EXCLUSIVE: After competition premieres in Telluride, AFI and New York, the Chris Smith-directed documentary Sr. simply began its run on Netflix. What started as a docu about Robert Downey Sr, the ’60s counterculture director of avant-garde movies together with Putney Swope and Greaser’s Palace, Sr. advanced into far more as the method stretched over three years as a result of pandemic and the decline of the topic’s well being.
Robert Downey Jr., who spurned Smith’s supply to make a docu about his life and profession, turned extra of a central determine onscreen, together with producing with spouse and Team Downey companion Susan Downey. On full show is all of the mad wit that knowledgeable Downey Sr’s movies (Paul Thomas Anderson thought of him a formative affect and put Downey Sr. in Boogie Nights and Magnolia). Sr. turned one thing you don’t see usually: candor from two generations of a movie household that acquired chewed up however managed to return out the opposite facet intact, bonding and therapeutic earlier than Downey Sr. succumbed to Parkinson’s in July 2021 at age 85. Here, his Jr. describes what the journey means to him.
DEADLINE: When I watched this documentary about your dad, I used to be a bit of jealous. My personal father died abruptly when he opened the door on the worst doable second throughout Hurricane Sandy. I believed, “How lucky that you simply noticed what was coming and acquired to create this bonding expertise together with your father?” People will watch and perceive each of you higher now, however that is one thing you’ll have endlessly.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR: Well, it’s a sport of seconds and inches, and such as you simply described your dad departing this world in a really unpredictable means, I feel if any of us can do one thing like this, it helps. It works for all of us. Because it’s all simply sort of a captured metaphor on the finish of day anyway, some sort of grace achievement.
DEADLINE: So this movie started with Chris Smith, director of Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond and exec producer of the massive hit Tiger King, asking to inform your story in a movie. You say, “No, let’s do my father.” Then, Sr decides to do his personal minimize together with your cinematographer and fellow producer Kevin Ford. And instantly we’ve got a movie inside a movie, but additionally one thing extra poignant. At what level did you and Chris notice this was a chance for a well-known father and son coming to phrases and creating closure in your generally rocky relationship, as your dad’s well being declined as a consequence of Parkinson’s?
RDJ: Everything is a calculated threat, and this had quite a lot of slippery components — one being his declining well being, the opposite being his disinterest in what Chris Smith and I believed we had been doing. And his growing curiosity in enlisting Kevin Ford to return over within the non sequitur facet of issues and by some means embrace the formlessness of it whereas understanding what our intention was the entire time.
Dad got here out to the Hamptons 3 times over three years, and the third time he got here out we didn’t movie a lot as a result of he was actually not — it wouldn’t have been respectful. There’s just a few snippets of it the place I’m feeding him ice cream and that was all shot at that time on Susan’s iPhone, as a result of she simply captured it in a fly-on-the-wall sort of means. Basically, from leap I noticed he was not going to make it simple for us to execute our inventive plan. I feel in a means the obstacles he unconsciously threw up had been –no one needs their winter yr incarnation wrap-up video. Because, you realize, once they say it ain’t over till it’s over, no one needs to acknowledge when it’s over. I even stated to him at a number of junctures after we wanted a little bit of gallows humor, “Dad, Act 3 doesn’t work till you chunk the mud,” and he stated, “Hey, don’t rush me. I’m working right here.”
DEADLINE: So you addressed that elephant within the room. Your dad was such an observer of easy issues many may look previous, like child geese in a pond close to his New York house, and it was humorous to see him in director mode, consistently asking the cameraman, “Did you get that? Did you get that shot? Did you get that shot?”
RDJ: I’ve to say too there’s a sure level within the course of I noticed solely seeing it in its completed type, with audiences. For some cause, I can’t actually course of this, watching it alone. I have to see it at these screenings and occasions and festivals that we’re at all times making a narrative that we are able to attempt to make sense of. But I feel at a sure level he was conscious of his lifespan, you realize, that “rage, rage in opposition to the dying of the sunshine” and all that making an attempt to sum up his life, his loves, his losses and his many, many, many missteps, and his flagrant disregard for security and conformity and sanity that simply having survived I feel was sufficient of an announcement. Being capable of discuss to him about each stage of his life because it correlated with one among his movies, I used to be capable of make sense of it.
The two massive issues that had been revelatory for me — one was discovering out that he didn’t actually have any assist till he was within the stockade, and that got here from a stranger.
DEADLINE: This was when your dad acquired thrown in an Army jail for yelling at a sergeant who panicked when the cargo aircraft they had been on crashed from engine failure, and his jailer gave him some paper and a pen, and instructed him to cease sitting round, and write one thing…
RDJ: It was the primary time he ever stated he had inventive assist, encouragement from anybody his entire life; he got here from an advanced, self-centered household. And then as I used to be reminding him and myself of what occurred with he and his second spouse, Laura Ernst, when she acquired Lou Gehrig’s illness, when he was her life companion and her caregiver.
DEADLINE: You may see the affect of that in his movie Hugo Pool, the place Alyssa Milano performs a pool cleaner who falls for a younger man who has ALS, performed by Patrick Dempsey. You acted in that and a number of other different movies your dad made. This documentary was extra a collaboration of equals, versus an actor taking path. How did these phrases change your relationship?
RDJ: Well, he was used to having the ultimate phrase on the instructions, actually path of what issues can be, and the introspection required for him to know that we had been primarily making an attempt to doc his life as an artist, a person, a father, a husband, brother whereas he was brief on time. I feel an necessary second was the minute he stated, “I feel we’ve acquired to face it and let the Parkinson’s be a personality on this story.”
DEADLINE: His rationalization for all his eccentricities is usually laugh-out-loud humorous, however it was totally different when he talked about his spouse having to hit his hand when he was at a restaurant and the opposite one started shaking uncontrollably as a result of Parkinson’s. Also, the second the place he needed to sit down, when he acquired a bit of dizzy whereas strolling. It gave perspective.
RDJ: I’m glad you stated that as a result of that was one other second. It was like, will we attempt to edit round actuality, or will we attempt to edit actuality in, and see if we are able to truly handle to carry and perceive? Because no one actually is aware of. Dad is aware of greater than anybody else concerned within the mission. What is it wish to be wanting on the void with a digicam on you? Understandably, it appears to him like, “Get that digicam off me and level it over there.”
DEADLINE: Before I noticed the documentary, I noticed the trailer. Now, trailers are made to get folks to observe motion pictures, and also you every had a previous historical past with substance points. I used to be stunned at a second that appeared to vow a “You must reply for Santino, Carlo” second whenever you stated you needed him to handle the issues with medicine that you simply every had. He refers to his as “15 years of whole madness,” and it makes him very uncomfortable to speak about it. It was dealt with sparingly within the movie, and why not? Your identification is Iron Man, and Sherlock Holmes and thank God, the opposite stuff is way in your rearview mirror. How did you determine how a lot to open up that door and which of you, your dad otherwise you, was extra reluctant to spend a lot time on one thing that clearly goes to seize headlines, however who needs to return there?
RDJ: Well, right here’s what I feel. Unlike the ’90s or the aughts, the pandemic and endemic nature of dependancy, what’s occurring with fentanyl now … the knowledge age has gone in lock step with the drug tradition because it continues to thrive and discover new methods to kill. So, you realize, it’s mainly like speaking about most cancers. It’s like Brighton Beach Memoirs — you used to have solely whisper it. Now, I feel most cultures perceive. It’s within the AMA as a mind illness. That is what it’s. It is a illness, and it’s virtually like, should you’re troubled with it, till you take care of that illness you’ll by no means know what illness goes to actually kill you subsequent. And what a pleasure to have the ability to arrest one illness, so you possibly can have some type of dignity for the remainder of your life, and I feel that’s the factor.
He survived one mind illness after which finally met his dying by one other. But that’s the truthfully sort of — we are able to make it as salacious as we wish and there’s loads of that. Like within the ’80s and ’90s, you realize, I can’t let you know what number of artists I love who there may have been so many fascinating interviews with them, however all [interviewers] ever needed to know was, you realize, “Were you actually on acid and cracked out whenever you blah, blah, blah?” Oh Christ! It virtually turned a cause to not must have extra fascinating conversations, however it’s nonetheless uncomfortable as a result of no one needs to confess full defeat over making an attempt to take care of one thing like alcoholism or dependancy.
I nonetheless assume there’s this part of our tradition that thinks it’s an ethical weak point. And additionally, you are feeling dangerous about all of the loopy shit, so then there’s the guilt button. I don’t actually know if my dad ever made peace with these many misplaced years, or if what he was capable of do and that dwelling amends to his second spouse Laura [was related to that]. I do know from Rosemary Rogers, his third spouse and the widow who survived him, it’s not like he hastily turned the dream companion. She referred to as him the Bob Job.
DEADLINE: What does that imply?
RDJ: He was quite a lot of work. As happy as my long-suffering Susan Downey is with the prerequisite of my timeless devotion, sobriety and monogamy, it’s not like hastily I’m just a few uncomplicated hell of a man. But a part of this Sr. factor, after I watch it with audiences, is that most of the time they aren’t saying, “I really like this documentary — you and Chris and Kevin and all people did about your dad.” They instantly go, “I simply misplaced my sister to Parkinson’s,” or, “My mom was a charismatic sort, similar to your dad.”
And should you have a look at this yr even, if you wish to go to the very high of the tree, it’s what Spielberg is doing with The Fablemans. It’s what Jonah Hill is doing with Stutz, and Iñárritu is doing a model of with Bardo. There is a return to the extra evocative, revealing, private — the sort of issues that the majority publicists would say, “I labored my entire profession to keep away from you doing this.” No threat, no reward, and the reward of Sr. has been, it’s an exceptional factor to be getting the sort of suggestions that we’ve been getting from the folks throughout the board. Industry insiders, outsiders, buddies, household, strangers, long-lost buddies who knew my dad in a special time. It’s been fairly a bit of mini phenomenon.
DEADLINE: As one who interviewed you a lot occasions for magazines, in good and dangerous occasions, I didn’t assume you wanted to open the door additional than you probably did. I keep in mind the final interview we did for Playboy journal. I leaned in an excessive amount of to a previous you set behind you, and it was disrespectful to you, and also you referred to as me on it. You stated, “h“How lengthy ought to Dennis Hopper must reply for issues up to now when he’s finished such unimaginable work as an artist?” I take into consideration what you stated, every time I see you on display screen. I’m not goal right here; I really feel happy with the way you circled your life, and I didn’t need you to reply all of it once more within the documentary. It’s the previous, and the film is about your father, and also you solely by extension. It’s the stuff that journalism focuses on for clicks as of late, however it isn’t your identification.
RDJ: I’m actually glad you stated that, and likewise, it takes two to tango. I in all probability overreacted a bit, and so my facet of the road is just not totally clear.
DEADLINE: You are being form. You deserved higher from me, or it wouldn’t nonetheless hassle me.
RDJ: I wish to return to what you stated about Dennis Hopper. It’s been one among these years the place I used to be on location in Santa Fe taking pictures Oppenheimer, and Alden Erenreich and I turned fairly shut. He is a type of guys who eats life. He goes, “Hey, there’s this place up in Taos the place Dennis Hopper began this type of loopy artwork group and he was there proper after he was doing Easy Rider.” Blah, blah, blah. I’m going, “Great. Let’s go. We acquired a break day, let’s go.”
When my dad was taking pictures Greaser’s Palace, some dope deal had gone south between Senior’s crew and Dennis Hopper’s — it was sort of like Hollywood bike gang and there was this massive second of confrontation that I keep in mind. I used to be 5, 6 years outdated. It was like all this rigidity on set and all wound up culminating at a spot referred to as the Dragon Room, and it seems the resort I used to be staying at whereas we had been there was 50 yards from Pink Adobe. We went to Mabel Dodge Luhan House, this artist group up in Taos that Dennis Hopper had developed. And there was such a way of calm and of integrity and of legacy, and I instantly realized that there was this entire different facet to those characters.
Call it my dad, Hopper, Hal Ashby, all these guys who sort of lived laborious. But there was, and I’ll solely say this as soon as and it received’t be with a capital I, there was this collective innocence occurring. And 50 years later, I used to be in a position to return to a few of these locations and see this different facet. Which is, these had been individuals who got an enormous voice. In some ways, they had been underdeveloped as people, however they had been artists and so they did the most effective they may, and it was fairly f*cking good should you look again at it now.
It doesn’t imply it was any enjoyable to be them once they had been within the thick of it, however our tradition is the higher for it. So, I don’t know. Make of that what you’ll. It’s a bizarre equation to attempt to get out on the again of a serviette and have it make sense, however that’s the sensation I acquired 5 many years later.
DEADLINE: What do you miss most about being the middle of the Marvel Universe?
RDJ: What I miss most? Being within the trenches with Kevin Feige all through; the start, with Jon Favreau, it’s like an exquisite dream now; the center, with Shane Black on Iron Man 3, we’d simply had Exton and shot it principally in Wilmington N.C. It was idyllic and subversive. And The End, after I realized I’d made so many shut buddies within the MCU forged, and the Russo Brothers serving to me embrace Tony’s arc.
DEADLINE: I keep in mind after we did the Playboy interview collectively the primary time whenever you instructed me that whenever you struggled as an actor and had been broke, you referred to as dwelling for cash and your dad was like, “l“Look, nice to listen to from you and good luck.” You had been by yourself. The documentary makes it clear his essential precedence was to scrape collectively the cash to make the subsequent movie; it made me marvel if it was robust love however merely that every one the cash went into his movies. Was the latter the rationale he stated no?
RDJ: I feel so, and I don’t know what he was going by at these occasions and likewise when my people break up up I actually went over into Camp Elsie [Ann Downey] for a bunch of years, as a result of I selected to try this. I don’t know. Was it some mid-century lingering — don’t search for a handout, ask for a hand up? I don’t know, however wanting again on it there are sort of some tough-love choices. That’s the bizarre factor, to have been past permissive on the one hand however then be sort of a tough thoughts, stoic, sort of conservative on the opposite. I suppose we’re at all times simply making an attempt to determine the right way to steadiness ourselves. It’s uncommon that any mum or dad will get it proper. Senior was an instance of any person who acquired it about as fallacious as you can and but…
I did this film referred to as Restoration as soon as. In London, I simply bumped into the director, nice proficient man, Michael Hoffman. He directed Soapdish after which we did Restoration. Anyway, Restoration is totally a metaphor for restoration set in Charles II’s England, and at one level the lead character winds up on this Christian retreat, and it says on the entryway on a plaque, ‘Behold, I’ve refined thee within the furnace of affliction.’
Going again to Greaser’s Palace and that old-time faith, it’s so humorous that that saying comes again to me as a sort of a cosmic rationalization far more usually than you’d assume a bit of set dec ever may. I don’t assume any household would ever determine let’s see if we are able to refine our youngsters within the furnace of affliction, however there’s one thing to be stated for it. I’d not recommend it as a mode of household therapeutic, however we’re speaking about it and we’re nonetheless right here.
DEADLINE: Indeed. I recall you telling me in nice element how a lot you ready to your Iron Man audition, understanding among the choice makers didn’t need you and so that you wanted a knockout for Jon Favreau to forged you. And you crushed it and altered your life and created an arc for blockbusters that continues at the moment. You went past a fancy dress and infused that character together with your performing expertise, and it helped set Phase One Marvel motion pictures aside from the rest. But it was so totally different from the flicks your dad made. I questioned what did he take into consideration you enjoying Iron Man, which didn’t seem to be a film he’d exit of his method to see?
RDJ: Another full-circle story. I exchanged my earlier obsession with an obsession for this function and touchdown it — and lest we overlook, it was Favreau who was pushing for me however knew he needed to play the politics or he would haven’t any leverage transferring ahead.
Then we proceeded to launch a historic run of what’s now the cinematic universe with Favreau and I primarily doing our model of a big-budget Senior film. With all of the templates of a style movie, with our intention of constructing it as marketable as doable. And that yr I acquired invited to the Time 100 occasion within the metropolis. You may carry one particular person and say how they influenced you. I introduced my dad and I stated how surprisingly being raised by him in his counterculture world, as soon as I lastly sobered up it wound up actually informing the strategy we took in making an attempt to reinvent the style. And I stated, Dad, you have got any feedback on this?” And he took the mic and he stated, “I’m not your father.” He introduced down the home.
It’s the one time my dad and I had each been sporting tuxedos, and I laid this type of vindication of our ne’er-do-well counterculture household’s rise to the center. We clawed our method to the center. And after I requested him what he thought, he had a punch line.
DEADLINE: And he publicly disowned you.
RDJ: You wish to discuss in regards to the final double entendre, you bought it proper there.
DEADLINE: This superhero mannequin you, Favreau and Feige ushered in, the movies get bashed by some administrators. Just lately, Quentin Tarantino implied that the characters are stars, not the actors enjoying them. After all that Tony Stark meant to you personally and the MCU, and the way that success unfold to actors together with Chadwick Boseman, are you able to give a perspective that belies a style getting used as a little bit of a punching bag by well-known filmmakers? I don’t precisely know the place I’m going, however I feel you get it.
RDJ: I feel I do. I feel our opinions on these issues say loads about us. I feel that we’re in a time and place that I unwittingly contributed to, the place IP has taken priority over precept and persona. But it’s a double-edged sword. A bit of IP is just pretty much as good because the human expertise you get to characterize it, and you may have some nice IP even when it’s coming from an auteur or a nationwide treasure of a writer-director, and should you don’t have the proper of artist enjoying that function, you’ll by no means understand how good it may have been.
I feel that creatively it’s a waste of time to be at battle with ourselves. I feel it is a time when all the pieces is a lot extra fragmented now that I feel you have got this type of bifurcation. Throwing stones a technique or one other … and I’ve had my reactions up to now when folks stated issues that I felt had been discrediting my integrity … I’m going, “You know what? Let’s simply recover from it. We’re all a group. There’s sufficient room for all the pieces,” and thank God for Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water. That’s all I’ve to say. We want the massive stuff to make room for movies like Armageddon Time.
I’m not speaking about trickle-down leisure. I’m simply saying that issues are at all times altering and I’m at a spot in my life the place I’ve now gone again to again, working with Chris Nolan on what was an exceptionally transformational expertise for me; having been in pre-production publish and bringing Sr. to market; and the next thing I’m doing is a series with my Mrs. and the director Park Chan-Wook, primarily based on a Pulitzer guide referred to as The Sympathizer. It’s already a transformative, actually enjoying 5 totally different roles expertise for me. So, I’d simply say, earlier than we forged aspersions on one another — endure your personal renaissance and see if it doesn’t change your thoughts a bit of bit.
Reinvent your self earlier than you determine that any person else doesn’t know what they’re doing or that one thing is maintaining you from doing all your greatest, or that one thing is healthier than one thing else. You know, we’re on this age now the place Favreau stated it greatest: We used to attempt to make waves in a lake, and now we’re simply making an attempt to catch folks’s consideration as issues are transferring by shortly in a stream. I feel that’ll change once more, however that is simply the place we’re at. And to just accept it and be grateful that you simply get to take part is the proper place to start out.
DEADLINE: There is one other laugh-out-loud second whenever you referred to as the director Paul Thomas Anderson the son your father at all times needed, and famous how they appreciated to rub your nostril in it. And footage of your father that PTA shot as Senior describes his earned aversion to flight, prepare journey and elevators is hilarious. Talk for a second in regards to the dynamic between the three of you.
RDJ: Paul Thomas Anderson is as a lot a nationwide and trade treasure as you can ever ask for. He’s discovered a method to have longevity in a means that eluded my father, and but the truth that he took some small inspiration and developed such a paternal relationship with my dad … positive I had my jealous moments, however I do know the place I stand, and I simply respect and admire each these guys.
However, I’m a bit of tad bit jealous of the laughs they’d as a result of I really feel like these had been two guys who had been capable of get to the foundation of one another’s humorous in a means that may be a rarity. I have a good time that within the movie. I additionally simply thought that it was a very good line to say. Sometimes in Sr. I used to be simply saying, “w”What’s the button we’d like right here,” or “What’s going to present them one thing to chop away to and the way can I move the baton to this nice sequence of this movie footage we’ve got of them?” And by the best way, main because of PTA for letting us embody him on this story. What can I do however take the knee to that man?
DEADLINE: I’ve lengthy marveled at your electrical wit and concepts, and seeing Sr., I do know the place you bought it. How a lot is directing a precedence for you?
RDJ: It might be the one factor that I’m required to do to complete this set of life classes. You had been speaking about Senior and PTA, proper? So, the pure factor is, “w”Well what about you, child?” You know my dad at all times stated anyone can act however few can direct, and no one can write. So possibly a part of the rationale he wasn’t at all times such an enormous fan of those massive style movies I used to be doing is he in all probability by his personal phrases would say, “Well, why don’t you write one thing that you can direct, and whether or not you’ll act in it or not is irrelevant as a result of anybody can act.” I don’t know if I totally agree with that, however it does appear to be the factor that I’m preoccupied with now. It could be my new obsession. Not positive. I’ll must get again to you on our subsequent dialogue.