Robert Downey Jr. on Bidding Iron Man Farewell: “The First Thing You Learn in Theatre Arts Is…”

Robert Downey Jr. is most known for his career-defining role as Iron Man. Playing the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” for over a decade, the actor and the character grew intimately connected; fused by sheer exposure, fans began to see RDJ as Tony Stark.

Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr. | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

From the selfish egomaniac to the selfless world savior, Tony Stark boasted the saga’s most emotionally stirring and narratively satisfying character arc. He was the face of the MCU, and the man responsible for kickstarting the franchise’s success back in 2008. So, after all those years, how do you say goodbye?

How do you say goodbye to the character people marvel at you for? How do you bid farewell to a role so ingrained into your existence that snapping into character has become a seamless transition? Robert Downey Jr. sat down with The Off Camera Show to discuss his time with the Avengers, and what he must remind himself as he departs. 

RDJ on the two words an artist must keep in mind 

During his interview with The Off Camera Show, Robert Downey Jr. discussed Tony Stark and put the experience in a “nutshell,” stating, “I had an incredible ten-year run that was creatively satisfying. It was very, very, very hard work and it dug very deep, but I have not been forced to explore the new frontier of what is my creative and personal life after this….”

RDJ goes on to explain that it’s always “good to get ahead” of where you’re going to wind up, as to prepare yourself psychologically. The interviewer goes on to note that it “must feel strange to say what am I next?” Downey explains how he copes with the farewell, relying on two words he learned as a newbie in theatrical arts. Downey stated:

Well, here’s the thing. First thing you learn in theatre arts: aesthetic distance. I am not this play I’m doing. I’m not a character in The Fantasticks. I’m not Will from Oklahoma. Aesthetic distance. It’s job one. I’m not my work. I’m not what I did with that studio. I’m not that period of time that I spent playing this character…

Downey explains that, as an artist, you must always retain aesthetic distance. As much as the kid from theatre camp is screaming from inside you, arguing that you are that character — that it’s never going to change and you can stay Stark and sing “Kumbaya” alongside your buddies forever — the adult mind (the awareness) must, at some point, take over. Reality must return.

RDJ played Iron Man for several years, and he gave an Oscar-worthy performance for his denoument. There was no better way for Stark to say goodbye. Now, he will take on the starring role in a Doctor Dolittle remake and return to Sherlock Holmes for a third installment alongside Jude Law. Iron Man is gone but never forgotten; and he lives on through his young protege, Peter Parker.