“There’s all those guys that got those action movies I was never cast in and now half of them own half of Idaho,” he says flatly. “And some people are not required to have their shit together at all. Do the right thing and you’ll get far in this twisted industry?” Downey groans. “I could mention half a dozen people who’re really in the fucking barrel. What’s that new stuff—Oxy. What’s it called?”—Downey cheekily asks his assistant, who tells him— “Yeah, Oxycotton. I mean, OxyContin . . . Me? I need to keep the plug in the jug.”
Still, Downey is pragmatic about his situation. “I love it when I see in the paper who’s made a complete jack-off of themselves—it amuses me,” he says. “So I get it, but at some point at the end of the nineties, studios and insurance companies suddenly started using your private persona to get you a sobriety coach and five hours of fucking Gestalt therapy a week—or we don’t pay you.”
Now that the insurance companies have cleared Downey to play—thanks in large part to guardian angels Joel Silver and Mel Gibson, who have vouched for him repeatedly—Downey has a full dance card for the first time in years. He’s in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck; he’s wrapped Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly; Disney’s Shaggy Dog; and the Diane Arbus biopic Fur. Currently, he’s in talks to play Edgar Allan Poe in Sylvester Stallone’s biopic Poe, and is shooting David Fincher’s upcoming thriller Zodiac.
“While not such a flagrant fiend as myself,” Downey says of his Zodiac character, “he does find himself hot on the trail of the killer story while he’s getting hammered and snorting coke.”
And, yes, there’s painkillers in Kiss Kiss and opium-smoking in Poe, but Downey swears, “It’s not like people say, ‘He’s the right guy for the job because Isn’t this life imitating art and I wonder if he’ll survive it? ’ There’s no glory in that Stanford Meisner technique, that sleeping-in-the-coffin-isn’t-it-fantastic-he-almost-expired-in-his-pursuit-of-truth-as-an-actor . . .”
He takes a breath, finally.
“These days,” he says, “I’m all for aesthetic distance.”