Robert Downey Jr. says Tropic Thunder allowed him 'to be Black for a summer'
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Iron Man may always be the role Robert Downey Jr is best known for, but no one will ever let him forget when he did blackface in Tropic Thunder.
For the 2008 Ben Stiller comedy, Downey Jr played Kirk Lazarus, an Aussie method actor and Academy Award winner who undergoes 'pigmentation alteration' surgery to get into character for a new role, and refuses to break character, no matter how dire their situation gets.
That means that Downey Jr was in blackface for the vast majority of the film.
Even though the role was intended to poke fun at intense method actors and celebrities who think they can do whatever they want for their 'craft', the blackface move didn't exactly age well.
And although Downey Jr completely gets why people wouldn't be thrilled with him, he stands by the decision.
Speaking to Joe Rogan back in 2020, Robert recalled: "When Ben [Stiller] called and said, 'Hey, I'm doing this thing' - I think Sean Penn had passed on it, or something - I thought, 'Yeah, I'll do that after Iron Man!'
"And then I started thinking, 'This is a terrible idea, wait a minute.'
"And I then I thought, 'Hold on, dude. Get real here. Where is your heart?'
"And my heart is, A, I get to be black for a summer in my mind, so there's something in it for me. The other thing is, I get to hold up to nature the insane self involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they're allowed to do."
He noted that it also helped that Ben was such a 'masterful' filmmaker and had a clear vision for the film.
"Ben, who is a masterful artist and director, probably the closest thing to Charlie Chaplin that I've experienced in my lifetime, if you had seen him while he was directing this movie, you would have been like, 'I'm watching David Lean, I'm watching Chaplin, I'm watching Coppola.'
"He knew exactly what the vision for this was. He executed it. It was impossible to not have it be an offensive nightmare of a movie."
Downey Jr said that, when the film first came out, '90 percent of [his] black friends were like, "Dude, that was great."'
When Joe Rogan asked him about the other 10 percent, the actor awkwardly replied: "Uh, you know, I can't disagree with them, but I know where my heart was."
RDJ in blackface wasn't the only thing that caused problems in that film: Ben Stiller's character, Tugg Speedman's portrayal of a mentally challenged farm boy in a controversial film called Simple Jack, didn't go down too well either.
For better or for worse, it did take some of the heat off of Robert Downey Jr.
"The funny thing, too, was all the heat got deflected to Ben as Simple Jack. That's what people were p***ed off about, and I go, 'Phew! Great!'"