Robert Downey Jr may have earned more money than any other actor last year, but what he really wants is to win awards.
Even though he’ll never admit it, but two years ago when Downey wasn’t nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in The Judge, he was angry.
The 51-year-old actor passed on presenting at the next awards show. But a year later all is forgiven. And at the press conference for Captain America: Civil War, he’s the most agreeable person in the room. He was sardonic, witty, and amusing.
Ever since he was chosen by Richard Attenborough to play Charlie Chaplin in that film biography released in 1992 – for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor – Downey has aspired to repeat that success.
With the help of his wife Susan Levin, a top Warner executive, Downey has become one of Hollywood’s richest stars, reputedly worth over US$200mil (RM800mil).
She was the one who shepherded his prestige project The Judge, and he was the one who devoted a lot of time promoting it.
Only co-star Robert Duvall ended up getting nominated for Best Supporting Actor during awards season.
But not to worry. Downey’s iconic role as Tony Stark in the three Iron Man movies and now in Captain America: Civil War guarantees he’ll never have to work another day in his life.
Even though you float effortlessly on screen as Tony Stark, playing a role like this is not exactly a walk in the park. It takes finesse, subtlety and sophistication to pull it off. Do you agree?
Look, I’m the first person who can be both judge and jury on my work. I will take myself to task pretty often, but I always realise, too, that the best place to start is from a place of gratitude.
When me and the missus went off and made The Judge, I thought, “Oh, I’m going back and I’m doing a real movie now,” but the truth is, it was the exact same vibe as doing the next Marvel movie.
Sure, there was more content in some of the scenes, and I got to work with the great Robert Duvall and I’ve stayed friends with Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong, but I could say the same about Captain America.
Susan is obviously someone you admire enormously.
When you see her with two kids, on the phone, running our production company, dealing with me, yet seeming so graceful and effortless about the whole thing, I just go, “My God, I lucked out.”
Do you think there’ll come a time when you might say, “Enough already, let someone else take on the Iron Man role”?
I’ve never been much for aggressively trying to plan what my career trajectory is going to be. Because (Marvel topper) Kevin (Feige) and the directors continue to be people that I genuinely like and are true artists, it has wound up being the perfect situation for me.
But then again, (Susan and I) have a four-year-old and an 18-month-old and I’m not young anymore.
But there must be things you still hope to achieve?
I don’t know. It’s such a tough question, and again something I learned from Susan.
She’s as organised a human being as you could ever encounter, and yet she doesn’t really think ahead as to what her life path is going to be.
She just waits for it to be revealed, and that’s how I’m now looking at things.
I’ve got a couple more Marvel films in the contract, and then I’d like to do a third Sherlock and then I’d like to kind of reinvent myself, maybe direct.
I also think that the people who wind up really having the best lives are people who support others in realising the things they want to do, so while I still have a little bit of cred(ibility), I’d love to do that.
The best production companies have always been run by people who fostered and got behind filmmakers and helped them realise their vision.
Talk about fatherhood the second time round (Downey has a 22-year-old son from his first marriage). You have a four-year-old son Exton, and now a daughter. How hands on are you?
I do have a daughter, and she’s just great. Yesterday morning she was eating pasta, and she decided she wanted to share the pasta with me.
I had just woken up, had some coffee. I really shouldn’t be eating dry pasta first thing in the morning. But I could not deny her, even though I almost barfed an hour later.
How are you around the house? Do you cook, do you have ideas on decorating? Do you collect?
Let me think. What do I collect? Lightly tinted glasses? (laughs)
I mean, here’s the problem. Just because my kids are eating pizza doesn’t mean daddy needs to eat pizza. It’s just so much fun to get into their world, but then when it’s time to go to bed and Exton wants a sip of soda, and I’ll let him. Then Susan will go, “What are you doing? He’s going to be up all night!” So, God bless Susan for really creating the boundaries there.
But seriously I hesitate to say what my daily routine is because it’s nothing glamorous. I wish I could tell you I arrange flowers, and then I make a petite filet for my wife. The truth is, I usually just walk around all day long thinking about myself, unfortunately.
Like the phoenix, you’ve risen from the ashes. Do you ever think back on that dark period of your life (when he served jail time for drug abuse) and how you’ve turned your life around?
You know, everybody rises from their ashes many times in a lifetime, and simply put if I’m thinking in any morose way about yesterday, I’m just inviting a faux depressive attitude.
I prefer to concentrate on the things that are ahead of me that I have to do or what’s expected of me.
Have you ever exchanged notes with the other TV Sherlock Holmes?
Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. I have met both of them. When Benedict and I sat down, we basically just started talking about our love for Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The most memorable moment in Captain America: Civil War is when you meet up with the new Spider-Man played by Tom Holland, who was so brilliant in Impossible playing Naomi Watts’ son. Can you talk about him?
Let me start by saying I am not some big mentor for anyone, but I am someone who’s seasoned in doing this kind of movie.
And here’s someone who’s at the very beginning of all these possibilities. But truthfully the best thing you can do for them is just confirm their own belief in their own convictions.
Tom definitely knew what he was doing, and in fact I might be appearing with him in the Spider-Man movie coming out next year.
Looking back on a career of over 80 movies, you must think of yourself as a success story?
You know, the weird thing about having some success in this town is that it’s kind of a false energy. It’s this imagined status.
I know I thrive best when I’m a worker amongst workers. I like being part of a community, being someone who actually is able to really listen and learn.