Robert Downey Jr. portrayed Lewis Strauss in Christopher Nolan’s 2023 biopic film Oppenheimer, and to get to his character, the Iron Man star made some really shocking changes to himself. His wife, Susan, did not seem too pleased about it at first.
It is clear that the Sherlock star used method acting to approach his character in the Cillian Murphy-led movie and to get a feel of what it is like to be in Strauss’ shoes.
Robert Downey Jr.’s Preparation For Oppenheimer Role Went Too Far
“I knew that he was capable of complete naturalism, of completely stripping away some of that charm, some of that persona, and losing himself in a real character. I could tell he was up for that. He was up for being challenged.”
Downey Jr.’s wife, Susan, knew that the actor would do everything to look the part of the character he was going to portray. She said:
“Chris doesn’t really do prosthetics, and he didn’t want to do wigs and those kinds of things. They were doing some of the tests for it, I believe, and I just remember Robert came home, and he was like, ‘Yep, we decided we just need to shave it.’ He created this balding head.”
She became worried about her husband’s state after seeing how much his physique had been altered. But, she eventually understood why Downey Jr. had to do it:
“He was losing weight for the role. I was looking at pictures, saying ‘I don’t think that Lewis Strauss is a really skinny, skinny guy.’ Then I saw the movie for the first time—and I’d lived with him through it, I’d seen some stills, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I get it now.’”
Downey Jr.’s dedication to playing Lewis Strauss eventually paid off after Oppenheimer became one of the highest-grossing movies of 2023.
Christopher Nolan Praised Robert Downey Jr.’s Performance In Oppenheimer
Playing Lewis Strauss brought out the natural talent in Robert Downey Jr., the same kind of rawness that fans saw when he portrayed Tony Stark in Iron Man. Christopher Nolan revealed in the same interview with Vanity Fair how the actor embodied the character that he even captured the smallest yet most significant gestures:
“There’s just a little moment where he just brings his hand up to his neck, and it’s a handheld close-up. In that gesture, you just see into this guy’s soul. You just don’t see actors giving you access to somebody’s raw humanity in that way. And it’s such a tiny little moment. Every time it just gets me.”
Nolan also remarked how Downey Jr. could make the audience feel certain emotions just by the way he moves on the screen, ultimately making them sympathize with his character:
“It’s a later take in a very long series of takes. He had been through a massive emotional roller coaster every time. And so it’s the natural result of that. You feel sorry for him—in a way that you’re not meant to at all, but you do because you’re seeing somebody who’s humiliated themselves.”
Downey Jr. has found success in the film industry over the past few years, with the likes of Avengers: Endgame and Oppenheimer giving his career a massive boost.
The actor’s upcoming 2024 project, The Sympathizer, is a historical black comedy drama television series based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s book of the same name and will see Downey Jr. take on a challenging role that fans have never seen before.