Undercover Brother

Undercover Brother

"Tropic Thunder," one of the funniest films of the year opens today and it will have more than a few surprises.

Published August 13, 2008

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"Tropic Thunder," one of the funniest films of the year opens today and it will have more than a few surprises. My colleague Marcus Vanderberg interviewed Brandon T. Jackson, the real black man in the film and I chatted with the actor who played the white dude disguised as a brother in the film. Check out what Robert Downey Jr. had to say about being black in America--or at least in the woods of Hawaii where the film, set in Southeast Asia, was actually shot.



It's not really a stretch for Downey, who got a 1992 Oscar nod for playing legendary screen comic Charlie Chaplin in "Chaplin" to break out of his box, but if he was worried about his portrayal of an accomplished Aussie actor named Kirk Lazarus who had his skin surgically darkened to play a black man named Lincoln Osiris in a war movie being offensive, he needn't be.

Some of his funniest bits included the line, "I'm gonna collard me up some greens," and everyone in the theater lost it when he started reciting the lyrics to "The Jeffersons'" theme song during an altercation with Alpa Chino (Jackson).

“When we were working on the scene I said if my only reference as the guy that I’m playing—the white guy—for real black culture is a TV show, it shows that A, I literally have never had any business even saying I understand the black experience because all I know is the theme song of a show. The next thing I knew I was this beautiful black man getting slapped by a real black man mad at me for really being a white guy playing a black guy.”

But when Downey went too far as Lincoln Osiris, Jackson was there to reel him in.
“He helped us a lot with these scenes,” Downey said. “He’d say, ‘I can call you that but you can’t call me that.’ And I’d say, ‘I know.’ If I had called him that…You know there are so many ways in a blink of an eye that it could have gone wrong.”

“When we were working on the scene I said if my only reference as the guy that I’m playing—the white guy—for real black culture is a TV show, it shows that A, I literally have never had any business even saying I understand the black experience because all I know is the theme song of a show. The next thing I knew I was this beautiful black man getting slapped by a real black man mad at me for really being a white guy playing a black guy.”

After a while Downey said he started to feel really comfortable in his new skin but he didn't dare take Osiris out on the streets for a test run.

"No! I'm not an idiot," he said. "I don't think."

Did you think Downey was offensive? Or simply amazing? Hit me back.

Written by Miki Turner

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