How long can Robert Downey Jr play Iron Man? Iron Man 3 is Downey's fourth full gig in the armor, and there's an Avengers 2 he's certainly involved with. Now he's making noise to GQ that he might retire from the Tony Stark role.
Talking about an injury he received making Iron Man 3, Downey says:
“It got me thinking about how big the message from your cosmic sponsor needs to be before you pick it up. How many genre movies can I do? How many follow-ups to a successful follow-up are actually fun? Because, as quiet as it’s kept, I come from a family of very innovative writers and directors and actors and artists, and the circle of friends they were in were the people I heard having pun-offs playing poker at two in the morning, and it was just the most comforting aspect of my childhood. So there’s this kind of legacy of souls from what I consider to be a very particular time in entertainment, and I’m sensing a return to that—it’s what me and the missus are doing next. It’s not unlike: I heard Brady signed on for three more years with New England, and then he’s done being a QB, because he’ll be 40. I’m 47, and I’ll be 50.”
There's some interesting stuff buried in there. His dad was one of the great directors of one of the great moments in American cinema. That's a big legacy to live up to. And while Downey made $50 million from The Avengers (he has participation in profits), that kind of money offers a lot of room to go off and try to make your own Putney Swope.
It's possible this is some good old-fashioned maneuvering in the press; Marvel Studios seems to keep on having these spats with their talent (especially from the Iron Man movies) in public. This isn't the first time Downey has made these noises. But there's something about this bit of grumbling that makes it feel realer than the past. For one thing, Downey has enough money that he can walk away from this stuff. He really is getting a little old. And in the GQ interview he talks about how he wants to direct, specifically a movie set at Halloween where he would play a Village Voice reporter on the run.
Kevin Feige is prepared for all of this. Last year I spoke to Feige about the possibility of Downey leaving, and the Marvel honcho said he believed Tony Stark lived independent of the actor.
"I think Bond is a good example. Let’s put it this way: I hope Downey makes a lot of movies for us as Stark. If and when he doesn’t, and I’m still here making these movies, we don’t take him to Afghanistan and have him wounded again. I think we James Bond it."
Which means welcome to the next guy to play Tony Stark, which is now a role that builds stars.
The Iron Man 3 junket is this weekend, so expect LOTS of questions about this to be asked. Also know that the Marvel Studios folks have been bending over backwards to make the role better for Downey; he's barely wearing any practical armor in any scenes these days. It's quite possible that Downey could still play Tony Stark while leaving the heavy, young guy lifting to someone else.