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Years Before Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr. Apparently Met With Christopher Nolan About A Major Batman Begins Role, And Their Chat Sounds Awkward

 Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer.
Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer.

Robert Downey Jr. left an indelible mark on the superhero genre through his scene-stealing role as Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man. Interestingly, though it would seem that a few years before he helped kickstart the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, he was circling another comic book movie. Downey apparently met with Christopher Nolan to discuss a role in Batman Begins, and it was definitely an important part. However, it just wasn’t meant to be for him to work with Nolan – that is until years later when they teamed up for the critically acclaimed Oppenheimer. With that, the witty actor shared some details on his chat with Nolan, which sounds somewhat awkward.

Before he played one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the big screen, the beloved actor was surprisingly in talks to play one of Gotham City’s most notorious criminals. Robert Downey Jr. told an excited crowd during a panel for American Cinematheque that he was once circling the role of Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow. It sounds like the celebrated actor was very  interested in playing the part of the former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist, though his meeting with the director could’ve gone a bit better. Check out the video clip from the event, which was shared by @griffschiller on X:

So it would appear that the filmmaker was “polite” but didn’t seem to gel with the actor at the time. As the Tropic Thunder alum mentioned during the chat, the Inception helmer didn’t seem like he was “leaning in on this interview.” He also said that “you can tell when someone is not” feeling your energy. I don’t know just how cringey the conversation may or may not have been, but the bashful look that appeared on the actor’s face while telling the story could indicate that it was a little embarrassing. Despite the seemingly awkward nature of the discussion, it’s cool that the star did get to meet with the director about the role, and it’s fascinating to consider who he would’ve approached the fan-favorite character.

Cillian Murphy looking oddly content in Batman Begins.
Cillian Murphy looking oddly content in Batman Begins.

The role of Dr. Crane would ultimately go to Cillian Murphy, who’s appeared in many Christopher Nolan films and also auditioned for the role of Batman. Murphy’s performance was well received, and he reprised the role in the two sequels - The Dark Knight (one of the best movies of the 2000s) as well as The Dark Knight Rises. It’s honestly hard to imagine anyone else playing the doctor-turned-supervillain. Yet, interestingly enough, there was another notable name that was reportedly considered for the gig.

Christopher Nolan apparently thought of Gary Oldman for the character as well. However, as Oldman himself explained, he wanted to step away from villainous roles at the time in his career. So his manager apparently suggested that he’d fit the mold of Jim Gordon, for which he was cast and received praise.

As for Robert Downey Jr., it may have been for the best that he didn’t end up getting hired. If he had, there’s a chance that he may not have been tapped to play Tony Stark years later. The thought of him holding down both roles isn’t too wild but, given the notoriety the Scarecrow role could’ve brought him, Marvel Studios may not have been so keen to hire a major name from another big superhero franchise.

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I’d say that it all worked out in the end, especially since RDJ did eventually get to work with Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy as a member of the Oppenheimer cast. Robert Downey Jr. has been lauded for his role as Rear Admiral Lewis Strauss, who ironically serves as an antagonist to Murphy’s titular physicist. Throughout this awards season, Downey has won a Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award and other honors and, at present, he’s a 2024 Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor. So, with all of that in mind, I don’t think the A-lister is too bummed about having that awkward Batman-related conversation with Christopher Nolan and not landing Scarecrow.

You can see the leading man’s work as Tony Stark by streaming the Marvel movies in order using a Disney+ subscription. And, starting on February 16, Peacock subscribers can stream Oppenheimer and witness his stunning work.