We’ve become used to seeing Robert Downey Jr. as a blockbuster talent in recent years, whether it’s as Iron Man in the MCU or more recently as Lewis Strauss in the Christopher Nolan movie Oppenheimer. But he might’ve added another Oscar-winning success story to that roster, if he’d had a little more patience with technology.
Ironically given his role as tech genius Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. simply couldn’t get past his frustration with the machinery Alfonso Cuarón needed to use to shoot the amazing space adventure Gravity. The Iron Man cast‘s leading man was on course to join one of the best science fiction movies of the 21st century as astronaut Matt Kowalski, who was eventually played by George Clooney. That was until he had to grapple with some machinery.
“We were doing a test with one of the many machines, and [Downey Jr] lost patience with the machine and stuff,” Cuarón told Empire Magazine in an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of one of his best movies. “I think from that moment, he realized that it was going to be very difficult. You know, that experience was not for him.”
In some ways, we can understand why Downey Jr. struggled with all of this. As Cuarón explained, the machinery used to create the effect of weightlessness placed restrictions on the actors, which meant there was little room to improvise or change things up between takes.
The director said: “It was very constrained, the way we could work, because once we were programmed with all the technology, we had very little room to move and do changes. That was challenging for me as well, because I’m used to improvising as I go.”
Downey Jr. would have been great casting for the role, but we think Clooney did an excellent job too. He’s one of the best actors around at portraying easy-going, slightly smarmy charisma. Kowalski is an annoying guy, but there’s a certain charm to him too. With pretty limited screen time, Clooney pulls it off.
But Gravity is, at its heart, Sandra Bullock’s film. Her performance drives every moment of the tension and emotional heft at the core of what could easily have been just an empty exercise in spectacle. With her at the center of it all, it’s a masterful movie that deserved every single one of its seven Oscars.
For more on Downey Jr, check out our guide to the Marvel movies in order and read our Oppenheimer review for more on his turn towards villainy. You can also learn how Downey Jr. almost became a notorious DC villain before Iron Man and find out about all of the new movies coming your way.