The actor played a committed Australian actor who surgically darkened his skin for the role of a black soldier in a war movie

By Georgia Slater
January 21, 2020 02:07 PM
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Robert Downey Jr. is opening up about his controversial role in Tropic Thunder 12 years after making the film.

While promoting his new movie Dolittle, the actor, 54, spoke candidly about one of his most debated characters, Kirk Lazarus, during a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

In the 2008 Ben Stiller-directed satire, Downey Jr. played a committed Australian method actor who surgically darkened his skin for the role of a black soldier in a war movie.

“My mother was horrified,” Downey Jr. admitted while looking back at the casting process.

“‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’” he recalled his conversation with his mother at the time. “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,” Downey Jr. said.

Adding, “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.”

The actor continued to explain that while Stiller “knew exactly what the vision for this was…it was impossible to not have it be an offensive nightmare of a movie.”

Still, Downey Jr. shared he received a good amount of praise for the movie.

“90 percent of my black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.’ I can’t disagree with [the rest], but I know where my heart lies,” he said.

TROPIC THUNDER, Robert Downey Jr
Credit: DreamWorks/Courtesy Everett Collection

His role also scored him Best Supporting Actor nods at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards — despite losing all three trophies to Heath Ledger.

“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,” he continued. “Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defense, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”

Dolittle is in theaters now.