The time Robert Downey Jr. wanted to play Scarecrow in Batman Begins...but failed

Back before he was a Marvel legend, Robert Downey Jr. met with Christopher Nolan about playing Scarecrow in Batman Begins, but talks quickly broke down.
FIJI Water At The 29th Annual Critics Choice Awards
FIJI Water At The 29th Annual Critics Choice Awards / Phillip Faraone/GettyImages

Thanks to his portrayal of Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. is a legendary figure to fans of comic book movies. During his run as Tony Stark, which spanned over a decade, he completed a trilogy of solo movies and appeared in numerous others, including every Avengers movie, ultimately waving farewell to the franchise with Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Before getting cast as Tony Stark, Downey Jr. was always on the lookout for comic book movie roles, but nothing was meant to be. Most notably, he met with director Christopher Nolan to discuss playing Scarecrow in Batman Begins, the first movie in the now-iconic Dark Knight trilogy. “I’m pretty sure I heard about [this role] and I was like, ‘I’m Scarecrow,'” he recalled, speaking to The Playlist podcast host Griffin Schiller, per Variety.

However, it soon became quite evident that the discussions were not moving in the direction he wanted them to. “And then I remember meeting [Nolan] for tea and I was like, ‘He doesn’t seem like he’s really in on this interview.’ And he was polite and all that. But you can tell when someone is kind of like, ‘It’s not going to go anywhere.'"

The role of Scarecrow would eventually go to Cillian Murphy, who went on to become one of Hollywood's biggest superstars, collaborating with Christopher Nolan for a total of six movies. In 2023 he starred alongside Downey Jr. in Oppenheimer, which was directed by Nolan.

Had Robert Downey Jr. not landed the role of Iron Man — which was also eyed by the likes of Tom Cruise — the MCU would look very different than it does today. It's hard to imagine the role being played by anyone else. Despite passing on the opportunity to work with him many years ago, Nolan was always desperate to do a project with Downey Jr. "He has such charisma as Tony Stark," he said on The Late Show. "Him playing Iron Man is one of the most consequential casting decisions that’s ever been made in the history of the movie business.'

If one lesson has been learned here, it's that when Robert Downey Jr. comes knocking, you don't turn him down.

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