Despite his performance becoming an iconic part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. was almost not cast as Iron Man.
In a Vanity Fair cover story, the actor, 58, and those close to the situation opened up about how close the world came to not knowing Downey Jr. as the “billionaire playboy philanthropist.”
According to Marvel boss Kevin Feige, studio executives did not want Downey Jr. — who many viewed as a reformed loose cannon — at the helm of a franchise with years of films ahead.
“It purely came down to the Marvel board being nervous at putting all of their chips in their future films on somebody who famously had those legal troubles in the past,” Feige told the magazine “I wasn’t very good—and I’m still not great—at taking no for an answer. But I also don’t pound my chest to try to get my way. I try to figure out ways to make it as clear to other people why we should head in a direction. And that’s when the idea of a screen test came up.”
Luckily for the Oscar-nominated actor, Feige and Iron Man director, Jon Favreau, advocated for him heavily and convinced studio executives to at least have Downey Jr. do a screen test for the role. The test proved successful and history was made in the process.
After Favreau and Downey Jr.’s Marvel film sparked the beginning of the MCU, the actor went on to become known as a team player for his co-stars and coworkers. In 2013, Downey Jr. used his own contract negotiations for the first Avengers film to leverage higher pay for his co-stars in the movie.
“We used to joke and say that Robert was the head of the acting department because everybody there looked up to him,” Feige said. “He took them all under his wing, but not in a subservient sense. He just became their cheerleader.”
In total, the actor made nine film appearances in the MCU until his character, Tony Stark, ultimately made the final sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame.
As for rumors that Downey Jr.’s time as Stark may not be over, Feige says they plan to let sleeping dogs lie.
“We are going to keep that moment and not touch that moment again,” Feige told Vanity Fair. “We all worked very hard for many years to get to that, and we would never want to magically undo it in any way.”