Fatherhood and self-discovery are the big themes coursing through Due Date, themes that, one imagines, Downey has spent plenty of time in front of therapists discussing. The relationship between Robert Downey Sr (the actor's father, who was born Robert Elias but changed his name when he was a minor so he could enlist) and his son is a significant one, especially when trying to decode Jr's maverick genome - containing the firecracker gene that made Downey "that guy" for so much of his career.Downey Sr was a cultish, independent film-maker working in the Seventies and Eighties and was, in fact, the director to give Jr his first line on film. The clip of the actor, aged five, on the set of Pound is uploaded onto YouTube for anyone who cares to see Iron Man pre-secondary school. The ultra low-budget flick is set in a dog pound and all the actors play one or other of the incarcerated mutts. Downey Jr, for his first time ever on screen, has to look straight at a badass bald guy playing a Mexican Hairless and utter the words, "Have any hair on your balls?" As far as first lines go, it's memorable.
His father's bohemian lifestyle, however, didn't exactly help provide a stable environment for a curious kid out to have as much fun as possible. Downey Lore has it that his father gave him his first spliff aged eight, although it was far more likely to have been one of his dad's rabble-rousing hangers-on. As Downey Jr himself admits, "It was such a permissive time. And we weren't discouraged. As I remember it, I was swinging in a hammock one day, and there was a guy, one of my father's friends, in the room and I literally just put my hand out, and he walked over and gave it to me. And it was on."
Although small parts alongside Anthony Michael Hall in John Hughes' Weird Science came first, Downey Jr's big cinematic breakout came in 1987 with the adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero. Even back then he was tapping into that tumultuous relationship he had with his own father, using fragments of his own experiences and psyche to bolster his on-screen characters, something he still does to this day. At that time Downey had progressed beyond the odd hit of marijuana: "I took my drugs after work and on the weekends," he admits. "That changed on Less Than Zero."
Talking about one particularly gut-wrenching scene in which his character, Julian, goes back home to ask his father for help getting off drugs, Downey adds: "My life, personal and professional, I've always had these big themes to do with fatherhood and taking responsibility for my own actions. The first day of shooting Less Than Zero, I'm on a tennis court with Marek Kanievska [the director], and I really have no idea what I'm doing. So I started thinking, 'Do father and sons ever really connect? Are they ever truly able to love each other and accept each other?' At this point, I'm getting really choked up... When the scene was done, Marek said, 'You know you're a real actor and I'm going to craft this whole movie around you. People are going to see who you are.'"