Robert Downey, Jr. in Details Magazine Robert Downey, Jr. in Details Magazine

Robert Downey, Jr.

by Sam Slovin

EXT: Secluded rooftop patio,Venice Beach business district. Day.

CLOSE-UP: Corned beef sandwich.

We HOLD on a stack of half-eaten meat and bread, the sun dappling its textures. After a BEAT, a FLY enters the frame to plunder this bounty . . . A moment of industry . . . A weathered but youthful HAND enters the frame and sends the scavenger on his way.

PULL BACK to reveal ROBERT DOWNEY JR. sprawled on a chaise longue. He wears an understated, high-ticket sweat suit. Muted colors. A hat that reads BIG DOGS. It's the new Bob, full-figured, healthy, revitalized, barely a trace of the ravages of his summer of infamy. He's exercising the privileges of a Level 5 in his rehab program (no more "detailing toilets"), enjoying his weekend pass. A Marlboro in hand, a stack of screenplays at his feet -- each with an offer attached -- he seems grounded, but as the proud father of a three-year-old son, he has an adorable if disconcerting habit of lapsing into baby talk.

CUT TO: Bob tearing into his lunch.

Are you enjoying that corned beef?

Yeah. I was a sober nonsmoking vegetarian once and I was never so miserable in my whole life. There was nothing, nowhere to go. No blood? No smoke? No sniffy-sniffy? Why go on?

You once told me that being famous you don't get anything, you just trade some things for others. What have you traded?

I've traded a lot of free time and my autonomy, because I've got to listen and do what I'm told to do for money. And that's why I'm so angry all the time.

You've given considerable lip service to the notion that you've led a charmed life.

What charmed life? I'm broke. (reconsiders) I've been real lucky. (reconsiders again) Who am I kidding? That's like the fake grateful-guy syndrome. I don't subscribe to that belief anymore. I made my own luck. What a horrible summer. Everything crashed. There's no luck for me anymore. Luck? I suck.

What's your response to my assertion that your charmed life, in reality, began on June 23, 1996, the day of your arrest?

After believing that everyone creates their own reality, I finally believe that I have no way out. I created all this stuff that happened so I could finally stop messing around and grow up and stop scaring myself and everyone else. And start scaring something else. (smiles) So I guess I am lucky.

I don't want to deny the integrity of your recent bottom, but you look really good. Do you feel hopeful?

I feel fat.

You are fat.

Fat bottom. Yes, I feel very hopeful. I feel preexhausted happy. Because now I've got to do everything right and I hate that. It's a setup. (sarcastically) If you think this is a bottom, wait till next summer. You know, I knew I was going to jail before I went. I was doing One Night Stand with Wesley Snipes and Nastassia Kinski. Mike Figgis directing. Genius. He likes me. I told Wesley I think I'm going to jail and I hoped he wouldn't judge me. He said, "I don't do that. No judgment." He's a very deep guy, actually. I like watching him. He's even more handsome in person. I hope he gives me a supporting role in one of his movies, 'cause those movies make some cake. I hope he reads this, 'cause I'll kiss his ass at the drop of a hat, particularly if there's a gig involved.

Do you like being sober?

C'mon, don't get all recovery-guy with me. Yes, I love being sober. "Sober" is a lousy word for it. I love being clear.

Clear? Are you a Scientologist?

Yes I am. No, I'm not. I want to be. It seems like if you're a Scientologist, everything just unfolds for you right away. I would do well to start kissing some Scientologist ass, too.

How did you pull off doing Saturday Night Live when you were supposed to be mandatory-rehabbing?

It's called gainful employment. I haven't had the opportunity to generate any work, let alone money for myself, since I was incarcerated, and the judge saw fit to give me an opportunity. He gave me a little rope to see what I would do with it. And I turned the rope into a salamander with no legs as opposed to a noose.

I wonder if you realize that you're a sympathetic character -- you didn't shoot anybody, you didn't molest any children. Do you understand that people are in your corner?

I'm just so sensitive (big belch) that I know what people are thinking. And it's ugly. What they're thinking about me is not OK. Maybe that's projection. Maybe it's what I'm thinking about them. Thinking all of them are horrible, evil. Are you thinking that about me right now? You're pointing my tape recorder at me like it's a gun. Are you going to ask me about the gun?

Yes. What were you doing with an unloaded .357 Magnum in your car when you were arrested? Were you having a Boyz N the Hood delusion?

Yes. I thought I was Charlie Sheen, and clearly I'm not. (channeling his inner admonished child) I don't think I'm allowed to have a gun anymore. They took it. I think I deserve to have it back when my probation is over. It's not like I did anything with the gun except pretend that I was skilled in its use.

Would you describe your condition at the time as cocaine psychosis?


Do you think that having your behavior scrutinized by the tabloid media accelerated your undoing?

(bone-dry) I don't want to think about that. (brightens) But my answer is: (laughs) I thought that I had things to run away from before, but after my first arrest, it got worse and worse. Everyone knew everything. And people even knew stuff before I did, because I didn't remember doing any of it.

So where is home now, Bob?

Home is in a treatment center in North Hollywood. Every day is a dream date come true. (ironic laugh) No, I'll tell you what it's like. It's not easy. I have to focus on the here and now. Ugh!

What part of the days are best for you?

Around six-thirty at night. That's the time I used to decide not to go to bed for another day. That was always the key time. It's six-thirty, do I stop or go for another four days? (wryly) I like the nighttime, when I snuggle up in bed with my roommates. There's three gentlemen to a room. It's nice. I like them. And things change all the time, too. Maybe someone will decide to go get high and they can't come back, or have to come back with humility. Some people do very well and I see them go through the really tough times of "My God, now I'm getting a job and all I really want is to go down to the bodega on Beverly where they sell benzodiazepine and get three hundred Valiums and party."

Was there anything you could recommend about jail?

Let's just say that I don't think you'd like it. I think you'd definitely get a lot of writing done. I sure did. Sometimes I miss it.

How do you keep your frantic self occupied?

By the time this interview is out I will have finished writing the script for my own film, Dan's Best Friend. And I have also been working on writing some songs. One is called "Killing You," and another is called "Cover Your Friends," and then there's "G-G-G-G."

Does your wife Deborah Falconer's impending success as a singer-songwriter intimidate you?

Not really, but I get nervous because it's hard to imagine my friends having a bad gig or review. I haven't had to deal with humiliating shit in my art life. Only in my personal life. So I want to protect everyone I love from everything I haven't experienced. (pauses) Or have experienced.

Why are you so protective?

Because I'm no good. (laughs) I'm not very good with people. I think I'm wonderful with people and then people tell me that I'm not easy. And people aren't easy on me either, I'll tell you. The shit that flies out of people's mouths that I have to process later -- it's unbelievable.

What are your career plans?

To do good movies. I did one called Hugo Pool with my father [director Robert Downey Sr.]Me and Da-da, we play together. I wish that The English Patient hadn't been made and that I was tall and thin. I would've liked to have done it.

Are you scared of working sober?

What a ridiculous question. Why would I be scared of that? I got used to working not sober, but that doesn't mean I can't remember what it was like before I got used to it. I'm happy to work, sober or not.

Do you have days of temptation?

Well, I was doing a little shopping for my weekend pass and I was standing in the dairy section looking at a can of Reddi-wip and I thought about how nice it would be to just sneak one into a bag and bring it home. And then when no one was looking, I would inhale the nitrous oxide and drop to my knees while thousands of brain cells go popping. (quietly) But the only thing I really should be dropping to my knees for now is to box with my son—of course in a safe, protected way with the appropriate boxing gear.

I'd like to give you the opportunity to dispel any myths about yourself. Like the one about you pooping on an actress's chair during the filming of Weird Science.

This is absolutely a fabrication. Why I would defecate in a fellow thespian's minitrailer is ridiculous and without grounds. (cracks up) I did it all over her room. I'm sorry. Babette, I'm sorry I pooped on your chair and pee-peed underneath.

Then there's the myth you told me that Heinrich Himmler was your grandfather.

Why did I say that? I guess it was because everyone thinks that I'm so mushy and playful and doughy and nice and harmless, and I just wanted people to be scared of me because my grandfather was this horrible Nazi. Needless to say, he is not my grandfather, and I definitely got busted on it a bunch of times. I am sorry that I lied. I am not ashamed of it anymore, but now that you mentioned it I'm feeling a little sick.

You're Jewish, aren't you?

Kinda. Daddy's a Jew.

Well, then you're not. What is your mom? What's her maiden name?

Himmler. (we both laugh)

I think I should probably note at this point that you, Robert, have lapsed into a state of complete mania. I implore you to say something valid. Please.

(spewing out TV talk-show shtick as if he were a short-circuiting robot) You got it going on, girl. You run with it. Stay clean and serene. Keep it real in the '90s. It's Hammer time. (he stops, exhausted) Thank you. This is just what I needed. Any closing questions?

Yes, how will you now draw the line between your public and private life?

(steadying himself) I have to come up with that. I get to define who I am from here on in. I'm the big big boss. I would like to say simply this to all of my readers: (cracking up) Leave me the fuck alone or I'll shoot you. (collapses into hysteria) The truth is simply, thusly so: I'm a very human being. Now, I know that some of you have deified me, but the fact is I am God.

You know, some people may think that having a sense of humor about your situation is inappropriate.

If I said that I'd really learned a whole lot, that I was suddenly full of prayer, I'd just start laughing and bust myself.

Since we seem to be living in a society based on disclosure and recovery, do you think there's still any shame in bottoming out on drugs and alcohol?

You bet. Let me put it this way. I go into Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf now and In your TV interview with Diane Sawyer you said your drug of choice used to be "more." What do you want more of now?

I'd like some more of her. I think she's really cute. But I want to do movies with her husband Mike Nichols, so I don't think I should pursue this lusty avenue any further. (pauses) Really, what I want is more happy days in a row.

-- adapted from Details, February 1997