Robert Downey Jr. is grooving on the great irony of being nominated for a supporting Oscar as "Tropic Thunder's" Kirk Lazarus, a pretentious Aussie actor who is so Method that he dyes his skin to play a black character.
"It's so funny to me that the role is a guy who is an Oscar-seeking moron. His whole motivation is Oscars," he says during a shooting break. He's starring in the first major big-screen version of "Sherlock Holmes" in more than 20 years, which moved from the streets of London to Brooklyn last month and wraps this week.
He then adds, "Irony is synonymous with pretty much everything that is going on."
If he is talking about his career, that is certainly true. At 43, Downey has gone from being an oft-brilliant yet erratic talent who bounced from rehab center to jail cell to being one of the most bankable and popular male stars around.
That he has accomplished this feat not in low-budget, high-art vehicles but in a blockbuster like "Iron Man," last year's No. 2 grosser at $318 million, and in the raucously profane comedy "Thunder," is fairly unprecedented.
"What I am doing is really quality films," he says. "The trend is turning back to commercial films that are actually, more often than not, where the quality happens."
That's what he is hoping for with his still-brainy yet brawnier re-imagining of England's famous Victorian sleuth, with Jude Law as a dashing Watson and Rachel McAdams as the deceptive Irene Adler. The PG-13 adventure opens this year during the competitive month of November.
"I was the picking-at-the-leftovers kid for the first 221/2 years of my career, and it changed because life is like that," he says of his good fortune after five years or so of sobriety. "Sooner or later, once you pull the one-armed bandit enough, you are going to get some gold bars."
Downey is clearly pleased that his efforts have led to his second Academy Award attempt after a lead nomination for 1992's "Chaplin."
He's told that the only other actor to be in the running while in blackface for an entire performance - or nearly, as in Downey's case - was Laurence Olivier in 1965.
"Ohhh," he says as the fact dawns on him. "For 'Othello.' "
The late Heath Ledger is all but guaranteed to take the gold for his Joker in "The Dark Knight." But if the impossible happens, it would be hard to be the actor who took it away.
"It's weird, because what you have is real life, and then you have the movies," Downey says. "When they intersect, it becomes disquieting that it also becomes something to discuss. But that's part of the deal. Anything that happens privately is public."
Gannett News Service