Robert Downey Jr. improvised arguably Tony Stark's most intense scene in Avengers: Endgame. Capping off The Infinity Saga, the Joe and Anthony Russo-directed flick also wrapped up the personal arcs of some of MCU's principal characters, including its inaugural hero, Iron Man. Being Downey's final hurrah as the beloved genius, billionaire - a role that's been synonymous with him since he debuted it in 2008 via Jon Favreau's Iron Man, Avengers 4 is arguably his best performance in the role. And nothing encapsulates it more than his confrontation with Chris Evans' Steve Rogers/Captain America at the start of the film.
After three weeks floating in space with no hope of being rescued following the catastrophic end of Avengers: Infinity War, Tony and Nebula were safely brought back home thanks to Captain Marvel, reuniting him with his fellow surviving Avengers. Unlike the Earth-bound heroes who were actively looking for the Mad Titan in the hopes of undoing The Decimation, Iron Man was physically and emotionally spent. So when Captain America tried to squeeze him for any information that could help locate the villain, Tony snapped. Lashing out, he reminded the super soldier how his repeated warnings about this imminent threat fell on deaf ears, and how Steve valued his own freedom over the safety of Earth in Captain America: Civil War. He also pointed out how Captain America promised him that when push came to shove, they would deal with this extraterrestrial danger together, and if they lost, they would do that together too. Since Tony battled and lost to Thanos while alone on an alien planet, Tony ended his impassioned speech by calling Steve a "liar" to his face. It was undoubtedly one of Downey's best-acted scenes in the MCU, and it turns out, he improvised most of it.
Empire released a feature for Endgame where the filmmakers, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, provided commentary about some of the film's most memorable moments and plot points. One such comment reveals that Tony's emotional breakdown was straight from Downey. Director Anthony Russo revealed that the bit didn't have a lot of takes because the actor was fully expending himself each of the few times they filmed it.
I think that was one of Downey's most inspired performance moments in the movie. He very much reverts to, this is the guy who felt forsaken by his father - you can see his intimacy and trust issues in that moment when he turns on Cap. Downey performed the scene with a lot of energy. We didn't do it many times, because he was expending himself so, so much. He understood it very well.
It's no secret that Downey is known as a great improviser - something that his co-stars like to point out when asked about the experience sharing a scene with him. While the general narrative structure was laid out, much of Iron Man was improvised, and that turned out pretty great. In fact, his now iconic "I am Iron Man" final line from the 2008 film was not in the script. Given that precedent, Marvel Studios adapted this more collaborative filming scheme that welcomes actor input regarding their characters. This gives the cast a voice when it comes to how they portray their respective parts, and makes it easier for them to play their roles effectively.
Downey played Tony Stark brilliantly over the last decade, and he always brought his A-game movie-after-movie. However, Avengers: Endgame allowed him to showcase his range as an actor, outside of Tony's quippy, sarcastic persona. He did such a great job that campaigns for an Oscar nod quickly began after the film's release. In-universe, the scene was also pivotal in wrapping up Iron Man's story after he was painted as the MCU's quasi-villain in the last several years, especially when paired up with Captain America, who's the very definition of a hero.
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