Talking to Downey can at times feel like being caught in an asteroid storm of Los Angeles psychobabble; a sort of deep-sea introspection full of boxes within boxes and questions locked within semi-confessional proclamations that may or may not be exaggerated. He's like a cross between a Russian doll and the Large Hadron Collider, a stream of ideas and atoms that smash into one another to reveal more dead-end answers and throw-away revelations.You could knock it as befuddled, sage-burning pseudo-hippie therapy talk if only its restorative effects hadn't harboured such incredible results for the man who, only ten years ago, started a lost weekend with a visit to a strip club, and then finished it two days later thanks to a tip-off from a anonymous caller who told police in reference to the strung-out star, "Uh, yeah, I'd just like to let you know that in Room 311 of the Merv Griffin there is a man that is doing an ounce of cocaine and [with] a couple of guns and is pretty upset."
The last time Downey would feel the cold bite of LAPD steel at his wrists would be on 24 April 2001 in Culver City. As the cop on duty, Yvette Countee, would later testify: "While I was speaking to him [Downey], I then noticed his speech was rapid. He interrupted me on several occasions and rambled on without any questions being addressed to him." Just four months previously Downey had picked up the Golden Globe for his role in Ally McBeal, and, although praised for boosting the show's ratings, this latest public run-in with the law proved too much for the series' producers - he was let go.
In court on 16 July 2001, Downey made a "no contest" plea to possession, as his urine sample had confirmed traces of cocaine. However, thanks to Proposition 36, a new law just passed in California, he was ordered to spend a year at a residential rehab facility, with three years' probation, rather than tie up another county jail bed. He was lucky. But now, finally, even Downey could sense he was playing chicken with his seemingly endless supply of serendipity.
Of course, it wasn't jail, endless botched trips to rehab or even the threat he might never work again that made Downey pack in the bad-boy behaviour. Instead, it was that old romantic - love. Downey Jr met Susan Levin, then executive vice president of production at Silver Pictures, on set of Gothika in 2003. Although batting away the star's advances with sensible parries such as, "He's an actor, I have a real job," eventually Levin acquiesced and the pair began dating. Downey proposed to her the night before her 30th birthday and they married in New York in August 2005.
"I'm afraid no one keeps me in check - not even Susan," laughs Downey. "I can tell by the look in her eyes if I need to immediately stop a line of behaviour. Or whether she is somehow or other able to withstand the onslaught of wanton, well-informed narcissism that is coming at her like an über-tsunami." Do they both have to work at the relationship? "More than I thought. And usually more than I would care to. But ultimately, it's just so nice to have pure communication with, for me, a woman. Historically this has been something that, for me, was not really achievable."
Downey's first serious girlfriend, back when he was doing theatre in New York in the early Eighties, was Sarah Jessica Parker - later to be forever known as Carrie Bradshaw from Sex And The City. Devastatingly for Downey, she just couldn't handle his love for a party and the relationship blistered apart. In 1992, he met Deborah Falconer and within 42 days they were married, Deborah pregnant with Indio soon after. Then, as Downey explains, "The Nineties happened, and it was just about survival."