Robert Downey Jr. Has No Regrets Over ‘Tropic Thunder’ Blackface: ‘It Blasted the Cap on the Issue’

The controversial role earned Downey Jr. an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
"Tropic Thunder"
"Tropic Thunder"
Dreamworks Llc/Kobal/Shutterstock

Robert Downey Jr. reignited his career by launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Iron Man” in 2008, which just so happens to be the year he threatened to ruin his career by going blackface for “Tropic Thunder.” Ben Stiller’s Hollywood satire cast Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor who undergoes “pigmentation alteration” surgery to darken his skin in order to play a black character in a war movie. Downey Jr. appears in blackface for the majority of “Tropic Thunder,” a decision that has continued to spark debate and court controversy for 12 years and counting. Downey Jr. looked back at the casting while promoting “Doolittle” on a recent episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.

“My mother was horrified,” Downey Jr. said. “‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah me too, mom.’ When Ben called and said, ‘Hey I’m doing this thing’ – you know I think Sean Penn had passed on it or something. Possibly wisely. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that and I’ll do that after Iron Man.’ Then I started thinking, ‘This is a terrible idea, wait a minute.’ Then I thought, ‘Well hold on dude, get real here, where is your heart? My heart is…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 on occasion, just my opinion.”

“[Ben] 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. continued. “And 90 per cent of my black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.’ I can’t disagree with [the other 10 per cent], but I know where my heart lies. I think that it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and out of its time, but to me it blasted the cap on [the issue]. I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defense, ‘Tropic Thunder’ is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”

Downey Jr. received critical acclaim for his performance in “Tropic Thunder” and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards. Downey Jr. lost all prizes to Heath Ledger for “The Dark Knight.”

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