Robert Downey Jr. Was Worried He Buried His Career by Starring in ‘Tropic Thunder’

The year 2008 saw Robert Downey Jr. experiencing a career resurgence with the Iron Man franchise. Not too long afterward, Downey earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in Tropic Thunder.

But to Downey, it was a risk starring in the comedy film in the wake of his career comeback. And he w9as concerned that he may have sabotaged his resurgence with this decision.

How Robert Downey Jr. felt about ‘Iron Man’ being called his comeback

Robert Downey Jr. smiling while wearing a brown suit.
Robert Downey Jr. | Han Myung-Gu/WireImage

Downey asserted that he had to work hard to get the part that would turn him into a blockbuster megastar. Though it might be difficult to imagine anyone else as Iron Man, the starring role originally wasn’t Downey’s to take. He had to test for it and prove his credibility, a process that reminded him of being cast as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin.

“I guess that’s the interesting part. I wasn’t offered it and I had to kind of go for it. It just reminded me of the only other time in my career when I felt the same way and it was when Richard Attenborough was casting Chaplin,” Downey once told Cinema. “I went in to meet him and I said ‘Dude, I really feel like I could do this.’”

As many are aware of, Iron Man was a success. It not only birthed a new type of superhero genre, but many saw it as Downey’s official career comeback. Although Downey appreciated the sentiment, he had some concern regarding the idea behind a comeback.

“I try not to get involved in those kinds of things because where there’s a comeback there’s a setup where there’s a setup, there’s a fall, where there’s a fall there’s good will and where there’s good will there’s a comeback,” he continued. “I’ve just been around too long. But to give your question some credit and value, it feels really good. It feels like it’s been a long time coming for me to do something of this scale and have it turn out pretty well.”

Robert Downey Jr. thought he buried his career by starring in ‘Tropic Thunder’

Downey’s career resurgence would continue with Tropic Thunder, the Ben Stiller-directed comedy that earned him an Oscar nomination in 2009. Seeing as Downey would be starring as a character in black face, doing Tropic Thunder felt like a risk for the actor. Especially after getting back into Hollywood’s good graces with Iron Man.

“I signed up to do it and then I did Iron Man and I thought, ‘You know, I think I just buried myself. I did a movie that is going to reestablish me here in a little way and now I’m going to squander any good will I have,’” he once told the LA Times.

It originally took some convincing from Stiller for Downey to accept the role. But his concerns were still present.

“[Ben Stiller] said, ‘It could turn out really good and funny, and there’s a way to make it so it’s not offensive, where you’re clearly not just getting off on putting on blackface. This is an actor who takes himself so seriously he thinks he can express the black experience,’” he once recalled to GQ. “But I thought, Goddamn this dude. He knows I need the money. I need another job after Iron Man. He’s gonna bring me out there, make me part of his comedy death camp, and if it goes south, it’s on me!”

It ended up being a decision that Downey was glad he made.

“But instead he was right,” he said about Stiller. “We have some morals, and we’re not trying to exploit. There’s no possible stone of offense left unturned in this movie.”

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Downey’s days as Iron Man seem to be done for now. Although he’s retired Tony Stark for the time being, the Zodiac actor once shared that he’d already been partially retired for a long time now.

“I’ve been semi-retired since the first weekend Iron Man 1 opened,” Downey once told ABC News (via Toronto Sun). “The great thing about life is good things happen – and I’ll speak for myself – and you get inflated. You think, ‘Oh my God, I’ve created everything that’s great in my life.’ And then things happen where you go, ‘OK, there’s evidence to the contrary and at this point you go back to thinking, ‘It’s nice to be on this call sheet.’”