By Jon Wilde
Megastar paydays, two movie franchises and a comeback worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Which begs the question... What's the Downside?
'Sherlock 2 starts off good, gets better and has the best act three of any movie I've ever done. It's like the best sex of your life - if, that is, the best sex of your life took two years from start to finish,' said Robert Downey Jr
It exists purely to maintain Robert Downey Jr’s thriving public image as the most irresistible brand on the block – actor, writer, producer, potential director.
One entire wall on the ground floor is given over to pop-art portraits of every single employee, but by far the largest is that of Downey and his wife. The emphasis might be on the team aesthetic, but there’s no ambiguity about who’s ultimately in charge. Ascend to the upper floors and you find a large kitchen, three ridiculously plush bedrooms, a projection room and a terrace with barbecue and swimming pool.
'No nation on Earth can touch the English for eccentricity,' said Downey Jr
He’s surprisingly slim and, at 46, the only hints of middle age are a few creases around the eyes and flecks of grey in his goatee. His boyish enthusiasm remains undimmed. Having returned, he grabs a handful of vitamin bottles and a box of nicotine gum.
‘I’m off the smokes again,’ he explains.
I offer him my own brand, and his eyes light up with childlike delight.
‘I can have these? Man, these are the British gums. The originals. These represent a solid day’s worth of guarantee that I won’t launch myself like a heat-seeking missile on an unsuspecting public. Now I’m ready to party!’
When I last met him in 2007, Downey was moaning he was the only actor in Hollywood earning the same as when he started out.
Following his critically acclaimed performance in 1987’s Less Than Zero, it soon became obvious that he was as troubled as he was gifted. Between 1996 and 2001, he became the poster boy for self-destruction, being repeatedly arrested on drug-related charges and finally spending a year in jail at the turn of the century.
By the time he cleaned up for good in July 2003, he was only able to return to work – on the big-screen version of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective – after close friend Mel Gibson paid the insurance bond. Subsequent movies had little box-office impact.
Then, in 2006, he landed the lead role in the comic-book adaptation Iron Man, which grossed over half a billion dollars on its release two years later.
His next movie, Tropic Thunder, won him an Oscar nomination. The first Sherlock Holmes film made half a billion, as did 2010’s Iron Man 2. What changed?
Downey Jr on the set of Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows with director Guy Ritchie and Jared Harris (Moriarty)
'Attenborough helped me to see that if I wanted to act on any meaningful level, I needed to immerse myself in what was happening with British acting in the Sixties. He made me aware that all those great actors – Burton, O’Toole, Finney, Courtenay – figured out the whole thing and mastered it. He taught me about economy of effort and efficiency, even when I was out partying all night and burning the candle at both ends. It’s the raw emotion of the British model that’s most informed my own approach to acting.
Ritchie with Jude Law (Watson). The first Sherlock Holmes film made half a billion dollars
'The fact that I was acting in movies, I couldn’t see beyond that. Attenborough saw a bigger picture. How do you remain a fast bowler for more than one season and also retain the use of your arms when you retire? How do you sustain that? That’s how Attenborough measured success. It took a long time for me to understand that properly.
‘With Iron Man, I had to take on board all that Richard Attenborough taught me about ambition all those years ago. I realised I needed a plan. I looked at Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man and Johnny Depp in Pirates and thought, “I could do that kind of film.”
'I then had to seize the day when it came. I fought harder for Iron Man than I’ve fought for any other movie. I prepared for the screen test so feverishly that I made it impossible for anybody to do a better job.’
It was a random phone conversation in 2008 with director Guy Ritchie that led to Downey being cast as a swashbuckling Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century, but Downey’s fascination with the character’s creator took root far earlier.
During filming in London in 1989, he regularly visited Conan Doyle Hall in Belgravia to observe seances. The hall was part of a large 175-year-old mansion that housed the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, which for decades has invited members and non-members to witness the tilting of tables and levitation of wardrobes, aided by presences from beyond the grave. Its centrepiece was a large medium’s cabinet containing the chair on which Conan Doyle wrote many of his Sherlock Holmes stories.
Holmes, Watson, the Gypsy fortune teller Sim (Noomi Rapace) and her friend (Affif Ben Badra) in a scene from the film.
'To improve on the first Sherlock was one reason for doing a second film,' said Downey Jr
'To improve on the first Sherlock was one reason for doing a second film,' said Downey Jr
‘I’d go there mainly to sit in on the seances they conducted, where people would try to contact loved ones who’d passed away. It was fascinating. I went back recently to their new location near Victoria, because some of the plot of the new movie centres on fortune telling and mediums. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that it’s possible to detect the presence of a deceased person in the room simply by the way the curtains move.’
Downey is completely serious; like Conan Doyle himself, he has a long-standing fascination with spiritualism and psychic phenomena – coexisting, in his case, with a dedication to yoga and wing chun kung fu.
‘I’m not at all sceptical about clairvoyance,’ he says. ‘I’ve always been drawn to that stuff. Knowing that Conan Doyle shared my interests helped me make my mind up about taking on the role of Sherlock.’
'I'm the 76th actor to do Sherlock, so there was a lot to live up to. Not since Chaplin had I done something where I felt the character was so iconic in the collective unconscious,' said Downey Jr
Last year alone he made an estimated $31.5 million, including a $15 million fee for starring in the second instalment of the franchise. But Downey makes a shocking confession to Holmes fans.
‘Act three of Sherlock 1 was serviceable, but not really very good. With this new movie, we agreed it needed to be a big improvement. Sherlock 2 starts off good, gets better and has the best act three of any movie I’ve ever done. It’s like the best sex of your life – if, that is, the best sex of your life took two years from start to finish.’
He says he was daunted to be taking on the most frequently portrayed character in cinema history.
‘I’m the 76th actor to do Sherlock, so there was a lot to live up to. Not since Chaplin had I done something where I felt the character was so iconic in the collective unconscious. To improve on the first Sherlock was one reason for doing a second film. Another reason was that I got the chance to film in England again.
Holmes, Watson and Watson's bride Mary (Kelly Reilly)
‘When I got the part, I voraciously made my way through the Conan Doyle books and was taken with his charming attention to detail. Watson remarks that Holmes keeps his tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper.
Stephen Fry as Holmes's older brother Mycroft
‘I’m one-eighth English. And it’s an important eighth. My dad is half-Irish and I saw that eccentricity in him from an early age. For instance, he would stir his tea with an upside-down hammer. He would also claim to understand what the family terrier was saying when it barked.
'Now, there’s two ways of looking at that behaviour. Maybe he preferred a hammer to a spoon. They’re both made of wood, right? Maybe, just maybe, he could actually understand the language of dogs. Another way of looking at it is to say he was a wantonly eccentric kind of fellow.’
The influence of British culture on Downey isn’t just restricted to his acting; it has affected his entire life. With an underground-film-maker for a father and an actress mother, he travelled constantly in his early years, first visiting Britain at the age of six.
‘My dad was working on a movie in London, so we sailed over from New York on the SS France ocean liner. I attended Perry House, a prep school in Chelsea. I was there to study classical ballet, but most of my time was spent being a complete moron, when I should have been working on my pirouettes.
'I also spent way too much time focused on Monica, the most beautiful English girl you could possibly imagine. Coming from Greenwich Village in New York, London was like another planet. The weather was grey, but everything else was in technicolour. I was completely charmed by it all. I found it all so civilised. Hell, even the sewer rats were polite.
'It doesn't get any cooler than hanging out in The Punch Bowl with Jude Law (far left) and Stephen Fry and Guy Ritchie (centre), trying to keep up with the quick-fire English banter,' said Downey Jr
'When it comes to music, the Brits beat the Americans hands down. There’s no contest. But it’s not just music. I’m fascinated with British history, from watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace to the English countryside, the architecture, the street art.
'I’ve always adored British comedy, from Python to Billy Connolly to Blackadder, and I’m especially drawn to the cutting edge. It doesn’t get any cooler than hanging out in The Punch Bowl with Jude Law and Stephen Fry and Guy Ritchie, trying to keep up with the quick-fire English banter.
'I love Frankie Boyle’s work, but everything he says seems to be an instant controversy. Why should he compromise the simple truth that humour is about what’s funny, not about what’s morally right and wrong? I just hope that British comedy doesn’t lose its nerve.’
It was a random phone conversation in 2008 with Ritchie that led to Downey Jr being cast as a swashbuckling Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century
‘For me, anything that’s happening in public is going to have a level of gamesmanship to it. If someone really offended me, I wouldn’t say anything about it publicly. I’d wait for a quiet moment and have it out to their face. Or, more likely, I’d shrug and ask myself why I should care.
‘The media are always looking for a spat, and I have to say that I love it, even when it’s about me. I love tabloid reality, for the reason that everything is true in the moment that you read it. It doesn’t occur to me when I’m reading it that it might just be made-up garbage.
'Life is good,' said Downey Jr (pictured above with wife Susan at the Oscars)
'The truth is that I like Ricky Gervais and I’ve seen him around. I’ve just heard that he’s been invited back to host the Golden Globes in 2012. So, he wins. End of story.’
Downey is happily married to Susan, an influential Hollywood player who was a producer on several of his recent movies.
Aside from the Team Downey building, they own a sumptuous home in LA, along with a $14 million estate in the foothills of Malibu. He has an 18-year-old son, Indio, from his previous marriage to actress/singer Deborah Falconer, and he and Susan are expecting their first child together in February.
‘It’s funny,’ he says. ‘I used to say that I’d welcome a bullet to the forehead if I ever ended up as a 40-something, remarried, marketable, big-action movie dad living in a cosy cul-de-sac in suburban LA. Now I am that guy.
'It just goes to show that I usually don’t know what’s good for me in life. But I’m getting better at knowing that stuff. I don’t need to rub against the grain nearly as much as I used to. I’m 46 now, so the countdown to my half-century has begun. I’d have to be completely deranged not to stress about that.’
It seems turning 50 is the only downside that Downey can conjure.
‘Life is good,’ he says. ‘With a new baby on the way, maybe I ought to think about slowing down a little. But I can’t see that happening in the short term.’
And with that, the activity in the building becomes noticeably more hectic, as Guy Ritchie bounds up the stairs and announces his arrival to discuss Sherlock 3. Downey needs to get back to work. With laser-like sincerity he thanks me for coming so far to see him.
Heading into his office to greet Ritchie, chewing rapaciously on his gum, he turns and says, ‘Give my love to England. I do mean that.’
‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows’ is released on Dec 16th
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2068061/Robert-Downey-Jr-Sherlock-Holmes-movie-like-best-sex-life.html#ixzz1gjRM1nQF