visiting the IRON MAN set, part deux

I did not watch the Superbowl, not even for the commercials. The only reason I even knew it was Superweekend was because of a conversation with Tina (see previous entry), wherein she enlightened me that Sat. night would be a slow night on the LA scene* because most of the people who compose aforementioned Scene would be in Arizona. Which is something that is not often said.

But I heard from a few different sources who are avidly following my husband’s involvement with the Tesla Roadster that the IRON MAN trailer made its television premiere, and the trailer features the Tesla. You could call this product placement, except it was free. The company paid absolutely nothing to have their car featured in one of the bigger movies of the year (it appears among the protagonist’s collection of truly cool cars). E credits “RDJ” — Robert Downey Junior — and by that I’m not sure if he means the idea or its implementation.

I blogged a little while ago about my visit to the IRON MAN set — I called the entry “part one”, which implies there would be a part two, which doesn’t seem to have materialized yet. This entry would seem to be it.

The visit had some highlights:

1) Meeting RDJ in his trailer, seeing the man face to face. Soulful brown eyes. ‘Nuff said. “You had me at that Elton John video,” I told him. Yes, I actually said that to him, and I don’t care. So what.

2) RDJ taking us into a little room filled with screens and things and showing us a rough version of the trailer for IRON MAN.

3) Talking with RDJ on set — the set was his character’s sleek futuristic Malibu home during some kind of cocktail party — while the crew set up the scene. RDJ is one of those guys you can’t help but like a hell of a lot — polite, sweet, engaging, humorous, verbal, and perhaps the most humble movie star out there (he would not call himself a ‘movie star’ although he’d kind of like to be one). You like him so much that you find yourself wishing he wasn’t famous, because then he would just be this normal person that you could maybe develop a normal kind of friendship with and go hang out the way normal people do. For all his status as edgy, troubled, talented actor who stars in cool quirky offbeat films, he was openly excited about starring in a big-budget, big-action, comic-book movie — I think he said that he was a lifelong fan of comics in general and IRON MAN in particular. This movie is pretty special to him — the light in his eyes was like a kid’s.

Another thing that impressed me about RDJ was how comfortably he handles the whole baggage-of-fame thing. When you’re introduced to a famous person, there’s kind of a weird underground dynamic of: You know who I am and I know you know who I am and I know you know I know, but I will introduce myself** as if you don’t know and you will pretend that you haven’t seen me all over the tabloid magazines while standing in line at Whole Foods, because that’s just how we roll and how Los Angelenos play it in order to distinguish themselves from the tourists.

Or — with someone like, say, David Hasselhoff — there’s exactly the opposite: he not only assumes you know who he is, even if you don’t know who he is, he plays up to it, performs to it, the deep friendly booming voice and deliberate charm, but there’s the slightest whiff of condescension — the god coming down from on high to mingle with the mortals and make them feel special. You’re not interacting with him so much as being made into his audience. His charm is part of his performance.

RDJ by contrast seemed to have this relaxed, resigned attitude about the whole thing — there were a few times when he referred in a joking self-deprecating way to his character-building past. He wasn’t sealed-off behind a persona (at least not overtly) — if anything he comes off as vulnerable in a way that makes him endearing, which he is doubtless well aware of and uses in his work — nor was there any pretense that you, a complete stranger to him, didn’t nonetheless know exactly what he was talking about, things that in any other person’s life would be the proverbial skeletons hanging around the proverbial closet. I can’t help but link that to the quality of humility I got off him — I imagine some of his past experiences would be greatly humbling to any remotely self-aware intelligent person — but then again, maybe that was just his nature to begin with, the kind of sensitive self-effacing open-wound nature that can lead (especially in Hollywood) to the self-medicating habits that lead to those humbling experiences in the first place.

4) Watching him film a scene with Jeff Bridges. I could tell you what the scene was about, but then somebody would track me down and kill me. The IRON MAN screenplay came with an entire set of instructions about what you’re forbidden to do with it (like leave it lying it around or pass it out to anyone other than the person whose name is stamped in the middle of every single page along with the number assigned to the screenplay and recorded in their files). Suffice to say, it is a scene where RDJ doesn’t speak or move much and Bridges does all the talking. RDJ conferred with his wife and the director and admitted to being nervous about how to convey the right emotion without saying anything, keeping it all in the face and the eyes. He was concerned about overacting: “I’m generally not a less-is-more kind of guy. I like more.”

“Sometimes less is less,” I agreed.

And Bridges just rocked it, but that’s what he does. I’ve loved him ever since STARMAN and THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS and I was as tempted as I’ve ever been to go up to him and say something touristy like, “Dude! You were such an awesome President in THE CONTENDER!” I refrained. He was intensely preoccupied with his work, silently watching each take on the monitor, not speaking or acknowledging anyone until he discussed with the director.

5) Talking to RDJ about what, if anything, he got from E that helped him develop his sense of the character he was playing. A mutual friend put E and RDJ together over a year ago, seeing some similarities between E and RDJ’s current project. RDJ dropped by the SpaceX offices, got the grand tour, even popped in on a meeting. (Afterwards one of the engineers who’d been in that meeting texted E: Uh, was that Robert Downey Junior by any chance and why on earth was he there? ) His invitation to us to visit the set was his way of returning the favor. RDJ talked a bit about how technology and gadgetry are like an extension of his character’s body, how he treats it as part of him, his identity, and how he had noticed that a bit with E. I thought of this when I went to join E behind the bank of monitors, where E was talking to the director about rockets and electric cars and showing him images of both on his cell phone.

Ah, E. My very own little IRON MAN…except without the ability to strap on a cool jetpack and fly through the clouds and stuff. At least for now.

*The Scene refers to a small group of people and much smaller group of promotors who consider themselves the A-list and get in the tabloids a lot. The Scene floats around different clubs on different nights of the week, the kind of clubs involving velvet ropes and doormen in black uniforms and elaborate secret entrance rituals and massive rejection and all that. Without the massive rejection, where’s the fun? Once a visiting cousin of E’s — a very cool, sexy guy who married a Brazilian woman and now lives and DJs in Rio — was forced to brave the velvet rope alone before finally getting tagged as part of our table and being warmly ushered inside. “Wow,” he said, looking a bit stunned, “that is a cold cold world out there when you’re just some random person standing around. Everybody completely ignores you. And then it completely flips and suddenly you’re some VIP and they’re bending over backwards for you because you, like, have a frigging table.” Welcome to (West) Hollywood.

**Which they tend to do using first names only. So if I shake hands with someone vaguely familiar whom I think I might have met somewhere before but can’t quite remember, and the person just says “Meg” or “John” at the part where I myself say “Justine Musk”, that’s often a sign that I am dealing with a Famous Person. Especially if it’s a young woman carrying the kind of elaborate handbag that costs a normal woman her firstborn child but which she no doubt got for free.

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