In his new movie ''The Singing Detective'' (an adaptation of the 1980s British TV miniseries), Robert Downey Jr. plays author Dan Dark, a man whose agonizing skin disease fuels his descent into a fantasy world based on his own hardboiled crime novels and internal rage. Walking on the Dark side seems to come naturally for Downey, 38, who has grappled with downward spirals both on screen and off. EW.com talked with him about the agonies of his ''Detective'' makeup, Mel Gibson's back pain, and the on-camera fight that broke Halle Berry's arm.
ON MEL GIBSON, THE BOSS Not only does Gibson play Dr. Gibbon, Dark's nutty, bald psychiatrist in ''Detective,'' but he also produced the film, providing the low-budget production with some unexpected perks. ''He certainly Midas-sized the movie,'' says Downey. One example: With a single phone call, Downey convinced Gibson to move the set from a remote Los Angeles suburb to a local studio, at least partly because it was an easier commute from Downey's house. But changing locations wasn't the biggest pain for Gibson. ''His scenes were at the end of the schedule, so it was like the last two minutes of the Stairmaster for me, in that you know you can do it but you're tired and you're kind of over it,'' says Downey. ''And Gibson had thrown out his back and was pounding Advil. You could see the pain in his eyes. So we were kind of on a level playing field at that point.''
ON THE AGONY OF MAKEUP In ''Detective,'' Downey's Dan Dark is covered in oozing sores from head to toe, a gruesome makeup job that makes ''Lord of the Rings''' orcs look downright handsome. Unfortunately, the first try at creating Dark's skin condition was not only ugly but painful. ''For the makeup test, there was an inclination to use gelatin,'' Downey recalls. ''Anyone who had big hair in the 80's knows it dries your hair up into spikes. And they put it all over my face, so my face dried up into a spherical spear. Then it was cracking and cutting me and I got scars and stuff. So that was where we started.'' The makeup artists responsible for Russell Crowe's aging makeup in ''A Beautiful Mind'' were brought in, and the gelatin was promptly ditched.
ON WOODY'S WITHDRAWAL Downey is still smarting from being dropped from Woody Allen's latest film after the director's company allegedly decided against coughing up the insurance required to cast him: ''What happened with Woody Allen's company was, they offered me the film, and, I don't want to say they were irresponsible because they're a fine filmmaking company, but they did not take into account what was required. I don't want to say it's their fault, but it's certainly not my fault, and we could have worked it out. You just need a little more lead time and need to understand I'm like an exotic pet.'' Or at least more exotic than his replacement, ''SNL'' alum Will Ferrell.
ON LIFE AFTER REHAB Though the last drug charges against Downey were dismissed in July of 2002, the actor says even he's tired of seeing himself in the tabloids. ''People, especially fans, are so sick of this still being brought up,'' he says. ''It's gotten to a critical mass where I might as well have a camera on a urinalysis cup 24 hours a day.'' So, is he on the wagon for good? ''Prison was clearly not the answer for me. I think, as with anything else, it's about maturation. But it's not a simple process to extract yourself from something that dangerous.''
ON REBUILDING HIS CAREER Downey, who was written out of ''Ally McBeal'' after his 2001 arrest, says that his troubled past has done nothing to stop his phone from ringing. ''I get more offers now than I ever did,'' he says. ''I've gotten out of my own way. In the past, I'd turn everything down, because I was real busy either stuck in a closet rolling up hundred dollar bills, or I was on my way to Hugo's for breakfast and didn't want to be bothered because I was a snooty little bitch. I could never be bothered to hustle. Not that I'm a hustler now, but I'm out there checking out what's happening.'' As for his insurance issues, other producers don't seem to be running into Allen's problems: ''I just got an offer for something, and the insurance is all taken care of.''
ON ROUGHING UP HALLE BERRY On the set of the psychological thriller ''Gothika'' (opens Nov. 21), Halle Berry broke her arm while filming a fight scene, a mishap for which Downey takes full responsibility. ''Look, it was an accident,'' he says. ''If you're the person pushing the other person's arm back onto a cot, and you feel her ulna snap in your hand, and you've been pumping iron for six weeks because you're not in every scene... It was an accident, and I was at fault, yes.''