Why MCU’s Robert Downey, Jr. Passed On Jack Nicholson as a Co-Star in a 2014 Film

Robert Downey, Jr. of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is renowned as Iron Man. Donning the famous suit in 2008 for the film that launched the franchise, some may not realize that the actor also appears in movies outside of the superhero genre.

Downey took on a starring role for a film in 2014 and spoke with acting legend Jack Nicholson about portraying his father.

Robert Downey, Jr. of 'Iron Man'
Robert Downey, Jr. of ‘Iron Man’ | Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

RDJ takes a non-Tony Stark role

In the 2014 legal drama The Judge, Downey starred as defense attorney Hank Palmer who returns to his hometown where he discovers that his estranged father, a highly-esteemed local judge (played by Robert Duvall), is charged with murder. The film also featured Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Dax Shepard.

“You could say it’s a courtroom drama, or a father-son story. There are all of these touchstones whereby you can have the audience be a cast member,” Downey told Collider in 2014. “The great thing for me is the dialogue with people who have just seen the movie. That has been the best part of making the movie.”

The first film produced by the Iron Man star’s production company Team Downey with his wife Susan, the actor had a lot riding on The Judge.

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“I knew this movie was going to be a trial, in and of itself, and it would be really rewarding,” Downey shared. “There was so much on the line. I had high hopes for the film turning out as well as the script did.”

‘Iron Man’ works with a legend

Robert Duvall is renowned in Hollywood for his iconic role in The Godfather and its sequel, several Oscar nominations, and his win for the 1984 film Tender Mercies. Downey knew he had to up his game in their many scenes together for The Judge.

“I’d been trying to meet Bobby for some time. But when you approach an icon in a restaurant, he’s eating and doesn’t really want to meet you,” Downey joked, then went on to praise Duvall’s acting style. “There’s an efficiency for him getting to these extremely difficult places. He doesn’t use tricks, and that’s something that I hope to take onboard, as I move forward.”

The legendary actor apparently enjoyed his time with Downey, commending the MCU star and his wife for their work as producers.

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“He’s a perfect guy and a wonderful person. He and his wife are wonderful producers,” Duvall raved. “It was tough privilege, but a great privilege. We only had 60 days to shoot this, and sometimes it felt like we were doing it in 30 days. We got it done and it was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, at times.”

A ‘no’ for Jack Nicholson

Hollywood icon Jack Nicholson remains legendary in show business. Starring in box office hits including Batman, A Few Good Men, and The Departed, the Oscar winner was originally approached to take on the title role of the 2014 film. Director David Dobkin recalled meeting with Nicholson and Downey to discuss the script, which Nicholson wanted drastically modified.

“We had two meetings with him,” Dobkin said, according to CinemaBlend. “He wanted the script rewritten much more than we did, which was a concern. So we went back, Robert [Downey.] and I, we sat with him again. We just felt like defending the material. We were concerned with where we would had to have gone to get Jack happy.”

Actor Jack Nicholson speaks onstage at the 40th AFI Life Achievement Award
Jack Nicholson | Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

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Dobkin revealed that the idea of doing an overhaul on the script would be too high a price to pay, even for Nicholson. Deciding to stick with the original script, Dobkin and Downey went to Duvall.

“I had Robert in and we were off to the races… so I didn’t want to go back into writing. But they were really fun conversations. Jack is a hell of a storyteller,” The Judge director explained. “We had been working on that script for two years. I was like ‘I don’t know if we can go back to writing.’ [Downey] was like ‘No, we’re not. Who’s next?’ I was like, ‘It’s gotta be Bobby Duvall.’ He’s like, ‘Alright.’ And that’s how it happened.”