Previously Known For: Weird Science, Less Than Zero, Chaplin and Ally McBeal
|Currently Known For: As Iron Man in Iron Man, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War|
“What I learned about myself playing Iron Man is that if you’re not on your team, why should anyone else be? Something like the first Iron Man, that was considered out of the box for me. Way outside the box. But that’s what we are here to do: change expectations of ourselves. I’d ask you if I’m right, but I know I’m right.” Unapologetically sarcastic and far from humble, Robert Downey Jr. has certainly earned the right to be proud of his work as one of Hollywood’s favorite comeback kids. First finding fame as part of the Brat Pack in the 1980s, Downey’s drug addiction caused him to fall from Hollywood’s good graces in the new millennium until he finally got his life together after a series of arrests and rehabs. Over the last decade, the 52-year-old has wowed audiences and become one of the highest paid actors in the industry thanks to his incredible performance as Iron Man in Marvel hits like Iron Man, The Avengers, and Captain America: Civil War.
Decades before he ever needed a second chance in Hollywood, Robert John Downey Jr. was born on April 4, 1965 in Manhattan, New York where his father was a well-known actor and filmmaker and his mother was a talented actress. Lured by stardom and his father’s portrait of a drug-filled world of glitz and glamour, Downey made his film debut at five years old in his father’s film, Pound. But, even then, neither his venture into acting nor his childhood were normal as his father introduced him to drugs at six years old before sending him off to England to study classical ballet and acting. Months later, Downey returned to New York and studied at the Stagedoor Performing Arts Training Center before his parents divorced and he fled to California with his father in pursuit of stardom.
Finding little work in California, Downey returned to New York where he spent the next few years in productions on and off Broadway until he was invited to join the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1985. With the show’s ratings tanking, producers hoped Downey would help attract a younger audience but his comedy style was so uncomfortably awkward that he left the series and tapped into his natural talents on the silver screen. Starring in Tuff Turf and Weird Science, Downey was soon a beloved member of the Brat Pack thanks to coming-of-age classics like The Pick-Up Artist and Pretty in Pink.
Although Downey was becoming a well-known name in Hollywood thanks to his performances opposite Molly Ringwald and the rest of the Brat Pack, his jaw-dropping performance as the drug-addicted rich kid in Less Than Zero in 1987 left little question about his talent. Ironically, it also showed a glimpse into his growing drug habit as he went on to star in Chances Are, Air America, Soapdish, and Chaplin, the latter of which earned him an Academy Award nomination. Following up the stellar performance with Hearts and Souls, Only You, Natural Born Killers, Restoration and Black and White, Downey ventured over to television in the new millennium where he starred alongside Calista Flockhart in Ally McBeal.
Earning a Golden Globe Award for his performance as Flockhart’s love interest on the series, Downey’s growing success wasn’t enough to curb his addiction as a string of arrests and court-ordered rehab left him in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In fact, the next five years were an endless cycle of drug addiction, rehab and relapse before Downey faced a judge who was ready to sentence him to prison when the young actor finally asked for help. Finally dedicating himself to sobriety, he completed rehab and later set out to earn his way back into Hollywood. Fortunately, the talented Joel Silver of Lethal Weapon fame was patiently waiting and cast the newly sober Downey in the 2005 comedy thriller, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. “You know what? Joel threatened to drop me out a window if I misbehaved on the movies, but it was bad parenting on his part, he dropped me out of windows before and that didn’t stop anything,” Downey later joked.
Making a huge return in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Downey followed up with Zodiac and gave an Academy Award-nominated performance in Tropic Thunder when he heard rumors that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was working on a new Iron Man film. “I had been preparing for Iron Man for a year or so before I even knew there was going to be an Iron Man in my life,” Downey said. “For some reason or another, I had been training really hard, just trying to get my body to a really great place… I figured if I was ever going to try to look like I was in decent shape, there wasn’t going to be a better time. So, when the part came, I was ready for it. Or I thought I was. It was a really physical role. Sometimes you train your ass off so you’ll look good in a movie and then you find out that you were really training so you wouldn’t die.”
Ultimately cast as Iron Man, things haven’t been the same for Downey who has become one of the highest paid actors and one of the highest grossing stars in Hollywood thanks to blockbusters like The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3, and Captain America: Civil War. Also carving out time to give a Golden Globe-winning performance in Sherlock Holmes in 2009, Downey says there’s no real secret to his methodology other than he loves to work. “Man, nothing’s a break for me,” he says after years of hardship. “Not even the breaks are breaks. I’m much more used to doing something, a lot of things, and working really hard at it. I’m not a ‘sit still’ kind of guy. As James Spader would say, I’m a guy you invite to go ‘chew up the scenery’ or as Tom Sizemore would say, ‘I like to make faces for cash and chicken.’”
Today, the 52-year-old comeback kid is certainly a superhero in our eyes especially after hitting rock bottom and climbing his way back to the top. Although he’s often sarcastic and rarely humble, he remains grateful for his second chance. “Hollywood has been very, very good to me. Some days it’s Palm Springs and some days it pisses rain on me, but it’s still pretty good. I think the lesson is that in today’s world, you can still make mistakes and be forgiven.”