Robert Downey Jr. Is The Actor We’re Most Thankful For In 2008

The actor looks back on 'Iron Man' and 'Tropic Thunder,' and tells us what to expect in 'Sherlock Holmes' and 'The Avengers.'

The leaves are falling, and the turkey is practically in the oven. Yes, according to the calendar, it’s time to take stock and give thanks. So that’s precisely what we’re doing by talking to the actors and filmmakers that made 2008 a memorable year at the movies — a year filled with self-loathing kick-ass superheroes, scene-stealing Brits , Manolo-wearing women and the return of a very familiar man in a hat .

When the movies brain trust here at MTV News bandied about names for the one actor we are ultimately most thankful for in 2008 it was a no-brainer. Which actor energized and elevated two blockbusters to heights above and beyond what any of us expected? We knew he was an amazing actor but … a superhero? A dude playing the dude disguised as another dude? For those reasons and more, Robert Downey Jr. is the actor we are most thankful for.

MTV News caught up with Downey as he took a break during the production of his next presumptive blockbuster, the Guy Ritchie-directed “Sherlock Holmes.” He reflected on a year of triumphs and looked ahead to a 2009 that will see him donning the Holmes guise and playing Tony Stark once again in “Iron Man 2.”

MTV: Congratulations, Robert. It’s been quite a year. Do you have a speech prepared?

Robert Downey Jr.: Yes. [Clears throat.] Gratitude is best expressed with a gifting. What are you going to send to me? You’re MTV! I live in the stone age. Send me some cool music!

MTV: We’ll get to work on that. You really pursued the role of Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” as I recall.

Downey: Yeah. I chased it like a greyhound after a rabbit.

MTV: Does that make all the critical and commercial success it earned all the sweeter?

Downey: Absolutely. It’s also just a sense of destiny. Favreau and his film “Zathura” and little Bobby and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” came out on the same goddamn day! And neither of them did much. There was a sense of destiny between us.

MTV: What ran through your head the first time you saw yourself in the “Tropic Thunder” makeup?

Downey: I just said that’s a beautiful black man. Us Downeys have always somehow been on the cutting, maverick edge of a certain type of storytelling. Ben [Stiller] let me go.

MTV: Does having ridden such a personal and professional roller coaster color your perspective on this status you now have in Hollywood?

Downey: My life lessons were that the battles have to be hard fought and hard won. I certainly wouldn’t wish it on an enemy, but as it stands right now, I’m the actor you’re most thankful for. All this stuff does mean something. I grew up in and around MTV. I remember going to the MTV Video Music Awards with Anthony Michael Hall and David Lee Roth, driving down Fifth Avenue in a convertible Studebaker. David was wearing white gloves and tails. I was like, “Dude, is it ever going to get more modern than this?”

MTV: You’ve just signed on for three more turns as Iron Man . You’re in the middle of production on “Sherlock Holmes”

Downey: Which is hugely kick-ass, by the way.

MTV: Are you worried about overexposure?

Downey: There’s a ton of other stuff I could be doing, but the truth is, if I did nothing else but what I’m already lined up to do for the next five years, it might still be overexposure. I want to do some music again. Strangely, I got a record deal very easily the second time around, five seconds after the weekend grosses [for "Iron Man"] came in. I probably want to direct. I also want to reclaim a bit of sense of self. After all the stuff I’ve been through, part of it is just about continuing to heal up. And it’s hard to heal up when you’re going 210 mph.

MTV: As you begin work on the sequel, what can or should be improved upon from the first “Iron Man”?

Downey: Our idea is that this one brings us much more beneath the armor of Tony. It’s one thing to say you’re Iron Man, but what does it actually mean to become someone that can shoulder that responsibility? As we noticed at the end, he’s still not even responsible enough to read off the card that Shield and the government have given him. He still can’t help doing his own thing. He’ll have to come to terms with that. I think we could have more excitement. We could use a love triangle or two. I think it’s really important to keep up that idea of Tony’s interfacing with inanimate objects. He’s at his greatest ease when he’s faced with machines. I would love to see a little shout-out to the fact that he’s an MIT graduate. I love the idea of him inviting over a bunch of super-nerds from MIT who wind up figuring into ["Iron Man 3"] a little bit.

MTV: You know that “The Avengers” movie is the one every comic book fan is salivating for.

Downey: That means if we don’t get it right, it’s really going to suck. It has to be the crowning blow of Marvel’s best and brightest, because it’s the hardest thing to get right. It’s tough to spin all the plates for one of these characters.

MTV: Are you guys discussing “Iron Man 2″ as a story that will feed directly into “Avengers”?

Downey: It seems natural that it would at least introduce that factor. My inclination is to bring it another step. The danger you run with colliding all these worlds is that Jon was very certain that “Iron Man” should be set in a very realistic way. Nothing that happened in “Iron Man” is really outside the realm of possibility. Once you start talking about Valhalla and supersized super soldiers and jolly green giants, it warrants much further discussion.

MTV: How is “Sherlock Holmes” going?

Downey: Guy and I are getting along famously. We’re basically two reformed thugs who were somehow picked to reinvigorate this ultra-iconoclastic character. We went right back to the book. I was like, ‘Look, he’s an expert in single-stick fighting.’ And Guy’s like, ‘He’s a bare-knuckle boxer.’ We’re like, now we can kick some ass!

MTV: What aspects of the story are you most excited about showing off?

Downey: The stuff that was always in the story that they never had the budget to expose is a field day. The fact that Watson was a ladies man, a sometime degenerate gambler and a wounded veteran of an Afghan campaign, to me, is the most interesting stuff.

MTV: Would you call this an origin story?

Downey: It’s definitely an origin story.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Iron Man,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “Tropic Thunder.”

For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.