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Oppenheimer Star Robert Downey Jr. Reveals He Lobbied for Scarecrow Role in Batman Begins

The comic book gods saw fit to make him Iron Man instead, and for that, we are incredibly grateful.

By Josh Weiss

He may be up for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Lewis Strauss in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer (currently available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment), but Robert Downey Jr. will always be remembered first and foremost for another role. It is very rare to find an actor so closely associated with a single character. Unless you're some kind of professional contrarian, which does sound like a pretty sweet gig, there is no denying the fact that RDJ was, is, and always will be the definitive live-action Iron Man. That's it, that's the tweet, as the kids used to say in the days before X. 

No one else could have done what he did with the role of Tony Stark within the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Period. End of discussion. With that said, Hollywood — much like the Marvel Universe — is an ethereal realm of fascinating "What If...?" scenarios. Had cinematic history taken an alternate route, we'd probably be linking Downey with a vastly different comic book figure today.

For More on Robert Downey Jr.:
Why Robert Downey Jr. Chose Oppenheimer for His Post-MCU Debut
Dom Toretto vs. Iron Man? Vin Diesel wants to battle Robert Downey Jr. in final 'Fast & Furious'
Jon Favreau pleaded with the Russo Bros. not to kill Iron Man in 'Avengers: Endgame': 'You can't do this!'

Robert Downey Jr. Lobbied for Villain Role in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins

Robert Downey Jr appears in Oppenheimer (2023).

Recently speaking at an event hosted by American Cinematheque, Downey revealed that he attempted to secure the role of Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow, in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (currently streaming on Peacock along with its two sequels). When the future MCU star learned about the superhero project, he was certain he had the chops to tackle its fear-loving villain.

"I was like, 'I'm Scarecrow!'" Downey remembered in a video shared on X by FilmSpeak founder, Griffin Schiller. "I remember meeting [Nolan] for tea and I'm like, 'He doesn't seem like he's really leaning in on this interview.' He was polite and all that, but you can tell when it's not gonna go your way."

As we know, the gig ultimately went to Cillian Murphy, who initially tried out for Bruce Wayne/Batman. Despite losing out on the coveted cape and cowl, Murphy gained a steady working relationship with Nolan. Since 2005, the duo has reunited five more times on The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Dunkirk (2017), and, of course, Oppenheimer (2023).

And speaking of Oppenheimer, Downey's desire to collaborate with Nolan was was finally granted when he landed the role of Lewis Strauss in the critically-acclaimed historical thriller. His unforgettable performance as a founding member of the Atomic Energy Commission and scheming adversary to physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer yielded a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

"This was Christopher Nolan, doing something that was important to him," the actor states in the official production notes from Universal Pictures. "The cast was this large gathering of folks who have their choice of projects. And just as soon as we were under way, world events lined up in a way that turned this movie into an important metaphor that could speak to any number of things. So, it was kind of a no- brainer."

If you want to revisit Nolan's Batman films, the entire Dark Knight trilogy is streaming now on Peacock alongside several other Nolan classics: Memento, Inception, and Dunkirk. Oppenheimer lands exclusively on the service next Friday, February 16, or it's available now from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.