you know the Endgame ending before you started filming?
Well, knowing Marvel, an ending is an ending until they tell you that was the faux ending. All of the major artists involved in this have been in dialogue with the filmmakers for some time, and then it just kind of flowed naturally out of that.
But in the Marvel Universe, nothing is final because they have every trick in the book and every device that you can imagine.
I’m not crazy about any film that takes itself too seriously. It’s particularly funny to me how these superhero movies got so heavy. People get so invested, myself included. But there’s room for a lot of levity in there too.
Speaking of goodbyes, will this be your last movie as Iron Man?
Well, I’m of two minds. One is, if you wanna make God laugh, tell Him your plans. Two is, I know people get very definitive about what they’re doing and what they’re not doing.
But nowadays entertainment isn’t just, “Will you get in front of the camera and put on that outfit and talk like that guy we know?” … I would love to stay in business with Disney and Marvel somehow.
But you know me, how easily bored I can get. The fact that I’ve stuck around this long really means that they’re still engaging on some level.
Do you share stories about your life with your kids Exton (seven) and Avri (four)? (Downey’s eldest son Indio is 25 years old.)
My own kids? Who’s interested in their dad’s life? (laughs) What he’s interested in right now is his Legos, his games, teasing his sister, trying to sneak another Twix bar when no one’s looking.
Does Exton have a Lego figure or action figure of you? Does he have a favourite action figure?
I don’t know how they figure this out marketing wise, but he was way into Hawkeye for a while. Then it was Cap. Then it was Black Widow. Then, he was really stuck on Nick Fury for a while because Nick is the boss.
He found his way to Iron Man a couple of times. But right now, I think he would scrap us all if he could keep the Guardians.
When will you be returning to making the kind of movies that impressed Altman?
My missus (producer Susan Levin) and I did a film I was really proud of called The Judge, and I’ve done some Sherlocks.
At the same time I have a wide variety of interests. I’m a musician of sorts, and I like other art forms.
But the downside – if there possibly could be one – having had this long standing relationship with Marvel is that you can’t have everything. So there are certain things that I’ve put on hold for a while, that I’m really looking forward to getting back to.
We recently had this family vacation (with) Oscar Isaac … he’s one of the fantastic actors. And he started talking to me about (work) stuff that I hadn’t even thought about for ages like, “Hey remember, A Winter’s Tale …”. I was like, “Oh yeah, Shakespeare!”
And we started talking about stuff we could do. I’d like to find some of the actors and actresses that I like and maybe think about directing them in something.
It’d be fun to get on the other side of the camera. Either that, or I would hate it. I would just be like, “Oh my God, why don’t we just turn the camera around on me? I’ll show you how to do it!”
Trust is an important theme in Endgame. What is your relationship to trust?
I’ve been told I have trust issues. And I’ve mistrusted the person who told me that. But what is it? Trust God, clean house, help others. Those are three great tenets to stand on. Trust God, clean house, help others.
Is that what you teach your children?
Well, I suppose so, but they have a great mum. She is everything I am not doing correctly. One of our cats wasn’t feeling so good last night, and she could barely sleep. So, imagine how she takes care of me after she’s taken care of the cats because in my house, I am the fifth wheel.
You got the son, the daughter, the two cats, and then I get whatever’s leftover, which is plenty.