Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downy Jr. in Iron Man 3

Robert Downy Jr. in “Iron Man 3”

Ably straddling the line between leading man and character actor, Robert Downey Jr. has made a specialty of playing flawed heroes, anti-heroes, and even some outright villains that audiences can’t help liking. Though he was once a tabloid regular, it looks like he’s apparently clean, sober, and reliable enough to star in major Hollywood productions, and that’s good news. Born in New York City in 1965, Little Robert’s early life wasn’t settled, but it certainly offered opportunities for creativity. His eccentric filmmaker father, Robert Downey Sr., gave his son his first character role at age five. He played a puppy. Later, he studied ballet in London and dropped out of Santa Monica High a year shy of graduation to take up acting in New York.

Not long after, Robert started appearing in youth comedies, often getting better reviews than the movies themselves. In 1985, things took a weird turn when Robert and “Weird Science” co-star Anthony Michael Hall were added to the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” The pair got more attention for their partying skills than for any comic ability. Robert continued working in films. A strong supporting role in the Rodney Dangerfield vehicle “Back to School” was followed by his first starring role with Molly Ringwald and elder wild man Dennis Hopper in “The Pick-Up Artist.” 1987’s “Less Than Zero” role nailed young Robert’s rep as probably the most talented member of “the Brat Pack,” an association he would later come to regret.

In 1991, Downey was cast in “Chaplin,” a film biography of the legendary comedian and filmmaker. After shooting was done, Downey ritually buried his “Less than Zero” costume in his back yard. No one was surprised when he was nominated for an Oscar. More and better roles followed. Robert proved a reliable entertainer, performing yeoman work on everything from the iambs of Shakespeare with Ian McKellen in “Richard III,” to the curse-words of Quentin Tarantino with Tom Sizemore in “Natural Born Killers.” His personal life, however, was famously in shambles and his name began to rival Keith Richard’s as a druggie punch line for late night comedians.

Following a release from prison in 2000, Downey declared himself sober. A strong turn in the comedy “Wonder Boys” was followed by a recurring romantic role on the mega-hit TV comedy, “Ally McBeal.” At some point, Downey fell off the wagon. Two arrests and the end of his first comeback ensued. After finishing more rehab, Hollywood was ready to give the messed-up but well-liked Downey another chance. None of the films made a huge boatload of cash, but they proved he could be trusted to show up and do great work.

On the Halle Berry horror flick, “Gothika”, Robert, who had dated Sarah Jessica Parker in the 1980s and ended a twelve year marriage to actress Deborah Falconer the year before, was apparently so charming and so reliable that producer Susan Levin married him in 2005. Since then, he’s done some of the best work of his career and upcoming roles seem to promise a shot at superstardom. If Robert continues this, he just might turn out to be best known for the things he’d actually like to be best known for. With the success of “Iron Man,” the sky is the limit.

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Robert on the Screen

Over the years, Robert has evolved into the kind of actor who simply cannot be dull on screen. Our recent favorites include his flamboyant alcoholic journalist in “Zodiac,” a conniving addict of the science-fictional designer super-drug “Substance D” in “A Scanner Darkly,” a likable thief-turned-film star in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and of course, Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” and “Avengers” movies. Still, it’s possible his best work remains “Chaplin.” It’s just a damn shame that the movie itself is as dull as any major biopic we’ve seen – and we’ve seen a lot. If you’re not a giant film comedy or acting buff, see “Natural Born Killers” instead.

Robert Says

On his rep:
“A lot of my peer group think I’m an eccentric bisexual, like I may even have an ammonia-filled tentacle or something somewhere on my body. That’s okay.”

On staying in the public eye:
“I think I’ve been lucky, being my frequent appearances on Court TV have brought to me another level than just the actor guy.”

On his personal choices:
“I’ve always been a fella who put most of my eggs in one basket and then take a dump in the basket, but I really don’t know.”

On his addiction:
“It’s like I have a loaded gun in my mouth, and I like the taste of metal.”

On seeing life from the other side while shooting “Ally McBeal”:
“It was so nice to go into this fake courtroom. I immediately went up into the judge’s chair. Nice view. A preferable perspective.”