If Iron Man’s smash $98.6 million debut this past weekend is any indication, 2008 is about to get really good for Robert Downey Jr. While well-liked by critics and film buffs, and an Oscar nominee for playing the title role in 1992’s Chaplin, Downey had never experienced a substantive commercial hit (a supporting role in 1986’s Back to School doesn’t really count), in part due to his well-documented struggles with addiction.
Following the success of Iron Man, however, this year promises to be a watershed. Downey’s performance as a Method actor playing an African-American solider in Ben Stiller’s August action-comedy Tropic Thunder already has the Internet atwitter. This fall, he’ll star alongside Jamie Foxx in The Soloist, a drama directed by Atonement’s Joe Wright, based on a true story about a Los Angeles Times columnist (Downey) who discovers a homeless violin prodigy (Foxx) living on Skid Row. Oh, and he also landed a coveted spot in one of the film parodies for the MTV Movie Awards.
EW.com spoke with Downey on his drive home following an appearance on The Tonight Show, finding out how he’s handling all the success, what he hopes for Iron Man 2, and any other plans he might have beyond heading back to his house to see his son.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you doing today? You’ve had a pretty great weekend, I would think.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: I’m verrrrry well. It’s been absolutely nutty.
When did you first realize that this whole endeavor was going to significantly alter your fame scale?
For me, there were so many different bases to run. The screen test and all that, and then [director] Jon Favreau calling me to tell me I got the job — it wasn’t even the beginning, although I’ll never forget that day. And then by the time we were rehearsing and working with the writers and playing around, I kinda had a sense that maybe we were on to something just a little bit different. And then by the time we were up in Lone Pines, shooting his escape and landing in the sand dunes, I thought, Wow, this is actually looking kinda epic and cool.… But then Comic-Con really felt like we were halfway to something that might work. And then Jon and I were doing our world [promotional] tour, and really saw an audience that was just folks. You know, when we brought it to the military base in Korea, and we saw people showing up and really digging it, I thought, Wow, we got to really start pushing hard. Then we did Europe, and then the U.K., and then New York.
But all the way throughout the world tour, Jon and I would find ourselves waking up on these super-long intercontinental flights, and we just started brainstorming about, you know, if this goes well, where might we take it? And what worked in this one, and what does the audience want to see, and how do we continue this guy’s journey? What is it about him, and what is it about the way Jon directed this movie and the way we created the character that people were so overwhelmingly excited about? So we had a lot of heart-to-hearts. I don’t know if he used the penguin metaphor yet, but we kind of felt it was March of the Penguins, and we were just trying to keep the egg warm until we got it home, to see if was going to make it through the cold winter of a three-day weekend — or a three-and-a-half day weekend, as it turned out. So, I don’t know, dude. It’s this trippy thing where we’re going into another lap [of publicity] on shows that maybe weren’t so sure they were going to have us a minute ago. Now, all of a sudden, we’re geniuses. [Laughs]
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