There are very few real movie stars left in Hollywood. There are, of course, actors who can help drive box office and “open” films, but there are only a select number of actors or actresses who can walk into a room and charismatically win a crowd over. That’s a very special skill that most politicians would die for. Even before his miraculous comeback in 2008’s “Iron Man,” Robert Downey, Jr. was one of those stars and he demonstrated why he’s up there with the likes of George Clooney, Will Smith and Tom Hanks during a hilarious press conference for “Iron Man 2” today in Los Angeles.
Answering questions along with his “Iron Man 2” co-stars Gwyneth Paltrow (returning as Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (your new Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes), Mickey Rourke (the villainous Whiplash), Scarlett Johansson (the Black Widow) and director Jon Favreau, Downey, Jr. worked the Four Seasons’ ballroom like a true pro ripping off one-liners one after another. One of the first questions was actually off topic, as a reporter inquired if there was any to the rumor he’d been offered the role of Lestat in a new incarnation of “Interview with a Vampire.”
“Just anything that’s going on? Just imagine it’s been offered to me,” Downey, Jr. says.
Cheadle pipes in, “‘Precious 2.'”
And yes, that actually cracks Downey, Jr. up.
Almost like a planned comedy bit the actor was soon asked, “Did you ever dress up as a superhero growing up for Halloween? And if so, which hero was it?”
“Growing up no,” Downey Jr. says waiting for a beat. “But in my mid-30s in Palm Springs before an arrest? Yes.”
The 80 or so journalists assembled from around the world roar at Downey, Jr.’s self-deprecation regarding his troubled past. Very few stars can get away with this and its clear he revels in making the press play to his whims. “Iron Man 2,” however, is very serious business.
Opening on May 3, the highly-anticipated sequel to the original $318 million blockbuster is polling for one of the biggest openings of all time. Marvel Studios, now a division of the Walt Disney Co., has made “Iron Man” one of its premiere brands with the character expected to appear in the upcoming “Avengers” movie and with cameos in films such as “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” The franchise star jokes that he didn’t sleep at all the night before, but there is a tinge of nervousness in his remark. There are expectations to live up to, obviously.
Picking up right after a surprising announcement from Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) that he is the mysterious hero dubbed Iron Man, the film jumps forward to find Stark one of the most popular figures in the world and his new technology a cause for world peace. He’s quickly kicked off his high horse when a mysterious figure from his past, Whiplash (a great turn from Rourke), almost defeats him in a publicly televised showdown. Along with competition from rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), political pressure to turn his suit over to the government and a deadly infection from his power source, things turn quickly look very dire for the super-powered playboy.
The 45-year-old actor heaped praise on his assembled co-stars and admits he felt some responsibility for the new members of the crew to feel part of Favreau’s semi-improvisational process.
“These are folks I’d be happy to work with in any circumstance and medium so it was swell,” Downey Jr. says. “Because I’m a little — I don’t want to say neurotic, but I felt a little bit like a co-manager of a baseball team that just got an even better line up in the spring. I felt a little beholden to be partially responsible for their experience.”
Downey, Jr. feels so strongly about the franchise that while he was working the awards circuit for his supporting role in “Tropic Thunder,” for which he received his second Oscar nomination, he campaigned hard for Rourke, who was riding the wave of his “Wrestler” comeback, to join the cast.
“I really worked you like a rib. It was embarrassing,” Downey, Jr. says to Rourke. “I was literally begging you in public.”
Rourke shakes it off like the veteran he is with an almost, “you do what you gotta do” turn of the head.
What Downey, Jr. did feel somewhat guilty about was that unlike the first “Iron Man,” it was a far less grueling experience. He couldn’t say the same or his co-stars, “Physically I feel like Don and Scarlett and Mickey actually had a heavier load this time in terms of…”
“He made them do it all in CGI,” Paltrow says interrupting her co-star. “He was like, ‘[Expletive] it! CGI! CGI it! I’m walking off.'”
Cheadle zips to an already embarrassed Downey, Jr. “‘Draw me.'”
Wrapping up the day, the new superstar reflected on how important it was to satisfy the fans who have helped fuel his comeback by making an equally entertaining sequel.
“But I think we labored very hard that we’re audience members that made the first ‘Iron Man’ successful and we are smart which is why we were drawn to it so what do we expect? We kept putting ourselves in audience seats,” Downey, Jr. says. “To me the mental and emotional development of Tony to me were — it’s strange to say personal. Not necessarily relating to my life so to speak, but just the mythology of saying you’re entirely different. And also this whole idea of Howard Stark and this legacy and the shadow of this legacy that we were always talking about. Mickey and I, of being two sides of the same coin. One who was able to escape this captivity and one who saw his father die in the ruins of improper recognition. And having to reconcile with that. Black Widow/Natalie is in many ways bringing me back to an extended family I have always had. And Mickey’s [character] is telling me all is not well and people have vendettas that I might not understand but I need to understand. And Rhodie is there saying, ‘You always had me on your wing so why won’t you let me help you?’ And obviously the Pepper thing…
And then, almost on cue, a large “Iron Man 2” curtain falls cashing to the floor behind the dais where the cast has been seated.
Never missing out on an opportunity, Downey, Jr shouts, “Ladies and Gentleman – Sam Rockwell!”
Yes, the room erupts with laughter once again at a call out to the missing cast member.
“I was actually getting bored talking about myself,” Downey, Jr. remarks.
Now that we find hard to believe.
“Iron Man 2” opens nationwide and in IMAX on May 3.