It was a sprawling, epic, and emotional roller coaster ride that had people laughing and tearing up and sometimes gasping in shock before breaking into applause — and that was just Robert Downey Jr.’s speech before Avengers: Infinity War.
The actor who helped launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe a decade ago with the original Iron Man stood onstage at the new film’s premiere Monday night before dozens of his cast mates and told the crowd of thousands: “I gotta few words. Hope you all brought a bag lunch.”
Here are some notes from the freewheeling remarks:
Downey started by paying tribute to the groundbreaking way Marvel Studios, led by president Kevin Feige, has crafted 19 (so far) interlocked movies. “This is a miracle,” Downey told the crowd. “And if any one of us took credit it would be heresy. It would be blasphemy.”
Then he curtsied. “Screw it … you’re welcome!”
As the applause died down, he referenced his own less-than-glorious history as he struggled with addiction, losing jobs because of run-ins with the law, and the recovery and escape from that life that the role of Iron Man afforded him.
“I want to talk about the past, present, and future,” Downey said. “The past for me was 30 years of dependency, depravity, and despair …. otherwise known as ‘An Actor Prepares!’”
After another round of cheers, he went on: “The present is this moment of glory for all of us. And the future…? That is always uncertain. But looking at these friends behind me,” he said, looking back at the faces of his fellow actors, “it seems like things might brighten up after all.”
He called the Marvel Cinematic Universe “an isolated incident” in the history of Hollywood. “None of us are in competition with each other. We are all competing for each other — and for you.”
As the clock ticked and Downey flipped through his notes, he said he might begin improvising. “I might go Miles Davis on you, right, Don?” he said, smiling at his War Machine costar Don Cheadle, who directed and starred in Miles Ahead, the 2015 biography of the jazz great.
“If you play a superhero in one of these movies, and it works, you become a big star!” Downey said. “And it … is … meaningless.”
“Unless,” he added, “you use that to achieve something higher. You have to take direction from peers, and your family, and occasionally even an actual director.”
Downey said directing a Marvel movie is “extremely dangerous.” “It’s like a crucible. You either come out steel or dust.”
Then he jabbed the MCU for a lack of diversity behind the camera before praising it for finally beginning to change. Downey singled out filmmaking duo Anna Bowden and Ryan Fleck, who are currently directing Brie Larson in Captain Marvel, which debuts next March, the first MCU film headlined by a female hero.
“Now at least half a directing team is female,” Downey said, before calling for more women behind the camera. “Making these movies is so taxing that it is clearly a woman’s job. It’s essentially gestation. But we don’t know how to do that,” he said, waving awkwardly toward other men on stage.
“Wakanda rules the day and rightfully so,” he added, praising Black Panther for bringing the historic first black superhero to the screen in a phenomenon that has earned $1.3 billion worldwide (so far.)
“By the way, Wakanda forever!” Downey said, making the crossed-arm salute to Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.
“I can do that as an honorary black man: Tropic Thunder, 2008!” he joked, referencing his role in that Hollywood satire as a pretentious white actor who thinks he can play an African-American soldier in a war film.
When the laughter quieted, Downey hung on the microphone like a rock star and gestured to his costars, suggesting it was time to open the door even further. “This is the MCU, right in front of you,” he said. “It’s all about fighting for equality. The whole idea is to make space for others to succeed, and exceed our expectations.”
The theater got even quieter. “[The movies] are inviting us to surrender and love and be of service,” Downey said. “They are metaphors for how our world should be — or could be one day, if we fight for it.”
He looked down at his notecards again. “My writing is getting more sketchy,” he said, before launching into praise for Gwyneth Paltrow, his costar in the original Iron Man who reprises her role as Pepper Potts in Infinity War. Downey called her “the very first First Lady of Marvel, and now there are many.”
He also shouted out to Jon Favreau, director of that original film and its sequel. “When they say the man who started it all, that is you, Jon. You brought it to life,” Downey said, after finding The Lion King and The Jungle Book director in the audience.
Then he prepared to hand the microphone to Infinity War directors Joe and Anthony Russo, whom Downey joked were recently on “an ICU drip” from exhaustion after completing the film. “They have not turned to dust yet,” the actor said.
It was getting late. The movie was long and hadn’t even started yet.
Downey squeezed his notes and explained that he began scribbling these thoughts the night before, coming back from the international tour for the film.
“I was up late. I got a tattoo — I don’t want to talk about it! It’s none of your business!” he said to laughs from the crowd. “I was up late and wrote this, and …”
He looked up. Smiled.
Then he brandished the joke ego again, more bulletproof than Iron Man’s armor.
“I think this might be the greatest speech ever written!”
More laughter. “Or maybe I’m just emo and exhausted.”
The smile widened, and he hung his head before handing off the mic.