Oscar winner–slash–Goop guru Gwyneth Paltrow has had a long history in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, first appearing as Pepper Potts opposite Robert Downey Jr. in the franchise's inaugural film, 2008's Iron Man (which is still considered one of the best MCU movies). But the actress recently revealed why making that superhero classic was "very different" from the subsequent six MCU movies she's been in since.
During a Q&A at the Red Sea Film Festival in Saudi Arabia on December 6, the star cited the casting of the "unhireable" Downey Jr. — RDJ was a megastar of '80s and '90s movies like Less Than Zero and Chaplin before his career stalled due to substance abuse and legal troubles — as a reason for people being surprised at Iron Man's theatrical success. The film would go on to gross over half a billion dollars worldwide, and gain lots of love from critics and fans alike. Speaking about making the movie Paltrow said, per Deadline:
The first film we did was very different from the rest because the studio didn’t think it was going to be a big hit. They hired Jon Favreau to direct who was great. And they hired Robert Downey Jr., who was unhireable at the time. His career was at a very low point.
The role of Tony Stark would reinvigorate Downey's career, with the actor going on to portray the billionaire philanthropist in Iron Man's two sequels, as well as eight other MCU films. His most recent onscreen performance as Lewis Strauss in the Oppenheimer cast has the actor in great contention to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year.
Paltrow revealed that because of the studio's slight expectations for the film and its then-lowly leading man, the cast was afforded the freedom to improvise and play during their performances, giving an "independent" quality to the Marvel movie. She said:
We improvised almost every scene of that movie. We would write scenes in the morning in Jon’s trailer. It was like doing an independent film. Then the movie was such a huge hit that then we didn’t make them like that anymore.
These days, MCU movies have higher expectations, bigger budgets, they typically tie into a bigger story and they aren't treated like "independent film."
Despite her own considerable tenure as Iron Man's romantic interest, Paltrow herself hasn't been especially invested in the MCU. She has previously admitted to being confused by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also, not only did she once forget Samuel L. Jackson was in Marvel movies, she also at times can't recall which superhero flicks she herself has been in. (Justice for Spider-Man: Homecoming!)
It's a recurring theme that continued during the Red Sea Film Festival talk, during which Gwyneth admitted that she hasn't actually watched her last Marvel credit, Avengers: Endgame. She explained:
To be honest, I stopped watching them at some point. I’ve never seen Endgame. I can’t keep track of who’s what. But I probably should at some point.
And though she is most famous these days as the hyper-successful founder and CEO of Goop, her wellness and lifestyle brand, Paltrow doesn't completely rule out a return to the big screen.
I never say never. I’m really happy and busy doing what I’m doing. But if one of my best said, please come and do this, maybe I would consider.
The multi-hyphenate recently revealed to People that she decided to step away from lead roles after her daughter Apple, now aged 18, was born, claiming that "everything felt redefined" for her after having a child.
However, Paltrow fans can keep their eyes on the 2024 movie schedule to see if their fave pops up in a future project. Who knows, maybe she'll be in another Marvel movie that she'll immediately forget about! While we wait to see if Pepper Potts ever shows up again, you can go back and watch the original Iron Man, along with all the Marvel movies in order with a Disney+ subscription.