Robert Downey Jr. still gets emotional watching sr.
“I shouldn’t have watched the last 20 minutes, I can’t handle it,” the superstar actor and producer said Sunday as he took the stage for a post-screening Q&A at Los Angeles’ DGA Theater Complex. After wiping away tears, Downey Jr. to producer wife Susan Downey for a chat about their Netflix documentary about his filmmaker father, Robert Downey Sr., which was moderated by The Hollywood Reporter‘s executive editor of awards Scott Feinberg.
Downey Jr. was not alone in feeling overwhelmed with emotions. In the final moments of the Chris Smith-directed film, there was a lot of snorting in the theater where famous guests such as Tom Holland, Zendaya, Adrien Brody and Oscar winner Travon Free also took on the screening. But Downey Jr. was quick to point out that the filmmakers had no intention of tugging at the heartstrings.
“We weren’t trying to make something shocking. It was just the way it unfolded was really evocative,” he explained, calling Smith as “our fearless director” and adding, “We were just trying to strike the right balance.
That was no sinecure. Filmed over three years, sr. is an intimate exploration of the maverick director’s colorful life and rebellious career, as well as his relationship with his son before his death from Parkinson’s disease on July 7, 2021. including Sweet Scent of Sex, Scraped Elbows, Putney Swope, Pound, Greaser’s Palace, Hugo Pool, and Two tons of turquoise to Taos tonight.
He turned out to be a unique subject in that instead of opening up his life and sitting down for extensive interviews, he rather quickly hijacked the production and opted to direct his own movie within a movie.
sr., now streaming on Netflix, has just been named the best documentary of the year by the National Board of Review. It currently stands as Downey Jr.’s top-rated project. on the review aggregator Rotten tomatoes, a “surreal” fact he pointed out on stage. Even his wife was surprised. “Did you look that up or was that a headline?” she asked. “Everyone thinks I’m so eccentric that I’m completely in a bubble of ignorance,” he joked. “You know, I have a phone.”
Despite his great success, he also said that he found it quite surreal to see promotions on a large scale sr. across Los Angeles. “You think you just drove past Westwood and there’s a picture of me and my dad,” he remarked.
Feinberg asked the couple to share the origin story sr., and Susan Downey explained that their production company, Team Downey, had been working on a project centered on another (unnamed) Hollywood father-son duo, but it didn’t gain much traction. Subsequently, Team Downey’s Emily Ford began discussions with Smith who had expressed interest in a Downey Jr. project.
“They were all excited and started colluding and then they brought it to Robert and he said, ‘No, but I’ll do something with my dad,'” recalled Susan Downey.
Downey Jr. explained that reaction. “This whole project started for me unfortunately, honestly, it was an avoidance pattern. How do I deal with the fact that things aren’t going well for this larger-than-life character I’ve been influenced by for so many years? he said. “It became this like Gordian Knot because he got so obsessed with the project. Susan [asked], ‘What is this project?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, but we can’t stop.’ It really could have gone to hell in a hand basket.
Susan Downey added: “[Robert Downey Sr.] was already actively looking for involvement and a project to do, so I think that helped. The second thing, you all see in the movie is that pretty quickly, no matter what we wanted, this was his way of doing that. In the end, he joined because he was willing to join in, which again makes sense since this is a guy who always communicated through his films and articulated responses far more than ever. To do it by making a movie or its version of it just ends up making sense.
Sunday’s talk, presented by FIJI Water, was part of LA3C, an inaugural two-day culture and creativity festival hosted by The Hollywood Reporters owner Penske Media. While the music portion of the festival took place in downtown Los Angeles State Historic Park, featuring big names like Maluma, Snoop Dogg, Lil Baby, Seventeen and Free Nationals, other Penske Media brands hosted insider events around the city.
Sponsors for LA3C include Facebook, US Bank, Hodics, NYX Professional Makeup, Maker’s Mark, Redken, ViX+, Anheuser-Busch (Golden Road Brewing, Michelob ULTRA, Bud Light Seltzer, Stella Artois, Cutwater Spirits, NÜTRL Vodka Seltzer), Rockstar Energy Drink, Contraluz Cristalino Mezcal and Arrowhead Water.
The pair also shared with Feinberg how and why they approached the subject of addiction in the doctor, as both Downey Jr. as his father struggled with substance abuse in their lives. “It’s incomplete if you don’t,” the said Iron Man star. “I also hate puff pastry. There are so many examples of it now that everyone is trying to get their story out there. I won’t give the example, but there’s just so much you go that just smacks of bullshit.
Feinberg then asked Susan Downey about the coincidence that both Downey men turned their lives around while in relationships with women who had a major impact on their lives. “If anyone has ever dealt with someone with an addiction, you know it has nothing to do with anyone else,” she replied. “They have to be ready. If you can be a small part of creating an alternate world for them that says, ‘Hey, I’m here. If you’re clean, great.’ But there’s no credit I’ll ever take, except that I’m basically saying, “This is what I must make happen,” or more importantly, “What can’t happen.” But it’s totally that person.”
Referring to a similar discussion they had with each other, Downey Jr. it’s “the clearest conversation I’ve ever had in my life”.
Back to the documentary, Downey Jr. also said that during much of the production he forgot any cameras were running. “I didn’t even know if this thing was coming out so I didn’t think about it like you would where you are, well you better make sure that stupid damn beanie you’re wearing looks good on you [head]. I didn’t think about this at all,” he admitted.
He did have a list of questions about the brain that he wanted his father to answer before he died. But as viewers can see in the doc, not all of those are answered in the final scene the two men share, which just happened to be the last time they were together.
“It’s really raw,” he says of the scene. “Even when I looked at it 40 minutes ago, I was like ‘Jesus.’ I’m still processing it, but it’s a luxury to have something like that documented as a touchstone to think about over and over again.”
He’s even thankful for those unanswered questions. “I wouldn’t say Chris was happy it turned out that way, but it’s a lot more like real life. We don’t get the answers we want when we want them. This isn’t a Disney+ thing here. This is real life. Things are inconclusive. Things are unfinished. There is a lot of uncertainty and you have to be at peace with that.”