Whether impersonating Sherlock Holmes or Iron Man—or any other screen icon, for that matter—Robert Downey Jr. never fails to serve up his humor with a mock serious edge. Which was true as well during this interview with the playfully sarcastic star, a conversation at times as challenging as any Sherlock inquiry into an elusive perp. Downey did toss out some clues here and there about deciphering the Guy Ritchie reinvention of Sherlock for this movie, not as a “strung-out weirdo,” but rather a somewhat nutty Victorian superhero super-sleuth, even when high.
Q: Talk about your take on Sherlock, and what’s up with doing cocaine in the movie?
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: This is a PG-13 movie. But even if it wasn’t, the idea is, if you go back to the source material, he’s never described as being some, you know, strung-out weirdo. And also back in Victorian times, drugs were absolutely legal and acceptable. You could go down to your corner pharmacist and grab all that stuff. So we thought it would be irresponsible to not make reference to that. And so again, I think a lot of the flaming hoops we had to jump through doing Sherlock were, how do you take what comes from the source material and how do you amend it so that it’s accessible? And how do you not whitewash it, but still be respectful to that? And if there’s anything that we’ve added this time around, it’s that it is essentially—as much as it’s about this far-reaching case and Holmes and Watson saving life on Earth as we know it—it’s also basically a fight over a woman.
RD: I don’t get scared anymore. I just get busy! But sometimes you just feel silently approved of, from some other place and time. Though we had to twist it up a little bit… So it was an interesting way to get the job done. You know, that we were honoring it, but still being entertaining. And I already knew by the time Guy was directing this that it was a fresh interpretation. And then it was just getting down to business, you know? Fortunately, I’d spent some time in the UK in the late ’80s playing Chaplin, and I had a great tutelage in all things British. So I felt like I had, you know, passed go. But I definitely felt the onus…not the fear of the judgment of others, but at a certain point it just comes down to, will you meet the standards people are expecting of you? And that you’re expecting of them?
Q: How come you love filming in Britain so much?
RD: Look, I was there 20 years ago, and the food sucked. So I was not particularly happy filming there. It was a movie called Air America. I renamed it Air Generica! And there’s an abrupt attitude Americans have when they show up, like, f**k what you’re doing, let’s get to work. But we were very shortly put in check, and shown that there’s a more civilized way to operate. And by the way, we’re not vulgar or anything. It was just a more proper way of doing things. Now about British food sucking…and far be it for me to say what was bad or good, I barely remember any of it. I’ll eat anything! And I kinda sucked too 20 years ago!
Q: How about the experience of handcuffs in the movie?
RD: Right….So you want to know if I’ve been involved in sado-masochistic activities. Sexually.
Q: Uh, yes…
RD: I’m sorry, is that your answer? Hmm…I’ll only answer this if you meet me in the bathroom with the leather mask on. Bring your leather mask and I’ll tell you!