At this point, we’re all pretty familiar with the incredible story of Robert Downey’s career trajectory: Incredibly talented, Oscar-nominated star falls from grace after a series of bouts with drug dependence only to slowly climb his way back to the top. And now, in fact, Robert Downey, Jr. is probably one of the five most popular actors on the planet, and unlike Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, and Will Smith, Downey really can act.
In reviewing Tuff Turf, however, I began to get a view of the bigger picture of RDJ’s career. It wasn’t as though he quickly ascended to Oscar nominated status or disappeared in between stints in rehab. More than almost any other A-list actor I can think of, Robert Downey, Jr. paid his fucking dues. He’s got 76 credits to his name, including a stint on perhaps the worst year of “SNL” ever (1985-86, the year that nearly the entire cast was fired). And both before and after Chaplin (for which he received his first nomination) and again before Iron Man made him the huge success he is today, Robert Downey, Jr. appeared in an enormous number of commercial and critical turds. And not just as leading man (The Pick-Up Artist, Two Girls and a Guy, Heart and Souls); but as a second or third billed supporting actor. Look over on Tom Cruise or Will Smith or Tom Hanks’ iMDB profiles: You could combine all three of their flops and not come up with as many as RDJ has had all by himself. And despite all his talent, Downey has not just had to share the screen with inferior actors, he’s had to play second fiddle to them. Can you imagine, after being nominated for an Oscar, having to look up on a marquee and see your name below Billy Fucking Zane?
It’s an extraordinary story, all the more remarkable for the amount of shit that Robert Downey, Jr. had to eat. The pride he had to swallow. And the humiliation he had to endure. I’m not at all suggesting that he shouldn’t have had to: You fuck up as many times as RDJ did, you have a lot to prove, a lot to ask forgiveness for, and a lot of repentance you have to pay. I’m just saying that lesser men probably would’ve given up after Game 6, opposite Michael Keaton (post Jack Frost) or even back in 1995, when he had to star in a TV movie with Leslie Nielson called Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.
I just think it’s phenomenal that, at age 44, if RDJ were inclined to do so (and all signs indicate he’d be too classy a dude), he could have the five actors below — to whom he played second fiddle at some point in his career — murdered. He could just snap his fingers: “Pepper, please have Billy Zane killed for me today. He was a giant douche. And I don’t want that man bothering me at cocktail parties anymore.” Done.
So, without further ado, here are the five douchiest co-stars that Robert Downey, Jr. has had to play second fiddle to over the course of his career. And not just the beginning of his career, while he working his way up. I mean after he’d established himself. And if you really want a good idea of how far RDJ had to climb back up, check out the clip for Hail Ceasar, under number three:
5. Mel Gibson, Air America (1990)
4. Tim Allen, The Shaggy Dog (2006)
3. Anthony Michael Hall, Weird Science (1985) & Johnny Be Good (1988) & Hail Ceasar (1994)
2. Wesley Snipes, One Night Stand (1997) & U.S. Marshals (1998)
1. Billy Zane, Danger Zone (1996)