The Original Iron Man Suit Prop Had One Big Problem

Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man.
Image: Marvel Studios

Robert Downey, Jr. helped turn Iron Man from a Marvel hero who was fairly recognizable to an iconic hero and a big Hollywood draw. And he did it all without being able to see.

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Talking to David Letterman for his Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman, Robert Downey, Jr. shared how, in the early days of shooting the Iron Man movies, there were some unique challenges created by the film’s practical props. Namely: they blinded him.

“Initially, everything was really there,” Downey said in a clip released from the show. “They wanted to spend as little as they could on CG replacement, so I remember this helmet went on, and there’d be a shot, and I’d be in this whole suit, and they’d say: ‘All right, Robert, it’s like you landed on the roof, so when we say action, just go like that, like you just landed, and then start moving forward.’ So I put this helmet on, and it slammed closed, and I couldn’t see anything, and then these LED lights went on and it was like The Manchurian Candidate… I was absolutely blinded.”

That certainly makes acting in elaborate action sequences and character-heavy moments alike pretty challenging. Later, that would be much less of a problem, as the Marvel Studios business became a cutting-edge driver of visual effects, meaning that Iron Man’s suit, alongside pretty much every other larger-than-life element of the Marvel universe, soon enough lived only on computers. Which, from Downey, Jr.’s perspective, was likely a huge improvement.

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“By the time we were doing the last Avengers, they’d just be like, ‘Hey, Robert, would you mind putting on—’ ‘Helmet?! No! Yes, no. Put two dots here, and then you can paint it in later,’” he said.

The third season of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction launches on October 21st. 


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io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

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DISCUSSION

rogue-jyn-tonic
Rogue-Jyn-Tonic

I remember reading somewhere that in the ‘early’ days he had to carry that car battery for his heart thingy everywhere by himself. Then as the years went on and budgets increased and battery sizes decreased, they were able to get him his own assistant to hold it, then eventually even the shrapnel became cgi.