(BROOKLYN) Fresh off an Oscar nomination for his comedic turn as a white man wearing black face in Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. will again cross racial barriers when he portrays Barack Obama in a star-studded movie.
"Playing the president is a challenge, but I know I can pull it off, especially if I can master that cool stride he has--you know, that 'swagga,' as CNN might say," said Downey, who in his next film, Sherlock Holmes, actually plays a white man who doesn't wear brown makeup.
The Obama biopic is an adaptation of the president's 1995 bestseller, Dreams of My Father. Ron Howard is directing and Gabrielle Union has signed to star as Michelle Obama.
Howard originally wanted Angela Bassett to play Michelle Obama. But when Bassett told him she was going to portray the First Lady in her usual way--as a downtrodden soul who has "been done wrong" by some man--the director looked elsewhere.
Union was excited to be his second choice.
"I've always wanted to pretend that I was married to the president," she said.
Howard was torn casting Downey. Since Obama has a mixed heritage--his father was a black Kenyan and his mother was a white American--Howard knew he was going to upset someone no matter who he chose.
"When I announced that Sam Jackson was going to play Obama, the National Association for the Advancement of Mulattos really tore me a new one," Howard said. "After he dropped out, I looked hard for someone of mixed race, but let's face it: Shemar Moore can't act."
Hollywood has a history of being unconcerned with skin color when casting African American roles--witness the brown-skinned Diana Ross and Cicely Tyson playing the light-skinned Billie Holiday and Coretta Scott King, respectively. And Angelina Jolie, who is white, played a woman of mixed race, Mariane Pearl, in A Mighty Heart.
Downey's complexion, however, isn't that far from Obama's.
"Honestly," said Howard, "after Tropic Thunder, when you think of African American men, you think Robert Downey Jr."