When Marvel refused to hire Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, said we ‘will not cast him at any price’

screenmixApril 30, 2021

The story of how the Marvel Cinematic Universe came into existence never ceases to exhilarate. Today, when MCU is the biggest and by far the most profitable cinematic franchise in history, it is easy to forget that it could have been derailed if the first few projects had not lived up to expectations.

When Iron Man, which began this whole shebang, went into production, the ambitions of the makers were largely limited to make a good comic book movie. Everything else — the Avengers, Thanos and what came later — were but a dream in the eyes of Kevin Feige.

Now, nearly everybody agrees that the biggest reason the film worked is due to Robert Downey Jr in the lead role, an actor who has become synonymous with his MCU role. But casting him was not easy. Director Jon Favreau’s choice, the actor was not popular at that time. Not because of lack of talent, per se, but rather because of his history with drugs and alcohol.

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Director Jon Favreau said in a Rolling Stone interview that Marvel flat out refused to hire Robert Downey Jr. Marvel’s response was that “under no circumstances are we prepared to hire him for any price.” The director, who had fought long and hard, had called the actor and told him, “I fought, I tried, I did what I could, it’s a pity and a shame, but unfortunately it’s going to stop here.” Downey, however, had persisted, “With your permission, I’m going to hold out hope.” Favreau persisted and Iron Man went on to pave the way for a billion-dollar franchise.

In an interview with 100.3 Jack FM, Favreau opened up about the long drawn-out process. Favreau told USA Today in 2007, a year before the film’s release, “We didn’t want to just go with a safe choice. The best and worst moments of Robert’s life have been in the public eye.”

He added, “He had to find an inner balance to overcome obstacles that went far beyond his career. That’s Tony Stark. Robert brings a depth that goes beyond a comic-book character who is having trouble in high school, or can’t get the girl. Plus, he’s simply one of the best actors around.”

In another interview, in 2014 with 100.3 Jack FM, Favreau revealed, “Everybody knew he was talented… Certainly by studying the Iron Man role and developing that script I realised that the character seemed to line-up with Robert in all the good and bad ways. And the story of Iron Man was really the story of Robert’s career.”

Like many other actors, it is hard to imagine anybody else in the role, so completely Downey went on to subsume himself in the role. And as Favreau said, the arc of Downey and Tony Stark towards redemption was eerily similar.

Iron Man went on to gross 585 million dollars worldwide. It may seem unimpressive right now by MCU standards, but it was a big deal back then. It made sure the MCU stayed afloat and now it dominates popular imagination.