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Frame by Frame

Robert Downey Jr. and Sr.

I have known Robert Downey Sr. since the late 1960s in New York.

Robert Downey Sr. is a remarkable filmmaker in his own right; you can check out my blog on the recent Criterion release of some of his early films for more proof of this. He’s also, of course, the father of Robert Downey Jr., whose recent success is one of the more amazing comeback stories in cinema history; a brilliant actor whose life nearly spun out of control, he’s now the star of two franchises, the Iron Man series and the recently rejuvenated Sherlock Holmes series, and has never delivered a bad performance. In a recent issue of Esquire, Downey Jr. remembered the “tough love” that his father dished out at one point in his life, to help in him get back on the straight and narrow:

“The greatest thing my dad taught me came one day when I called him from a phone booth and said, ‘Hungry. No bus token. Please. Out of options. Friends aren’t picking up the phone.’

He said, ‘Pfft, get a job.’

I couldn’t believe it. He just completely stiffed me. I thought I had this guy by some sort of guilt hook still. I thought I could at least get five bucks or something. He said, ‘Call your friends.’

I said, ‘I called them.’

He said, ‘Get a job.’

I said, ‘Dad, where am I going to get a job in enough time to get a paycheck and eat a slice of pizza?’

He said, ‘Enough.’

And you know what? I made do. The next phone call was to some Irish chick whose dad was out of town, and I wound up over at her place. And pretty soon I had a job. I wouldn’t wish that lesson on an enemy. But, you know, sometimes you just gotta be drop-kicked out of the nest.

And by the way, I don’t think those lessons are exclusive to your formative years. I think that human beings tend to keep re-creating some secret, covert mess as they go along.

What do they call it in pop psychology — your comfort zone? I have such a deep empathy for seeing someone’s private Idaho crushed. But it’s the only thing that ever really gets you to the next level, right?”

You can read more from the interview by clicking here, or on the image above.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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