In the film, Downey Jr. plays an Australian-born (method) actor who undergoes “pigmentation alteration” to portray a Black character. During his chat with Rogan, the actor recalled his mother being horrified over the role.
“My mother was horrified,” Downey Jr. said. “‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah me too, Mom.’ When Ben called and said, ‘Hey I’m doing this thing’ – you know I think Sean Penn had passed on it or something. Possibly wisely. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that and I’ll do that after Iron Man.’”
After initially being hyped about the role, Downey Jr. started having doubts.
“Then I started thinking, ‘This is a terrible idea, wait a minute.’ Then I thought, ‘Well hold on dude, get real here, where is your heart?,’” he remembers. “My heart is…I get to be black for a summer in my mind, so there’s something in it for me. The other thing is, I get to hold up to nature the insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion, just my opinion.”
Downey Jr. claims the response to his use of blackface in the movie was overwhelmingly positive.
“[Ben] knew exactly what the vision for this was, he executed it, it was impossible to not have it be an offensive nightmare of a movie,” Downey Jr. said. “And 90 percent of my black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.’ I can’t disagree with [the other 10 percent], but I know where my heart lies. I think that it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and out of its time, but to me, it blasted the cap on [the issue]. I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defense, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”
Scroll up and watch him tell it via the YouTube clip above.