Robert Downey, Jr.
How did you hear about Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang?
The then-not-Mrs. Downey [producer Susan Levin] was reading the script in our collective bedchamber.
Just how collective is it?
Let me put it this way: when we get down, all sorts of archetypes come into play. It’s like Shea Stadium with two people. And she’s laughing her ass off, and I say, “What is so damn funny?” She says, “Oh, it’s just this thing we’re going to offer Johnny Knoxville.” That’s how I heard about it. Then Joel Silver said, “The good news about you is that you’re still cheap.”
Have you read those old Raymond Chandler books that the movie alludes to?
I did some research for Singing Detective, but that was more the British wordsmith approach, as opposed to that good-guy-in-a-bad-town thing. At some point, every guy in Los Angeles between the ages of 18 and 60 thinks he is that guy.
How long did you think that?
From the time I checked into the Chateau Marmont when I was 19 until three days later, when I came to in the lobby.
Had you crossed paths with costar Val Kilmer before?
A couple of months before, I’d gone to one of the infamous Hollywood Hills Kilmer gatherings. Val was still a little bit in fat-king mode from Alexander, but he was dressed English preppie, so he looked like the middle of Act I of The Legend of Greystoke.
I hear they’re working you like a dog on this new David Fincher movie [Zodiac].
The truth is, I’ve only done one day so far, but we’ve reshot it already. It’s so fantastic.
How did Good Night, and Good Luck come around?
Well, you obviously know who George Clooney is—
I’m sorry, George who?
Exactly. George Hamilton. Whoops. I read the script, I really liked Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and I figured he was going to make a good movie.
In your professional life at this point, is your main motivation not being bored?
It’s more being bored and being okay with being bored. No matter how you slice it, the chrome dulls pretty quick. Sometimes the readthrough’s the best part of a movie, because all the promise is there and you don’t actually have to do any of the groundwork.
What have you learned in the last ten years?
I’ve relearned the hard way stuff I knew when I was in my mid-to-late teens: humility and acceptance are the answers to almost all your questions. When I was doing regional theater in Rochester and busting my ass for 140 bucks, I’d light a cigarette onstage, and some blue-haired septuagenarian goes, “Put that goddamn thing out, or I’ll call the motherfucking fire marshal!” There’s something about when you’re 17-18-19, and your best idea for a weekday evening is to do pushups. I didn’t have a relationship, I didn’t have any money, or anything to go out and entertain myself with anyway. Sometimes a night where it’s you and a chair and a TV and a bottle of water and a couple of chocolate-covered espresso beans, it’s fricking magical.
Given that you’ve been through some hard shit, do you find it hard to take it seriously when people complain that the valet parking is slow?
First of all, I love to complain. I do it as a pastime. A great indicator that a man has fully matured is when half the things that come out of his mouth, he sounds like a toxic embittered grandmother. But I would suggest to just about anybody, go do 16 months in lockdown and see how much you got to complain about once you’re out.
You been following the Supreme Court nominations?
Not really. I did a documentary back in the day about politics [The Last Party]. People always used to say, like, “Get up, shake off your mushroom hangover, it’s time to go heal the bay.” I’d be like, “Yep yep yep. I’m a what?” “You’re an actor, that means you’re a Democrat.” Okay! I never had a chance to figure out what my leanings were. You’d think I’d be very liberal and open-minded, but I’m actually very hard-assed. I’ve got a lot of friends who are cops now, some of them get licensed to become a DRE. That acronym means Drug Recognition Expert. I’m an honorary DRE. Film producers come to me and ask about actors who show up screwed up on the set. “So he fell asleep—” “Well, it’s either Oxycontin, or did at any point did he try to make a model airplane? Did he have a project in the trailer? Alright, then he’s smoking crack too. What did he eat? Starch? How many coffees did he need?”
Where do you fit into Hollywood now?
I’m not an old bull yet, but I’m not in my mid-20s anymore. I recognize that I’m a survivor; I think I have something to offer of value. I love it when there’s anything you can show up for in life. I’m actually a really consistent and enthusiastic and fairly stable guy—although I did have a thirty-year dip.
Interview by Gavin Edwards. Originally published in Rolling Stone 986 (November 3, 2005), in a shorter version.