Why Did Robert Downey Jr. Bail On Gravity?

Gravity was the sort of project that bounced around Hollywood for years, trapped in development hell as the WB struggled in vain to put the project together. It was ultimately Alfonso Cuaron’s baby, but he simply didn’t have the clout or reputation to demand the necessary $100 million budget. His entry in the Harry Potter series was the lowest grossing, and his previous film, Children of Men was revered, but a box office disappointment. But at one point, he has a couple of saviors: the two biggest stars in Hollywood.

Gravity started to take shape with Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr. in the pivotal roles that eventually went to Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. But, in speaking with THR, Cuaron explains exactly why that didn’t happen, with both stars dropping out and banishing the movie to further development struggles. The reasons why the choosy Jolie opted out were simple: she’s a busy gal, and instead of waiting for the film to take shape, she dove into Maleficent, before directing her second film, Unbroken. Cuaron has very little insight into any other reason Jolie might have opted out of the complex production, though it’s not hard to guess: she does have a handful of kids and the world’s sexiest man to care for back home.

The complications with Downey are more interesting. Turns out that the once (and future?) Iron Man can’t stick to the script. Quoth Cuaron:

"It became very clear that, as we started to nail the technology, or narrow the technology, that was going to be a big obstacle for his performance. I think Robert is fantastic if you give him the freedom to completely breathe and improvise and change stuff. [But] we tried one of these technologies and it was not compatible. And, after that, we [had a] week that we pretended as if nothing was happening and then we talked and said, 'This is not going to work. This is tough.'"

Not a surprise that Downey likes crazy make-‘em-ups: when you’re the biggest star in the world, you can basically say whatever you want, screenwriters be damned. Which is not to demean Downey’s talents: the first two Iron Man movies were infamously, ah, under-scripted, leaving Downey and company to basically improvise whole scenes on their own. Yes, these are the same Iron Man movies that served as the supposed foundation of the Marvel Universe. You can see how Downey’s improvisational skills have made others billions, and aren’t likely to be changed anytime soon, no matter how many crazy space movies Cuaron wants to make.

The entire interview with Cuaron, which touches on his full career, is worth a read. Like any candid, in-depth interview with a director, it makes you never want to be a part of the profession: after Cuaron won critic plaudits for Y Tu Mama Tambien, a picture some would consider his best, he says he was "unemployed and without money," until J.K. Rowling stepped to the plate to select him for Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. Cuaron still has no Gravity follow-up planned, though apparently whatever he opts to do will be wildly different, as he claims, "Once I finish a film, I never see them again."