LOS ANGELES – Cigarette in one hand, cup of coffee in the other, Robert Downey Jr. shuffles into the living room of his hotel suite and points to the sofa. “I am so there,” he says before collapsing in a heap and covering half his body with a blanket.
The actor has two films about to open – “The Singing Detective” (Oct. 24) and “Gothika” (Nov. 21) – and he has been answering questions all day.
Do you think that he’s tired from answering questions about his new movies? Or do you suppose that he is exhausted from fielding endless questions about Robert Downey Jr.?
To his credit, he has not ducked the tough questions about the celebrated drug problems that landed him in prison. And he says he will continue to answer them gladly – for about six more weeks.
“As of Thanksgiving this year, I am never going to respond to that set of questions again,” the actor explained in a matter-of-fact manner that betrayed no sense of bitterness.
By his own accounts, Downey started smoking marijuana at 6, and later developed a serious addiction to cocaine. He has made no secret of his use of heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs.
In 1996, he was arrested for the first of many times after being stopped for speeding. Police found drugs and a gun in his car. A month later, he was found unconscious in a neighbor’s bed.
He served jail time on various occasions and then, finally, in August 1999, was sentenced to three years in Corcoran State Prison for violating his probation on two occasions. With credit for time served, Prisoner #P50522 was released from prison a year later. He had more legal problems after his release, which resulted in his being fired from the television series “Ally McBeal.” In all, he said he spent about two years of his life behind bars.
It may sound like a cliche, but Downey said prison made him a better human being. Inside those prison walls, Downey said he found the answers he needed, not necessarily from therapy but from his own self-discovery.
In Corcoran, Downey said he accepted full responsibility for everything wrong he had done with his life that landed him in prison. He said he never forgot that for a second.
Despite the drug use, the legal battles and the public firings, he has managed to maintain a fairly steady acting career.
“His tremendous talent is part of the reason,” explained Keith Gordon, who directed Downey in “The Singing Detective.”
“But it’s more than that. There is something so vulnerable, so honest, so sad and so lovable about him. The audience can sense those things so they keep wanting to see him in movies, and people in the movie industry sense it and keep hiring him.”
Downey said the experience of working on “The Singing Detective” in 2002, shortly after completing his debt to society, was restorative.
“It was such cathartic release to work so hard on something so different that I surprisingly wasn’t tired when it was over,” the actor said. “I felt revitalized.”
In his next film, “Gothika,” he plays a therapist opposite Halle Berry.
Downey is no longer on probation. He is no longer on parole. He says he will never go back to his former life.
Affecting a sarcastic tone, Downey said: “I just loved it when people said, ‘Well, he’s not hurting anyone but himself.'”
“I liked that so much that I ran with it for a while. But, it’s so not true. Drug abuse is wrong. It’s not OK. I let down everyone who ever cared about me.
“I took my life to the 11th hour and the 59th minute. Luckily, the clock didn’t strike midnight and I didn’t turn into a pumpkin. If the clock had struck, I don’t think I would have survived.”