Robert Downey Jr. On “Tropic Thunder”: “90% Of My Black Friends” Loved Blackface


Robert Downey Jr. paid a visit to The Joe Rogan Experience podcast last week, as projections that his $175 million budget film, Doolittle, would lose $100 million at the box office are revealed. At one point, Joe asks RDJ if he thinks “you could do blackface today,” referencing Robert’s role in Ben Stiller’s 2008 film, Tropic Thunder, as an Australian-born actor named Kirk Lazarus who undergoes “pigmentation alteration” to portray a black character. Robert responds, “you could…” with a little hesitation, and elaborates on the film’s conception. “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.'”

However, he reconsidered what his intentions were in taking the role. “Then I thought, ‘Well hold on dude, get real here, where is your heart?,'” he recounts. “My heart is…a) 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.” Praising Ben Stiller as a “masterful artist and director,” RDJ reveals that Ben’s execution was what made the film ultimately work. “[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. And 90 percent of my black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.'”

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Joe then asks him about “the other 10%” to which Robert responds, “I can’t disagree with them, but I know where my heart was. 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].” After Joe declares that it’s unlikely that blackface could ever be received well today, RDJ touches back on the issue of intention. “There’s a morality clause here on this planet and it’s a big price to pay. I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ Again, not in my defense but, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”

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However, he reveals that he did get some pushback from his loved ones. “My mother was horrified,” he reveals. He imitates his mother’s response, saying, “‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah me too, Mom.'” Robert Downey Jr. went on to be nominated for a Golden Globe as well as an Oscar for Bets Supporting Actor for his role in the film, but lost both times.


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