Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios president and one of its most influential creative architects, has reiterated in bold terms the critical role that Robert Downey Jr. played in the success and expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sitting down with Iron Man director Jon Favreau to celebrate the film’s 15th anniversary (you can watch the interview here), Feige repeated a fact the franchise’s legions of fans know well: the MCU wouldn’t be what it is without Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man.
His comments came in response to Favreau’s recounting of Downey’s casting, which Feige didn’t hesitate to call “one of the greatest decisions in the history of Hollywood.” Favreau readily agreed.
Favreau said Feige had already met with Downey to possibly play Doctor Doom in 2005’s Fantastic Four, but clearly, that wasn’t the role that would catapult the actor into Marvel history. Leaping into storyteller mode, Favreau put it plainly: “Once it was Robert, then every decision became a lot easier.”
“I remember sitting down with [Robert] and I was like, he just got it and he’s got that spark in him and his eye and he’s ready,” Favreau said.
He discussed Downey’s screen tests and how, once he was hired, more big names started signing on: Gwyneth Paltrow. Jeff Bridges. Paul Bettany. The film’s now-iconic cast came together around Downey and the potential he carried, according to Favreau.
Feige chimed in, saying, “I remember on later movies – we’ll talk about them on the 15th anniversary of those – there were dark days. I would say to Robert, ‘We wouldn’t be in this mess if it wasn’t for you,’ meaning we wouldn’t have a studio if it wasn’t for him. Or you,” he added, referring to Favreau.
It’s true that prior to the first Iron Man’s release, Tony Stark was far from a household name. His showdown with Captain America in Mark Millar and Steven McNiven’s event comic Civil War was the brightest spotlight the character had experienced at that point, and even then he wasn’t widely known within mainstream pop culture.
As the MCU ballooned into the behemoth it is today, it became clear that none of it would have happened (at least not this way) had Downey not been involved.
Favreau went on to direct Downey again in Iron Man 2 before handing the character’s solo adventures to Shane Black.
The first two Iron Man films, along with most of the MCU, are available to stream on Disney+.
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