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Robert Downey Jr. Breaks Down His Career, from 'Iron Man' to 'Oppenheimer'

Robert Downey Jr. walks us through his legendary career, discussing his roles in 'Pound,' 'Less Than Zero,' 'Chaplin,' 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' 'Zodiac,' 'Iron Man,' 'The Judge,' 'Oppenheimer' and more. OPPENHEIMER is in theaters July 21, 2023, SAG-AFTRA members are currently on strike; as part of the strike, union actors are not promoting their film and TV projects. This video was conducted prior to the strike. Director: Adam Lance Garcia Director of Photography: Brad Wickham Editor: Cory Stevens Guest: Robert Downey Jr. Producer: Frank Cosgriff Line Producer: Romeeka Powell Associate Producer: Rafael Vasquez Production Manager: Natasha Soto-Albors Production Coordinator: Jamal Colvin Talent Booker: Meredith Judkins Camera Operator: Chloe Ramos Audio Engineer: Lily van Leeuwen Production Assistant: Rowmel Findley Post Production Coordinator: Jovan James Supervising Editor: Kameron Key Assistant Editor: Justin Symonds

Released on 07/21/2023


I've been thinking about this recently,

if I could talk back to that

17 year old who was doing regional theater in Rochester,

I would say, Guess what?

It's going to go pretty well.

It's going to be a lot of ups and downs

and I'm not going to tell you the specifics

because you'd get too scared,

but it turns out in a good place

and it never will get better than it is right now.

So just appreciate where you are.

Three, two, one.

[upbeat music]

I'm Robert Downey Jr. and this is the timeline of my career.

[upbeat music fading]

That tornado scared me so much, it made my hair disappear.

Have any hair on your balls?

I'm afraid to look.

Pound, is a film that my dad got the financing for,

I think the investors thought he was making a documentary

about pounds and animal shelters

and then he said, No, no, it's a live action thing

and I'm casting people to play the dogs.

Next thing you know, we're shooting it

and these character actors of all shapes and sizes

are playing various dogs.

And then I played a puppy.

My earliest memories are of cameras being on sets,

being on stages, being on location,

to the point where it almost seemed like

life was kind of making a movie and kind of being a kid.

At the same time, because my folks were mostly

underground kind of counterculture,

it was never like I saw later on, like my friends,

like Jason Bateman, who literally grew up in the high end,

you know, multi-camera TV show stuff,

our stuff was really weird

so there was always something that felt a little bit

outsiderish about it.

Remember the infamous coffee cup?

Oh no, don't please.

Oh yes, I seduced Blair without really trying.

There it is, there's a smile.

It's nice to see it again.

I'm cast with Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, Jami Gertz

and there's a scene on a tennis court

where I'm asking my dad if I can come home

and it was kind of an impactful

bit of a challenging scene to do.

My first day shooting and the director, Marek Kanievska,

who I argue is one of the greats I ever got to work with,

said, Everybody be absolutely quiet,

he's trying to concentrate.

And I felt like he told everybody, Hey, this is important.

And then I was like, Oh my God,

I guess I better concentrate.

And I just thought for a quarter second about

what's it like for all fathers and sons,

mothers and daughters?

Are they ever going to connect?

Can they ever understand each other?

And just having that thought in my head

gave me this springboard

and it wound up being kind of a pivotal day

where it was the first time I felt I was taken seriously

in a dramatic way.

I just need you to be my father

for one God damn day and just...

Just help me.

[birds chirping]

I mean, can't you tell when I,

when I'm telling the truth?


If anything, Less Than Zero,

showed me that there was a cultural relevance to filmmaking.

I'd seen it in, The Breakfast Club,

and a bunch of other films

and it was something about our generation had some sort of

valid statement to make,

and the filmmakers and artists of that period.

And you felt like, God, maybe I could be one of those folks.

[Speaker] Very formal everybody.

[upbeat bouncy music]

What the hell?

You're crazy.

[upbeat bouncy music]

Chaplin, was a absolute gift

and a real bear of a challenge

for someone who's 25 when I started prepping to do it.

But there were all these people that were still around,

just barely still around like Johnny Hutch

who came from, The Benny Hill Show,

and he knew the guy who'd really done these

choreographed things at the Karno Theater with, Chaplin.

So he actually had access to some of the books

of really what the choreography was for some of this stuff.

And he drilled me incessantly

for months and months and months.

And then having Attenborough, Dickie Attenborough directed,

he was like the Yoda of cinema

and just the fact that he cast me

obviously was the endorsement.

And then it was just this year process of shooting it.

At a certain point I had a one way mirror with a TV

playing VHS tapes of his old films

and I would try to match up where his face was in mine

and literally just mimic him

for hours and hours over a course of weeks and months.

I employed every single way

I could try to show up for that role.

[loud rustling] [indistinct grunting]

[laughing] [rustling]


[laughing] [rustling]

When you're 25

and you're given the keys to the kingdom,

you're going to probably come out of center.

Maybe out of fear, maybe out of confidence.

And for me, I at that point, not to boast,

but I was as much of a, Chaplin, expert

as anyone involved in the project.

And I was making corrections

to the things that were

factually and historically inaccurate.

To which Chaplin said, But puppet, we're making a film,

it's not a documentary.

I did learn at that point though,

that it's hard to tell a story anymore interestingly

than the way it actually occurred.

So I was saying, right before Chaplin did a film

called, The Kid, with Jackie Coogan,

his wife had had a miscarriage,

so that was his way of healing from the trauma of that loss.

He was like, Robert, the audience-,

and I was like, It's too episodic,

we have to make this [indistinct].

Anyway, you realize you're not the director

when you're not directing,

but a great director will incorporate all of your strong

associations and the things that you feel

are really important and find a way

to help you get them into the character.

[loud crashing]


I didn't want him to come down and he insisted.

I said, you got to stay at home

but he doesn't listen to me,

he's such a stupid son of a bitch.

[Harry weeping]

I killed him, didn't I?

Oh fuck, this is my fault, I'm sorry.

[Harry weeping]

[loud banging]



Hey, good luck.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,

that was a film shot entirely at night.

I think there was one day shoot and one split.

So the rest of the time we're getting to work at sundown

and we were working all through the night, every night.

So Shane Black is a night owl,

Shane Black is a legitimate genius

and he'd written what I thought was almost a perfect script.

And then Val Kilmer and I had kind of

fallen into this good repartee.

And at that point I'd never played a character

who was so overtly not intelligent but lovable.

And I think it was very freeing for me

because I'd hitherto been associated with these

kind of fast talking smart guys, which I'm not necessarily

I've just had some experience doing it.

And Harry Lockhart in, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,

he's kind of a dummy

and it was so freeing for me.

What happens when they drag the lake?

You think they'll find my pistol? Jesus.

Look up idiots in the dictionary,

you know what you'll find?

A picture of me?

No, the definition of the word idiot,

which you fucking are.

As far as working with Val on, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,

he's Val Kilmer, it's vintage Val Kilmer.

He comes in with such an

kind of off center point of view on things

and yet he's playing the one who knows everything

and he's smart and he thinks that Harry is kind of an idiot

but they become friends.

So I just found it so delightful

to be staying up all night with Val Kilmer

shooting these ridiculous scenes

about these two oddballs that are chasing this

kind of a, my case and your case, there the same case.

He's a really sophisticated artist

and I have nothing but fond memories about,

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Dick, just one thing,

is it true they got a print off the cap?

Yeah, they got a partial in blood.

But that is not for publication.

Hey, hey, come on.

Hey, it's me.

Did he say they got a print?


Working with David Fincher on, Zodiac,

was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

He is an absolute

master of this art form.

And I remember also the subject matter

is really, really intense

and so it wasn't like, you know,

a fancy free set.

And because I knew that this was something

that was really part of David's own history,

of his own kind of contemplation of evil,

you're trying to serve the director

and be respectful of that,

but I mean I remember, you know,

Ruffalo and Gyllenhaal and I

looking at each other knowing

we're getting a real education

in doing things in an extremely disciplined way.

That said, when I watched the film

there's a lot of kind of like fun and lightness in it,

which David Fincher always knows how to capture,

it's just not, he doesn't lean into any sort of indulgence.

He's a really disciplined guy.

And then the crazy thing is,

David Fincher is your best lunch date you could ever have.

He's so fun, he's so witty

and yet when you look at his work, you know,

he doesn't take himself seriously

but boy does he take his films seriously.

[paper crinkling]

[eerie music]

That's the only place that word and that symbol

ever appeared together before the letters.

The guy stole his logo off a watch.

How can somebody who's killed 13 people-

He claims he's killed 13 people

but which ones can we actually confirm?

There's three in Vallejo, one Berryessa,

the cabbie, that's it.

Bobby, you almost look disappointed.

Working with David Fincher

you will learn that you're more durable than you thought.

A scene can devolve into where

it just feels really perfunctory

and you're kind of almost on a automatonic mode.

But it doesn't matter

because the craft of trying to get things done,

like there was a scene

where he was trying to get it done in one shot

and we had to have done 40 or 50 takes

and people were a little bit exasperated.

He said, Downey, come here. Do we have it yet?.

And I watched the takes

and at the end of it I said, You want to use this in one?,

He goes, Yeah, I go, you know, he goes,

Downey's right, we don't have it yet.

Delete all 40 of those takes

and we'll start again after lunch.

And everyone looked at me they're like,

What the fuck is wrong...

But you know, right is right.

The truth is

[camera's clicking]

I am Iron Man.

No problem trusting Jon Favreau.

His films, Zathura, and, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,

came out on the same weekend and tanked.

And I think we were both really hungry

to try to reestablish ourselves as a formidable duo,

albeit individually.

Again, just like Attenborough,

his endorsement of me to play that character

and then Kevin Feige having the wherewithal to say,

Okay bit of a risk, let's do it.

We like risk, wound up being,

you know, a life-changing 15 years.

Tony? What?

It's going to be okay.

Okay? Is it?

It's going to be okay.

I'm going to make this okay.

Okay you're going to attach that to the base plate

and make sure you...

[electricity buzzing] [Tony yelling]

Was that so hard?

That was fine, right?

Anytime I was with Jeff Bridges

and maybe even more so with Paltrow,

you just felt that there was this chemistry

where you always kind of got

the definitive version of a scene,

whether it was loosely scripted

or a little bit more prepared.

Well there's a scene where he is doing a weapons test

and he says, Is it better to be feared or respected?

Is it too much to ask for both?,

and John and I were literally writing that

line for line as we went along shooting it that day.

And I put on sunglasses because it was all on cue cards.

It was that kind of thing where you go,

it's more important that we feel like

we're just coming up with this and we like it

and there's no trick we can't employ

to cover the fact that we're kind of

making it up as we go along.

But again, because you have that huge

cluster bomb explosion in back of him,

because the air mover kind of pushed me forward

and it was just one of those days.

There was another moment where Tony has escaped the cave

and essentially become Iron Man

and he lands in this kind of crater

outside the cave where he's being held.

And there was a windstorm that day

and we were trying to get this take

and it was very, Star Wars, esque in a way,

it was very reminiscent of what John has

wound up doing since with, Mandalorian.

And there was just this moment where it's like

this storm kind of settled

and everyone kind of looked at everyone, we were like,

Let's get one more take,

and that's the one that's in the film so.

It even felt like sometimes the elements themselves

were conspiring to help us do our best job.

Every film is an art film if you treat it that way

and the most important films can be garbage,

but it's always about teams and leadership and partnership.

Also that audiences evolve really quickly,

like they'll assimilate a new

kind of version of a genre

and then they'll phase out of it

and you have to keep

meeting and exceeding their expectations.

And I think that's where, you know,

now we're in such an interesting spot

because it's kind of like anyone's game

anticipating what audiences will respond to next

and I think it has really put the

cinematic and TV community on point.

[Joseph] I did what I thought was right.

You know I didn't just graduate from law school,

I graduated first in my class.

Good. I was first in my class.

I did really well, Dad.

You're welcome.


David Dobkin, I wanted to be in, Fred Claus,

and I had seen the, Wedding Crashers,

and I was like I love this David Dobkin guy.

Turns out we kind of almost knew each other

back in upstate New York, back in the day.

And he'd had this idea,

kind of a dramatization of a version

of how he'd had this strained relationship with his father

and then we started talking about great movies

like, The Verdict, it's such a rich fertile zone

to try to dig in, you know.

What was your reasoning?

180 days, that's solid.

Maybe he'd have cooled off.

Maybe he doesn't kill Hope, maybe we're not here.

Of all the years you sat on that bench,

all the people that stood before you, the leniency,

the understanding, the free ride goes to Mark Blackwell?

How do you explain that lapse in judgment?

We're really fortunate

in that I had such goodwill for Warner Brothers

with the having done several, Sherlock, films with them,

that they're like, Yeah, we don't know if this one's

really a fiscal win for us, but we love the script.

Go shoot it. And those days are over.

It's just 'cause the window's closing a bit, it seems.

[Speaker 2] Is there anything

that you feel like you need to

process in relation to

the possibility of not seeing him again?

I just don't know.

Sr., which is the documentary I did about my pops

with Chris Smith and my long suffering

Missus, Susan Downey,

started off as kind of a pre pandemic

and then into the pandemic, for me, I'll just be honest,

it was a bit of an avoidance technique,

in that I knew he was in the throes of Parkinson's,

which is a awful disease.

And I'm not great at confronting inevitabilities always,

but it's almost like it was this journey for me to,

in my mid fifties, kind of like grow up

and take responsibility for framing

how I had experienced my childhood

and now how I related to that parent,

as he was kind of, you know, in the last years of his life.

Had you two met before?

[Robert] You mean Junior and I?


[Robert] Yeah. We're getting to know each other.

I think anyone who sees, Sr., it can be a tough watch

but I would suggest that you find your way through it

because there was a certain point where

my dad made these very avant garde movies

and they didn't always even seem like they had a plot

and we had amassed all this footage in, Sr.,

and Susan came to me, she said,

You can't make this documentary

like one of your dad's movies.

This has to have an act one, two, and three.

And I was like, Well what's act three?.

And then act three wound up being his passing

and us kind of figuring out a way to

ingest that and make sense of it.

I don't know that there was any one part that was difficult.

When we started watching, Sr.,

we saw it at the Telluride Film Festival,

we screened it in San Francisco

at the same theater, The Kastro,

where I had been with my dad,

you know, when his films were coming out in the seventies.

And so for me it was more like I would be watching the film

and it was the story of my life with him and his death,

but it also wound up being this kind of thing of,

it brought me almost back to Chaplin,

where you make art of your life

and your life is kind of a movie, but it's not.

It was this very surreal experience.

And then there was just the grieving part of it where,

and I think it's why some people say,

I wish I'd been able to do something like this

for one of my parents or a loved one,

is that it becomes this kind of touchstone

and it's a way to have a mechanism

by which you can process a loss.

So it is, I'm super fortunate to have it there

and I think it'll be something that I use

as a kind of a, you know,

a bit of a self-help tool for years to come.

[Speaker 3] I can't believe it.

But here we are.

Catch me up.

What do we know?

One of our B29's over the North Pacific

has detected radiation.

Do we have the filter papers?

There's no doubt what this is.

White House [indistinct] are down.

Wishful thinking I'm afraid.

Are those the long range detection filter papers?

Atomic test.

[intense music]

The Russians have a bomb?

There's two Nolan's,

there's the Nolan before you've worked for him,

where he's kind of this very distant Oz like figure.

He's just held as we all know in this very particular esteem

because his acumen and his mastery of this medium.

And then there's what happens as you approach

and get into the system that he uses.

It's so hard to explain,

but he's a very, very singular fella.

So even the screen tests felt important

and not important enough, froufrou, high status way,

there's just an energy and an intensity to what he does, so.

And then take the subject matter

and then the fact that he's asking me to kind of

transform into someone who's extremely subtle and plotting,

who doesn't have any punchlines,

who's only charming

when he's trying to manipulate or undermine.

I found that to be a great challenge.

And Chris Nolan had said

he was likening it a bit to, Amadeus,

where there's a Mozart and that's not you.

Sometimes your Mozart,

usually your Mozart, this time your soluary.

And so I really took that to heart

as him kind of challenging the entirety of my

career trajectory and saying,

Don't use any of those things that have served you well,

find new resources.

And now the race is against the Soviets.

Not unless we start it.

Robert, they just fired a starting gun.

What's the nature of the device they detonated?

Data indicates it may he have been

a plutonium implosion device.

Like the one you built at Los Alamos?

There's something about Strauss

that I find he's very conservative

and very devoted and very much lived a life of service.

It reminds me a little bit of my grandfather

who was a Captain and did multiple tours in World War II

and then came back and had a glass company

and did all the glass for the Chrysler Building.

I mean those old American lives where you go like,

wow that was a really exceptional generation.

But I also know

this thing of comparison,

of why don't I have what he or she or they have.

It's ugly and it's a preoccupation I think

that can be particular to a kind of American exceptionalism.

And so with all these forces that were

at play during the Cold War,

it was great for me to have held this position

of kind of a righteous indignation

with what all these liberal geniuses were up to.

In a way I felt like I got to be a critic

of what might be a perception of myself or others

throughout the entirety of my career.

And so I got to do that counterpoint,

it was almost like I was in a debate

with the aspects of myself that I have glorified

and I was able to look at each one of them and say,

That's not entirely right

and maybe you don't deserve that.

And it's been a great dialogue.

And I have a feeling,

part of the reason Nolan wanted me to do this

was to give me that kind of 180 perspective.

But I also, at the end of the day,

I truly believe that Lewis Stauss

did everything he did for reasons

that he thought were correct.

And I don't mean that like a superhero bad guy,

I mean that legitimately as a human being.

So I find it really kind of fascinating

that I'm still a little bit up in the air about

who was on the right side of history.

[upbeat music] It's like a currency,

the cultural significance of cinema and films and TV.

And I think that part of my generation,

just like part of the Maverick generation,

part of it was kind of, Yeah this is nothing,

you know, We're so cool.

We're really like dark and brooding

and honestly it's a privilege,

it's a matter of precision and discipline and sacrifice

to be able to do it correctly.

And I think that's been the one lesson that I've,

over a long period of time,

been able to finally assimilate and accept.

[upbeat music fading]

Starring: Robert Downey Jr.

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