Downey was born Robert John Ford-Elias Jr. to underground filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. in Greenwich Village on April 4, 1965. From the beginning Downey was inside the industry, a blessing and a curse. His father got him into acting, and introduced him to the vices that would plague his thirties. Downey’s big break was playing Julian Wells in the big-screen adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s searing LA novel, Less Than Zero. Downey’s performance turned some heads in critics’ circles and put him on the map. From there Downey appeared in some bigger films like Soapdish and Air America before starring in Chaplin, a biopic of the great silent film star. Downey’s performance would get him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 1992. Unfortunately for Downey, Al Pacino was nominated for Scent of a Woman and received what amounted to a lifetime achievement Oscar for his performance.
For the rest of the nineties, Downey appeared in films both small and large, including Natural Born Killers, Heart and Souls, Only You, and the underseen, underrated Two Girls and a Guy. But in 1996, Downey’s life would begin to slowly kill his momentum as an actor. His first arrest in April of 1996 was merely a sign of things to come, as Downey was pulled over for speeding and had cocaine, heroin, and a loaded .357 magnum in his possession. And so a long battle with addiction and drug arrests would begin for Downey. A month later he was found sleeping in his neighbors’ bedroom under the influence. He would miss drug tests, be arrested, time and again. In 2000, Downey appeared to be free of his problems and joined the hit television show Ally McBeal. His role as Calista Flockhart’s love interest garnered great praise and earned Downey an Emmy nomination. But after two seasons, Downey was written out of the show as his drug demons had returned. The downward spiral continued, and Downey was in trouble over and over yet again. But Downey would return to rehab again, and this time it appeared to stick with him.
After being passed over in the early 2000s for roles on films due to the fact he could not be insured, an unlikely friend stepped up and paid his bond on a small film, The Singing Detective. That friend was Mel Gibson, and the film, while not very good, sparked Downey’s comeback in 2003. From there, Downey climbed back through the ranks of small films like Gothika, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and George Clooney’s Oscar nominated Good Night, and Good Luck. In 2005, Downey starred opposite Val Kilmer in the crime-comedy Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The film was criminally underseen and is a fantastically written picture, a perfect rapid-fire screenplay for Downey’s motormouth. But three years later, Downey’s comeback would be complete.
2008 was a fantastic year for Downey. Jon Favreau went out on a limb and cast Downey as Tony Stark in Marvel’s Iron Man. The film was an immediate success, one of the biggest earners of the year, and made Downey a legitimate superstar. That same year, Downey was nominated for his edgy comedic role, playing a white actor playing a black man in the action parody Tropic Thunder. From there it was another franchise hit in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, then Iron Man 2, and this week Downey stars alongside comedic phenomenon Zach Galifianakis in Due Date, a road comedy from Todd Phillips, the director of The Hangover. Downey seems to be a great fit for a straight man, and he has always been a naturally funny actor when the part calls for it.
Downey is in a new realm of superstardom now, but we mustn’t forget the impact Downey can have in smaller films where he can show off his ability to deliver dialogue with a silky smoothness and rapid energy that is unmatched. Unfortunately for Downey, so many years were lost between 1996 and 2005, when he could have built a steady career of much better pictures. Films like Gothika seem to be a step down for a person of his talents, so for now he has a seat in GENERAL ADMISSION. Let us all hope that his demons have been exorcised, and Downey will only get better with age.