Robert Downey Jr.’s Cosmic Punishment
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Downey's brain was molded in a childhood that could be described as bohemian or, less charitably, profoundly fucked up. His father is the indie filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., and in 1970, Dad cast his five-year-old son in the black comedy 'Pound'. Junior's first cinematic line is addressed to a freaked-out bald man: "Have any hair on your balls?" Not exactly the pinewood derby. The storied legend is that Downey Sr. gave Bobby Jr. his first hit of pot when he was eight. Downey's parents split up when he was 12, and he spent a peripatetic childhood shuttling among New York, England, and, finally, Los Angeles, where Downey dropped out of high school just as his father's career began to dry up.

Downey's own son had to endure his addled father being carted off to jail and rehab multiple times. Still, Downey is reluctant to give Indio the "Do as I say, not as I do" speech as he raises his kid on L.A.'s posh west side, not far from many of the places where he first lost his mind to drugs.

"I go through periods of wanting to join hands and sing 'Kumbaya' with everyone, and sometimes I want to fire-bomb the entire area," he says. "All I want, and I think all any parent with a semblance of a moral psychology wants, is for my kid to have his own experience, uninhibited. You want to feed the good dog, because the shadow side of any of us is going to pop up at some point."

Downey doesn't blame his hard times on Pop never scaring him straight. "I grew up with a lot of people whose whole prime mover was dad rage. I never really had it – it always seemed so empty. It always seemed to be masking something else, which was really their own lack of initiative."

He clearly has great respect for his father's left-of-center work – Senior is best known for 1969's 'Putney Swope,' a satire of a black man working in an all-white advertising firm – and cringes at memories of his dad banging his head against Hollywood's studio system. But to say he's worked out his relationship with his 73-year-old father, who now lives in New York, is way too simplistic for a man as smart as Downey. When we talk about 'Iron Man 2', he largely parries questions – until the subject turns to his character Tony Stark's relationship with his dead father.

"We're having Tony go back and really deal with the ramifications of his lack of connection to his dad, his almost professional-stock, prop-smile answers, and how he'd been using Dad's memory as a weapon against others," Downey says. "He's really feeling hugely conflicted by assumptions about his dad's feelings about him and whether or not there's any real connection between them at the most basic level, which is: You're not here anymore for this. Is there something you have for me, is there something you left for me, is there some sort of bread-crumb trail I can find that will help fill me at this point in my life?"

I ask the logical follow-up: Is your relationship with your own dad good? He gives me the only brief answer in the day we spend together.


Then he squeezes more lemons.