As hard as it might be for an entire generation of younger movie fans to believe, there was a lot of skepticism and plenty of raised eyebrows when it was first announced that Robert Downey Jr. had been cast to play Tony Stark in Iron Man.
The actor was barely in the early stages of his comeback having spent years garnering headlines for all the wrong reasons due to his well-publicized personal issues that yielded multiple arrests and several stints in rehab, costing him several high profile jobs along the way. Director Jon Favreau saw his performance in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and immediately wanted him for the job, but there was some significant pushback from those higher up the corporate food chain.
Obviously, it worked out pretty well for all parties in the end after Iron Man became a critical and commercial smash hit, rocketing Downey Jr. right to the top of the Hollywood A-list and instantly turning his genius billionaire playboy philanthropist into a cinematic icon, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched with a deafening bang.
In a new interview, Kevin Feige reiterated that the single biggest risk Marvel Studios have ever taken was RDJ’s hiring, because the MCU as we know it simply wouldn’t exist had they dropped the ball in any way on the first installment.
“I was lucky enough to be involved in early Spider-Man films and X-Men films. But we wanted to do an Iron Man movie. And I do think, still, the biggest risk, which seems outrageous to say now, was casting Robert Downey Jr. It was both the biggest risk and the most important thing in the founding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Without Robert, we wouldn’t be sitting here today. I really believe that.
He was an amazing actor. Everybody knew he was amazing actor. But he hadn’t been an action star. He wasn’t a marquee star, necessarily. And we quickly realized the risk, I’ve said this before, was not casting him. And Jon Favreau really had that vision for that movie and for Robert in that role. That decision, and the success of that decision, I think empowered us with further risks and further choices.
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Now that the MCU has been established as the biggest game in town for a long time, the risk factor has arguably disappeared completely. Feige and his team are confident enough to adapt fairly obscure properties like Guardians of the Galaxy, Shang-Chi and Eternals knowing fine well the brand is strong enough to virtually guarantee success, and it can all be traced back to Robert Downey Jr.