Robert Downey Jr says his mother was ‘horrified’ by blackface role in Tropic Thunder

Actor said the parody film was his chance to call out the ‘insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists’

Ellie Harrison
Tuesday 21 January 2020 09:42 GMT
Robert Downey Jr justifies blackface role in Tropic Thunder

Robert Downey Jr has said his mother was “horrified” by his blackface role in the 2008 film Tropic Thunder.

In the Hollywood parody, Downey Jr played an Australian method actor who wears blackface to play an African-American soldier in a film within the film.

Speaking on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Downey Jr recalled his mother’s reaction to that part of the role.

“My mother was horrified,” he said. “‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah me too, mom.’”

Explaining how he overcame his doubts and ultimately decided to take on the role in the Ben Stiller-directed film, the actor said: “When Ben called and said, ‘Hey I’m doing this thing’ – you know I think Sean Penn had passed on it or something. Possibly wisely. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that and I’ll do that after Iron Man.’

“Then I started thinking, ‘This is a terrible idea, wait a minute.’ Then I thought, ‘Well hold on dude, get real here, where is your heart? My heart is… I get to be black for a summer in my mind, so there’s something in it for me. The other thing is, I get to hold up to nature the insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion, just my opinion.”

Revealing his justification for using blackface in the film, he added: “[Ben] knew exactly what the vision for this was, he executed it, it was impossible to not have it be an offensive nightmare of a movie. And 90 per cent of my black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.’”

“I can’t disagree with [the other 10 per cent], but I know where my heart lies,” he said. “I think that it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and out of its time, but to me it was a blasting cap on [the issue]… I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defence, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”

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