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Robert Downey Jr. Had A Bigger Influence On Avengers: Endgame Than We Knew

Avengers: Endgame was many things, but perhaps first and foremost it was a love-letter-slash-swan-song for Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Dozens of characters are featured in a wide gamut, from the tiniest cameo to center stage, but Endgame was at its heart an Iron Man movie. Once upon a time, the Downey Jr. was the most famous actor cast in a leading role in the franchise, the highest-paid, and its biggest public advocate. That isn't to say it was a one-way street, either; RDJ owes a substantial proportion of his career rehabilitation to the role, and he knows it.

As part of that cycle of gratitude, the directors of Avengers: Endgame – the famous Russo Brothers, Joe and Anthony — explained in a livestream of the film on April 27, 2020 that back when they were filming, they worked with Downey Jr. in a unique way, not just for the franchise, but also for filmmaking in general. In doing so, the Hollywood veteran added a lot of character value for this last, great performance as the figurehead of a multi-billion-dollar series.

Opening up the Avengers: Endgame script to ad-libbing

Joe and Anthony Russo explained on their livestream of Avengers: Endgame that they had a process in working with Downey Jr. throughout production on Tony Stark's initial scene in the film, where he's trapped in deep space and slowly dying. The trio would meet up on the Sunday before a new weeks' shooting — dubbed a "Sunday session" later on in the livestream — and go over the script pages for upcoming scenes together. 

This would give Downey Jr. the opportunity to pitch improv ideas to the brothers to punch up his dialogue and behavior. The Russos would take notes, and the improv suggestions would be adapted back into the script draft by Endgame co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

This is extraordinary for a couple reasons. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is pretty famous for being rather iron-fisted about characterizations, mostly due to the fact that plot is so deeply set in stone years ahead of any individual film's production. It's a gesture of trust and respect to extend the opportunity to Downey Jr. to suggest changes so soon before filming. 

At the same time, however, it is magnificently time-efficient. This way, Downey Jr. was allowed a greater scope of creative input — and these meetings gave him and the Russos the opportunity to make these determinations well ahead of time, rather than bogged down on filming day with multiple takes trying different line-reads. Even though there were two directors that were brothers, their time was at an extreme premium during such a crowded production schedule. All of it speaks to everyone, actor and crew alike, being devoted to putting in every extra measure they could for this climactic moment in pop-culture history.