Robert Downey Jr. Nearly Joined DC Before His Marvel Career

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Batman’s numerous big-screen iterations have brought a long list of different Bruce Waynes who have faced off with three Jokers (four if you count Joaquin Phoenix), three Catwomen, two Penguins, two Banes, two Riddlers, and two Harvey Dents. But, up to now, there’s been only one big screen live-action interpretation of Jonathan Crane, also known as Scarecrow. Cillian Murphy — one of this year’s Best Actor Academy Award nominees — made the role his through a nuanced portrayal of the mystifying villain in Batman Begins and its sequels. But had things gone differently in a meeting preceding the production of the film, we might have gotten a very different Scarecrow.

In yet another tale for the multiverse, Robert Downey Jr. revealed in a Q&A session following an Oppenheimer screening that he once met with Christopher Nolan to talk about the part of Scarecrow in the Dark Knight trilogy. This would’ve brought him head-to-head with Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne in a fight of epic proportions. Perhaps it’d have been the closest we’d be to getting a Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne showdown of sorts on the big screen. Now, we know Downey Jr. certainly didn’t get the part — having the actor show up as part of DC Comics’ big screen multiverse is something we still have yet to see — but what exactly went down in his conversation with Nolan, and what were its repercussions?

Robert Downey Jr. Pitched Himself to Christopher Nolan To Be Scarecrow
We can all agree on what Downey Jr.’s everlasting, undeniable, and, perhaps, most defining quality is — his unwavering confidence. In his meeting with Nolan, he pitched himself with the certainty of having the ability to embody the part. Somewhere along his pitch, he noted things going sideways with Nolan. Not by anything in particular, given Nolan was polite during the whole meeting but, at some point, he just accepted the fact he wasn’t getting the role.

But while Downey Jr. didn’t get to play Scarecrow, Murphy got to intertwine the part with his gravitas and deliver a fearsome portrayal of Jonathan Crane. A terrifying but silly-looking villain that was reserved for the comic book and animated adventures of the Caped Crusader, got a much-deserved darker upgrade. Batman Begins stands as one of the most solid entries in Batman lore, thanks in part to his take. Besides, had Downey Jr. been cast in the trilogy, it might have gotten in the way of him being front-and-center of a certain multimillion dollar franchise. While starring in the Dark Knight trilogy wouldn’t have prevented him from joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps he wouldn’t have been the first choice for the role of a lifetime: Tony Stark, aka Iron Man.

Downey Jr.’s confidence in having the chops to play Jonathan Crane is not unfounded. It’s easy to envision, since Crane and Tony Stark are more similar than one might think at first glance. Both are scheming masterminds who see the bigger picture to execute their plots, and have taken advantage of their enemies’ (and even their allies’) weaknesses, exploiting them for their benefit. Crane and Stark also share a defining trait — they are addicts. While Stark’s addiction is to alcohol and has been under control ever since Iron Man 2, Crane is addicted to the rush brought forth by fear, and it serves as his motor to move forward with his evil machinations. One could argue the MCU’s Tony Stark is addicted to his version of protecting Earth, which causes problems in numerous Avengers outings.

Although Crane and Stark share these similarities, the main difference lies in their core intentions. Whereas Stark’s goals have always been altruistic (though sometimes a bit misguided) and searching for the common good, Crane has always sought chaos and vengeance. Although the MCU version of Stark has seen some dark days, he’s never gotten twisted enough to bring forth an obscure side with real repercussions. The exploration of a truly darker Downey Jr. in a comic book role, whether it’s DC or Marvel, is something audiences have yet to witness.

So, if getting a darker Downey Jr. role is something you crave, look no further. Life has a way of making every piece fall into place and, in this case, finally united Downey Jr. and Nolan. Years after their chat regarding the Scarecrow role, the duo teamed up for Oppenheimer, along with Murphy — the actual Scarecrow — nonetheless. In the film, the roles are reversed, with Murphy playing the titular well-intentioned J. Robert Oppenheimer and Downey Jr. in the antagonistic role of Lewis Strauss. Strauss becomes fixated on bringing down Oppenheimer after he assumes the scientist had a conversation about him with Albert Einstein (Tom Conti). He goes to the length of scheming to summon a security hearing to undermine Oppenheimer’s influence and achievements.

This new piece of information about Downey Jr. and Nolan meeting all those years back makes you wonder what his Scarecrow would’ve looked like. With Downey Jr. doubling down on not intending to return to the MCU, we’ve yet to see if this decision expands to superhero films in general, or if there’s a way to see him in a DCU adaptation. The lesson here is that Downey Jr. and Nolan work well, regardless of the film’s genre. Perhaps, from now on, Downey Jr. could join Murphy and company in the roster of Nolan’s frequent collaborators. Timing is everything, and the timing for Downey Jr. and Nolan to finally collaborate came at the right moment.

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