Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr's Big Comeback

New YorkThe funny thing about a movie like Iron Man is that it gets out in front of things, that finally theres something bigger than my past problems to discuss, says Robert Downey Jr., the star of summers first blockbuster, based on the famous comic-strip. He elaborates: The film kind of gives me permission that I dont have to talk anymore about the stuff Ive been doing for five years.

Though considered to be one of the most brilliant actors of his generation, most of the publicity Downey had garnered over the past decade had more to do with his life off-screen rather than on, a vicious cycle of drug addiction, arrests, imprisonment, and rehabs. But Downey insists that the last thing he wants to become is a Hollywoods poster boy for recovery.

Clad in a black jacket and pink sweater underneath, and with his hair trim short, the actor is ready to field questions from the press at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Having interviewed him several times before, Downey, whos 43, seems more relaxed and more contemplative, trying to see the positive aspects of his life, for which hes grateful and which outweigh the negative ones.

For years, friends and colleagues have tried to change his lifestyle, as he puts it, but to no availhe just didnt care. Indeed, Downey says his life really changed after meeting and marrying producer Susan Levin, who made it absolutely clear that she was drawing a line.

The change from what he refers to, half jokingly half seriously as my dark ages, had to come from his inner self. Hes well aware of the risks that producer Avi Arad and director Jon Favreau have taken. With a big smile on his face, he announces: Ive become a leading-man superhero in a big Hollywood special effects movie. Ive done something my friends thought Id never do.

At 43, with a baggage of over 30 movies under his belt, Downey is not your typical Hollywood comic strip hero, lacking the youth and boyish appearance of Tobey MaGuire (Spidey) or Christian Bale (the new Bateman series). And he is certainly aware that he was not the first or most natural choice for the part of Tony Stark.

However, Downey claims that he follows in the footsteps of other non-typical comic action heroes, such as Keanu Reeves, star of the Matrix trilogy, and Johnny Depp, a respected actor who became a mega-star after appearing in three Pirates of the Caribbean pictures. Though he doesnt say it overtly, you could almost hear him saying, If they can do it, I can do it.

It just happens that Depp and Keanu are the same age, and Keanu is a friend. Downey recalls a meeting with Reeves in a hotel lobby in Sydney, Australia when both were promoting films. I just looked at Keanu and said, Neo (his Matrix characters name), teach me the secrets of seeing behind the mask of reality. Reeves, by the way, gets the highest praise from Downey: When you talk to him, you can tell hes the most well-read and self-educated of all of us.

Talent was never an issue. A child actor, Downey is the son of indie actor and director Robert Downey, who had received a Best Actor nomination for the biopic, Chaplin, in 1992. Attenboroughs film was both an artistic and commercial flop, but Downey walked away from the project with the best reviews of his career.

Downy says that several years ago, he realized that the party was over, and it was time to put his career and life back in order. To that extent, he made a conscious decision to begin making high-profile movies, such as Iron Man the Ben Stillers upcoming raucous comedy, Tropical Thunder, a parody of Vietnam War flicks, in which he audaciously wears blackface, playing an actor cast as a black sergeant. Says Downey: Its the most stupid film Ive made, but its also quite brilliant. Go figure.

These days, Downey is more careful in his statements. Hes reluctant to talk about his former girlfriends, such as Sarah Jessica Parker, who he met and fell in love with on the set of Firstborn. The couple moved in and lived together for seven years, until she split in 1991. He says sheepishly: I dont want to talk about my girlfriends anymore because they get upset. Downeys first marriage was to model Deborah Falconer, a union that produced one son, Indio, whos now 14.

Downey recognizes that critics and viewers will interpret his role in a personal, even autobiographical way. After all, he plays Tony Stark, a man partly modeled on Howard Hughes, who loves good booze, beautiful women, fast carssavoir vivre, who goes through a mid-life crisis and decides to change his way and put his riches for a greater, better goal.

Known for his sharp intelligence, Downey contextualizes his role: The funny thing about Tony Stark is that back when Stan Lee created the character, the military industrial complex was not in. We were in an unpopular war, and Stark was a womanizer at the time that Hugh Hefner was getting a lot of gruff from womens rights activists.

Though eager to get cast in the role, Downey had no idea of the challenges involved: When youre making a movie like this, you think you can kind of phone your performance in, and its just a big paycheck in a movie thats either going to do big business or crashlike who gives a st.

But in actuality, work proved to be more demanding and more personal in different ways. Downey notes: Jon (Favreau) and I looked at this film as an opportunity to come to it from a disciplined place. I had stopped smoking, and Jon was on a diet, and we both were monastic when shooting the movie. Yet there was always duality: While living in this monk-like existence the whole time, Id do scenes where Tonys got chicks all over him, and Id be like all right, and cut, but after that, Id say, its time to do my yoga now.

Like the films renewed Tony Stark, who goes through a midlife crisis, the renewed Downey now holds that the essence of life is about values like honor, duty, responsibility, good work, and family. He says: Imagine if the ten or twelve richest people in the world would put their money for philanthropical reasons.

Despite his notorious off-screen publicity, directors and peers have been loyal to Downey, hoping he would pull his life together. Gwyneth Paltrow, living in London with her husband and two kids, is making a comeback in Iron Man, as Tonys assistant-romantic interest. She says her single motivation for doing the picture was Robert, who is the most brilliant actor of his generation.

Favreau, better known for smaller indies (Swingers, Made) and comedies (Elf with Will Ferrell) acknowledges that Downy can be handful, but he is also courageous and gifted.

Early wordbuzz in Hollywood parloris positive on the movie. So, like other Marvel superhero franchises such as Spider-Man, the first segment is not only expected to be summers first blockbuster, but also to launch a long-running franchise.

Conversing for an hour with Downey Jr. turns invalid Hemingways expression that there are no second chapters in America lives. In Downeys case, there will be third and fourth ones as wellparticularly if Iron Man catches fire at the box-office.