On Monday night, Variety broke the news that Robert Downey Jr. was on the verge of signing on to “Captain America 3.” If it comes to fruition, the move would be significant for a number of reasons: In addition to broadening Downey’s crossover abilities -- it would mark the actor’s first time in the Chris Evans franchise and move him, Zelig-like, into one more Marvel series -- the casting would also extend Downey’s affiliation with the Tony Stark character considerably into the future.
Prior to Monday night’s news, Downey had no Marvel-related movie scheduled beyond May 2015, when his “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is set to hit screens. But “Captain America 3” doesn’t come out until a full year later, in May 2016, when, God help us, we’ll already be more than halfway through another presidential primary season.
“Captain America 3” may have been one of the movies Downey was alluding to when he told me in an interview several weeks ago that he had a “few more” Marvel pics in him. (Full quote: “My biological clock is running the show. I’m turning 50 next year, and maybe there’s a few more in me. [But] time is the only non-negotiable integer.”)
Throughout the interview, done for his newly released family and legal melodrama “The Judge,” Downey made comments that illuminated his thinking about new Marvel movies -- comments that suggested he wasn’t ready to leave Tony Stark behind and also telegraphed that he was spending a good chunk of his time looking beyond the character (movies such as a new “Perry Mason” and “Pinocchio” as well as a tale of the U.S. warship Indianapolis are percolating with him and producer wife Susan at their company, Team Downey).
What did he mean by all these signals? Here are the comments (a few of them ran in the profile but most are fresh quotes) that shed light on where he’s going with Marvel, and if he’s going with Marvel. Have a look and piece them together, Sherlock Holmes-style.
On his ambivalence these days for carrying a movie as Tony Stark -- and, indeed, as the wisecracking hero in general: “It’s just a note you know how to hit. It’s a bit of a clutch play. Yeah, I can throw the ball fast. But what about the team? It’s natural to think about that when you’re pushing 50. You just start thinking laterally. You don’t think just about how to be a frontman and how to be a rock star. It’s fun to be a rock star but it’s also -- yeeeeeah. In some ways, it’s a distraction from what life is about. Life is a team sport and what that means is everyone’s supposed to try those different positions. You go to the outfield to help this kid whose arm isn’t blown out.”
On why it would be nice to switch it up: “I’m pals with Paul Thomas Anderson, and I’m very unlikely to see him if I’m doing a world tour with ‘Avengers 7.’”
On making “The Judge” between “Iron Man 3” and “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”: “It was a really nice, long intermission between outright capitalism -- capitalism with flair, but capitalism still.”
On the oddly purist reasons, then, that he puts so much effort into promoting Marvel movies: “I feel like if you give me one of these things, I know to a certain point how to make it palatable and make it not feel like we’re just trying hypnotizing people to dance to the rhythm of filthy lucre. Because if this thing doesn’t do super-well when you’re promoting it, you’ve taken a lot of people’s money and a lot of other people‘s money.”
On why his background can make it “great” and “objectionably incongruent” to play Tony Stark: “I come from off-Broadway shows that close after one night. I’ve always been interested in theater and musicals and dramas and mysteries. I remember what a seminal learning experience it was, on “True Believer"; in 1987, to be around James Woods, and how it still affects a lot of my characters and credos and choices. James Woods is easily one of the 10 funniest people on planet Earth and he could have a huge career in comedy, but this is how the cookie crumbled. The next one [after “The Judge” or a Marvel movie] for me could be an actioner and the next one could be something I’m not aware of because it will come in a week as an article that’s going to blow my mind.”
On the money trap inherent to tentpoles such as the Marvel movies: “Once people are making enough not to be in a continual state of financial insecurity, then the amount has nothing do with their happiness. But I know a lot of things that do have to do with my happiness.”
Which means what, career-wise? “I trust my wife and I also trust the people I’m in business with, Warner Bros. and Marvel. I’m not looking to get out there and show people how [switches to gritty voice] down and dirty I can get. I’m not wondering what I need to do next. It’s going to go how it goes.”
And yet just the same: “I think it would be a shame if I squandered whatever opportunity has arisen by just playing it safe.”