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Downey, Robert Jr.

DOWNEY, Robert Jr.



Nationality: American. Born: New York, New York, 4 April 1965; son of Robert Downey, film director and producer. Family: Married Deborah Falconer (an actress, singer, and songwriter), 1993; children: Indio (son). Career: Actor; appeared on Saturday Night Live, 1985–86; partner, Herd of Turtles production company. Awards: British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best Actor, for Chaplin, 1993; Boston Society of Film Critics Award (Third Place) for Best Supporting Actor, for One Night Stand, 1997. Agent: Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90212–4183, U.S.A.


Films as Actor:

1970

Pound (Downey, Sr.) (as Puppy)

1972

Greaser's Palace (Downey, Sr.) (uncredited)

1980

Up the Academy (Downey, Sr.) (uncredited)

1983

Baby, It's You (Sayles) (as Stewart)

1984

Firstborn (Apted) (as Lee)

1985

Weird Science (as Robert Downey) (Hughes) (as Ian); Tuff Turf (as Robert Downey) (Kiersch) (as Jimmy Parker); Mussolini: The Untold Story (Graham—mini for TV) (as Bruno Mussolini)

1986

Back to School (Metter) (as Derek); America (Moonbeam) (Downey, Sr.)

1987

Less Than Zero (Kanievska) (as Julian Wells); Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (Couturié—doc, for TV) (as voice); The Pick-up Artist (Toback) (as Jack Jericho)

1988

1969 (Thompson) (as Ralph); Johnny Be Good (Bud S. Smith) (as Leo Wiggins); Rented Lips (Downey, Sr.) (as Wolf Dangler)

1989

That's Adequate (Hurwitz) (as Albert Einstein); Chances Are (Ardolino) (as Alex Finch); True Believer (Fighting Justice) (Ruben) (as Roger Baron)

1990

Air America (Spottiswoode) (as Billy Covington)

1991

Soapdish (Hoffman) (as David Seton Barnes); Too Much Sun (Downey, Sr.) (as Reed Richmond)

1992

Chaplin (Attenborough) (as Charlie Chaplin)

1993

Short Cuts (Altman) (as Bill Bush); Heart and Souls (Underwood) (as Thomas Reilly); The Last Party (doc) (Benjamin and Levin) (as himself, + sc); Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman In Carver Country (doc) (Dorr and Kaplan) (as Himself/Interviewee)

1994

Natural Born Killers (Stone) (as Wayne Gale); A Century of Cinema (doc) (Thomas) (as Himself); Only You (Him; Just in Time) (Jewison) (as Peter Wright); Hail Caesar (Hall) (as Jerry)

1995

Home for the Holidays (Foster) (as Thomas 'Tommy' Larson); Richard III (Loncraine) (as Rivers); Restoration (Hoffman) (as Robert Merivel); Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (Stone—for TV) (as Mr. Willowby)

1996

Danger Zone (Eastman) (as Jim)

1997

Hugo Pool (Downey, Sr.) (as Franz Mazur); One Night Stand (Figgis) (as Charlie); Two Girls and a Guy (Toback) (as Blake Allen)

1998

U.S. Marshals (Baird) (as John Royce); The Gingerbread Man (Altman) (as Clyde Pell)

1999

Black and White (Toback) (as Terry); Bowfinger (Oz) (as Jerry Renfro); Friends & Lovers (Haas) (as Hans); In Dreams (Jordan) (as Vivian Thompson)

2000

Wonder Boys (Hanson) (as Terry Crabtree); Last Party 2000 (Leitch)



Publications


On DOWNEY: articles—

Goldman, D., "Close-Up," in American Film (Farmingdale, New York), vol. 12, no. 9, July/August 1987.

Seidenberg, R., "Air America," in American Film (Farmingdale, New York), vol. 15, no. 11, August 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, 7 August 1998.

"The Trials of Robert Downey Jr.," in Moviemaker Magazine (Los Angeles), no. 28, March/April 1998.

Crabtree, Mike, review in San Francisco Chronicle, 25 February 2000.


* * *

The versatility of actor Robert Downey Jr. seemed to emerge with each acting assignment. While early works featured his youthful spirit in juvenile roles, he graduated to more eccentric and eclectic roles about the time he spent a year on television as a comedian for Saturday Night Live (1985–1986). The range of his acting skills can be illustrated by noting that within a year's time he played a pedophile in In Dreams, a closeted gay in Black and White, and a German ski instructor in Friends and Lovers.

While it appeared in the mid-1980s that Robert Downey Jr. would be best suited to light comedy films, he proved to be an eclectic actor who displayed an imagination that could embrace many genres: fantasy, adventure, crime, historical, and biographical. Of three fantasy works, Weird Science (1985), Chances Are (1989), and Heart and Souls (1993), the latter work became a brilliant exposition of the actor's subtle mimicry and physical comedy. In Heart and Souls Downey has four souls who only he can see and react with. They must complete a task to earn their way to the hereafter, and Thomas Reilly (Downey's role) helps them with each assignment. Two men and two women must enter his body to complete the task. With adept body movements and voice changes, he takes on the characters of relatively straight persona: he becomes a middle-aged man and a young woman as they enter his body. On a more comic level he assumes the voices and body movements of a big city hood and an aggressive big city Afro-American woman.

A year earlier, 1992, his voice and physical mastery of one of the great film comedians of the 20th century, Charles Chaplin, provided Downey a best actor Academy Award nomination and a win from the British Academy. Richard Attenborough, the director of Chaplin, had the audacity to incorporate clips from several of Chaplin's films, including The Immigrant (1917), The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), Modern Times (1935), and The Great Dictator (1940). Nevertheless, Downey enacted a convincing Chaplin with his skilled suggestions of the famous comedian's genius. The term "suggestions" is purposefully used because the Chaplin imitators, like Billy West, overstated the movements of this comic star. Downey handles a recreation of Chaplin's turn as a pesky drunk watching a musical hall series of variety acts—a routine from the stage the silent screen comedian used for his 1915 film A Night in the Show. Downey comes very close to achieving the subtle, even graceful, humorous reeling and staggering employed by the silent screen comedian.

In the best sense of the word Robert Downey Jr. became the chameleon actor. On the one hand he was able to portray the span of Chaplin's years, from his youthful music hall days to his final days when he was awarded an honorary Oscar at the age of 82. In marked contrast was his satirical portrayal of tabloid television host Wayne Gale, who preyed on psychopathic people in interviews for a sensational program called American Maniacs in Oliver Stone's controversial Natural Born Killers (1994).

Once more the actor used his versatility to change the color and tone of a previous achievement. The chameleon actor became a sympathetic court physician to Charles II in the well-named historical drama Restoration (1994). Downey's once-rakish Dr. Robert Merivel eventually receives his own restoration amidst the political intrigues of 17th-century court life. Critics and the general audience applauded his effective British accent and courtly manners.

Restoration had many characteristics of a drama created by playwrights in the past, and Downey made some inroads as an actor who could handle parts in Shakespearean plays. He also executed his role effectively as an earl in the British production of Richard III (1996). While this was a small part in the film version of the play, he displayed an effective rendition of Hamlet confronting his mother, Gertrude, in an exhibit of his possible present-day problems with his own mother in writer-director James Toback's Two Girls and a Guy (1997).

Toback gave the actor one of his first starring roles in the 1987 film, The Pick-Up Artist, a romantic comedy co-starring Molly Ringwald. For the next decade Downey proved he had a wide range of acting abilities when he embraced all genres from light comedy to serious dramas. Toback gave Downey a role as a closeted homosexual in the 1999 psychological drama Black and White. The writer director said of Downey: "The same reckless curiosity which has led him to court destruction has also elevated him to the highest level of creation." Ironically, the actor who received praise for his depiction of a cocaine addict in Less Than Zero (1989) has had brushes with the law over his use of drugs.

Downey has produced outstanding portraits for a variety of directors. He has become the master of mavericks. For the 1999 In Dreams the actor handled the part of a pedophile with a flair for the bizarre. Dramatically convincing, he displays his ability to mimic sexual ambiguity with the facile use of both voice and body. San Francisco Chronicle critic Mike LaSalle wrote about the actor's portrayal of book editor Terry Crabtree in Wonder Boys (2000): "[He] provides the one consistent point of light for the picture. . . In a movie in which every other character is vague, ambivalent, or drug-addled, Downey plays Crabtree with crispness and invention." This solid performance as a manipulative gay editor of fictional books shows Downey's growing authority as an actor. He becomes so confident with each part that he often transcends the leading actors in the film. In Wonder Boys he steals the focus from the older and more experienced Michael Douglas's flawed portrait of a teacher-novelist on the skids—a former "wonder boy."

—Donald McCaffrey

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