Robert Downey Jr on stepping into Stark’s shoes once more… and who he calls when he’s in London
Robert Downey Jr has been up since 5.30am, which might be why he says “Good evening!” when he speaks to ShortList shortly before lunch. We’re due to discuss Captain America: Civil War, which, despite focusing on Chris Evans’ star-spangled superhero, has such a packed cast, so much angst and enough doom that it may as well be called Avengers 2.5.
The latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe picks up from the deep-exhale following Avengers: Age Of Ultron, in which a psychotic robot tries to cause global extinction. While Marvel’s offerings have so far dealt with good guys fighting bad, Civil War sees the fallout from the last ensemble film pitting superheroes against each other.
But before we get to business, Downey Jr shows his casual mastery of exchanging British pleasantries. “How is old Blighty?” he asks, of his home from home. ShortList explains the palpable excitement of some brief sunshine earlier – “I love it when that happens!” he says.
He’s looking forward to spending some time here while promoting the film (and working on something special, more of which later). Until then he details the change in Tony Stark’s character, the introduction of a certain web-slinger to the MCU, and the “bittersweet” ending to one of the most anticipated films of the year.
What’s the first thing you do when you get to London?
I usually call a guy called ‘Posh Tom’. He and I and some fellas get together and, you know, ‘hang out’. If I can see Guy [Ritchie] that’s also great. He’ll say “I’ll meet you there on my bike” – all that macho stuff.
Do you get on a Boris bike when you’re here?
Well, I mean, if you’re at all frustrated with the way the arteries or meridians of traffic go, then you should get on a bike. I’ve always considered riding a bike in London as taking your life in your own hands. Guy makes it look easy.
Let’s talk Civil War. Where do we find Tony Stark at the beginning of the film? What exactly has happened since Age Of Ultron?
This whole ‘Ultron’ debacle was good for Tony, because he kind of made a mess and had to have his superbuddies clean it up. Tony’s thing was that he was going to take a break, but we thought it didn’t suit him. There’s this… ‘incident’. I was reading the Civil War [comics], and Civil War and [Iron Man 3’s storyline] Extremis were my two favourite comic strains with Tony in them, but we didn’t want to do it verbatim.
Does the film take a different direction than the comics?
Do you know the Russos? They are badass individuals. They had such a great take on [the comics]. Tony winds up having a little bit more of a conservative point of view on things than you’d think.
It sounds like his ideals have changed. He was very anti-government in Iron Man 2.
Sure. It’s kind of like if you go from rock star to soccer dad… your values change.
One of the coolest moments in the trailer is when Tony’s watch turns into this hi-tech gauntlet and stops a bullet.
I’m so glad you think that. Here’s why I love the Russos: that was not in the script. And I said, “What if I had this watch that kind of turned into a glove?” They humoured me for a couple of weeks, but I kept bringing it up. Eventually they had someone measure me for the hand-glove.
Is it called the ‘hand-glove’? That’s not a very cool name.
Hmm, I think it would be a wrist gauntlet because it comes from [Tony’s] watch. Let’s think of a good name. A ‘timepiece’ makes no sense. Come up with a name.
Erm, the iGauntlet?
Nice, nice! I think with Anthony and Joe [Russo] there really is a desire to capture that sense of profoundness. Everything costs so much, you might as well invent things while you’re there.
People were excited to see the new Spider-Man in the trailer [played by Tom Holland]. But why did you call him ‘Underoos’?
OK. So my son, Exton, runs around in Underoos. They’re hooded pyjama-onesies, and fuzzy. They’re a sensation.
So is Stark making fun of Spidey’s threads?
Well, put it this way. By the time you see him in that costume… Does he have like a slush-fund or something? I’ll just leave it at that. That’s good. That’s a good tease.
In Civil War there are loads of new cast members. Which one of the Avengers would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?
Oh god, I can’t answer that. I have so much admiration for everybody. I’d kind of like to be stuck in an elevator with all of them because it’s so rare we see each other. It can become fragmented. On Civil War I think I saw [Jeremy] Renner for two days, and that was in passing. On Ultron I’d see him all the time and we’d both go travel places, and I love Renner.
What are the rest of the cast like?
Chadwick Boseman [Black Panther] is a really big deal. And that takes nothing away from Mr [Anthony] Mackie [The Falcon], who knows how to hold court. But Chadwick is softly spoken but extremely dynamic. Now I think about it, I’m discovering my fanboy love for [Don] Cheadle [War Machine] – when you see him in Miles Ahead, which he co-wrote, directed and stars in, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. It’s astonishing. It’s what a biopic should be.
Tony falls out big time with Captain America. Was it good for you and Chris Evans to shake your dynamic up?
I like Evans. I think I like him more than he likes me. On the surface he acts all… whatever.
What was it like filming the scene where Cap and Bucky team up and take on Tony?
Some of ‘Team Downey’ were p*ssed off about that. They’re like, “Is your suit malfunctioning? What is going on?” It’s not ‘Iron Man: Civil War’. It’s Captain America! I knew that before I signed up.
Wait, are you saying you let him beat you up?
I wonder… I wonder what I was doing.
You mentioned hanging out with Guy Ritchie in London. Have you had any discussions about a third Sherlock Holmes film?
We’re talking about it right now. NOW. I can’t wait.
Do you mean today?
We can do some preliminary stuff. If we could shoot it on Skype, we could have it done in a week. I know Guy Ritchie loves me as much as I love him – and he damn well should. When we’re making those Sherlock movies it is off the hook. We’ll attempt to make one this year. It really is a big deal to go and do those movies. I’m tired all the time, but I’m excited about it.
You’ve been playing Tony Stark for nearly eight years. Do you look forward to doing something else?
I suppose so. I’ll get a little itchy here and there. But [the Marvel universe] makes such a big splash that it keeps the pulse of any relevance going. Truth be told,
I like working, but there’s so many things I like to do. I have kids. I’m a martial artist. I hang out with Posh Tom. I’ve been working since I was a kid, so sometimes I do get itchy, but I get a week off and it’s pleasant. It’s a manageable schedule.
There’s a rumour that Civil War doesn’t have a happy ending. Can you tell us anything?
I’d say it’s bittersweet. It’s not a bummer. The way this story is crafted, I think people will really love it.
Just make sure you relax before you start filming Infinity War.
I sure will. I’ll see you around the clubhouse. If Posh Tom says you’re in, I’ll give you a call. You can come out with us.
Captain America: Civil War is at cinemas nationwide from 29 April. Read our interview with Chris "Captain America" Evans right here, right now.