“I’ve had several races,” Robert Downey Jr. said in early January afternoon, sitting next to his production partner and wife, Susan, in a cavernous sound stage on the Universal Studios stage in Los Angeles. “There was a career in which I was happy to be working. Then there was one where I was so happy to be able to work again. And now there is one I am working on, and their working.”
Robert and Susan Downey have been together for much of that journey, through difficult times, good times and ridiculously amazing times, since the period when Robert was struggling to regain his balance after years of substance abuse and multiple periods of rehabilitation and jail through his impressive return as Tony Stark in 2008’s “Iron Man”, the first in what would become a series of Marvel superhero hits of more than a decade.
Now, the two, who have been married since 2005 and co-founder of Team Downey in 2010, embark on a new chapter. After concluding his billion-dollar career as Iron Man in last summer’s giant “Avengers: Endgame,” Downey, 54, is looking forward to life after Marvel. But when he has already checked almost every imaginable box for a Hollywood actor: a promising prodigy, cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” sensationalist press meat, industry outcast, twice nominated for an Oscar, world superstar: What worlds remain to conquer?
“Robert is in an unusual place where, although he has had such a massive career, there is such a strong association with this particular character of Tony Stark,” said Susan, 46, who met Robert in the horror movie Supernatural 2003 “Gothika,” In which she was a producer. “So there is a lot of scrutiny of: Well, what’s next?”
The answer, apparently, is to talk to animals.
In his first post-Marvel role and the latest and greatest Downey Team production to date, Downey stars in “Dolittle” as Dr. John Dolittle, an eccentric Welsh veterinarian from the Victorian era who is drawn from his hermit existence after The life of his wife. death and, with the help of his animal collection, embarks on an adventure to try to save the queen of England. The $ 175 million movie premieres Friday.
For the Downeys, who have partnered in both smaller films such as the 2014 drama “The Judge” and in the big franchise franchise such as the two “Sherlock Holmes” films, “Dolittle” represents a leap into an unknown territory . Directed by Stephen Gaghan (“Syriana”), the film tries to give new life, through strange comedy touches and avant-garde visual effects, on a property dating back to Hugh Lofting’s 1920 children’s book “The story of Dr. Dolittle “. “(The story of the franchise on the big screen is somewhat checkered: the 1967” Doctor Dolittle “musical failed but, after an aggressive lobbing in the studio, he earned a nomination for the best very defamed film, while the 1998 version starring Eddie Murphy and his 2001 sequel had better box office results.)
Downey, whose typically idiosyncratic character interpretation was inspired by the eccentric nineteenth-century Welsh neo-Druid William Price, says it was never made clear that “Dolittle” would be his first post-Marvel movie. In fact, the film was originally released in April 2019, two weeks before “Avengers: Endgame,” but it was nine months late and underwent extensive reshoots, with directors Jonathan Liebesman (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) and Chris McKay (“The Lego Batman Movie”) is supposed to come to help solve what Downey calls a “really challenging Rubik’s cube technically from start to finish.” (The film, which has received a lot of negative reviews, will fight Will Bad “Bad Boys for Life” and “1917”, nominated for the best Universal movie, at the box office this weekend).
“We are not particularly strategic,” Downey said. “Also, the release dates change all the time, so to imagine that if I do this it will end here it is like pretending that you know at what time a cat will scratch its nuts or something. I just thought: something light, something that is a deviation enough for me where I feel challenged. “
Actor Rami Malek, who plays the voice of Dolittle Chee-Chee’s gorilla partner in the film, says that Downey assumed the role in his usual spirit of accepting the risk and approaching the unknown: “I’m not sure Robert knows exactly what it will be while doing it, and that’s the magic: the discovery, ”said Malek.
For the Downeys, who have two young children together, “Dolittle” is just one of a series of recent and future productions that are pushing the duo more towards film and television. “We are thinking about how we challenge ourselves and others to move forward,” Robert said. “Is there anything we can manage together? Is there any story of when Susan was in film school that I could write and that she would direct? We want to intensify our game a bit. ”
The two are executive producers of the upcoming HBO limited series “Perry Mason,” with Matthew Rhys as the Los Angeles criminal defense attorney of the 1930s, and this week he announced a first look agreement with the network. An eight-part documentary series called “The Age of A.I.”, presented by Downey, is currently running as a YouTube original. A peculiar and dystopian series called “Sweet Tooth”, based on a comic from the DC Vertigo printing press, is scheduled for Netflix.
And a series of film projects are in various stages of development, including a film about a real-life healer who transplanted goat testicles into men to restore their manhood (which will be directed by Richard Linklater), a third installment in the ” Sherlock Holmes Series and a documentary about Downey’s father, the pioneer underground filmmaker Robert Downey Sr.
Susan Downey says that such eclecticism is a reflection of the long-range interests of the Downeys. “We really don’t make our decisions based on,” Oh, this is commercially viable and fits this space, “he said.” We simply look at the full picture of, what is the story, what is the trip, what is the challenge? Does it give us the opportunity to do something we haven’t done before? “
Screenwriter and director Shane Black, who worked with the Downeys in the 2005 action comedy “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Iron Man 3” in 2013, has marveled at the years of how well they complement each other. “I think it’s just two pieces of puzzle that they accomplished after many years and many tribulations to meet,” said Black, who attributes to Susan the fact that she is “part of Robert’s salvation.” “She can be a little more practical in terms of coming from the producer’s point of view, and she gives him the freedom to unleash creatively and go as far as he wants.”
In fact, when sitting with the couple, that dynamic quickly becomes evident. At one point, when talking about his preparation for “Dolittle,” Robert cheerfully diverts into a discussion about how William Price attracted controversy in his day not only because of his nudism but because of his belief in cremation, “which obviously discourages a lot of things. in the air that happen to the decomposition of the flesh, ”before Susan gently reminds him that they are discussing a character in a movie aimed at children. (There is a reason why the Downey Team company logo is a nurse chasing a mental patient with a butterfly net).
I think it might have been liberating to have that character resolved in “Endgame,” so that he can now move forward like Robert. But he doesn’t shy away from Tony Stark’s legacy.
Director Jon Favreau, who remade Downey’s career when he chose him in 2008’s “Iron Man” and then directed him in “Iron Man 2” and independent chef “Chef,” says the actor’s restless creative spirit will continue to drive him while Trace your post-Marvel career. “I think it might have been liberating to have that character resolved in ‘Endgame’, so that I can now move forward like Robert,” Favreau said. “But he doesn’t shy away from Tony Stark’s legacy. In any case, I think it helps increase the signal, whatever he is exploring and whatever he is curious to do.
(Amid rumors that Downey will make a cameo like Stark in the upcoming Marvel movie “Black Widow,” Favreau said he hopes the actor will maintain his connection to the Marvel universe in one way or another. “We both feel as alumni of a university of which we are very proud to wear the ring, and sometimes the alumni association does a lot. “
As to where he will go as an actor after “Dolittle,” Downey, who won Oscar nominations for the 1992 Charlie Chaplin biopic “Chaplin” and the 2008 comedy “Tropic Thunder,” says he’s open to anything, big or small, citing the Indies “Captain Fantastic” and “Honey Boy” as two of his favorite films of the last five years.
“Sometimes I wonder if there is no perception about me that I am reserved for the next 30 years and if you don’t call me with the next biggest movie ever made on Earth …,” he said, turning off. “As if it were a middle-aged supermodel who won’t get out of bed for less than a billion dollars.”
“After finishing each movie, he likes to tell me that he will leave the industry and go to Rochester theater,” Susan said dryly.
“There are some people, and God bless you for having the means to do so, who are selecting, choosing, elaborating and methodically modifying your career from the outside,” Robert said. “But it’s very difficult to fabricate intuition. I don’t thrive in a development situation. I like:” We are doing this, now let’s see what it is. “
Susan smiled patiently. “You certainly have a bit of the” ready, shoot, aim “environment,” he said.