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Friday, Sept. 19, 2008


Downey Jr. revels in newfound 'A-list' status

So I'm sitting at the "Iron Man" press conference, watching the trailer for the umpteenth time, waiting for Robert Downey Jr. to appear, and I'm thinking, what should I ask him if I can get a question in? Not that I will. I think most distributors have a rule now not to call on the tall, skinny guy from The Japan Times. (Probably ever since I asked Quentin Tarantino what was up with all that heroin in "Pulp Fiction" and "Killing Zoe.")

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But I'm a professional, so I prepare these things. I wonder, what would I ask one of my favorite live-wire actors now that he's gone all bland and mainstream? "So Robert, what is it, now that you're off the blow, a comic-book movie seemed like a good idea? Isn't it usually the other way around?" It would be worth it to see him smirk and say, "Actually, when I was wired, I used to think answering smarmy questions from jerk-off reporters was a good idea."

That would have been priceless, but it likely would have earned me a lifetime ban from Sony Pictures' press conferences. When you ask a question like that — about drugs, hotel-room freak-outs, Scientology — you can just feel all the suits along the wall trying to will themselves into gaining X-Men-like superpowers, able to incinerate you into a little pile of smoldering ash with their devastating gaze.

But, you know, I like Downey Jr., and, as much as I'd like to question him on his career shift and new law-abiding lifestyle, I'd hate to rain on his parade. After all, he deserves it, or, as he put it when he arrived: "I was just tired of being in movies nobody saw. I figured, after 25 years, I was bound to have one good year."

Downey, looking exceptionally at ease as a newly-minted "A-list" star, kept his tongue planted firmly in cheek for most of the proceedings. At one point, he declared "I'll only take questions from women," and at another, he refused to continue unless he got a different chair than the high, bar-stool-like one they had him planted in. "When I sit in chairs like this," he grumbled, "I feel like I'm a baby, that I'm being infantilized. Like I'm about to be fed some mashed-up pears or something. Can I get another chair? Tony Stark would demand another chair."

Aaah, now that's the Robert Downey Jr. we know and love! When asked why the movie was such a big hit, Downey Jr. pointed out that it wasn't just fanboys in the audience, but that "women like the movie. That made a really big difference. 'Sex and the City' guys go to the movie because the gal made them go. But we had repeat business (with women)." Downey Jr.'s female fan-base can be traced to, among other things, his seasons on "Ally McBeal" as Calista Flockhart's love interest. So Downey Jr. can be as self-deprecating as he likes, but the previous 25 years weren't exactly pointless.

Moving right along, an intrepid reporter asked him what he thought of all the other superhero movies, to which Downey replied, "Aaaaah, they're OK." Period.

Next up was a true otaku (obsessive), who showed up wearing a yellow blazer and red shirt to honor Iron Man's look. This guy told Downey Jr. he loves the fact that Iron Man is a 40-something businessman who turns into a hero, and — being in his 40s himself — he can really identify with Iron Man. Men over 40 in Japan, he continued, are a little bit frazzled, so could Mr. Downey Jr. please say something to cheer them up?

Pause. "Cheer up, will ya? I mean, look at you!" shot back Downey Jr. (He was kind enough not to say "Get a life!"). When Mr. Yellow Blazer offered his age, Downey said, "44? Oh, you're finished." Badda-boom. Continuing, he said: "Look, it's not like it used to be, 40. Now, we have a good shot to re-establish ourselves and have a nice second half. It's only half-time, baby. But it also used to be different: Cary Grant was like 107, and he was doing movies with girls that were half his age! Nowadays we'd say he's a pedophile!"

The closest anyone got to asking about the new, clean Downey Jr. was one journalist who asked if there was any change in his mental state, as an actor, recently. "You're asking about my mental state?" said Downey Jr., with a bit of apprehension. "I mean, it's one thing to be confident, and it's another to have something that's overtly successful. I think for the last five years I've just been really focused on my work. Just being smart. So my mental state, I can only describe as — just for the time being — smart."

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