Robert Downey Jr's Modern Times
U.S.A. Today; 1/10/1992; Monika Guttman, Gayle Jo
UNTIL NOW, Robert Downey Jr., 27, had been just
another semi-famous young actor wondering if his big break would
ever come. Downey (Chances Are, Air America, Less Than Zero) gets
his chance this weekend in the title role of Chaplin, about the
silent-film era's comic genius. The reviews have been mixed, but
his performance already has won high praise: Hollywood handicappers
group him with Denzel Washington (Malcolm X) and Jack Lemmon (Glengarry
Glen Ross) as a potential best-actor Oscar nominee. In L.A., the
New York City native talked with us about his future, his new
wife and why Hollywood is a bad place for meditating.
Q: Would an Oscar nomination for Chaplin mean something to you?
A: Of course. Please. Being nominated is such a fantasy. But,
then, playing Chaplin was a fantasy. In fact, I'm trying to think
of what isn't a fantasy right now. Perhaps the fact I'll be taking
out the garbage tonight, or picking fleas off the cats' necks.
Q: How many cats?
A: Four. Big Persians. I love them.
Q: What have your cats taught you?
A: Independence. And how everything has a personality. Everything.
Anything that's sucking air has a personality. (Laughs.
Q: You've mentioned that you feel more balanced in life these
days after a wild youth - drugs, casual sex. What makes you feel
A: I got married (to movie actress Deborah Falconer . I've always
had some part of me that's desired to be just domestically set
up. Having moved around a lot as a kid, being really nomadic,
I just want, like, a family, a little house, a little piece of
land somewhere. All of that stuff.
Q: It just hit you suddenly?
A: Well, the kind of stress that I was under during the filming
of Chaplin made me realize: ''You know what? You're going to die.
And what you die of depends on what you do. While you're working,
while you're not working. Just every day. And who you're with
and what kind of surroundings you fancy.'' I've outgrown a lot
of things I used to think I wanted, which was to be the Dionysian
maverick. Now, forget it. I want to have healthy children. I don't
want surprises unless I make them.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: I'd known Debbie a long time, and we'd always liked each other.
Everything that's happened in my life that was good happened quick.
I feel confident in its being good.
Q: So the cats just weren't centering you enough.
A: Exactly. So now I have four cats and a wife. That ought to
Q: It's been ... what? A few months?
Q: The newspapers didn't say much.
A: No. We did it very quietly. I think that if subconsciously
you want hoopla, you get it. That whole thing of ''Oh, we're doing
a very small wedding'' is followed by (whispers to the side ''Thursday,
4 p.m.'' Then again, I've never been in that group who have people
knocking down their door, waiting around for them. Which is good.
I think I'm a bit more accessible; I don't feel that far away
from asking people what kind of tea they want after brunch (he
once was a waiter in New York .
Q: So what about the other things you decided you wanted: the
family, the house, the little piece of land?
A: Not yet. We still have an empty living room. But I'm coming
to the end of my love affair with L.A. I notice things, like if
you're healthy, and your eyes still burn all the time, it's probably
not you. My eyes burn; my lungs hurt. But I'm not part of that
crowd that wants to live in that 70-square- mile area of Montana
where you might as well be on the back lot of Paramount. I'm an
urban addict, and I don't like bugs, really.
Q: Somewhere that's not L.A. ...
A: A sacred space. Somewhere to be quiet. You can't meditate in
this city. It takes me being away from here for a few days to
even get clear on what to do with an inner life. Yeah, I want
an inner life. Everyone has one, whether they want it or not.
There's a lot more going on in life than movies and elections.
I've created an optimum situation for myself. Through clogged
spots and burned-out pistons and all the confusion you bring into
your 20s. And all the hope. I'm satisfied. In a completely insatiable
- Monika Guttman
On playing Chaplin
''I was born to play this part. I've never taken anything so seriously,''
Downey Jr. says. Apparently, ''Chaplin'' director Sir Richard
Attenborough and Chaplin's daughter, Geraldine, agree. Attenborough
predicts Downey will have ''a future like no one else in the industry,''
and Geraldine thought he'd captured her dad's nuances. Though
funny at times, ''Chaplin'' is more often a serious depiction
of the Little Tramp's life as he struggles for recognition in
Hollywood and handles a scandalous private life: His first three
wives were 16, 16 and 19. He settled on Oona O'Neill in '43. She
was 18; he, 54. Says Downey: ''I think he's misunderstood, even
by those closest to him. He's an enigma, and he's supposed to
remain an enigma.'' So how did Downey manage to portray him so
well? ''Most of all, it was an opportunity to put myself on the
line for something and have that blind faith in something. I felt
- Gayle Jo Carter
Copyright © 1992, by U.S.A. Today; All Rights