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Robert Downey Jr. has long been a fan-favorite with viewers around the world. He started his career in movies when he was a small child, thanks to the encouragement of his father, a well-known indie filmmaker.

By the time he was a teenager, Downey Jr. had made a name for himself in teen movies and comedies. However, it was his role as Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that solidified his status as a true Hollywood legend. Ironically, it was the history-making role of Tony that made Downey Jr. very nervous about taking on a role in the all-new historical drama film Oppenheimer.

Robert Downey Jr. has had a legendary career

Robert Downey Jr. posing in a suit at a special screening for the movie 'Sr'.
Robert Downey Jr. | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Downey Jr. had landed a number of high-profile roles before his turn as Iron Man/Tony Stark. Notably, he portrayed movie icon Charlie Chaplin in a biographical drama, earning the young actor major acclaim. However, Downey Jr.’s promising career was sidelined by a series of tabloid headlines and incidents with addiction that forced the actor to reevaluate his future.

The 2008 film Iron Man changed the course of Downey Jr.’s professional career. The role of Tony Stark seemed custom-made for Downey Jr., and he proved to critics and fans that he was more than ready for his second act. Over the past decade, the veteran actor has risen to become one of Hollywood’s most respected performers, a talented actor with the gravitas to tackle any role.

What role did Robert Downey Jr. have in ‘Oppenheimer’?

These days, Downey Jr. is very selective about the roles he takes. However, when iconic director Christopher Nolan contacted the actor about a role in his all-new drama Oppenheimer, Downey Jr. couldn’t say no. In the film, which was released in July to immediate critical acclaim, Downey Jr. plays Lewis Strauss, a politician who finds himself at odds with Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer.

For Downey Jr., the idea of playing a real-life politician after becoming so well-known as Tony Stark in the MCU was rather frightening. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Downey Jr. discussed why he was initially hesitant to accept the role of Strauss.

What did Robert Downey Jr. say about adjusting to a different acting style in ‘Oppenheimer’?

Robert Downey Jr posing while wearing shades.
Robert Downey Jr | Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Robert Downey Jr. Once Called His ‘Less Than Zero’ Character an ‘Exaggeration of Myself’

When asked whether he was nervous about playing Strauss after over a decade of playing Tony Stark, Downey Jr. said “Yes. A hundred percent.” He added that he was very concerned about ensuring Strauss was a singular character: “I knew there was a point where Chris Nolan was endorsing, let’s work those other muscles, but let’s do it while rendering you devoid of your usual go-to things.”

As reported by Looper, Downey Jr. explained his “go-to” things as “It’s the fast-talking, charming, unpredictable, blah, blah, blah, or as my very close friend Josh Richman, a character actor, used to say, I made my bones playing ‘Milo, the offbeat buddy.’ And Milo, the offbeat buddy, better be offbeat!”

Downey Jr. connected to Strauss by thinking of his grandfather, a contemporary of the famous politician. “Robert Elias, whom I never met, was in the U.S. Army, self-made guy,” Downey Jr. explained, noting that his grandfather had helped install glass for the Chrysler Building, a rival of the nearby Empire State Building. “So I was thinking, how can I make Strauss’s competitiveness with Oppenheimer personal, and it was: Look at that building over there that’s no better than mine getting all the shine!”

Ultimately, Downey Jr. created a nuanced character that stands totally apart from any other role.