Ahead of the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron this month, we here at The Indiependent are celebrating by looking in depth at the most defining achievements of it’s spectacular ensemble cast. Today, we’re looking at the career of, well… You know who he is.
One of Hollywood’s highest paid actors, and Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr is something of a cultural icon these days. After pushing through a tumultuous early personal life, Downey’s career trajectory has soared in recent years – increasing his stardom to dizzying heights. Agelessly handsome and effortlessly charismatic, here are some of the actor’s most career defining moments.
Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin (1992)
Like his Age of Ultron co-star, James Spader, Downey began his career in ‘Brat Pack’ eighties films such as Weird Science, Less Than Zero and The Pick Up Artist. However, it was in his performance as silent movie star, Charlie Chaplin in Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1992 biopic Chaplin, that Downey really broke through as an actor of immeasurable talent. Downey prepared extensively for the role, learning how to play the violin and how to play tennis left-handed as Chaplin did. He also had a personal coach that aided him in imitating Chaplin’s infamous comic posture and performance. The result was a charmingly accurate portrayal of a cinematic icon, that earned Downey his first Academy Award nomination and widespread acclaim. What makes this performance even more noteworthy, is that it is arguably the most disciplined role he’s ever undertaken. For much of his career, Downey has succeeded in playing cool, charismatic characters – that aren’t so different from himself (*cough* Tony Stark *cough*). But here, he had the responsibility of playing a real-life icon – as both a young and old man as well as in the guise of Chaplin’s personal persona and the ‘Little Tramp’ character – and all in a film where one of his co-stars was Chaplin’s actual granddaughter. It was a tough gig – but Downey excelled at it, producing a believable portrait of one of cinema’s most recognisable stars. And though he lost out to Al Pacino for the Oscar, he did win a BAFTA for his efforts.
Harry Lockhart in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is arguably one of the films most responsible for ensuring Downey’s comeback to stardom. Though he had featured in a few other films before this, (like Gothika and The Singing Detective), this was his first real stand-out starring role, since being released from rehab for drug addiction in 2001. The film, written and directed by Shane Black (who later re-collaborated with Downey for Iron Man 3), is a neo-noir dark comedy crime film, that interprets the hardboiled literary detective genre in tongue-and-cheek fashion. Downey stars as Harry Lockhart, a petty thief who inadvertently lands an acting job, whilst making his escape from police officers. Harry is then coupled with private investigator, Perry Van Shrike (Val Kilmer), as a means of getting on-the-job experience for his ‘role’. A number of other zany misunderstandings and shady goings on, lead the two into a dangerous criminal conspiracy, that involves a number of people, including Harry’s childhood sweetheart, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan). Though the plot is somewhat complicated, the humour embedded into it is incredibly sharp and the screen chemistry between Downey and Kilmer is just brilliant. Downey also features on the soundtrack, singing the song ‘Broken’ and his eldest son, Indio plays the younger version of his character.
Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder (2008)
Despite his lengthy career, it wasn’t until 2008 that Downey really found his feet in the blockbusters he is so renowned for today. 2008 saw the release of not only the first Iron Man film, but also of Tropic Thunder – Ben Stiller’s satirical action comedy. In it, Downey stars as Kirk Lazarus, an immensely talented Australian method actor who, alongside Stiller’s Tugg Speedman and a group of other actors, gets caught up in a ‘real-life’ battle on the set of a new war film. Somewhat controversially, Downey spends the majority of the film portraying his character’s character, Lincoln Osiris – a stereotypically black sergeant. The joke is that Lazarus is so dedicated to his craft and performance, that he will do almost anything to be ‘in character’ – hence his “pigmentation alteration” to become Lincoln. Like Lazarus – who even when the fighting starts won’t get out of character – Downey really commits to this persona, and it pays off to great comical effect. Downey also features in one of Lazarus’ faux trailers – Satan’s Alley – in which he plays a gay monk in a 12th century monastery, alongside Tobey Maguire. Critics applauded Downey’s performance in the film – startling and hyperbolic as it is – and he was nominated for a second Oscar (which he lost to Heath Ledger’s posthumous recognition for The Dark Knight)
Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
Downey’s portrayal of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s infamous detective in Guy Richie’s blockbuster film franchise, only further cemented his, by now, blossoming second acting career and increased his popularity to no end. Starring alongside Jude Law – the Watson to his Holmes – Downey is perhaps the most physical incarnation of Holmes in the character’s onscreen history; engaging in as many action-based fight sequences with his enemies as battles of intellect. Downey’s Holmes is also something of a bohemian, making him distinct amongst other portrayals. He plays the role of Sherlock to great comical effect and his rapport with Law as Watson is quite simply infectious; a bromance if ever there was one. There is also something of an electric chemistry between Downey and his Irene Adler, Rachel McAdams. A memorable scene from the first film saw Holmes tied nude to a bed by Adler, left with only a cushion to cover him – going to show that long before Cumberbatch hit the scene, it was, arguably, Downey who proved that Sherlock Holmes could be just as sexy as he is clever. Developing on the English accent he used in Chaplin, Downey produced a perfectly believable portrayal of Holmes that has been praised by critics and audiences alike. In addition, Downey won a Golden Globe for his performance in 2010.
Tony Stark/Iron Man in The Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008-Present)
He said it in the first film. He is Iron Man. His most infamous role to date, beloved by almost everyone, Downey is quite simply the perfect Tony Stark. Cool, charismatic, wickedly charming and just a little too arrogant for his own good, how could Downey ever have failed at playing this “billionaire-genius-playboy-philanthropist”? Clichéd as it is, this is the role he was born to play – and he doesn’t half love it. Never has an actor embraced a character so wholeheartedly as Downey has with Iron Man. And without Downey at the helm of this effortlessly cool and cocky superhero, it’s doubtful as to whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have developed as fruitfully as it has. Iron Man is the film that started it all. It lead to the incredibly successful on-screen union of The Avengers and more. Downey’s characterisation of Stark has become iconic and is, really, at the heart of Marvel’s success. It should be noted of course, that Downey’s portrayal of Stark isn’t all snarky one-liners and strutting about. Throughout his Iron Man tenure, Downey has also touched upon a lot of Stark’s vulnerabilities – no more so than in Iron Man 3, where Stark is revealed to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, after the life-changing events in The Avengers. He has the character down to a tee, and has received a number of awards for his performance, including a People’s Choice Award – which says it all, really.
Other notable performances include: Less Than Zero (1987), A Scanner Darkly (2006), Zodiac (2007) and The Judge (2014)
Words by Annie Honeyball