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Esquire article - the text

Not the scan I promised, and no photos, a few items have been excised, but here's the gist (with thanks to downeyy). My personal favorite exchange is where Mr. Downey describes his father's tough love. I also love his description of his father's refusal to compromise. Hope you enjoy.

Robert Downey Jr.

Unabridged, unbridled, and possessed of all his faculties. We just lest the man talk, and no one can talk like this man.



Like the principle behind an interview. I like the idea that something happens when the right combination of words and ideas, and questions and answers, memories and fancies, occurs between two people. You know.

Between my mom and my dad,what they taught me was writing, writing, always writing. They were always twisting phrases and thinking of characters and coming up with situations and breaking through the molds of what filmed entertainment was supposed to be.

I was five years old when my parents shot Pound. It was my first movie. I wasn’t really paying attention until I was on the call sheet. But I remember being in, like, Garden City, New York, and there was a food fight among the crew. I remember being so excited that this kind of chaotic event was happening with grown-ups. When it was over, I was still going around the breakfast room and pushing orange juice glasses, and my dad was like, “Kid, kid, kid. We’re done. We’re done. You missed it.”

The greatest thing my dad taught me came one day when I called him from a phone booth and said, “Hungry. No bus token. Please. Out of options. Friends aren’t picking up the phone.”

He said, “Pffft, get a job.”

I couldn’t believe it. He just completely stiffed me. I thought I had this guy by some sort of guilt hook still. I thought I could at least get five bucks or something. He said, “Call your friends.”

I said, “I called them.
He said, “Get a job.”
I said, “Dad, where am I going to get a job in enough time to get a paycheck and eat a slice of pizza?”
He said, “Enough.”

And you know what, I made do. The next phone call was to some Irish chick whose dad was out of town, and I wound up over at her place. And pretty soon I had a job. I wouldn’t wish that lesson on an enemy. But, you know, sometimes you just gotta be drop-kicked out of the nest. And by the way, I don’t think those lessons are exclusive to your formative years. I think that human beings tend to keep re-creating some secret, covert mess as they go along. What do they call it in pop psychology - your comfort zone? I have such a deep empathy for seeing someone’s private Idaho crushed. But it’s the only that ever really gets you to the next level, right?

I think the great underestimation about life is that life is manageable, or it’s supposed to be easy, or good people persevere. I’d rather go a little bit deeper and look at life through the ideal of the never-ending, really difficult obstacle course. Or how about a good old fashioned Buddhist joyful participation in the suffering of mankind?

Three weeks ago,we had a bun in the oven, and we were about to have a kid. There was all this trepidation, all this projection, all this anticipation and good will and a good vibe about it. But what you’re squeezing to the side - or what’s in the glove box - is these thousands of forms of f ear. And then he was born and they’ve all just kind of scattered now. It seems like he’s always be here.

I think as far as the Tao of leadership or fatherhood or being a loving, trustworthy partner: I’m not trying to break off knowledge to anyone. As a matter of fact, when I’m in that mode - and I can get there - where everyone really should just take a ******* knee because I’m right, the fact that I’m right is grossly overshadowed by my approach. That’s something else I’d like to demonstrate to anyone in my proximity - and, suffice to say, little Exton Elias is going to be in my proximity for quite sometime: The head of the house hold is kind of the Big Dog. And when the Big Dog is a team player, and when the Big Dog takes a knee, and when the Big Dog doesn’t need to play those status games, everybody can relax, because there’s not this kind of sick animus shadow being cast over everything, you know?

Growing up in New York City, all I needed was a Frisbee and a ten-speed, and I was set. I remember my friend Norman and Frank Hall, too - I don’t know how we communicated with each other back then. Well, I guess with pay phones and landlines. But we were never missing a beat with knowing where one another was, or what we were going to do. Sometimes you would just meet in the strangest place, like in the front of a big corporate building off Madison and Fiftieth because it had a really good windbreak.

If you’re lucky enough to have just a handful of people who are like-aged and like-minded when you’re a youngster, boy, it goes a long way. Because pretty much everybody’s going through the same thing. Things are kind of cruddy at home, don’t have enough dough, don’t really know where life is going.I’ve got some dreams!But really, all I’ve got is a Frisbee.

Nothing will serve you better than a strong work ethic. Nothing. And it’s something that you can’t teach. You have to be thrown into it, where you’re going to sink or swim. It’s amazing how self-correcting and how clarifying a good, hard, ****ty job can be. Because at the end of the day, any profession I’ve seen anybody in, when you peer behind the curtains of Oh, wouldn’t that be a great job? Wow, what an amazing thing, a philanthropic endeavor!it really just comes down toIts a ******* grind.

There’s been this forty-plus-year reflection on Putney Swope, and I guess what I’ve learned is that even if you make it to the center of the mainstream marketplace, and you’re provided a position of some power, you’re still going to have every one of the struggles that the system you were rebelling against caused you to have - your call to action, you know? It’s just so funny when, railing against the Man, you become the Man. And then the Man’s probably chuckling somewhere, thinking,Yeah…

Looking back,the best thing on my dad’s side was that he never capitulated. There was a point when he could have become this very mainstream, successful, big-house-in-Brentwood-type guy, and every instinct in him cried out not to do it. Clearly, a different generation and a different path for me. But there’s still this part of my dad that lives in me, particularly as I’m starting to consider directing. Moving forward, there’s this sense that if you capitulate to try to conform the seed of an idea you have that excites you, then it’s just never going to stop.

This is how we used to feel in the eighties. Anthony Michael Hall was like, “How can I ever be Gregory Peck?” I’m like “Mike, relax, dude, you’ve got Breakfast Club in the can. No one’s ever going to take that from you - just relax. Weird Science is a blast. The future is wide open for you.” And as I’m telling him that, I’m like, You know what? How am I ever going to match up to Matt Dillon or Scott Baio? These guys, they got started early. Meanwhile everybody’s saying “Have you seen Mickey Rourke in Rumble Fish? Everybody just needs to retire.” Like, really? God, what am I doing? I don’t know. It’s pilot season, I’m trying to get on something with, like, Lorimar.

Those were the challenges of our day. There’s a big, big, bug infusion of truly, seriously, gifted, talented people, and everyone went however and wherever they were supposed to go. Nowadays I wonder what it’s like to enter the playing field. I mean, what does approval even mean when you can have a good night on a talent show and get a table everywhere for five years?

Everybody loves the A story. You had this, you had that, you crashed, you burned, you rose out of the ashes - these are all kind of typical, mythological things that we can agree on.Yeah, I saw that. Is that Luke or is that Han Solo?

When, in fact, if I picked for you the ten worst moments of my life, they were probably the ten most defining moments of my life. Whether they’re that complete rejection by a girl that doesn’t even know you’re crazy about her, and you are distracted riding your bike to school, and just as you look over at her, you take a complete ass-over flip into a shrub. And the girl just look at you and keeps on walking with an expression that says, “Who is that schmuck?” And that’s every bit as significant to me as the moment I met Susan, in a rehearsal space with Halle Berry in Montreal ten years ago, and I though,Wow, she’s pretty **** cute for a boss.

Okay, here it is. The doctor is in. This is your moment. Come on in. Do you get it? And you go, “Get what?” And the door closes and they say, “We’ll see you in about seventeen years. Sorry, seventeen years, two months.” And don’t even get to examine that again. You’re going down into an abyss. Or you’re going to forget it. Do you know what I’m talking about?

A link between addiction and creativity? Horse****. No, I never told myself that lie.

If you’re not conscious of that fact that you’re essentially kind of sick or selfish or broken or whatever, and then you get a little but of notoriety or some status, it’s nobody else’s fault, it’s just just a matter of course that what tends to happen to you is you build these firewalls around yourself. And the most important one is that nobody pokes too much of a stick at your denial.

I don’t know anybody who hasn’t struggled with something that they’re not obsessive about at some point. Usually the more manged it is and the less it gets out, the more insidious it is, and the more it can brew. When the rag magazines start sending up flares that it’s about to come out, you’ve been getting your way with it for years.

Well, I don’t really dig up the war stories anymore. Not that I want to put it in the past - not at all. I’m thinking strictly on a PR level. Once I’ve seen it in print eight or ten or sixteen times, I figure pretty much everyone has heard the story.

But I have my own take on: The phone rings, and “She’s done it again. or “Hey, you know, we really need to get over there. He’s holding up in a hotel.”

I’m not saying that the correctly timed intervention here and there is blah blah blah - look, it’s valiant to go waste days, weeks, months, and years trying to fish someone you care about out of their own abyss. But if your intuition asks, Is this a big O.K. Corral ego trip on the part of the people who are going to say, “All right, we’re going to go in and handle this?” Because you’re not. You’re not going to handle ****. No amount of effort is going to nudge somebody out of a situation that they deem is hopeless. And people sense when there’s an ego trip involved, when there’s a “I’m here to save your life!” Its horse****. Its horse****. I hate it. That’s recovery vulturism.

People never change because they’re under threat or under duress. Never. They change because they see something that makes their life seem valuable enough to start moving toward a life worth living. It’s a I see a way out of this horrific IRS debt that has been chasing me for years. I have a plan that in time will work, and this will be behind me. I see a direction that is worth heading in.

Yeah I think Iron Man wound of being the first time I screen tested since Chaplin. As far as I was concerned, it was destiny. Now, I can’t tell you how many people are sitting around with the cold, hard evidence that it wasn’t. I just wasn’t going to let lack of perseverance, lack of preparation, or lack of prayer get in the way. I just went crazy - in a good way. And suddenly it occurred to me, Oh my god, Stan Lee might not know this, but everything he created has all been leading to this moment. It’s me. Then I thought,Hold on a second, dude, is this just some sort of neurotic personality meltdown happening here? And then I thought, Nah, that feels different.

High desert,we’re in Lone Pine, and we’re shooting this weapons-demonstration scene where you essentially get to see what Tony Stark was like before we find him being held captive at the beginning of the movie. And we thought,This is his pitch, you know. This is him in a mall selling you pots and pans, but he’s got to make you believe that buying weapons from him is good for America.There was some semblance of a script, and it was one of the first times that I remember that Jon and I literally wrote a scene line-for-line. Jon wrote, “Better to be feared or respected.” And I was like “Is it too much to ask for both?”

We put it on cue cards about forty feet away. Jon was sitting by the monitors. We had this big air mover so that when the explosion went off, you know, the dust and everything would come up. It was like doing a $130 million Saturday Night Live sketch. We just went ahead and did it. Afterward I heard him play it back and laugh his ass off.

What Iron Man has done for me is turn the heads of boys and girls under seven years old. It’s hard to explain the satisfaction that comes from someone calling you by your character’s name. It’s just fantastic.

I knew that my dad’s generation had heroes, and I was told that even though they’d all kind of died untimely deaths, I should be appreciating them. I don’t know, it always seemed a bit odd to me. The ones that were still around looked kind of ****** off and grisly. You know, James Dean. John Wayne.

When Anthony Michael Hall and I were doing Saturday Night Live in the 1985 series, it was pretty incredible to have Dan Aykroyd pull us aside at some loud get-to-know-the-new-cast party at 30 Rock. He pulls us into the stairway to tell us, like the five things you need to know about comedy. That was a moment you never forget.

I wouldn’t call Chaplin a hero, more of a ghost of Christmas past. The whole time I was gearing up to play him, the more and more I understood and learned and watched, the more pointless it seemed to ever try to encapsulate that in a movie for an hour and a half. But once the experience of the movie was over - and that includes the accolades and the career boos - I could really start enjoying the guy.

So last year, when we were shooting Sherlock II in London, we decided to have a Thanksgiving party for the several Americans that were there, and some ex-pat Americans that live in England now also came over. And I wound up on this big couch with about a dozen kids all under the age of ten, some them five and under, and I put on one of the Chaplin shorts, and it was every bit as effective as when it came out in 1917.

I wonder how the Founding Fathers felt. I mean, I hear they just argued a lot. And that it took them six years to agree on a seal.

Nowadays the feedback loop is so fast that you can rise, transit, incorrectly, plummet, crash, and be toast in this truncated way that was never possible before. LeBron James. God bless him. Makes me love him more because anybody can kick ass when they’re winning and they’re loved. It’s someone who again, predictably, unpredictably, is revered, and makes a move or two. Leave him alone. Come. His career. His choice. The game he loves. His destiny. And I don’t know the extent of it - I’m not a big sports guy - but on a pure human level, I’m like, “Wow, dude.Now,he’s grown.”

Do I want to be a hero to my son? No. I would like to be a very real human being. That’s hard enough. Every dad casts a shadow, you know? And that shadow is you’re disappointed, you’re resentful, or you feel so supported and loved you don’t understand why life is so hard anyway - or, you know, it’s so long and so dark that you can never step out of it, so you might as well not even try. Right? So. So hero to me is not applicable to the human experience.

I think that we all do heroic things, but here is not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s one aspect of an entire spectrum of things, an act of courage that’s no more important than cowardice. Because sometimes cowardice will save your life because your ego won’t tell to confront a situation that is overwhelming. It’s tactically every bit as useful as heroism.

So, I would certainly like to be honest about what life is really like, with my limited experience, in this very worthwhile, difficult obstacle course.

And I think, particularly if you’re a father who has gained, or gained and lost and regained any sort of success, the likelihood and the odds of replicating anyone else’s success are nil. And so the real definition of success is essentially, how comfortable are you in your own skin, and are you heading a direction that gives you a sense of hope for the future, or a sense of, at least, engagement with life? And that has nothing to do with all these outward trappings.

I remember growing up, we’d go to see friends of my dad, or other people in the industry, at their Beverly Hills homes, and they had all this art and these cars, and I remember shrinking from it. I’m not saying it’s better to be raised in the atmosphere of poverty, but I’m telling you that the inherent by-product of success in this industry is affluence and materialism, and it’s every bit as destructive as poverty.

Now, people aren’t supposed to say that because you sound like the self-pitying limousine liberal 0 like you have no idea. But you know what? I’ve been a street kid, and I’ve had too much money to count, and I can’t tell which one is more impediment or a motivator. It depends on the day.

There some parents who have really done it right and told their kid, “You know, we have this dough, none of this is for you. You have to get your own.” You know what I mean?

I guess here’s what’s come to me in the last three weeks: That anticipation and fear are going to come back. Am I going to know what do with them? Does any new parent, even if you’re not a first-time parent, ever really know what to do? Only thing you have to do, the only requirement, if you can hack it, is to not transfer your own discomfort in the moment to this fresh soul, right? Comfortable mommy, comfortable baby. Breast-feeding goes easier. Daddy’s fear is that he will drop you. All right, guess what, I’ve told myself I’m not going to drop you, now I’m less anxious, are you feeling that? Yes, thank you. That’s been the whole conversation. Right? Because, really, doesn’t the whole microcosm come down to I don’t want to drop the ball. I don’t want to let anybody down. I don’t want to witness something horrifying.Well. you know what? Do you really get to say when that happens? Do you say, Look, I’ve had a thousand good in a row, I’m ready for my horror now?

You got to be mindful. I don’t want to be so confident in myself. It’s that balance between being relaxed enough to not be communicating anxiety and present enough to not be creating the very thing that you were anxious about by being so relaxed - because I’ve seen that parenting style, too? Where’s your kid? “Oh, I don’t know, eating some rat droppings under there or something.” No, no, no. That’s a little to loose.

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Re: Esquire article - the text - by Lauri D - Apr 21, 2012 6:30am
Re: Esquire article - the text - by judy - Apr 21, 2012 6:42am
Re: Esquire article - the text - by sguppi - Apr 21, 2012 10:38am
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