Not me, not me. Definitely not me.
On my birthday last month, while we were out for dinner, for some reason Sasha’s husband brought up an old movie called Black and White, directed by James Toback. I think it’s because we were talking about Gaby Hoffmann and the randomness of the cast – Scott Caan, Claudia Schiffer, Ben Stiller, Elijah Wood, Mike Tyson, Wu-Tang Clan, and Robert Downey Jr. Right? Anyway, Sasha downloaded it the next night and said it was sh-t. Sasha has the worst taste in movies, so for her to say it was sh-t, it had to be really, really sh-t.
Anyway, Toback is currently promoting his new film Seduced and Abandoned, about how he and Alec Baldwin went to Cannes to try and sell their movie. It’s supposed to be an insider account of how to “pitch” and the state of the film industry and that there’s no art or passion anymore…only money. And he keeps citing Robert Downey Jr as an example of how actors are selling out. In an interview with Indiewire he claims to have “invented” RDJ and expresses his disappointment over what RDJ has become:
“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.”
Toback goes even further in another interview with TheInterrobang.com, once again taking credit for RDJ’s career start, and then ripping him for getting clean and becoming a major box office player:
“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.”
Apparently Toback believes RDJ’s best work happened when he was still using. And when he stopped using…
“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.”
According to Toback though, RDJ’s getting rich, but he might still be getting high:
“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.”
Would now be a good time to bring up an article I read on Gawker last year with the headline “James Toback Strikes again: I have to cum at least seven times a day”?
Low blow, I know. But it’s not like he’s playing with honour here.
There are a lot of people who believe that artists lose their edge once they overcome their addictions. It’s what Toback seems to be suggesting here of RDJ. That he was brilliant when he was barely hanging on. And now that he’s quit the drugs, he’s a total fraud. You’ll note though that he deliberately avoids mentioning the great performances RDJ delivered in films like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Zodiac which were shot well after he turned it around. He just can’t get past the fact that RDJ became Marvel’s man, even though initially no one at Marvel wanted him. Jon Favreau had to keep fighting for him. And he showed them. He showed us. And now he’s the biggest movie star in the world. So, yeah, sure, RDJ has totally become Establishment, no doubt. (This is why I kept writing about how ridiculous it was a couple of years ago when some idiot claimed to be him on a blind item message board, accusing Hollywood veterans of molestation or worse, and people actually believed it.) But to assert that this is a compromise of truth, to say that in order to achieve that he sacrificed what he really wanted… “As long as his brain doesn’t say to him – Look what you gave up”… is reprehensible. To go on and suggest that the only way RDJ could bring himself to do that is to medicate in different ways is, well, disgusting.
The way Toback makes it sound, the best way for RDJ to have honoured his talent was to flame out at the end of the 90s. Like his only choices were “a short glorious life” (translation: early death) or “a long, kind of happy, flat, successful life” (translation: handcuff yourself and kill your spirit). Like it’s unfathomable that RDJ could possibly be truly happy right now. James Toback thinks RDJ failed himself.
Click here for the full Toback interview.