Male Star of the Year: Robert Downey Jr.

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In the 38 years since his film debut, Robert Downey Jr. has proven one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: No matter the movie, he is incapable of turning in an uninteresting performance. His recent, critically acclaimed roles in 2005's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," 2007's "Zodiac" and MGM's recently released "Charlie Bartlett" have only cemented his reputation as a true actor's actor.

And while his films haven't always found large audiences, this summer's highly anticipated "Iron Man" (Paramount) promises to be the blockbuster that connects Downey with the masses. On the eve of being named ShoWest's Male Star of the Year, the actor took a short break to speak with Trisha Tucker for The Hollywood Reporter about comic-book movies, action figures and how he's picking his roles these days.

The Hollywood Reporter: When you think of Robert Downey Jr. the actor, "action hero" isn't the first thing that comes to mind. What drew you to "Iron Man"?
Robert Downey Jr.: (Jon) Favreau was directing it. And when I went (to the Marvel headquarters) to meet with Avi Arad and Kevin Feige and all the bigwigs there, I walked down the halls and saw certain of my peers in all these big, crazy, cool posters and stuff, and I'm like, "This has got to be fun." Plus, no one who was in a really successful superhero franchise has ever said to me, "Boy, I really wish I hadn't done that."

THR: What kind of physical training process did you have to go through to play Tony Stark?
Downey: My job was just to get in shape like I was in my mid-20s, which was kind of hilarious and also pretty effective. I've done martial arts for years, so I knew I could get in shape without injuring myself. The point of the story is that (Stark) puts on a suit, and this suit gives him this power that he didn't have access to before, so I didn't want to get all huge. But I also didn't want to look like a schlub. So I worked my ass off, and then the three
or four days where I was supposed to look like I was in shape, I pretty much ended up looking that way. It was probably 1,500 hours of effort for 11 seconds of screen time.

THR: There's a big difference between the genres of the films you're releasing this year
("Charlie Bartlett," "Iron Man," DreamWorks' "Tropic Thunder"). Is there a particular genre you most enjoy?
Downey: I think my favorite genre is "good" (laughs). By which I mean you work with people because you think something better can come out of it with the two of you working together than with other combinations.

THR: So you would say that your main criteria for picking a project is the personnel attached?
Downey: Well, not so much anymore, because it used to be that I would be happy to go and be less than central in a project if I thought that everything else was in place. Now I feel like, if you're going to work that hard, you might as well have a big
payoff. And I think the payoff is carrying movies rather than supporting. Not that I'm against that -- I've just done that so much.

THR: Have you seen your "Iron Man" action figure yet?
Downey: I have. It looks pretty good. We actually had an "Iron Man" mask on top of our Christmas tree this year. I'm not worshiping false idols -- it was almost more like the reason we were having a good Christmas. He was kind of like the patron saint of there being big boxes under the tree. For reasons that shouldn't be too difficult to calculate, I'm incredibly grateful to have the opportunities that I do. It doesn't take much for me to be stoked.   
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