MOTW: "Iron Man" Saved Robert Downey, Jr.'s World

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
April 29th, 2013

MOTW: "Iron Man" Saved Robert Downey, Jr.'s World


Marvel's "Avengers" was one of 2012's biggest blockbuster films (Win "The Avengers", "Iron Man1 & 2" and the Entire Phase One Collection in MRR's May Giveaway), breaking a billion dollars in ticket sales in its first week. Its main star is Robert Downey, Jr., an actor whose story is almost as legendary as that of his Iron Man/Tony Stark character. Robert now stands tall with a successful acting career with major roles in films including "Tropic Thunder" and "Sherlock Holmes." However, it wasn't too long ago that his name only meant wasted potential to his Hollywood contemporaries.


The son of parents immersed in the industry, Downey Jr. has been influenced by acting since childhood. He was adored by critics early in his career, especially for his portrayal of the iconic comedian Charlie Chaplin ("Chaplin," 1992). An Oscar nomination for this role planted him in the A-list actor caliber. Newfound fame led to a series of bad choices, from a 1996 heroin and cocaine possession charge to several incidences of failed drug tests and rehab relapses. These issues often signal the end of the road for many celebrities. Some eventually die from an overdose, adding another name to those taken too early by drugs. Things looked grim for the young actor, who seemed more likely to have his name on a tombstone than on any future film credits.


Downey was not one to go quietly into the night. He reached a turning point where he decided that his life was worth saving, and step by step, he made positive changes in his life. In 2004, he started a long slog back to acting. No longer considered a top-billed actor, he took whatever work he could find. He made respectable appearances in films such as the science fiction thriller "A Scanner Darkly" and the post-Watergate story "Good Night, and Good Luck." His marriage to producer Susan Nicole Levin in 2005 is considered to be one of the keys to his continued success, due to her love and support.


The biggest break for Robert came in when director Jon Favreau cast him-much to the chagrin of Paramount Pictures-as the title character in "Iron Man," Marvel's follow-up to the tremendous success of the Spiderman franchise. Favreau supported his choice because he felt that RDJ made a perfect Tony Stark, due to how the actor's story mirrors that of the character in many ways. Robert could get into the character's head. For instance, in one scene, Stark is traveling with some soldiers in an armored vehicle when an improvised explosive device goes off and the IED flips over the transport. As he crawls out of the vehicle, a wounded Stark sees the terror of battle and also makes note of one of his company's own missiles that drops beside him. This experience was the character's turning point: he decided to use his talent to make a better world, instead of using his gifts in a destructive manner.


Due to "Iron Man's" success, Downey Jr. signed on for a successful sequel, and the "Iron Man 3" installment is currently slated for release on May 3, 2013. Stark is one of the most memorable of the "Avenger" characters and a fan favorite. This is quite an accomplishment when compared to the likes of Tom Hiddleston's impressive and charismatic Loki. Many fans can quote his lines, which goes to show how much an impact RDJ has had on popular culture. 


His other roles were offered to him mainly due to the complete turnaround he has shown. He was cast alongside Jude Law in the hits "Sherlock Holmes" and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." A third film is being discussed for this franchise. His versatility is showcased in Ben Stiller's comedy "Tropic Thunder." Downey's Kirk Lazarus-a black soldier-is one of the film's most memorable characters. Currently, Downey Jr. has several projects in production, including "The Judge" and "Avengers 2."


Although Downey's downward spiral over the span of a decade is not uncommon, especially in the brutal world of Hollywood, his recovery is fairly unique. Several lessons can be gleaned from his example. For one thing, it is good to be humble and to allow other people to help. It's also important to take any work that can build up one's reputation again, no matter how small or low profile it may be. Most importantly, a person has to want to change. All of these factors contributed to a fallen star's becoming one of the most recognized and sought-after names in today's Hollywood. Rolling with the changes turned out to be the most important role Robert Downey, Jr. ever performed. Maybe someday there will be a movie based on his inspirational life story.