2024 Awards season might just wholeheartedly be Robert Downey Jr.’s. The Oppenheimer actor is winning everywhere he gets nominated, picking up wins on the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. Those who were skeptical of Downey Jr.’s future after his exit from Marvel have been silenced at his success with Oppenheimer. He will be always fondly remembered for his perfect portrayal of Tony Stark, but Downey Jr. is worth more. The world is yet to give him his due recognition for the sheer talent this man possesses.
Downey Jr. is no foreigner to the industry. He made his way in with theatre and found a space in the new comedy troupe for Saturday Night Live. It might make you laugh in shock, but that cast saw criticism unlike no other. And Downey Jr. was named as the worst performing cast member among them. The then 20, 21-year-old man might not have had the slightest idea of what the future held for him, nearly 20 years later. But Downey Jr. changed the chatter around him with his seminal performance in Chaplin. The movie got him a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards in the following year. Downey Jr. might’ve been the youngest actor to win that award instead of Adrien Brody, but lost to Al Pacino.
The years between 1995 and 2001 were the worst for the Iron Man actor. No one needs any introduction to his very public history of substance abuse. During this time, Downey Jr. managed to score a part in Ally McBeal. His time in the series improved the show’s ratings, but was let go after his 2001 Culver City Arrest. Despite the show’s and his own personal success, Downey Jr. doesn’t hold this stint in high regard. Deciding to finally grab the bull by its horns, Downey Jr. sought help after this incident. His career was already teetering at the edge of failure by this point, and would have probably gone over otherwise.
But the super stardom didn’t come Downey Jr.’s way easily. Sometimes the work he got was conditional upon his behavior, like in Gothika. But his talent reflected in whatever work he got, which included a lot of indie work. He also wasn’t the go-to choice for Iron Man, but director Jon Favreau fought for him. Nobody had much hope in either a studio that was foraying into a less-popular hero in terms of comics, or an actor that had a career so colorful. But the gamble paid off big time, for both parties. Marvel did not see one bad day during the years Downey Jr. worked with the studio.
The Iron Man association became the second part of Robert Downey Jr.’s image. The world likes to divide his graph into pre, during and post Iron Man. The division is not so stark when it comes to his Marvel co-stars, especially when it comes to the last part. The world mulled over what would happen of Downey Jr. now that the ‘only’ good thing in his life had come to an end.
The fame that came with Iron Man had successfully dwarfed all of what Downey Jr. did previously in his career. Even the films he worked on during his association with Marvel faced the same fate. Downey Jr. gave noteworthy performances in films like The Soloist, The Judge, and Due Date. Many are still surprised at these names when they do a little digging. Probably the only titles that his fans know other than Marvel ones is the two-part Sherlock Holmes series.
People who were aware of Downey Jr.’s acting genius knew that Oppenheimer was going to be big for him. This was an exciting project for everyone, because it had the perfect cast the story could have. Cillian Murphy finally got his first Christopher Nolan lead role after working with him for 20 years. He was joined by Emily Blunt, who was fabulous in her role as Kitty Oppenheimer. Downey Jr. was lauded for breaking free from his Iron Man image, and delivering the finesse while playing Lewis Strauss. Downey Jr. was brilliant as Iron Man, and equally spellbinding as Lewis Strauss. He shouldn’t have to dissociate from the former to make the latter more likeable. What is needed is a change of perspective from the audience; Robert Downey Jr. has always been an actor, even before his Marvel superstardom.
Downey Jr. has given a performance so good in Oppenheimer, that jury panels are overwhelmingly bestowing him with wins. Though this recognition is a long, long time coming, Downey thinks otherwise. He has already dismissed the praise of being unrecognizably subtle, and considers it as a “ ‘most improved player’ thing.” But Downey Jr. is the best person who knows how to use the attention he gets. He accepted a Critics Choice Awards with an earnest thanks to his Oppenheimer team, but not without bruising the Critics’ Choice Association.
Downey Jr. is always going to be his charming self; it truly is impossible to keep a straight face watching/listening to him talk. That side of him is never going to change, come what may. It shines in the work he’s done, and even when he’s not in front of cameras. It might have taken him more than 3 decades to get to where he is today, but Downey Jr. isn’t complaining. There’s a lot more acting still left in him, and who knows, maybe we’ll find him in the Best Actor Categories soon enough.