Jon Favreau Compared RDJ’s Casting as Iron Man to Johnny Depp’s Major Franchise Role

Since first appearing in his metal-clad get-up in 2008’s Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. has been intimately tied to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Tony Stark. For over a decade, Robert Downey Jr. led standalone installments and served as a vital ingredient in multiple Avengers mash-ups. He was integral to the saga’s overarching plotlines and varied interrelationships; who can forget the built, broken, and rebuilt dynamic between Stark and Rogers? 

Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp
(l-r) Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp during the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards | Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Though Robert Downey Jr. has become known as Iron Man, his casting was a bit of a risk at the time, as he wasn’t seen as the most reliable actor. Yet, the choice turned out to be the ticket to a money-making, critically acclaimed franchise, that would catalyze one of the most successful filmic landscapes of all time. 

Without RDJ’s successful first turn as Iron Man, would the Avengers even exist? Would the MCU refer to a cinematic masterpiece, or just a device used to bridge videoconferencing connections (Multipoint Control Unit)? And though many surrounding director Jon Favreau may have balked at the idea of RDJ leading a superhero movie — the director was confident in his decision from the get-go. 

Jon Favreau compares RDJ and ‘Iron Man’ to Jonny Depp and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’

The New York Times interviewed Robert Downey Jr. a while back when he first stepped into Iron Man’s shoes, or should we say suit? And, the publication also reached out to Jon Favreau to hear what the director had to say about the casting decision. Favreau explained that once RDJ was in the role, he knew the acting would be top-notch; the next challenge would be ensuring that the story was on par with his talent. When discussing RDJ’s casting as Iron Man, Favreau stated:

Nobody went to see a movie about the pirate ride at Disneyland…They got interested in it because of Johnny Depp. When Robert was cast in Iron Man, it was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. He was not the obvious choice, but my larger fear was making a mediocre movie; the landscape of the superhero is very picked over. I knew that Robert’s performance would elevate the movie.

The New York Times

Jon Favreau knew that the man nominated for an Oscar following his depiction of Charlie Chaplin in 1992’s Chaplin had the skills needed to play the billionaire philanthropist with a contagious smile and cocksure attitude. And then, the script’s genius followed the perfect casting choice. 

Inside Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp’s turns as Iron Man and Jack Sparrow, respectively

Both RDJ and Johnny Depp live as emblems of their characters — they boast the look and outward expression needed to be the face of a franchise. Like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, RDJ’s Iron Man has become a piece of his celebrity — a role that will forever identify the actor. 

When choosing an actor to lead a franchise, you must choose someone who not only fits but who draws audiences in due to their singular presence — it must supersede the narrative strength. The story must be strong, but once the character and actor are equal in caliber, the foundation for success is already there. Write a “good enough” story, and fans will keep returning to the saga to watch their beloved character actor take a swing one more time.