There is no debating that Robert Downey Jr. has led and interesting and rocky life. He’s attained incredible highs (Academy Award Nomination) and pitiable lows (multiple arrests). And yet somehow he has not only survived but recently, he’s begun to thrive. Jon Favreau knew what he was doing when he took an off chance on a real life Tony Stark and cast Downey in the 100+million opening weekend blockbuster Iron Man. While this is certainly the cherry on top of the sundae at this moment, Downey has earned a pardon from the movie community.
Downey Jr.’s career first blossomed in 1987 when he first starred in The Pick Up Artist. He began working steadily in features soon after and was considered by many to be part of the “Brat Pack,” despite not starring in many films with the rest of the ragtag collection. His 1992 portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin earned him an Academy Award nomination. But by 1996, life was imitating art as Downey soon became the drug addicted rich kid he portrayed in 1987’s Less than Zero.
The list of things Robert Downey Jr. has been convicted of alone are crazier than most of the stories surrounding “suspected” activities of others. In 1996 he was arrested for possessing a multiple of drugs. And a handgun. While driving intoxicated. Naked. On Sunset Boulevard. While battling with drugs, Downey has spent more than 16 months behind bars, though that didn’t stop him from wandering into a neighbors house and falling asleep on their bed after another tragically normal night of debauchery. In 1999, before a judge, Downey said “It’s like I have a loaded gun in my mouth and my finger’s on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal.” In 2000, the recently paroled Downey found a home on TV’s Alley McBeal, but proving that old habits die hard, he was soon intoxicated again and after a handful of incidents, fired from the show.
Following a successful stint in a rehabilitation clinic in 2001, Downey finally was able to start making an honest effort at returning to work. He found roles in a variety of films of various qualities, including The Shaggy Dog, A Scanner Darkly, and Fur.
But to real fans of films, Downey managed to take his experiences, both good and bad, and channel them into memorable characters. Out of nowhere, Downey seemed to return at a level no one expected of him, especially not after his escapades. In 2005 he took a starring role alongside Val Kilmer in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which highlighted the actors reinvigorated comedic and dramatic timings. Paired with 2003’s The Singing Detective and a guest spot in Good Night and Good Luck, people began to notice Downey in a new light. His drugged out character in A Scanner Darkly showed a willingness to poke fun at himself and completely move on as an actor and really develop himself as someone who could take on any role. With David Fincher’s Zodiac Downey again portrayed glimpses of his own darker side in an entirely quirky and engaging character with deep flaws. Downey was forced to find himself, then shared bits of it with everyone involved. The former hellraiser was back and ready for a chance to take command of a film himself.
When Downey heard of Iron Man, he knew he wanted a shot and immediately went to work on winning the role, crafting a more toned ‘superhero’ body before even getting a chance at the part. Favreau saw in him Tony Stark and pushed hard and the studios relented. Audiences were rewarded with perhaps the most accurate portrayal of a comic character moving to the big screen, joining the ranks of Christopher Reeve and Christian Bale.
Downey seems by all accounts to be in a happier, healthier place. If he truly has control of himself, there is no reason not for him to continue being a leading man. Soon he’ll be hurting your sides with laughter in Tropic Thunder and popping his helmeted head into The Incredible Hulk. Surely Iron Man 2 will raise his star further and Marvel Entertainment will keep Downey close to the chest for more cameos and an eventual Avengers movie. The future is bright for Downey and the seas finally seem calm.
Robert Downey Jr. Congratulations. You have been officially pardoned by Hollywood. You’ve conquered your demons and come back to cinema with a level of talent that surprises us all. You’re a new man now, a leading man. I for one look forward to seeing your smug self on the big screen for years to come.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – This movie is note perfect to me and Downey Jr. is at once lovable, entertaining, pitiable, and hilarious.
Iron Man – The final step towards greatness, this perfect summer film aims to rocket Downey Jr. to leading man status for good.
Chaplin – Good enough for the Academy, Downey first shows what he’s really capable of in a well put together film.