Christopher Nolan explains why he was ‘afraid’ of Robert Downey Jr when they first met

Christopher Nolan has explained why he was “little afraid” of Robert Downey Jr when they first met in the early 2000s during casting for Batman Begins.

Downey Jr, 58, revealed earlier this month he had an interview with Nolan regarding his potential casting as the villain “Scarecrow” in the Dark Knight franchise. Instead, Nolan decided to cast Cillian Murphy, in a move that kicked off a long-term collaborative relationship between Murphy and the director.

“I remember meeting [Nolan] for tea and I was like, ‘He doesn’t seem like he’s really in on this interview.’ And he was polite and all that. But you can tell when someone is kind of like, ‘It’s not going to go anywhere,’” the Iron Man actor said on The Playlist podcast.

In a joint interview with Downey Jr in the New York Times, Nolan said: “I 100 per cent knew you weren’t the guy [for Scarecrow].

“In my head that was already cast. But I always wanted to meet you … I was a huge admirer of yours and therefore selfishly just wanted to take the meeting.

“But I was also a little afraid of you, you know. I had heard all kinds of stories about how you were crazy. It was only a few years after the last of those stories that had come out about you.”

Downey Jr has previously said he lived through “30 years of dependency, depravity, and despair” before making his comeback as the star of Marvel’s Iron Man.

Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Nolan at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival (Getty Images)
Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Nolan at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival (Getty Images)

The Oscar nominee, and one of the world’s most successful actors, made headlines in the late 1990s and early 2000s after he was arrested and jailed over drug-related charges.

Downey Jr was first arrested in 1996 for possession of heroin, cocaine and an unloaded gun. He has spoken openly about his struggles with drug addiction before becoming sober in July 2003.

Nolan would go on to cast Downey Jr as Admiral Lewis Strauss in his historical epic Oppenheimer, which has gained him the nomination for the Oscars’ Best Supporting Actor prize.

Robert Downey Jr in ‘Oppenheimer' (Universal Pictures)
Robert Downey Jr in ‘Oppenheimer' (Universal Pictures)

“I just really wanted to see this incredible movie star put down all of that baggage, that charisma, and just lose himself in a dramatic portrayal of a very complicated man. I always wanted to work with him, really. Once I stopped being afraid of him,” The Inception director said about Downey Jr.

“You’re always looking to work with great actors, but you’re also looking to catch them in a moment in their lives and careers where you’ve got something to offer them that they haven’t done before, or haven’t done in a long time,” he added.

The film, about the nuclear arms race, swept the Academy Award nominations this year, earning 13 nods in total. Cillian Murphy, who played the father of the atomic bomb J Robert Oppenheimer, is up for best actor, while Christopher Nolan is in the running for best director.

The full interview can be read on The New York Times here.