Robert Downey Jr. has had many ups and downs (no pun intended) during his career. Regardless of where he’s at, though, he has always been one of the more interesting people in Hollywood. These 43 facts will help shed light on this charismatic and sometimes controversial film star.
Both of Downey’s parents were well-known actors. Robert Downey Sr. is a long-time actor and filmmaker, while Elsie Ford was an actress who frequently appeared in Downey Sr.’s films. Downey Jr. would also appear in his father’s films during his youth before beginning his career proper.
The 1985-1986 season of Saturday Night Live featured a young Robert Downey Jr. among its cast. Not only was the season lambasted, but Downey was ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the least successful performers in the history of SNL. To their credit, they blamed the show for wasting Downey’s talent, but there’s a reason why Downey rarely talks about his days on SNL.
One of Downey’s big successes in the early part of his career was the 1992 film Chaplin, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. His dedicated preparation to playing the legendary Charlie Chaplin has been well noted. He watched all of Chaplin’s films, he learned to play the violin left-handed, hired a coach to help him imitate Chaplin’s walk and posture, and he even managed to persuade the Museum of the Moving Image to let him try on one of Chaplin’s original costumes. According to Geraldine Chaplin (who played her own grandmother in the film), she was so struck by how similar Downey looked to her father when she first saw him in costume that she had to take a moment to collect herself.
Very early on in his career, Downey encountered another son of actors trying to join the family business. Kiefer Sutherland was trying to break into Hollywood when he became Downey’s roommate for three years.
From 2012 to 2015, Downey made #1 on Forbes’ list of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. Not only that, as of 2017, Downey’s films have made over $9.6 billion worldwide. This makes Downey the fifth highest-grossing American box office star of all time.
In 2010, Downey and his wife, producer Susan Levin, co-founded a production company that they called Team Downey. The first film Team Downey released is the Oscar-nominated film The Judge, which also starred Downey alongside Robert Duvall.
Early in his career, Downey appeared in several 80s classics. He played a bully in John Hughes’ Weird Science, played the lead alongside Molly Ringwald in The Pick-Up Artist, and was almost cast as Duckie in Pretty in Pink. Some have argued that this technically means he should be credited as a member of the Brat Pack (alongside Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, and others), but this has never been fully decided.
Downey met his current wife, Susan Levin, when they were both working on the film Gothika.
Downey admitted to Seth Meyers on his show that he personally loves to attend Comic-Cons. This is in no small part because of the attention he gets while there. As he explained, he feels like “the mayor of Comic-Con” whenever he goes.
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Downey once escaped his mandatory rehabilitation. The judge who had sentenced him had broken his leg at the time, but when he found out that Downey had left rehab, he was so angry that he drove his car, cast and all, to the courthouse to put a warrant out for the actor.
On the first Iron Man, Downey only made $500,000 for his performance. That payment jumped up to $10 million for the sequel, and a whopping $50 million for Avengers!
While traveling around with his father, Downey Jr. spent a year in England during the 1970s. While he was there, he took ballet classes at the famous Perry House School in London.
According to Downey, he was once recognized while on the run after he had escaped from court-mandated rehab. At the time, he was wearing hospital pants and a Hawaiian shirt, and had wandered into a mariner's shop. He then asked the fan, who was the store clerk, to call him a cab to get further away from rehab.
In the aftermath of his addictions nearly destroying his career, Downey began practising the martial art known as Wing Chun. He credits his continued practise of it as a big reason why he has been able to stay sober.
Director Woody Allen had seriously considered Downey for his 2005 film Melinda and Melinda. Sadly, due to his history with drugs and arrests, Allen was unable get the film insured if he cast Downey, and he regretfully moved on.
When he got engaged to his now-wife, Susan, Downey ended up delivering the news of his engagement in the middle of an interview with Frank Skinner while he was meant to be promoting The Singing Detective.
Due to the uncertainty and distance required for major filmmaking endeavours, Downey grew up in several different homes that lay on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Among his hometowns are London, Paris, Greenwich Village in New York City, and Santa Monica.
Among his many antics during his time struggling with drug addictions, Downey was once arrested for breaking into his neighbor’s home while intoxicated. The reason was that he had thought it was his own house and wanted to crash on the bed. The police provided an alternative bed when they were called.
In 1999, Downey was in the middle of his low point, going through several arrests and failed drug treatment programs. At one point that year, he stood before a judge and tried to explain himself. His alleged explanation was, “It’s like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I’ve got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of gun metal.”
After he finished the film Less Than Zero, Downey wanted to take a symbolic step away from his Brat Pack life and reputation. His solution was to take his film costumes from the movie and bury them in the back yard. We can only imagine what he’ll bury when he decides to stop being Tony Stark.
Downey has stated several times that the actor Peter O’Toole is one of his idols. Rather ominously, both Downey and O’Toole were known for their abuse of substances.
When they finally made a film adaptation of the classic novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Downey was considered for the role of Zaphod Beeblebrox. Ultimately, the role went to Sam Rockwell instead.
In 1984, Downey began a relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker after the two met on the film Girls Just Want to Have Fun. However, after seven years together, Parker broke up with Downey over his inability to deal with his substance abuse.
Downey once approached the Family Guy producers to appear in an episode of the show. His son was a big fan of the series, so Downey voiced the character of Lois Griffin’s murderous brother, Patrick Pewterschmidt.
It’s already been stated how badly his time went at Saturday Night Live. But to this day in 2018, Downey is only one of two former SNL cast members to have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor (Downey did it for Chaplin, and the other is Bill Murray for Lost in Translation).
For Captain America: Civil War, Downey was paid $40 million plus backend for his involvement in the film. Not only that, an extra payout would be due to him if the movie outperformed the second Captain America film (since the contract stated that Downey’s presence would be the main reason for the success of the third film).
While he was preparing to play the manic and self-absorbed news anchor Wayne Gale in Natural Born Killers, Downey hung out with the legendary Australian shock-jock Steve Dunleavy. Later, Downey convinced director Oliver Stone to let him play Wayne Gale with an Australian accent. He would later name Natural Born Killers among the favorites of his films, and he would also reprise his Australian accent in the film Tropic Thunder.
When the sequel to Sherlock Holmes was fast-tracked, Downey stepped away from appearing in the sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens.
When Downey wanted to get back into acting after his troubles with the law, most producers in Hollywood considered him too risky. It was none other than Mel Gibson who paid Downey’s insurance bond so he could star in The Singing Detective. Despite the film being a failure, Downey’s performance was praised, and it opened the door to a career comeback.
Despite the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson, Downey continued to call Gibson a friend. When Downey was honored at the 2011 American Cinematheque Awards, he chose Gibson to present the award to him.
Another person credited with helping Downey embark on a comeback is producer Joel Silver. He was responsible for getting Downey cast in the film Gothika on the condition that he withheld 40% of Downey’s salary until the film was completed as an insurance against Downey's destructive tendencies. After that film, Silver also helped Downey get cast in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
While most people would say Iron Man was Downey’s big comeback role commercially, his critical comeback was arguably Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Shane Black’s neo-noir was not a huge hit, but was wildly popular with critics, and developed a strong cult following. Downey was highly praised for his performance in the film alongside Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan.
Downey had had such a good time on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that he would later reunite with writer-director Shane Black on the third Iron Man film. The movie would go on to make over $1 billion worldwide.
One of Downey’s most acclaimed early roles was that of Julian Wells in the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel Less Than Zero. Wells is the main character of the story, and his life slowly spirals out of control. Looking back on his performance, however, Downey revealed that playing this character felt like the Ghost of Christmas Future, and it escalated drug problems he had already been dealing with.
Downey received great critical acclaim for his performance on the show Ally McBeal. However, Downey himself looks back on that time as his “lowest point,” and admits his addictions were out of control. He even remarked that he had lost any interest in acting at all. Thankfully, he was able to bounce back from that kind of thinking.
During pre-production of Iron Man, director Jon Favreau collaborated with Downey on what they wanted to do with the movie. Downey worked hard to keep comedy throughout the film, rather than have Tony Stark turn into another “Dudley Do-Right” kind of superhero. His work paid off in the billions later.
When Downey first sought the role of Sherlock Holmes, director Guy Ritchie was initially uncertain about casting him. He was interested in casting a younger actor to give the film more of an origin story feel. However, he could neither deny that the role was perfect for Downey, nor that the actor had a flawless English accent.
In 2000, Downey was working on Ally McBeal and decided to celebrate Thanksgiving properly. By the time the cops arrived at Downey’s hotel room in Palm Springs to shut down the party, Downey was discovered carrying drugs and was in the company of several strippers, one of whom was dressed as Wonder Woman.
For the third Sherlock Holmes film, Jude Law came up with a rather strange idea for the story: He thought that Sherlock Holmes and Watson should travel to the year 2024 through an edible time machine (that part was apparently Downey's idea). Guy Ritchie was unconvinced. When the guy who made King Arthur: Legend of the Sword doesn’t like your idea, you know it must be really bad.
Downey received his second Oscar nomination for his performance as the extreme method actor Kirk Lazarus in the film Tropic Thunder. This made him one of only two supporting actor nominations that were given to men for a comedic performance (the other went to Chris Cooper for Adaptation).
In 2015, Downey became involved in providing a special present for Alex Pring. Pring was seven years old, he was a huge fan of superhero movies, and was missing his right arm above the elbow. Downey met with Pring and presented him with a robotic arm designed to look like an Iron Man arm.
Downey has admitted that the problem with his drug addictions began at a startlingly early age. His father encouraged Downey to try THC and alcohol before he had entered his teens. He would go on to dabble in harder drugs.
Director David Fincher is known for his extreme perfectionism, but things got serious on the crime film Zodiac. Switching from film to digital filmmaking meant that Fincher could indulge himself even further, much to the fury of actors such as Downey, who got fewer breaks during the long hours of filming. Stuck on set and needing to use the bathroom, Downey began peeing in jars and leaving them around the set as a protest of Fincher’s behavior and attitude.
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