You don't just say goodbye to a character like Iron Man overnight. It takes years. Literally.
Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame were shot back to back, with filming beginning on Infinity War in January 2017 and lasting for seven months, after which they had a month-long break before jumping in to shoot Endgame for another six months. Then there were the reshoots in the summer of 2018...
So even though emotions presumably churned as Robert Downey Jr. shot his final scenes as Iron Man and the witty genius who filled the suit, billionaire Tony Stark, there was a lot of time to wait before the months-long farewell tour even began in the spring of 2019 and Avengers: Endgame went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time.
Nor was this just any role. Not only did anchoring the Marvel Cinematic Universe eventually make Downey the highest-paid actor in Hollywood on more than one occasion and turn him into a Comic-Con icon, but scoring the role in the first place revived his whole career, and then some.
But now, after 12 years and nine Marvel movies, not including an uncredited cameo in The Incredible Hulk, grateful as he is... Downey is ready to move on.
And he moved on as soon as he could, not even taking all that much of a break before jumping right into his pet (so to speak) project, Dolittle, which he also produced along with wife Susan Downey—his partner in Team Downey—and has been enthusiastically promoting ahead of its Jan. 17 release.
"It's always fun [to work together], or we wouldn't do it," Susan told E! News at the Dolittle premiere this week, their first time bringing the kids along, as it was the first movie Dad has made that 7-year-old son Exton and 5-year-old daughter Avri could watch. "As you can imagine," she added, patting her husband's shoulder, "he makes it fun. There is not a day that goes by that he doesn't make it fun."
"I have to keep myself entertained," Downey joked.
On Today talking to host Hoda Kotb, Downey said that the kids "Siskel and Eberted us and we got thumbs-up" on the film, which is jam-packed with real-life stars and CGI animals and boasts a reported $175 million budget.
"It's got a lot of heart," Downey said. "And I hear people promote things like that and they go, 'yeah, me too, bro,'" he said, tapping his chest with his fist in mock solidarity, "but we really wanted to be impactful and be about communication and empathy, and all this stuff. Like the movies that I would see when I was a kid."
He was a little more familiar with Eddie Murphy's comedic 1998 take on the classic tales by Hugh Lofting than he was with the 1967 Rex Harrison version, but the 19th-century character appealed to him nonetheless—including the Welsh accent he tackled for the film.
Not to mention, Downey had apparently been getting into character for years. The menagerie at his family's home in Malibu now includes four alpacas, two cows, two goats and a flock of chickens, all of which he helps care for to the extent his expertise allows.
"I talk about them on TV," Downey quipped, "and then they say, 'Hey, thanks for the shout-out.'" As for whether he really does talk to them, he replied, "Don't we all?"
Whether or not Dolittle catches on and perhaps spawns a sequel remains to be seen, but Team Downey has more irons in the fire, having just signed a year-long, first-look deal with HBO, which will air the company's next production, a Perry Mason limited series starring Matthew Rhys and Tatiana Maslany.
"HBO provided a happy home for Perry Mason," the couple told The Hollywood Reporter. "We're excited to roll up our sleeves, expand the partnership, and tell stories that meet the standard their brand has come to represent."
Then there's always hosting, which Downey proved adept at this week when he sat in for Ellen DeGeneres. He both interviewed his Dolittle co-star Rami Malek and made a 10-year-old Iron Man fan's year when the boy joined his parents on the show for a chat with his hero.
"You may be wondering why I'm hosting a daytime talk show," he said during the monologue, delivered with aplomb. "I'm actually doing research for my next movie, it's called Avengers Take a Lesbian Cruise. So, just doing my job."
So what about the Marvel character he became synonymous with 12 years ago, a role no one could have played quite as he did, and which pretty much gave him the freedom moving forward to make any career move he wants? Was Downey heartbroken to say goodbye to Iron Man?
"Now that I'm middle-aged, to be honest," the 54-year-old actor told Kotb, "you start looking at the back nine and you go, 'Oh, this is part of the journey...that things end, and everyone's going somewhere."
Of course, the rumor already exists that he'll show up in Black Widow, an origin story for Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff that, if at all, would feature Tony Stark in a prequel situation.
"Those might be the stages of grief [that people are going through], I'm not sure," Downey quipped. "Are we in bargaining now?" He smiled.
"I am so pleased, just that I've wound up where I have, you know," he added. "I'm very fortunate. So, I'm not the kind of guy who—I want to try to keep it classy. We'll see. We'll see if I'm classy or not!"
In all honesty, though, Downey knows the difference between a good time and a bad one, and right now it's all gravy.
"Life is an obstacle course and I think," he observed, "if anything, that nothing is ever all OK at the same time. So I think it's important when you have those moments, when personally, professionally, the kids are healthy, you just want to plant a flag and say, this is one of those days where I have no complaints, I've caused no wreckage, and I owe no apologies—this is great."
(E! and Universal Pictures are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)