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Robert Downey Jr. says his ‘Tropic Thunder’ turn was in part to “clown” on actors

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As part of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s ongoing Conversations chats with this year’s Oscar nominees, Best Supporting Actors Robert Downey Jr. (Oppenheimer), Sterling K. Brown (American Fiction) and Willem Dafoe (Poor Things) shared their thoughts on their craft via video chat — and got a chance to fanboy over each others’ work.

Brown “had to ask” about “one of his favorite performances”: Downey’s previously Oscar-nominated turn in the 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder, in which he played Australian actor Kirk Lazarus, who underwent a pigment surgery to play Lincoln Osiris, a Black soldier in the Vietnam War.

“How were you not scared out of your blanking mind doing it?” Brown asked.

My mother called me and said, ‘Bobby … Do not destroy your career,"” Downey replied, cracking up his fellow actors.

He also likened it to All in the Family, which used humor to poke fun at bigotry.

“I knew that we were just about to exit the age of rationality for what intent was,” Downey said. “But I also, I couldn’t resist the possibility of being black for a summer,” Downey said, causing Brown to nearly fall out of his chair laughing — though he was on mute.

Downey called the role “a mask,” noting, “The mask was so freeing. I just finished shooting Iron Man and …I just needed to wear a mask and make fun of the Emperor.”

He continued, “I just needed to clown the underserved area of actors are so f****** stupid. How can we send ourselves up to be free to say, ‘It ain’t that deep, brother."”

For his part, Brown said he and his wife often quote Osiris around the home, which Downey called “a glowing endorsement.”

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