Hi Don. What was it like shooting such a big blockbuster with Robert Downey Jr?
It’s a lot of fun if you are properly medicated (laughs). I made sure I had a shot of Jack Daniels and was on just the right amount of beta-blockers. No, it was great. I think the Tony Stark role is perfect for him. Robert talks like a comic book character. Everything he does is at such a fast pace. He’s irreverent and insightful and very erudite. He always has an answer for everything and that’s what comic book characters are like. He’s front-loaded for the joke. His brain is fascinating that way. It’s a blessing and a curse to work with someone like that because he can see every permutation of every scene.
What was it like getting your on Iron Man suit? Were you excited to put it on?
I was excited, then reality struck (laughs). It is basically a 50 pound piece of metal that does not allow you touch your face, go to the bathroom or sit down in.
Did you feel ridiculous when you wore it?
Completely ridiculous. Thankfully, there was only one shot where I had to wear the complete suit. Mostly you just have the top on. So it was quite odd. You’d have the top part on and then be in shorts and spandex and boots with motion capture balls on it and black and white stripes on your legs. You looked like an idiot. It was like one of those “What am I doing?” moments.
Were you into Iron Man comic books when you were a kid?
I was more into the Archie comics. I loved the Archie comics and Richie Rich. It wasn’t until college I got into superheroes like X-Men and Dark Knight and Watchmen.
Can you compare working on the Ocean’s franchise to working on the Iron Man franchise?
They couldn’t be more different. With Iron Man 2, once you have finished filming you have no idea what is going to happen. My stunt man and CGI drawing worked as many days on the set as what I did, so it is really a composite performance at the end of the day. You’re not sure what it is going to be. You just have to trust what they do with it.
It must have been weird to not really know how your performance would turn out.
It was very interesting. It was a different way of working with so many unknowns so it was a little disconcerting.
Considering Iron Man 2 was really a new role for you, how did you approach the performance?
In the beginning I was trying to find my footing because I wasn’t sure how to approach it. There was tonnes of source material for Iron Man but if you look at Rhodey in the comic books, he goes from here to here (points at one end of the table to another). It was like, what Rhodey am I supposed to be? There’s every look, every iteration, every drawing. Also, I had the performance of another actor before me to consider because that mythology had already been created. I don’t think I ever got comfortable, but it took a while for me to find a place where I thought I’d have a higher percentage of success in getting it right.
Tony Stark is all about gadgets. Are you into them?
No. I only have a new Blackberry because the other one broke. I remember when video games came out I was really into PlayStation, but then PlayStation 2 and 3. Then I said “I can’t do this anymore. I just beat the first Doom. I don’t have the time to beat Doom 3” (laughs). It’s up to my teenage daughters to beat Doom 3!
What’s it like having teenage daughters?
Very good. Touch wood I don’t have any Hollywood stories to tell … yet (laughs).
Are they dating yet?
How old are they?
They are 24 and 30 (laughs). No, they are 15 and 13. I’m getting the shotgun and burial plot ready (laughs).
Do they want to be actors?
One of my daughters does and I try to dissuade her every day bit it isn’t working. It’s the worst.
If she wants to act for just acting and do plays and the theatre, fine, but trying to run up my smoke and be in this business, it’s tough. The business is shrinking and such a grind to do anything special. You can do big tent pole movies like Iron Man 2 or you can scratch around and try to find someone who has money to make something interesting. It’s tough. Name five black actresses who are making it? Less than 10 per cent of the actors in the Screen Actors Guild make more than $100,000 a year.
Do you think it is talent and luck that is needed to make it?
Yeah, a bit of both. You have to be fortunate. It is timing and things out of your control. In this business you do not have the ability to chart your own path. That’s why I started my own production company so I could find and develop movies. That’s what Traitor came out of. That’s the kind of grind you have to do to make movies. A studio will make seven movies a year, as opposed to the 27 it made 10 years ago. I just hope my kids find another business to be in or have something else to fall back on.
Did your parents try to deter you from being an actor.
No. My parents never said that to me. They drove me to Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) . But the business was different back then. When I got out of school you could be an unknown and get a guest lead spot on Hill Street Blues or LA Law. Now, to get on a show you have to have credits, so how do you break into the business? I have no idea.
Will you do Iron Man 3?
I signed multiple contracts, but it depends on how things shake out. There’s Avengers, Thor, Captain America, Robert is doing another Sherlock Holmes, I have another project. It could happen in a few years, but you ever know.
Terrence Howard played your role, Rhodey, in the original Iron Man, but there was some kind of a dispute and you were brought in to replace him. What happened?
I just tried to stay out of it. It isn’t any of my business. Personally, I didn’t know if he walked away or was fired. When I saw him we chopped it up and he let me know he was cool about it. I was fine with it.
Have you ever had an experience like that where you stepped into a role after someone else left or left a role and someone took over?
You have a reputation of being a decent guy on set.
I paper the town to keep that reputation. I spend half my salary to pay people off and keep my reputation (laughs).
You worked with real life military personnel on Iron Man 2. What was that like?
Tedious. They’d be like “Your hat needs to be like this” and I’d say “You know, we are making a movie” and they’d say “Yeah, but your hat needs to be slightly this way”. There were a lot of interesting discussions where I said “I know that way might be accurate for the military, but we are making a movie for the masses. I’ll try to adhere to the tradition, but by the same token just relax”.
Can you see yourself ever joining the military?
Thank God for those guys, but hell no! I’m not going to do it. I feel when Jack Nicholson says in A Few Good Men, “You want us on that wall. You need us on that wall” that he’s damn right because I’m not doing it.
Why not? You don’t have the discipline to be in the military?
Oh yeah. I have the discipline. Working on this film required a lot of discipline. It’s just that I don’t want to be shot at or have to shoot people.
What’s it like shooting people, but only in the movies? Not with real bullets?
It’s great. I don’t get hurt. People I shoot get back up afterwards.
Iron Man 2 is a fun movie, but it does offer an important question. That is, who should own cutting-edge technology? The military or private companies?
I don’t know. It depends on who it is. There’s certain armies, most armies, that I wouldn’t want to have any technology. But, can a weapon be a deterrent? I guess the answer is it depends on who is holding the weapon. It changes.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I am finishing up on The Guard, a film with Brendan Gleeson in Ireland. I’m also developing a Miles Davis project. We have a writer working on it.
You play the saxophone don’t you?
Yeah, I played sax for many years. For the last year or so I’ve been playing the trumpet.
How good are you?
Nowhere near Miles (laughs). I can play it, which is surprising because the trumpet is very unforgiving.
I heard the sax was harder to play than the trumpet.
No way. With the sax if you push down on three keys with your left hand it is going to be a “G”. That’s it. If you do that on a trumpet you might get a “G”, a “C”, an “E”. It takes a supreme amount of confidence and real ear training. It is an approach and mindset.
How long have you been working on the Miles Davis biopic?
A while. We had a couple of other writers on it a few years ago. It usually takes 3-5 years to get a movie made.
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