Inside the Robert Downey Jr. performance that has supercharged fans

By Anthony Breznican
May 03, 2019 at 08:16 AM EDT
Zade Rosenthal/©Marvel Studios

Tony Stark has always been about the power play.

Avengers: Endgame delivers a breathtaking moment for the hero who sparked the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Let’s explore its creation with directors Joe and Anthony Russo…

***Spoilers Below***

He was turned to steel
In the great magnetic field
Where he traveled time
For the future of mankind

Those lyrics to Black Sabbath’s 1971 “Iron Man” song have never rung more true.

If you’re here, that means you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame and know that Tony Stark finally met his end.

With the Infinity Stones melting into his metal glove, Stark snapped his fingers and erased the “inevitable” Thanos and his minions from existence. The cosmic blast stopped the threat, but cost him his own life.

In some ways, it seemed like a natural choice. Stark had gone from aloof arms dealer to someone who repeatedly risked his own life to spare others. But it still wasn’t an easy decision, especially given the hope and inspiration Iron Man has provided to fans over the years.

“There are a lot of sick kids who really look up to that character, and it’s hard because we’re trying to tell a story about heroism,” Joe Russo tells EW.

“And sometimes heroism involves doing whatever it takes,” Anthony adds.

Shooting the Goodbye

Marco Grob/© Marvel Studios 2019

That sequence wasn’t Robert Downey Jr.’s final day, but it was still a heavy time for everyone involved.

The Russo brothers describe it as a somber mood on set when they shot it, and even Downey, who is always brimming with jokes and wisecracks, toned it down.

“Right around the moment where you’re executing it, it was very focused because actors had to access really complicated emotions,” Anthony says. “But not too long afterwards, the jokes came back.”

Still, the directors say the impact of saying goodbye weighed on the actor. “This whole experience is very emotional for Robert because it’s been an incredible personal journey for him as well,” Joe says. “This role has real significance for him, and it’s a redemptive role for him. These guys bet on him at a time where it was hard to get him insured, and it’s a powerful journey for him.”

When it came time for Tony Stark’s farewell to his friends and loved ones, Downey was the one who decided he shouldn’t say anything at all.

No Words

“It was his choice to not speak,” Joe Russo says. “That was his instinct saying, ‘I’m going to be truthful to what this situation is.’ He just got destroyed by this glove. We saw what it did to the Hulk. We saw what it did to Thanos. It would incapacitate [Stark].”

So Tony is silent while Tom Holland’s Peter Parker clings to him, while Don Cheadle’s War Machine stands beside him, while Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (shielded in the Rescue armor he built her) comforts him with the promise that she and their daughter will be okay.

“Not always in life do you get the moment at your death where you’re lucid and can have a really cohesive speech about what your life meant to you,” Joe says.

But then… Tony Stark is a futurist, always thinking ahead. “That’s why he recorded a post-death message, so he didn’t have to talk at his death!” Anthony jokes.

No Doubts

©Marvel Studios 2019

There was a daredevil aspect to Tony Stark, a defiance of danger, a determination — almost a self-destructive impulse — to put himself in harm’s way. Eventually, it was going to end in something he couldn’t walk away from.

“I think in a way Tony Stark was meant to die, and he always knew he was going to die because he could never reconcile that notion in himself of not protecting the universe,” Joe says. “I think that was always a spark in him, always seeing that there was danger coming on the horizon and that someday, he and that danger would meet.”

This is why Thanos knows who this puny human is in Infinity War. Stark had already made a lot of trouble for him.

“Stark is the most formidable of all of them,” Joe says. “Because of his heart.”

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