I’ve always felt like such an outsider in this industry. Because I’m so insane, I guess.
The higher the stakes, the happier I am, the better I will be.
I’m not used to feeling like I belong where I am.
A lot of my peer group think I’m an eccentric bisexual, like I may even have an ammonia-filled tentacle or something somewhere on my body. That’s okay.
I’ve become a picky little bitch. I’ve never bothered to plan projects before. I just used to throw the script across the room and say, “Why do they keep sending me this horseshit?” And then I’d start rehearsals two weeks later.
[on his addiction to drugs]: It’s like I have a loaded gun in my mouth, and I like the taste of metal.
It’s a blanket statement to say, “That guy’s really sharp and amicable and nice,” because there’s a little bit of a–hole in every nice guy, and there’s a little bit of genius in every moron.
I am putting together some ideas for two or three more things I want to do. Maybe a CD of just my kind of standards, which would be Supertramp and Steely Dan covers with an orchestra. I’m deep into old Genesis. I’m sorry, but these are songs that mean something to me. “Follow You Follow Me” is a song that’s about something to me. [on his music]
I know very little about acting. I’m just an incredibly gifted faker.
It was so nice to go into this fake courtroom [on Ally McBeal (1997)]. I immediately went up into the judge’s chair. Nice view. A preferable perspective.
What I usually hate about these movies when suddenly the guy that you were digging turns into Dudley Do-Right, and then you’re supposed to buy into all his “Let’s go do some good! That Eliot Ness-in-a-cape-type thing. What was really important to me was to not have him change so much that he’s unrecognizable. When someone used to be a schmuck and they’re not anymore, hopefully they still have a sense of humor. [on superhero movies]
[on Black & White (1999)] A stage slap from Mike Tyson is like a shovel whack from a normally fortified male.
The great thing about Saturday Night Live (1975) was being at 30 Rockefeller Center. And having Belushi and Aykroyd’s old office. And me and Michael [Anthony Michael Hall] saying, “We want bunk beds. With NFL Sheets. And we want them now.” And Michael was like “Man, it’s gonna be great, we’re gonna be buddies, we’re gonna do a show together, we’re gonna …” Then, “I’m gonna do Out of Bounds (1986)” and he left. As for me, I was doing Back to School (1986) and Saturday Night Live at the same time. So I’d fly back to Los Angeles for a couple of days during the week to shoot the movie and then fly back and, “Live from New York, it’s a tired young man!”
I had four weeks’ work in Baby It’s You (1983), and I told all my friends I was now, officially, a major talent and film star. And then they cut my scenes out. You don’t even see me except in one scene – you see me in the background until this self-indulgent actress leans forward to try and get more camera time. They cut all my scenes out and my friends go, “Hey, Robert – maybe it’s you!” Now I don’t tell people that I’m in a film until I see it on videocassette.
Tofu is the root of all evil, and there’s only one thing that can change a man’s mind, and that’s a modified Uzi with an extra-long clip.
I did Air America (1990) for two reasons: to be in a movie with Mel Gibson and to make a bunch of money. And then underneath there was the hope that in doing this formulaic thing I would be launched into a whole new realm of opportunity to do A-list movies. By the time we were done, the only positive thing was meeting Mel Gibson.
Five hundred grand for two weeks. [on why he did Danger Zone (1996)]
[on Restoration (1995)] I just thought [Hugh Grant] was a dick, that’s all. And I still do. You know, and that could be something that has to do with me, or it could just be that not everyone in this industry is someone I’d care to hang out with.
[on Weird Science (1985)] I defecated in [Renee Props’s] trailer, much to the chagrin of Bill Paxton and Robert Rusler. It was a real bad scene. Joel Silver freaked. I never admitted it. Joel said, “Downey, did you do it?” and I said I wish I had. Because I’d been threatening everyone that if they didn’t treat me right, I was going to take a dump in their trailer, or that I’d go take a shit in Joel’s office, on his desk or something.
[on his childhood] I didn’t want to talk about what my dad did because it wasn’t like he was directing All in the Family (1971) or anything. He was doing these crazy films. Mom would pick me up at school wearing this big quilted cape. I felt like I was in a J.D. Salinger story. Dad’s Jewish and Irish, Mom’s German and Scotch. I couldn’t say I was anything. My last name isn’t even Downey. My dad changed his name when he wanted to get into the Army and was underage. My real name is Robert Elias. I feel like I’m still looking for a home in some way.
[on Sean Penn] In a relatively short time he was a better friend than some people I’d known for ages. I remember him saying three or four years ago, “You have two reputations. I think you know what both of them are, and I think you’d do well to get rid of one of those reputations. If you don’t, it will get rid of the other one.” And I was like, “Two reputations, I’ll be right back.” Just hearing him say that reminded me that I should go score. After that, he was like, forget it. It sucks, too, because someone as honorable as he is, I really should have responded. Jesus, I grew up idolizing this guy. Not only does he consider me a friend, but he’s taking time. He’s got a family. He’s got a career that’s going well. He’s living his dreams and making time for me, and I’m like, “I can’t, I just can’t – sorry, busy.”
As soon as I started smoking heroin instead of smoking coke, everything was different, and I knew it was. And it happened around the time I was doing Home for the Holidays (1995). Home for the Holidays is, for me, one of the most relaxed performances in the history of cinema. I can’t attribute that to the fact that I was at a serene place in my life, or that there was a real warm feeling on the set. This is a problem for me because I glamorize this stuff. I can’t say that it wasn’t real dark, real evil and real hurtful to those around me. And yet, practically every take of that film was a print. God bless Jodie Foster. When does she have time to do a handwritten letter telling someone how she genuinely cares about them? She said, “Listen, I’m not worried about you on this film. You’re not losing it or nodding out, and you’re giving a great performance. I’m worried about your thinking you can get away with doing this on another film.”
[on Chaplin (1992)] When I accepted the part, they didn’t tell me that I also had to do the acrobatic stuff of Charlie. That has cost me a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Though I now can say, ‘I did all my stunts myself.’ Working on Chaplin was really intensive and cost me years of my life, but if I could do it all over again, no doubt I would do it the same way.
[on Chaplin (1992)] Chaplin was the culmination of an opportunity, and the biggest humiliation I’ve ever experienced. It was like winning the lottery, then going to prison. I realized that nothing that had worked for me before was going to work here. I’d watch one of Charlie’s films, but by the end of it I was wildly depressed, because I realized that what he’d done in this twenty-minute short was more expressive and funnier than everything I’ve thought about doing my whole life.
[on U.S. Marshals (1998)] Possibly the worst action movie of all time, and that’s just not good for the maintenance of a good spiritual condition. You’ve had a traumatic year, you’ve been practically suicidal – what do you think would be really healing for you? How about like twelve weeks of running around as Johnny Handgun? I think that if you talk to a spirit guide, they would say, ‘That’ll kill you.’
[on U.S. Marshals (1998)] I thought maybe there was something I was missing, and what I really needed to do was to be in one of those films that I love taking my kid to. It would end up being really depressing. I’d rather wake up in jail for a TB test than have to wake up another morning knowing I’m going to the set of US Marshals.
I don’t want to go all Michael Jackson on you, but I never really had a childhood.
I have a sense of destiny that you are led to the things you are supposed to do.
[on Mickey Rourke] He’s so good. And he’s formidable and he’s very much reminding me of that kind of charming, confident guy that we know.
[on Iron Man 2 (2010)] I’ve never been in a sequel and it’s very daunting because I feel the expectation of the millions of people who watched it and enjoyed it and told me that it was a little different than your usual genre picture and that they expected us to not screw it up. So I actually have taken Iron Man 2 (2010) probably more seriously than any movie I’ve ever done, which is appropriately ridiculous for Hollywood.
Mel Gibson cast me in The Singing Detective (2003), even though an insurance company wouldn’t cover it because it was my first film after my release from behind bars. The best part was when Mel gave me a motorcycle while we still had two weeks left to shoot. I go, ‘Are you trying to ruin this movie? What if I have an accident?’ He goes, ‘No, no. I figure if you made it two-thirds of the way through, you can’t do anything wrong.’
What do you say, though — if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan.
[His Golden Globe acceptance speech for Best Actor-Comedy or Musical] If you start playing violins, I will tear this joint apart. First of all, I want to thank my wife Susan Downey for telling me Matt Damon was going to win so don’t bother to prepare a speech. That was at about ten AM. I don’t have anybody to thank. I’m sorry. Everyone’s been so gratuitous, it was a collaboration, we all did this together. Certainly not going to thank Warner Brothers, Alan Horn, and my god, robbing off these guys. They needed me. Avatar (2009) was going to take us to the cleaners. If they didn’t have me, we didn’t have a shot buddy. What am I going to do? I’m not going to be able to thank Joel Silver. I mean the guy has only restarted my career twelve times since I began twenty-five years ago. I really don’t want to thank my wife because I could be busing tables at the daily groom right now if not for her. Jesus, what a gig that would be. Guy Ritchie had a great vision for this film and a lot of great people came together and we worked our asses off. It’s just a privilege. The Hollywood Foreign Press has a quote by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a genius by the way, and he said “Art is the blood, Is libel to take to the strongest forms”. That is also why I would like to thank, or not thank, the Hollywood Foreign Press because they are a strange bunch of people and now I’m one of them. Thank you.
I thought it was a completely incendiary idea and I blame it all on Ben Stiller and DreamWorks [About his role as an Australian actor playing a black man in Tropic Thunder (2008)]
I have a really interesting political point of view, and it’s not always something I say too loud at dinner tables here, but you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone else, but it was very, very, very educational for me and has informed my proclivities and politics every since. [Downey in The New York Times in 2008, on why some of his political opinions now lean more conservative than they used to]
[on producer Joel Silver]: Joel just kept telling me. We’ve got to get your gun in your hand. Joel is one of the few relationships I care to have with a producer. Look he’s vast and voracious, and he definitely has the ability to break into a scream about a point he would like to make. But he can also be incredibly warm and generous.
[on winning an Oscar] As long as I stick around I’m going to end up with a bunch of them anyway as they’re going to run out of people to give them to. And I’m probably going to win it one year when someone else deserves to win it. Why? Because it’s my time, goddamit. And that’s the way s**t works around here. I’m just an uptight mutt at the top of his game. Welcome to Hollywood, b***h! I’ll see you at the Vanity Fair party and I’ll be holding that golden statue you deserve ’cause guess what? It happened to me too!
[on Mel Gibson]: He’s a stand-up guy – he’s always has been for me – and certainly when I was not hire-able, he put his ass on the line and said, ‘I’ll take that chance’. He will always have my friendship, and that’s just talking about business and Hollywood stuff, which to me is nowhere as important as friendship.
(2010, on his past problems) Sometimes it’s necessary to compartmentalize the different stages of your evolution, both personally and objectively, for the people you have to love and tolerate. And one of those people, for me, is me. I have a very strong sense of that messed-up kid, that devoted theater actor, that ne’er-do-well 20-something nihilistic androgyne and that late-20s married guy with a little kid, lost, lost in narcotics-all as aspects of things I don’t regret and am happy to keep a door open on. More than anything I have this sense that I’m a veteran of a war that is difficult to discuss with people who haven’t been there. I feel for the kind of zeitgeist diagnoses that are being applied to certain of my peers lately, and I think it’s unconscionable.
(2010, on landing Iron Man (2008)) I prepared for the screen test so feverishly that I literally made it impossible for anybody to do a better job. I had never worked on something that way before; I was so familiar with six or nine pages of dialogue, I had thought of every possible scenario. At a certain point during the screen test, I was so overwhelmed with anxiety about the opportunity that I almost passed out. I watched it later, and that moment came, fluttered and wasn’t even noticeable. But, to me, it was this stretched-out moment of what keeps people from doing theater for 30 years – just an unadulterated fear of failure.
(2010) Discipline for me is about respect. It’s not even about self-respect; it’s about respect for life and all it offers. And not indulging. I have happily reconsidered my position on a bunch of things I didn’t want on my “no” list despite all evidence that I couldn’t handle them. At the end of the day, anything I think I’m sacrificing I’m just giving up because it makes me feel better.
(2010) I’ve noticed that worrying is like praying for what you don’t want to happen. I don’t worry, but I observe where my mind tends to go. I have such an overwhelming sense that if you’re in the right state of heart, which I have been for a little while, the next right thing appears to you.
(2010) I find myself fascinated with shows like Bad Girls (1999) and Jerseylicious (2010), and also Inside American Jail (2007) and Lockup (2005). The best one’s in the U.K.; I watch it when I’m over there doing Sherlock. It’s called Locked Up Abroad (2007), which means “locked up”. “Locked Up Abroad” is always fun.
[on never winning an Oscar] I know it’s going to happen. That’s just a fact …because it just doesn’t make sense.That’s why I don’t mind showing up and watching everybody else get them…Look, even if I don’t get one directly, eventually they’re just going to have to give me one when I get old. So no matter how you slice it, I’m getting one … I should probably have more, but zero’s fine.
[on the Oscars ceremony] It is amazing to see how people are literally hyperventilating when they get up there, because they have such an attachment to this outcome.
Nobody has cornered Halloween as a market since Halloween (1978).
It’s hard for me to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and not get nostalgic about it. It’s not perfect but in some ways, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know why.
My intent is to dominate the playing field for as long as I can, with my own challenges, with myself.
I don’t drink these days. I am allergic to alcohol and narcotics. I break out in handcuffs.