Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Robert Downey Jr. is a stand-up guy

Just caught his “Today” show appearance on the internets this morning, and I have to say, way to go!

Downey is out on tour promoting his new film and I guess he’s been getting a lot of questions along the lines of “What advice would give Charlie Sheen?” because of Sheen’s most recent tabloid misadventures. Downey has been demurring on the issue, his standard line being something like, “If I had anything to say to Charlie, I’d say it to him, not you.” Only nicer, because he does have a movie to sell and a career to think about.

This morning, “Today” upped the ante by asking him about another troubled celebrity of his acquaintance, smelly Mel Gibson.

Sidebar: I love Gibson’s films, especially the ones he directs. The “Mad Max” and “Lethal Weapon” franchises are favorites (well, the first two of each, anyhow) and his three directorial efforts either border on genius or walk right into its camp. The only thing that made “The Passion” a creative failure was the absolute lack of a plot. Gibson wanted his audience to watch their Savior suffer unimaginable horrors for two hours, and by God, that’s exactly what he and they did. And, like their Savior, it was brilliantly executed.

But like almost everybody else, I’m currently more disgusted with Gibson’s moral abyss than impressed by his artistic integrity. The scary-crazy shit Mel’s been caught on tape saying lately, you don’t just walk away from. Anti-Semitism is right up there in the top tier with child predation when it comes to predilections that are hard to forgive.

So Downey is on “Today” this morning, trying to sell his R-rated buddy comedy to the morning TV crowd and the MILF co-host hits him with the Gibson zinger from outta nowhere. And off the top of his head, Downey eloquently affirmed his friendship with Gibson without addressing or even deflecting the question’s myriad implications.

And I thought, “Man, that is not the easy answer. That sure isn’t the movie-promo-tour answer. That is the stand-up guy answer.”

A quick recent history recap: In case you don’t know, after Downey’s last stint in lock-up some years ago, he was “not hireable” upon release from prison. Even though he was extremely high-functioning during actual filming, his off-set antics always ended him up in the E.R., a neighbor’s bedroom, the pokey, or some combination of all of the above.

He’d been given second chance after second chance and he never failed to eventually piss each and every one of them away. He was poison around town. Everybody thought his next “slip” would be a) inevitable and b) probably his last. Nobody in Hollywood in their right mind would touch him with a ten-foot-pole.

Which is where Mel Gibson came in.

He gave the trademark Mel Gibson middle-finger to the number-crunchers and insurance geniuses who said, and quite reasonably at the time, that it was way too risky to jeopardize a motion picture by hiring a known drug addict like Robert Downey Jr. to star in it. (“He might not be alive to do publicity!”)

I remember reading at the time how Mel Gibson had befriended Downey, and I remember being grateful that Downey had someone around to give him one last shot, one he himself would admit he had earned no right to hope for.

I remember seeing the movie Mel put him in, “The Singing Detective.” It was so bad, even Downey’s performance couldn’t salvage it.

But I was so delighted to see him back on the silver screen. Still alive and by all accounts, still sober. And I thanked Mel Gibson again.

Downey has gone on to bigger and better things ever since, but who’s to say what might have happened had Gibson not thrown him a lifeline when he needed one most? I’m sure that’s a thought that has crossed Downey’s mind more than once in the years since “The Singing Detective.”

And this morning, Downey returned the favor. And re-affirmed the impression I’ve had about him all along—even when he was “troubled”—that underneath the addictions, compulsions and just plain crazy good looks, there beat the heart of a stand-up guy, as my Dad used to say. A good man to have your back when the going gets rough.

Who knows? I reckon Downey might even hire Gibson for a film (now that his cameo in the “Hangover” sequel was nixed by rising star Zach Galifianakis) that he’ll gamble his own money on, to return the favor. It would be the stand-up thing to do.

But I would keep Gibson off the promo trail. Unlike substance abuse, anti-Semitism and misogyny can’t be managed by going to meetings and working your Steps.


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