Robert Downey Jr. Defends ‘Tropic Thunder’ Role, Says Audiences Have ‘Clickbait Addiction to Grievance’

The actor drew comparisons between his controversial role in the 2008 Ben Stiller-directed film to 'All in the Family.'

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Robert Downey Jr. is reflecting on Tropic Thunder and the controversy the 2008 film inspired.

The actor appeared on an episode of the podcast Literally! With Rob Lowe, and when talking about Tropic Thunder, in which he played a method actor named Kirk Lazarus that portrays a Black man in full blackface, Downey Jr. defended his work, pointing to the satire's broader nuance.

The 58-year-old recalled being invited to a shiva for the late Norman Lear, who died last month at 101, and seeing the disclaimer that ran before a clip of his sitcom All in the Family.

“People should look it up, exactly what it is, because it is an antidote to this clickbait addiction to grievance that [people seem] to have with everything these days,” said Downey Jr. on the podcast, per Variety.

Per PBS-affiliate WTTW, the disclaimer included: “[All in the Family] seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show - in a mature fashion - just how absurd they are.”

Downey Jr. added, “The language was saying, ‘Hey, this is the reason that we’re doing these things that, in a vacuum, you could pick apart and say are wrong and bad.’ There used to be an understanding with an audience, and I’m not saying that the audience is no longer understanding — I’m saying that things have gotten very muddied. The spirit that [Ben] Stiller directed and cast and shot Tropic Thunder in was, essentially, as a railing against all of these tropes that are not right and [that] had been perpetuated for too long.”

This isn’t the first time in recent years that the actor opened up about the film. In 2020, Downey Jr. told Joe Rogan that his mother was “horrified” about the role and that he too initially had some reservations. 

“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 recounted at the time. "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."

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