‘Tropic Thunder’ Star Brandon T. Jackson Explains How Robert Downey Jr. Really Didn’t Break Character Until After the DVD Commentary
The dude behind the dude playing a dude disguised as another dude didn’t drop the act when the camera stopped rolling, according to the other dude.
Robert Downey Jr. is a frontrunner for the honor of Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Academy Awards, but for all the fanfare his performance in Oppenheimer has garnered, he still can’t stop talking about the first time he was in the running for the award back in 2008. Just a couple weeks ago, Downey Jr. made a stop on the Oscars campaign trail to speak on the Literally! With Rob Lowe podcast where he defended his lauded performance as Kirk Lazarus, a method actor playing a Black character in the movie-within-a-movie in Tropic Thunder, against all the criticisms of racism that absolutely no one has thrown at Downey Jr. in recent years.
While blackface is universally acknowledged by non-bigots as an incredibly racist practice with grim historical roots, Tropic Thunder’s treatment of the topic is widely regarded as one of the few instances where the poignancy of the satire properly contextualized the use of blackface within the film as both unacceptable and hilarious. Tropic Thunder’s only (actually) Black lead concurs with the comedy world’s conclusion on the non-issue — on a recent episode of Reallyfe Street Starz Podcast, Brandon T. Jackson explained his behind-the-scenes experience with Downey Jr.’s methods, saying, “He was amazing. Killing it. They yell cut, he’s still going, like, ‘You know how we always late,’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know how we always late!’”
Just as Kirk Lazarus stayed in character through the recording of the DVD commentary, so did Downey Jr. (The Tropic Thunder commentary track with Downey Jr., Jack Black and Ben Stiller is still one of the most iconic extras ever included in a DVD release.)
Jackson, who played the rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino who sparred with Downey Jr.’s Lazarus for the entirety of Tropic Thunder, explained exactly why he didn’t have a problem acting alongside a white actor in blackface, even if the act didn’t stop between takes. “My character justified it,” said Jackson, clarifying that, “I don’t wanna say ‘justified,’ but (Alpa Chino) called it out. He was the real person in there who would say, ‘Hey, look, you can’t do this.’”
In fact, Jackson was a little too comfortable with Downey Jr.’s performance for the taste of Stiller, who directed Tropic Thunder while starring in the film. Stiller wanted Jackson to channel real anger; or as Jackson recalled, “They, like, psychologically made it become real, because I wasn’t mad, I was laughing. … And they’re like, ‘Are you not mad? You don’t know the history of this?’ and I’m like, ‘Man, I’m 23, and I’m flying girls to Hawaii. What?’”