It’s been a long time since Robert Downey Jr. has acted in a non-Marvel movie. In fact, the new family film Dolittle marks the actor’s first movie outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe in six years, since 2014, when he starred opposite Robert Duvall in the courtroom drama The Judge and also appeared alongside MCU cohort Jon Favreau in Chef.
So what made the Dolittle — a retelling of the classic family yarn that finds Downey (flexing a Welsh accent) as the widowed, reclusive animal doc pulled back into action to help save England's poisoned queen — the first film he wanted to do in the wake of his triumphant 11-year run as Iron Man/Tony Stark?
"It came up, and as usual I'm about to do a movie if I throw the script across [the table] and go, 'Why do they send me this garbage?,'" Downey told Yahoo Entertainment during a Los Angeles press day, where he was joined by costars Harry Collett, Carmel Laniado, Craig Robinson, John Cena and Michael Sheen (watch clip above). "And I read it, and the script is good. And my missus [Susan Downey, who, like Robert, is a producer on the film] is like, 'This is good.'
"And I basically live on a rescue farm, and I look out and the alpacas are looking at me, and I'm like, 'All right!' And it's a new adventure, something new to try, new degree of difficulty."
The Downeys do indeed count alpacas, goats, pigs, cows, chickens and cats among the inhabitants on their Malibu, Calif., farm, but that does not mean the actor rehearsed with them to play Dr. John Dolittle, who has the ability to talk to and understand animals.
"I can't talk to animals," he admitted. And neither do his costars.
"I'm surrounded by sheep where I live," said Sheen (The Queen, The Twilight Saga), who plays the antagonist Dr. Blair Müdfly. "And the farmer just lets them wander around the streets. So you come out of the house and there's one just looking at you. … They don't talk, but they don't have to. The eyes say it all."
The star-studded release, which also counts Rami Malek, Tom Holland, Octavia Spencer, Selena Gomez, Antonio Banderas, Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Ralph Fiennes and Marion Cotillard as costars, gives voice to wildlife (literally) at a particularly perilous time for them in the world. The Australian wildfires have reportedly claimed the lives of thousands of animals in recent weeks.
The Dolittle cast, however, does not necessarily want that weighing on the minds of moviegoers when they watch the film.
"I never want to force the consumer to take anything away from the experience," said Cena, the former wrestling star who's become a Hollywood heavyweight in recent years with winners like Ferdinand, Blockers and Bumblebee and voices the polar bear Yoshi. "I want them to be entertained. But I don't want to ponticate like, 'You should watch this movie and get this moral result. Because I think that's driving an audience member in a direction that maybe they don't want to go."
Added Robinson (The Office, Hot Tub Time Machine, Dolittle’s squirrel named Kevin) about the film's messages: "Animals are family, too."
Dolittle opens Friday.
Watch our full interview with the cast:
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