With an art house filmmaker father and a writer and actress mother, Robert Downey Jr. was born to make his mark on the silver screen. Growing up in New York City, London, Santa Monica, and Greenwich Village, among others—wherever his parents were working—he recalled, “I was raised by a black-and-white RCA TV. Rod Serling. Bill Shatner. Hogan’s Heroes, and Gilligan’s Island.” Acting became part of his everyday life.
In Richard Attenborough’s 1992 drama Chaplin, Robert portrayed Charlie Chaplin, earning an Academy Award®-nomination for Best Actor and the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In the 2000s, Robert starred in Wonder Boys (2000) and television’s Ally McBeal (2000-2002), for which he won a Golden Globe® and a Screen Actors Guild Award®. Robert even made his Disney debut during this time, popping up in 2006’s update of the classic Walt Disney fantasy comedy The Shaggy Dog. In 2008, Robert’s hilarious turn in Tropic Thunder earned him nominations for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Robert made film history with his Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) debut performance in 2008 as Tony Stark, the “man behind the mask” of Marvel’s Iron Man. Director (and fellow 2019 Disney Legend honoree)
Jon Favreau recalled, “It came down to Robert offering to do a screen test. And once we rolled the camera, it was inarguable. There was nobody who could say he was not Iron Man.”
Audiences loved Robert’s Tony Stark; his signature portrayal of this character helped launch Marvel Studios into the Hollywood stratosphere, and has brought Robert back to movie screens for a series of increasingly popular adventures, including additional Iron Man films in 2010 and 2013; The Incredible Hulk (2008), Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Of the importance of that first film, producer and president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige said, “We were hoping Iron Man would make enough money that we could make another film. If that film didn’t work, there would not be an MCU as we know it today.”
Robert has this to say about his role in the MCU: “I’ve gone from being convinced that I am the sole integer in the approbation of a phenomenon to realizing that I was the lead in the first of a series of movies that created a chain reaction that, if everything didn’t fire the way it was supposed to, there’s no operator; no anything. And you go, O.K., life is doing something here that included me but did not require me. But, yes, that role means a lot. Marvel is kind of like the sacred brotherhood.”
In 2014 Robert was honored by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts with its prestigious Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film. Looking forward, he and his production company, Team Downey, which he launched with his wife, Susan, are continuing to expand their presence in all aspects of the industry—film, television, and digital—and are in various stages of production on several anticipated projects. On the film side, Robert will next star in the title role in 2020’s The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, an untitled feature based on an episode of Gimlet Media’s Reply All podcast, and he and Team Downey are producing an adaptation of the thriller novel A Head Full of Ghosts.