One of the first major decisions made by Marvel Studios was the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as the title character in Iron Man, and it also turned out to be arguably the smartest call they ever made. The actor was deemed a risky proposition back then, having just embarked on the comeback trail following some highly-publicized personal troubles, and it marked a huge gamble for an upstart studio to cast him in the lead role of their first-ever movie.
As we all know, Jon Favreau’s superhero blockbuster became a critical and commercial smash hit, serving as the catalyst for what would go on to become the biggest franchise in history. Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark instantly became iconic, too, turning the actor into one of the biggest movie stars in the world as well as establishing him as the face of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe for over a decade.
In a recent interview, Marvel Studios’ casting director Sarah Finn revealed that Marvel were initially resistant to the idea of having Downey Jr. as the lead in Iron Man given his previous reputation, as well as the associated risks that came with having him front-and-center of a $150 million superhero blockbuster.
“Robert Downey Jr., at that point in his career, wasn’t necessarily a ‘family-friendly’ name. There were concerns about, ‘Was he an action hero?’. ‘Was he a name that would promote a family movie?’. Jon Favreau was in love with the ides of Downey playing the part and we all felt so sure about him on a creative level… Because he wasn’t instantly a slam-dunk approval, as we were reading other people and looking at it, I suggested we had screen tests and let the best person win.”
If Marvel had been owned by Disney back in 2008, there’s virtually no chance that Robert Downey Jr. would have been given the opportunity to play Tony Stark, given the Mouse House’s steadfastly family-friendly operation. Jon Favreau has admitted in the past how heavily he pushed for the actor to be given the part, and it turned out to be a masterstroke of casting.
Downey Jr. didn’t just lead the Iron Man franchise, he went on to become both an integral part of the MCU and one of the most iconic characters in all of popular culture throughout the 20th century. And it was fitting that the star filmed his last moments as Tony Stark in the exact same place where he had first auditioned for the role over ten years before.