Robert Downey Jr. returns in 'Iron Man 2'

By Karen Butler

Robert Downey Jr. admits he pulled out all the stops to get his fellow Irish-American, reformed bad-boy actor Mickey Rourke to co-star in his blockbuster-to-be "Iron Man 2."

The two beloved, rehabilitated stars spent considerable time together during the 2008-09 film awards season, during which Downey Jr. was promoting his outrageous comedy "Tropic Thunder," while Rourke was campaigning on behalf of his heartbreaking independent drama "The Wrestler."

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"Robert . . . was lobbying every time they sat together to try and get him to join the movie," producer Kevin Feige told reporters in Los Angeles recently about Downey's Jr.'s crusade to get Rourke to play the villain in the superhero sequel.

"I really worked you like a rib, didn't I?," Downey Jr. teased Rourke at the press conference. "It was embarrassing. I was literally begging you in public."

Although he may have been hard-won, Rourke admitted he was glad he signed on to play Ivan Vanko/Whiplash in "Iron Man 2," especially after his substance-abuse problems and erratic behavior made him a pariah in Hollywood for many years leading up to "The Wrestler."

"I had a lot of fun," recalled the 57-year-old Schenectady, N.Y. native, who previously starred in "Barfly" and "9 1/2 Weeks." "It was great, 'cause I worked with some great people and it was real easy. [Downey Jr.] is real easy to work with, makes it fun, and, ah, it was nice 'cause I just came off working on ('The Wrestler,') a film that there was no budget and I didn't even have a chair to sit in. I remember the first day [on this] I asked for a cappuccino and they asked me, 'What kind?'"

Downey, Jr., who battled an addiction to drugs for years and spent time in jail as a result of it, has said he has been sober since 2003. Although the 45-year-old New York City native worked consistently through the rough times, it was usually in low-budget, artistically challenging endeavors that few people saw. The 2008 picture "Iron Man" marked the first time he was trusted to carry a major studio flim since his health and legal crises. Reportedly a consummate professional on set, Downey Jr. helped make "Iron Man" a worldwide blockbuster, which, in turn, assisted in the restoration of Downey Jr. to his rightful status as a Hollywood A-lister.

When it came to approaching the second installment in the "Iron Man" franchise, Downey Jr. said he and director Jon Favreau attempted to put themselves in the moviegoers' chairs and anticipate what they would want to see on the screen.

"I think we all just labored really hard to say . . . what do we expect?'" said Downey Jr., who plays millionaire weapons designer Tony Stark, as well as the hero Iron Man in the movies. "To me, the mental and emotional aspects and development of Tony, were -- it's strange to say 'personal,' 'cause it's not necessarily relating to my life, but just the mythology of saying you're something and being that thing or something is entirely different."

Downey Jr. was also affected by the story of his character's father, Howard Stark.

"This whole idea of Howard Stark . . . and the shadow of that legacy that we always were talking about, Mickey and I, about being kind of two sides of the same coin. One who was able to escape that captivity and one who saw his father die in the ruins of improper recognition and having to reckon with that. And, so, really all of the characters, you know. I mean Black Widow, Natalie, in certain places, bringing me back to an extended family that I've always had. And Mickey as Anton in telling me that all is not well and people have vendettas for reasons that I might not understand, but that I need to understand. And Rhodey is there saying, 'Hey you've always had me kind of on your wing so why won't you really let me help you?'"

Next up for Downey Jr. -- star of "Less Than Zero," "Chaplin," "In Dreams" and "Zodiac" -- is the big-screen comedy "Due Date" with Michelle Monaghan, an as-yet unnamed sequel to "Sherlock Holmes" and the superhero ensemble picture "The Avengers." Rourke will soon be seen in the Sylvester Stallone action flick "The Expendables."

"Iron Man 2" opens nationwide Friday (May 7.)