Robert John Downey Jr. (born April 4, 1965) is an American actor and producer born in New York City, New York. The son of film director Robert Downey Sr., Downey made his screen debut at the age of 5 when he appeared in one of his father's films, Pound (1970), and has worked consistently in film and television ever since.
During the 1980s, he was a cast member on the NBC sketch show Saturday Night Livenote and had roles in a series of coming-of-age films associated with the Brat Pack. He was cast to read one of the letters in the 1987 film Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam before his rise to fame. Less Than Zero is particularly notable, not only because it was the first time Downey's acting would be acknowledged by critics, but also because the role pushed Downey's already-existing drug habit one step further. After Zero, Downey started landing roles in bigger films, such as Air America and Soapdish. These higher-profile roles eventually led to his being cast as Charlie Chaplin in the 1992 biopic Chaplin, for which he gained an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
In the late 90s, Downey was frequently arrested on drug-related charges and went through several drug treatment programs, but had difficulty staying sober. In 1999, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison, although only served a year. After being released from the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in 2000, Downey joined the cast of the hit television series Ally McBeal, playing the new Love Interest of Calista Flockhart's title character. His performance was praised and he was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Film, but his character was written out when Downey was fired after two arrests in late 2000 and early 2001.
After one last stay in a court-ordered drug treatment program, Downey finally achieved lasting sobriety in 2003 and his career began to take off again. He appeared in semi-independent films such as The Singing Detective, A Scanner Darkly and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He also had supporting roles in the mainstream films Gothika, Good Night, and Good Luck. and Zodiac. In 2004, Downey released his debut studio album The Futurist, although he was involved with music a little earlier; that's him walking around in the Elton John video for "I Want Love."
In 2008, Downey started playing the Marvel Comics superhero Tony Stark / Iron Man in the adaptation Iron Man, which kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His lauded interpretation of the role turned that grade-B comic book character into a pop-culture icon, defined the tone of the MCU, made him its biggest star and practically became his most iconic role. Not counting Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, Tony Stark/Iron Man is the superhero that has appeared in the biggest number of films in that setting. And somehow, playing a Super Hero with undeniable talent and a substance abuse problem seemed to be natural for him. He also went on to redefine Sherlock Holmes for the big screen in Guy Ritchie's film series, with martial arts, dry wit and quirkiness combined with Ritchie's flair for slow motion and detailing flashbacks. In 2015, the state of California pardoned his 1996 drug and weapons arrest.
Tropic Thunder, in which he played Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus who is overly engrossed in his role as an African-American soldier, earned him his second Oscar nomination, in the category of Best Supporting Actor, which he lost to Heath Ledger (but not before being lauded by Cuba Gooding Jr. as the only man crazy enough — and good enough — to do blackface in the 21st century).
- Tuff Turf (1985) as Jimmy Parker
- Weird Science (1985) as Ian
- Saturday Night Live (1985) as himself
- Back to School (1986) as Derek Lutz
- Less Than Zero (1987) as Julian Wells
- Johnny Be Good (1988) as Leo
- Chances Are (1989) as Alex Finch/Louie Jeffries
- Air America (1990) as Billy Covington
- Soap Dish (1991) as David Seton Barnes
- Chaplin (1992) as Charlie Chaplin
- Heart and Souls (1993) as Thomas Reilly
- Short Cuts (1993) as Bill Bush
- Natural Born Killers (1994) as Wayne Gale
- Only You (1994) as Peter Wright
- Richard III (1995) as Earl Rivers
- Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (1995) as Mr. Willowby
- Restoration (1995) as Dr. Robert Merivel
- One Night Stand (1997) as Charlie
- The Gingerbread Man (1998) as Clyde Pell
- U.S. Marshals (1998) as John Royce
- Bowfinger (1999) as Jerry Renfro
- Wonder Boys (2000) as Terry Crabtree
- Ally McBeal (2000) as Larry Paul
- Gothika (2003) as Pete Graham
- The Singing Detective (2003) as Dan Dark
- Family Guy (2005) as Patrick Pewterschidmt
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) as Harry Lockhart
- Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) as Joseph Wershba
- The Shaggy Dog (2006) as Dr. Kozak
- A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006) as Dito Montiel
- A Scanner Darkly (2006) as James Barris
- Zodiac (2007) as Paul Avery
- Charlie Bartlett (2007) as Principal Nathan Gardner
- Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008 — 2019) as Tony Stark / Iron Man:
- Tropic Thunder (2008) as Kirk Lazarus / Sgt. Lincoln Osiris
- The Soloist (2009) as Steven Lopez
- Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes series as Sherlock Holmes
- Due Date (2010) as Peter Highman
- Chef (2014) as Marvin
- The Judge (2014) as Hank Palmer
- The Nice Guys (2016) as Sid Shattuck note
- Dolittle (2020) as Dr. John Dolittle
- Oppenheimer (2023) as Lewis Strauss
Robert Downey, Jr. and his works provide examples of:
- Career Resurrection: One of the biggest examples of this in modern Hollywood. In the mid to late 90s, Downey was a notorious drug addict and was frequently arrested. In 1996, an intoxicated Downey was found at his neighbors house passed out. He was later sentenced to 3 years in prison in 1999 but only spent 1 year at the California State Substance Abuse Facility in Corcoran. After being arrested one last time in 2001, he was later sent to rehab again, finally quitting drugs in 2003. Downey's turns in critically lauded films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, and Zodiac returned him to the realm of respected actors, but his appearance in Iron Man cemented him as an A-lister, to the point where the general public forgot about his controversies.
- The Cast Showoff: Downey writes music, sings and plays the piano quite well. As a result, this leads to some delightful showoff moments, including:
- Downey performed his own compositions in the movies Friends and Lovers and Two Girls and a Guy.
- The song played during the ending credits of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a Downey original from his 2004 music album The Futurist.
- Downey's acclaimed musical performances on Ally McBeal include a version of Joni Mitchell's song "River" and a duet version of the song "Every Breath You Take" with Sting.
- Harpo Does Something Funny: A noted ad-libber, Downey was vital in making the largely unscripted Iron Man as funny as it was. Also notable is that though Joss Whedon is the one who came up with Tony's quip to Thor about "Shakespeare in the Park," Downey is the one who decided to start taunting Thor about "weareth(ing his mother's) drapes."
- Meta Casting: Downey practically is Tony Stark, and really most of his later roles have been about talented men dealing with substance abuse problems. The Burger King reference in Iron Man alludes to the moment when he realized he hit rock bottom and had to do something to fix his life.
- Money, Dear Boy: He admitted he's probably not going back to his indie roots anytime soon, because most of what he's participated in was poorly-promoted, mediocre, and inexperienced.
- Old Shame: He hated doing U.S. Marshals."Possibly the worst action movie of all time, and that's just not good for the maintenance of a good spiritual condition. You've had a traumatic year, you've been practically suicidal — what do you think would be really healing for you? How about like twelve weeks of running around as Johnny Handgun? I think that if you talk to a spirit guide, they would say, 'That'll kill you.' ...I thought maybe there was something I was missing, and what I really needed to do was to be in one of those films that I love taking my kid to. It would end up being really depressing. I'd rather wake up in jail for a TB test than have to wake up another morning knowing I'm going to the set of US Marshals".
- Promoted Fanboy: He's a fan of the Iron Man comic series, even responding positively to the decision to give Iron Man an Affirmative Action Legacy successor. He also once watched The Matrix with his wife (who is also a Hollywood producer) and simply said, "I could do that." And thus set the plan in motion to headline a blockbuster action film after putting his old habits behind him for good.
- Role-Ending Misdemeanor: He was fired from Ally McBeal because of his drug problems.
- Romance on the Set: Met his current wife, Susan Levin, who was an associate to producer Joel Silver, while making Gothika.
- Scully Box: He's just 5' 8'' (1,74 m), so his superhero movies at times require him to wear high heels (as even his love interest co-star Gwyneth Paltrow can tower over him◊ — though when both have proper shoes...◊).
- So My Kids Can Watch: Downey's teenage son is a fan of Family Guy, so he called the show's production staff and asked if he could be involved in making an episode. The result of that was Downey guest-starring on the episode in which Peter starts a pro-obese men advocacy group and Lois finds out that she has a long-lost brother who was put in a mental hospital after seeing his mom giving a blowjob to Jackie Gleason, which triggered Patrick's murderous hatred for fat men.
- Star-Making Role:
- Debatable as it is, his role as the titular character of Chaplin was his earliest, earning him his very first Academy Award Nomination in 1992.
- Since Downey was considered a liability by production companies, Mel Gibson personally wrote and paid the insurance bond for Downey so he could star in The Singing Detective.
- In a weird way, Iron Man was also this for him. He had a popular career and was well-known before, but after his legal and substance abuse problems throughout the mid-late 1990s to early 2000s, he had become practically untouchable to the point of being considered a liability by film studios and was seen as something of a has-been and a tabloid fixture. Then he was hired to play Tony Stark, and since then he has been one of the highest-earning actors in the world, and is practically inseparable from the role to the point where people now know him as Tony Stark than his addictions and arrests.
- He also did it for Iron Man. Before the movie came out, Tony Stark was not considered one of the better Marvel heroes. He wasn't as strong as the Hulk or Thor, and Reed Richards was smarter; even Hank Pym was at least on par with him. He also had a plain personality (aside from his occasional playboy moments, and even those were few and far between, and more frequent in the '60s), and was involved in some very questionable story arcs. Downey Jr.'s portrayal not only revitalized interest in the character, but finally gave him a distinct personality.
- Throw It In: Endlessly. Examples from The Avengers:
- As Joss Whedon noted, the "That man is playing Galaga!" line was ad-libbed, and worked so well that Whedon decided to dub in an image of Galaga on "that man's" console as the scene's punch line.
- Reportedly, Tony's "Let's just not come in tomorrow" speech was improvised, as was Tony's taunt towards Thor: "Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?"
- The scene with Tony eating blueberries wasn't scripted; RDJ had a habit of squirreling food away around the set, and was hungry when they were filming the scene.
- Took a Level in Badass: As part of his rehab program, he began practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu. He makes use of it in the Sherlock Holmes films, and has even used a training pole in Iron Man 3.
- Typecasting: Oddly, Downey playing brilliant and dedicated yet deeply flawed heroes with a history of substance abuse (alcohol, cocaine) is what revived his career.
- Wag the Director: The MCU was supposed to further explore Tony Stark's alcoholism (as seen in Iron Man 2) but he nixed the idea, saying that it would have caused him to revisit a mindset that he'd worked hard to overcome. Tony's story arc was reworked to have him deal with PTSD and a never-ending need to be Iron Man at the expense of everything else. Given the fact that the original idea is exactly what happened on the film Less Than Zero, and that role caused Downey to go from habitual user to full-blown addict, it's probably for the best that Downey nixed it. And considering how Tony Stark's character got fully fleshed out and became so beloved, it seemed to have turned out for the better.