Robert Downey Jr. Met Christopher Nolan to Play Scarecrow in ‘Batman Begins’ but Could Tell Mid-Interview ‘It’s Not Going to Go Anywhere’

Robert Downey Jr. revealed during a career retrospective interview at Los Angeles’ American Cinematheque theater that he originally met Christopher Nolan ahead of “Batman Begins” to discuss the potential of playing the villainous Scarecrow in the director’s “Dark Knight” origin story. He didn’t get the part, although he’d make his impact on the comic book genre three years later with the 2008 release of Marvel’s “Iron Man.”

“I’m pretty sure I heard about [this role] and I was like, ‘I’m Scarecrow,'” Downey Jr. remembered (via The Playlist podcast host Griffin Schiller). “And then I remember meeting [Nolan] for tea and I was like, ‘He doesn’t seem like he’s really in on this interview.’ And he was polite and all that. But you can tell when someone is kind of like, ‘It’s not going to go anywhere.'”

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Instead of Downey Jr., Nolan decided to cast Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow in “Batman Begins.” That casting would kick off a years-long collaboration between Murphy and the director, which has now spanned six films. Murphy originally wanted the role of Batman, but Nolan admitted to Entertainment Weekly last year that he knew Murphy was not going to be his Batman as early as their first conversation together. But that didn’t stop Nolan from wanting to screen test Murphy anyway.

“When we had our first conversation I think both of us knew that you weren’t going to wind up playing Batman,” Nolan said. “But I really wanted to get on set with you, I wanted to get you on film. We did those screen tests very elaborately, on 35mm, with a little set. There was just an electric atmosphere in the crew when you started to perform.”

“It was clear to me from the beginning that I wasn’t Batman material,” Murphy added. “It felt to me that it was correct and right that it should be Christian Bale for that part. But I remember the buzz of trying on the suit and being directed by you. Those tests were high production values.”

Although Nolan did not intend to cast Murphy as Batman, he set up a screen test for the role with the intention of getting studio executives on board with the idea of casting Murphy as Scarecrow instead.

“We did two scenes — there was a Bruce Wayne scene and a Batman scene — and I made sure that executives came down and watched what you were doing on set,” Nolan said. “Everybody was so excited by watching you perform that when I then said to them, ‘Okay, Christian Bale is Batman, but what about Cillian to play Scarecrow?’ There was no dissent. All the previous Batman villains had been played by huge movie stars: Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, that kind of thing. That was a big leap for them and it really was purely on the basis of that test. So that’s how you got to play Scarecrow.”

Nolan, Murphy and Downey. Jr. would all end up working together years later on the director’s “Oppenheimer,” for which they have all received Oscar nominations.

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