It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Tony Stark, even though director Jon Favreau had to fight hard in order to have him cast as the lead in Iron Man. That was completely understandable given his troubled past, but the part was his from the second he finished his screen test.
Timothy Olyphant auditioned on the same day as RDJ, while Sam Rockwell was also on the shortlist, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the resurgent star. In new book The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (via CBR), it’s revealed that Iron Man was the first time Downey Jr. had even auditioned for a role since 1992’s Chaplin, which landed him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
The desire to blow away the competition saw him turn up already in full character, with producer Jeremy Latcham revealing the wild lengths he went to in order to convince the studio he was the man for the job.
“A Mercedes comes pulling up at 900 miles an hour. It had a dancing hula-hoop girl on the dashboard. This huge dude covered in tattoos with a long beard, crazy glasses, and a hat; who is Robert Downey Jr.’s right-hand man, Jimmy Rich, gets out, walks around, and opens up the door. He swings the scarf over his shoulder and goes, ‘Young man, which way to hair and makeup?’. I was like, ‘Holy sh*t. What just happened?’. He does one take and the entire crew bursts into applause. Boom! Tony Stark’s here.”
That sounds exactly like the sort of thing both Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr. would do, so it’s no surprise the two became so intrinsically linked over the next decade. Iron Man set the template for an entire generation of blockbuster cinema, and it wouldn’t be anywhere near as great as it turned out to be had anyone else played the title hero.