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Robert Downey Jr. revisits his film career

As the actor is about to receive the 25th American Cinematheque Award, he recalls the movies that brought him to recent Hollywood success.

October 09, 2011|By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

"Iron Man" (2008) and "Iron Man 2" (2010): The Marvel Studios films pulled in a combined $1.2 billion in worldwide box office and turbo-charged Downey's career. He returns to the role in next year's all-star "The Avengers" and 2013's "Iron Man 3." "The first one changed everything for me and with the second 'Iron Man' there were certain aspects that were dissatisfying and disappointing to me but at least they lit me right.... [The first one] was a meditation on responsibility and an exploration of how a small group of people can take a two-dimensional idea and, if the winds are right, create something that makes people say, 'That was my favorite movie of the year.' To me, Tony Stark's story is a karma story and a technology story. I love a good action movie — a Steve McQueen or Tom Cruise or Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson in the right spot, and you smile and say, 'That's what this kind of movie is all about.' There were two times in my life I prepared for something manically, it was this and 'Chaplin.' I became the expert on this guy."

"Tropic Thunder" (2008): With several layers of irony, Ben Stiller's proudly profane comedy got Downey an Oscar nomination for portraying a white actor playing a black soldier in hopes of getting an Oscar nomination. "I signed up to do it and then I did 'Iron Man' and I thought, 'You know, I think I just buried myself. I did a movie that is going to reestablish me here in a little way and now I'm going to squander any good will I have.' Ben Stiller reminds me of Charlie Chaplin because he could have done any department head's role in the movie without the movie suffering — except perhaps for scoring. The other correlation I make, for me personally, is 1968's "Putney Swope" [the race satire directed by filmmaker Robert Downey Sr.] and 2008 "Tropic Thunder." There's this two-generation loop. When people met my dad they were surprised he wasn't black because the movie was so about undermining the establishment. This movie ended up being the most cathartic thing I had done in ages and one of the happiest times in my life."

"Sherlock Holmes" (2009): With a budget under $100 million, the Guy Ritchie reinvention of the bookshelf sleuth made $524 million worldwide and gave Downey a second franchise role. "Sherlock was part of a great run. Sometimes you're thrown heat and you can do no wrong. It's very misleading to get hypnotized by that because it's a state of grace. It's something you can't control, but you can choose to enjoy it."

"Due Date" (2010): Downey and Zach Galifianakis take a subversive road trip through the no-fly anxieties of modern America. "I am crazy about this movie. I just love it so much. Like Bradley Cooper in 'The Hangover,' I'm playing an aspect of [writer-director] Todd Phillips, an uptight, anxious, controlling aspect. The missus has seen this side of me too. This became one of the most privately joyful experiences in history. It had what all of my favorite comedies have: a real emotional resonance. After this and 'Tropic Thunder' I feel like I've done the best of both worlds. What kind of comedy could I happily do now? It's the most elusive thing for Team Downey now. But we'll nail it."

geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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