No one can forget Robert Downey Jr.’s controversial role in Ben Stiller’s 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder. Over a decade since the feature film was released, the actor is now breaking his silence over the role that earned him a slew of major award nominations despite the anticipated backlash.
Downey Jr. appeared as a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast to promote his new movie, Dolitte. The actor had no apprehensions about discussing what is arguably his most debated on-screen character, Kirk Lazarus. Tropic Thunder saw Downey Jr. in full blackface. His character was an overly committed Australian actor who had his skin surgically darkened to take on the role of a black soldier in a war film.
“My mother was horrified,” Downey Jr. confessed while recalling the casting process.
“‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’” his mother told him at the time during a conversation about the role. “I was like, ‘Yeah me too, mom.’”
He then revealed that Sean Penn was offered the role but gave it a pass. A move that Downey Jr. describes as “Possibly wisely.” As for what convinced him to take on the role despite his doubts he said:
“…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.”
Later on, he reflected, “In my defense, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is…”
His Tropic Thunder role earned him best supporting actor nominations from the BAFTAs, Golden Globes and Oscars, all of which he had lost to Heath Ledger’s Joker.