James Toback, Oscar-nominated writer of Bugsy and writer and director of such films as Black and White and Two Girls and a Guy, is presently promoting his new film Seduced and Abandoned, an insider’s look at the loss of passion in the entertainment industry. He’s selected a single individual to represent that concept in his promotional interviews. That individual is Robert Downey, Jr.
I mean, look at the career of [Robert] Downey [Jr.], I invented him. I used him in “The Pick-Up Artist” and “Two Girls and a Guy” — which remains by far his best performance — and then “Black and White,” which are all serious dramas. However much acclaim he got for that and the performances he gave, he became a billionaire when he suddenly became a cartoon. He’s now the most successful cartoon in history, and it’s a kind of metaphor for what happened. This guy who’s done some great work, hasn’t made anyone or himself much money, but he made everyone else a bunch of money when he turned himself into a cartoon.
From The Interrobang:
“I hate to say something like this, but my hatred is not strong enough to stop me from saying it. I discovered and invented him. He was a reject when I met him. A junkie reject. And I found something appealing in him - kind of cute and unassuming and devious and perverse. And I gave him the lead in “The Pick-up Artist” which was a huge film. He had had a bit part in “Back To School” and a bit part in “Tuff Turf” …but basically, Robert Downey was going nowhere fast.”
Toback liked Downey’s performance in “The Pick Up Artist” and had even higher praise for the work Downey Jr. did throughout the 90′s, using words like “spectacular”, “inventive”, and “great” when describing his roles in “Black and White”, “Natural Born Killers” and “Two Guys and a Girl” (which he called his best performance). But then, he says, an interesting thing has happened. According to Toback:
“He was bought - and I say that for avoidance of lawsuit purposes, figuratively, into a different world - where his wife and Joel Silver and Warner Bros. took him away from what admittedly was a life of ongoing drug addiction into a life of robotic cartoon performance. In which, he has been…I don’t want to say “amazingly successful”. I would say “uniquely successful”. Because he is the number one billion dollar face of robotic cartoon franchise success. You almost couldn’t invent a more perfect marriage of cartoon franchise projection into the consciousness of the world and Robert Downey Jr. That’s been the marriage - the big economic marriage of the last, probably, decade in movie history, if not all of movie history. And he’s reinvented salaries for actors - getting $50 million.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, he then questions the man’s sobriety:
What medication would he, I would assume, be on, at this point? I have no idea. But it’s difficult for me to believe that he went from non-stop drug addiction for 20-odd years to no drug taking. I think whatever version of what it used to be - Lithium or whatever, flattening people out, getting them off in a way…something’s going on there. And the look in the eyes…something’s going on there.
But look, it’s Achilles’ mother’s choice. You want a short glorious life or do you want a long, kind of happy, flat, successful life? He’s rich. He’s going to be one of the richest guys in Hollywood. He’s internationally famous. He’s got a family. As long as his brain doesn’t say to him - Look what you gave up. You were a real artist. You were doing something original and great. And now, you’re doing cartoon formulai. That’s his choice and probably most people would make it.
Well, that was ROOF. Look, Toback, I get that you feel very strongly about this. However, you also made Harvard Man which wasn’t exactly the bastion of art and cinematic greatness, so maybe we cool our jets a bit.
What we have here is the larger issue of sellout versus success. It’s a very glass-half-full, glass-half-empty conversation, colored at least in part by one’s own attitude toward the performer in question and the work that person does. In the case of Downey, I feel like the man has been through a horrific journey, unimaginable to most of us, and he made it out. He rebuilt his career from the ground up, and, sure, Toback played a role in that, but when you basically go from Lindsay Lohan-level to this behemoth of success that he is presently experiencing, how can you fault that? How can you cry sellout at someone who is clearly so stoked to have this kind of success, and whose successful role, while, yes, sure, a “cartoon”, is also consistently acclaimed critically. He’s not throwing down yet another Jack Sparrow no one wants to yet another low Rotten Tomatoes score. This is a huge franchise that actually has the quality to back it up. And to call the guy’s sobriety into question? Fuck you, Toback, you overrated douche.