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Christopher Nolan Admits He Was 'Afraid' to Meet Robert Downey Jr. After Hearing 'Crazy' Stories About Him

The director and Robert Downey Jr. met in the early 2000s to discuss the actor potentially playing a role in 'Batman Begins'

<p>Gareth Cattermole/Getty </p> Christopher Nolan and Robert Downey Jr. on July 13, 2023

Gareth Cattermole/Getty

Christopher Nolan and Robert Downey Jr. on July 13, 2023

Christopher Nolan was nervous to meet Robert Downey Jr.

In a new interview for The New York Times recorded the day after Oppenheimer received 13 Oscar nominations in January, director Nolan, 53, and Downey, 58, recalled when they first met while Nolan was casting roles for his 2005 movie Batman Begins.

Downey recently made headlines for referencing a one-off meeting with Nolan about playing the Batman villain Scarecrow. At the time, he said he could tell during this meeting that Nolan was not going to offer him the role, which Nolan confirmed during the Times discussion.

"I 100 percent knew you weren’t the guy. In my head that was already cast," Nolan said. "But I always wanted to meet you."

"No, I was a huge admirer of yours and therefore selfishly just wanted to take the meeting," he added, after Downey said their original meeting "was one of those thoughtful yet gratuitous meetings."

"But I was also a little afraid of you, you know," the filmmaker said. "I had heard all kinds of stories about how you were crazy. It was only a few years after the last of those stories that had come out about you."

Related: Robert Downey Jr. Recalls Chances Are Costar Ryan O'Neal Warning Him to Clean Up His Act: 'The Door Came Off the Hinges'

<p>Ian West/PA Images via Getty</p> Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Nolan on July 12, 2023

Ian West/PA Images via Getty

Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Nolan on July 12, 2023

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Asked how Nolan moved past his "misgivings" regarding Downey's reputation prior to his decade-long run as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the actor joked, "You let 10 or 12 years pass and watch the news cycle."

Downey, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the upcoming Oscars for his role in Oppenheimer, made headlines in the late 1990s for multiple arrests. The actor got sober in 2002, some time before he met Nolan and was first cast as Tony Stark in 2008's Iron Man, which Nolan told the outlet he believes is "one of the most significant and consequential casting decisions in Hollywood history."

Related: Robert Downey Jr. Recalls Working at a Shoe Store and Being 'Fired After 2 Weeks': 'I Had Sticky Fingers'

<p>Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty</p> Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Nolan on Jan. 18, 2024

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Nolan on Jan. 18, 2024

Downey's performance in Oppenheimer as Lewis Strauss marks just his second feature film role since he gave up Iron Man's suit following the character's demise in 2019's Avengers: Endgame.

As Nolan told the Times, working with Downey in his post-Marvel career proved appealing for his Oppenheimer character, who clashes with J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) throughout the film and proves distinctly different from the charismatic Tony Stark.

"You’re always looking to work with great actors, but you’re also looking to catch them in a moment in their lives and careers where you’ve got something to offer them that they haven’t done before, or haven’t done in a long time," Nolan said. "I just really wanted to see this incredible movie star put down all of that baggage, that charisma, and just lose himself in a dramatic portrayal of a very complicated man.

"I always wanted to work with him, really," he added. "Once I stopped being afraid of him."

Oppenheimer is now streaming on Peacock.

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