His resurrection has all the characteristics of an origin story for a Hollywood superhero: A gifted young actor loses his way, cheats death again and again, then straightens himself out just in time to conquer the world. But the way Robert Downey Jr. tells it, the reality involves a lot more detours, and the final act still hasn’t been written. With Iron Man 3 poised to extend his outrageous hot streak, Downey invited GQ’s Chris Heath to his house in Malibu to talk about where he’s been, where he’s going, and where all the demons went:
Conversations with Robert Downey Jr. are rarely linear, and sometimes it takes a moment to realize how one thing might relate to the next. But I realize after a while that if you keep up with him, hang on tight, and have faith, all kinds of strange sense may eventually be made. “That’s the great thing—it’s such a floating freak show,” he tells me at one point about the movie world. “You get a bit older and you start to see what’s going on backstage in the collective psyche of this ridiculous industry.”
What do you notice?
“Everybody is kind of the same. I’m sorry! We’re all just kind of the same.”
What do you mean?
“Nothing pleases me more than when somebody who was awe-inspired to be working with me realizes I’m just another schmuck that they’re bored of hanging out with on a set. I love that moment. I like it when that persistent illusion is smashed.”
But how does that fit in with something you’ve often said—that you have to believe you’re the most talented person on any set?
“Well, I try to instill that in other people, but it only gets you so far. That to me is just the precursor for even getting up, because nobody wants to see somebody struggling with their own confidence—it’s boring and it takes a long time and you’re probably not going to get there.”
But I still believe that you think you’re almost always the most talented person there.
“Yeah, but you know what? I’m afraid that’s just a tape that’s running in my head, and I’m really happy that it’s there, but it doesn’t make it real.”
And so if you stop that tape running for a second, how talented are you?
He smiles. “I’m probably one of the best.”