The Tony Stark actor was always going to be part of the Marvel extended family, though he initially met with studio executives to potentially portray other characters from the comics, including Fantastic Four villain Doctor Doom.
The big revelation was made by MCU star and director Jon Favreau in a chat with Marvel boss Kevin Feige to mark Iron Man's 15th anniversary.
"I remember that Robert had come in for a general on it – and I remember you had all met with him already for like Doctor Doom or something on another project," Favreau said.
"I think he had come through like maybe Fantastic Four? So everybody sort of knew who he was, and I remember sitting down with the guy, and I was like 'Geez he's just got it – he's got that spark in him, in his eye and he's ready.'
"And that's when we were in your office [Kevin] and we were pointing to his headshot and saying, 'We gotta try to figure this out.'"
Downey Jr's "spark" convinced the studio he was the right fit to play Iron Man, thus earning him the coveted role in what would become the movie that kicked off the MCU in 2008.
As Downey Jr has hung up his suit, last appearing as Iron Man in emotional scenes in Avengers: Endgame, he will next be seen in another star-studded project.
The actor is set to portray Lewis Strauss in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, with Cillian Murphy as the titular physicist and also starring Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon, among others.
Oppenheimer, which is based on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer, is set for release on July 21, 2023.
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