When he was still the toast of Hollywood, Robert Downey Jr. received an Academy Award nomination for his work as Charlie Chaplin in 1992’s Chaplin. He didn’t win, and spent many of the years since then battling drug and alcohol addiction. But over the last few years Downey Jr. has resurrected his career– and his life–with a stunning comeback, starring in two major box office hits, Iron Man and Tropic Thunder. It’s his role in the latter that landed him a surprise nomination for Best Supporting Actor, 16 years after his first nomination.
He told Movieline in June 1997 that his career had stalled, and said, “I have not advanced as quickly or as far as I would like. I don’t have any 10-year plan. And I don’t like the idea of being relentless, which I must be in order to attain my goals. I guess I came to believe I wasn’t going to be in one of those monster hits and that, therefore, I was going to make that transition into a real big deal.”
Eleven years later, his role as a pretentious, Oscar-winning, white Australian method actor (Russell Crowe, anyone?) Kirk Lazarus, which could have been a one-note performance, was often the only funny thing in an otherwise subpar comedy.
After undergoing “a controversial procedure” (getting his skin darkened) in order to play the African American sergeant, Downey Jr.-as-Lazarus is reminiscent of the black actor stereotype of blaxploitation flicks–the badass mofo—and delivers one of the film’s funniest lines, “I know who I am! I’m the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude!”
The ultimate irony of the part? That that dude, playing the dude, disguised as another dude, took the role so he could get an Oscar, might actually get the gold.