Monday, October 18, 2010

Playboy interview: Robert Downey Jr (part 1)

If you were to write a script about a guy who had it all, lost it all and then redeemed himself in a miraculous fashion, you could do no better than to steal from the bio of Robert Downey Jr.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s it was hard to find an actor who showed more promise or talent. Films such as Less Than Zero, Chaplin and Natural Born Killers established him as a star on the rise; he was even nominated for a best actor Oscar for Chaplin, in 1993. While he continued to work, his performances got less coverage than his drug problems. He was in and out of rehab, gave brutally honest self-incriminating interviews (including one to PLAYBOY in 1997), was arrested on various drug, gun and trespassing charges and spent a year in prison. He became the poster child for a misspent life.

But Downey was still young. It took him five years to get clean and slightly longer to rebuild his promising career. Things started turning around with a little-seen film called The Singing Detective (Mel Gibson famously posted a personal bond for the uninsurable actor), but to show he was truly back, Downey needed a blockbuster. He landed three: Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes and Tropic Thunder , which earned him another Oscar nomination. Suddenly Downey found himself in the company of such bankable stars as Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course, they had achieved success while young. When Downey broke through in Iron Man he was 43 and had already made 57 films. It’s a trajectory no other actor can match.

Now 45, Downey is filming a sequel to Sherlock Holmes and has started a production company called Team Downey with his wife, Susan. Sure, the name is corny, but it fits them. A seasoned film executive who became involved with Downey during his dark days while filming Gothika and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Susan was integral to his personal and professional resurgence. They married in 2005—Billy Joel and Sting sang at the wedding—and she produces all his films.

Downey next stars in Due Date, a raucous road-trip film with the star (Zach Galifianakis) and director (Todd Phillips) of The Hangover. Downey plays an uptight architect who rushes home for the birth of his first child. Circumstances leave him in a car driven by a wannabe actor (Galifianakis) with a spectacular lack of self-awareness and a masturbating dog.

“Actors who’ve been around bring baggage that leaves the audience with their arms folded, saying, ‘Show me,’” Phillips says. “Robert has baggage, but the audience has always greeted him with open arms. He’d been this simmering talent, and during that period he gained the respect of so many of us just waiting for an Iron Man or a Tropic Thunder to see it fully realized. I love this guy more than any actor I’ve ever worked with. He made me a better director, and he is literally the greatest talent I’ve ever come across.”

We sent Michael Fleming to Team Downey’s offices in Venice, California just before Downey jetted to London. Fleming reports: “Downey has changed a lot since I first interviewed him in 1997. He doesn’t shy from the past but won’t let you dwell on what is becoming a footnote in a remarkable life. Unchanged are his electric wit and sense of mischief. We started in the bright afternoon sun so Downey could get a tan to show off on the Sherlock Holmes 2 set.”

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