Don Cheadle Improvised Iron Man 2's War Machine Recast Reference

Don Cheadle's Iron Man 2's opening comment, which references the recasting of War Machine/James "Rhodey" Rhodes, was improvised. Known for its preserved continuity, the MCU recently wrapped up the Infinity Saga through Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. This allows Marvel Studios to develop characters' collective and individual stories in the long run which in turn makes it easier for fans to get invested. Given this, actors are locked in for at least a couple of films. But a few times in its history, the MCU has recast some characters, including one of Iron Man's (Robert Downey Jr.) closest friends.

When Iron Man was released, Terrence Howard played the role of Rhodey in the film. In fact, he was the very first actor to be cast in a Marvel Studios movie; he signed up for the role even before Downey boarded the project. At the end of the 2008 film, it was quite clear that Howard was going to return for the sequel as War Machine, but that didn't come to fruition. Instead, Cheadle took over the role in Iron Man 2 and has been playing it since then. No official reason has been given regarding the matter, although some behind-the-scenes drama gives an idea as to why they decided to switch actors. 

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Marvel Studios hasn't really openly discussed the replacement of Terrence Howard's Rhodey, but Iron Man 2 featured a meta-reference to it. As the government attempted to acquire the Iron Man technology, Tony Stark was put on a Senate trial as part of their efforts in pressuring him to give up his creation. The genius billionaire was handling the questioning fairly well but was surprised when Rhodey was called in as a witness. In Cheadle's first MCU appearance, he pacified his friend's quiet protests by saying: "Look, it's me. I'm here. Deal with it. Let's move on." While it's an appropriate response to Tony's qualms, it's also Marvel Studios' way of indirectly sending the same message to viewers, essentially telling them not to make a big deal out of the recasting. Apparently, this line was improvised by Cheadle himself. As revealed in The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU architect and casting king Kevin Feige recalls: "It was a big way to start. It was Don Cheadle's first day, where he ad-libbed, 'Look, it's me. I'm here. Deal with it. Let's move on,' to acknowledge the casting change.”

Improvisation isn't just allowed in the MCU; in some cases, it's even encouraged. In fact, some of the biggest moments in the franchise were unscripted. For example, Spider-Man's (Tom Holland) "I don't want to go" line in Avengers: Infinity War was adlibbed, and so was Downey's emotional outburst at the start of Avengers: Endgame. This all started in the first Iron Man movie which only had a skeletal script; the beginning and the ending of the film had been previously decided on, but everything else was determined as they went. Admittedly, it was a risky move since it was the MCU's make-or-break project, but with Favreau and the now-iconic Iron Man Downey back for the sequel, it makes sense that Cheadle was able to simply improvise his character's first line.

While there are still queries about what really led to War Machine's recasting, fans, for the most part, dealt with the change in actors. Marvel Studios, on the other hand, did move on, bringing in Cheadle several more times since he assumed the role back in Iron Man 2. Now, he's about to headline his own project through the upcoming MCU Disney+ series, Armor Wars. 

More: Every Marvel Phase 1 Character Confirmed For MCU Phase 4

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