Robert Downey Jr has established himself as one of the most successful actors in Hollywood through sheer talent and cutthroat performances in his decades-spanning career. Not only his stint as the Iron Man in the MCU, but also the shrewd Sherlock Holmes, and Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin kept adding new jewels to his crown over the years.
So it was not exactly a surprise when he got nominated for the Academy Awards or won the Golden Globes through these magnificent performances.
However, it turns out that none of these things possibly ever would have happened, if not for Robert Downey Jr getting a slap in exchange for breaking character in the middle of a scene way back in the ’80s, from another Hollywood legend.
Robert Downey Jr compared acting with James Woods to m**turbating
Robert Downey Jr was already making his name as a promising actor through his performances in the late ’80s. As a result, one of the biggest breaks of his career at the time came through the opportunity of starting alongside James Woods in the 1989 movie, True Believer.
Playing a fresh out of law school clerk to James Wood’s burnt-out attorney who at the point had started defending drug lords, his character was quite tough. It was made all the more difficult because he pretty much had to act as his boss’ conscience, who would eventually help him make up his mind to take a difficult case.
That role changed everything for Downey’s career in a weird way. He claimed that there was a point, where he really tapped into his own sincere feelings and almost became one with the character. And a problem arose right after. He explained in an interview later,
“Well, we were doing a scene together, and I was right on the edge of not acting but really making something happen, you know? It’s like trying to really make something spontaneous or great happen. I was saying my lines, and he was just looking at me, kind of like, You’re getting there. You’re getting there. And then I laughed because it was like m**turbating.”
Well, actors breaking character in the middle of filming by laughing for whatever reason is nothing new. However, to James Woods that felt like an opportunity was being lost forever, and as a result, he slapped Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr appreciated James Woods slapping him
To the Iron Man actor’s credit, though, he took the slap very sportingly. In fact, he thinks of it now as a learning curve. According to him, if the legend did not slap him that day, he might not have turned out to be who he is both personally and professionally, no matter how unprofessional that was. The incident seems still imprinted on his mind with vivid details, as he recalled,
“He got this weird look and cocked his head a little bit to the side, and he just reached over and f*cking cracked me right in the middle of the take…he’s so smart, he slapped me on the side of my face that wasn’t to the camera, and he slapped me on my neck instead of my face so a big red mark wouldn’t show up. He even thought that out—I think I’ll slap Downey today.”
However, to his credit, he noted that he trusted James Woods enough to roll with the punch, or rather slap, so to say.
Although he agreed that it wasn’t like he really needed to be slapped or something, but to him, it felt like Woods grounding him to the moment and making him take a step forward and never lose out on an opportunity to do something big.
He noted, that to him, it was like,
“He [James Woods] was saying, ‘Here is the point where you can’t let the door close,’ and he put his foot in the door by slapping me, and something great happened.”
Although people outside the set might never learn of it or it might never even be used to create a breakthrough in the movie, he claimed,
“To me, it was a personal breakthrough because it was him saying: That’s why you’re doing what you do—right now—and the door is closing. Don’t let it close in the future. By putting my foot in here you’ll remember—you don’t want to get slapped again. But symbolically to me, it’s like putting the flag in the ground; it’s something monumental. You got to the top of the mountain, and now you don’t have to go back down.”
As a result, he took all the lessons and even the slap from the legend very gratefully and went on to utilize that knowledge in his career over the years, becoming one of the highest-paid and most successful actors in Hollywood.
Source: Interview Magazine