Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man Is Casting History, Says Christopher Nolan

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Christopher Nolan appeared on “The Late Show” for a lengthy discussion with Stephen Colbert in which the filmmaker heaped praise on his “Oppenheimer” star Robert Downey Jr., who is widely considered the Oscar frontrunner for best supporting actor thanks to his turn as Lewis Strauss. Nolan said he always wanted to work with Downey Jr. because of his “generosity” and “charisma.” The director went on to call Downey Jr.’s role as Iron Man, which birthed the Marvel Cinematic Universe and carried it for a decade, one of the most important casting decisions ever made.

“With anybody you work with, with actors…you’re looking for some kind of connection emotionally, empathetically,” Nolan said about being drawn to Downey Jr. “You’re looking for some kind of generosity. He has this incredible generosity of spirit. It means when he’s in a scene with other people he’s making sure they are all doing their best, that they are all able to bring their best to the table. He’s helping them clarify those emotional connections.”

“I’ve always wanted to work with him. I’ve always seen that in his work,” Nolan added. “And he has such charisma as Tony Stark. Him playing Iron Man is one of the most consequential casting decisions that’s ever been made in the history of the movie business. I wanted to give him the opportunity to lose himself in a part, lose himself in another human being the way great actors love him.”

Downey Jr. was more or less looking for that opportunity, too. In an interview with The New York Times Magazine last summer, he admitted he was concerned his acting chops might be at risk while playing Iron Man for 11 years in the MCU. The actor debuted as the superhero in 2008’s “Iron Man” and was killed off in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” appearing in a total of nine Marvel movies.

“You start to wonder if a muscle you have hasn’t atrophied,” Downey Jr. said about the risks of playing the same character for over a decade.

When asked if he had any concerns about what effect playing Iron Man for 11 years might have on his acting, Downey Jr. replied: “Yes. 100%, and I knew there was a point where Christopher Nolan was endorsing, let’s work those other muscles, but let’s do it while rendering you devoid of your usual go-to things.”

Not that Downey Jr. isn’t proud of his work in Marvel movies. He said on Rob Lowe’s “Literally” podcast last month that Tony Stark/Iron Man marked some of the best acting of his career, but “it went a little bit unnoticed because of the genre.”

Watch Nolan’s full appearance on “The Late Show” in the video below.

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