'The Judge' actor Robert Downey Jr. shares why his movie is different from other legal dramas
"I've done lawyers before and it's like, 'Dude, really? Courtrooms? So boring," Downey said of the genre. The actor also stars as Iron Man in the Marvel franchise and has recently played the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes.
Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
Robert Downey Jr. thinks courtrooms are dull.
That didn't stop the "The Avengers" leading man from landing on "The Judge" as the inaugural film from his production company Team Downey, which he formed with his wife, Susan. Other than the 2010 buddy comedy "Due Date," the legal family drama marks Downey's first movie in five years that doesn't star the 49-year-old actor as either Iron Man or Sherlock Holmes.
In the film, conceived of and directed by "Wedding Crashers" filmmaker David Dobkin, Downey plays a Chicago lawyer who returns to his small Indiana hometown to attend his mother's funeral. While there, Downey's stubborn motor-mouth becomes enmeshed in a criminal case involving his more stubborn father, the town's judge, portrayed by Robert Duvall.
"I've done lawyers before and it's like, 'Dude, really? Courtrooms? So boring,'" Downey recently acknowledged over a cup of coffee. "The idea David (Dobkin) had was that a lawyer would be able to get his father – when he's sworn in – to tell the truth. How could you not take advantage of that, with his life on the line and all the stuff that's happened between them?"
After saving the world as Tony Stark in four Marvel films, Downey said he wasn't necessarily looking to make the 180-degree turn that he does in "The Judge," out on Oct. 10. (Besides, Iron Man will be back in next year's "Avengers" installment.) Downey and Susan, a longtime producer he first met on the set of the 2003 thriller "Gothika," were merely drawn to the story.
"I think we're a good partnership," he said. "She works really closely with the director, as do I, obviously. She's really smart, pretty and calm – for the most part. That's just a winning combination. I've seen this before with directors who have partners that produce. You just see this symbiosis between them, and you go, 'Oh, I get why they do this together.'"
Dobkin, known for goofy comedies like "Fred Claus" and "The Change-Up," always envisioned Downey in the role.
"The first week this story came to me, I started writing it, and I first thought of Robert," said Dobkin, who was initially inspired by the loss of his own mother. "When I brought (screenwriter) Nick Schenk on, I told him this was for Robert. Everyone wrote toward Robert, and then obviously Robert got involved and wrote toward Robert. The movie was always going to be him."
While the Downeys, according to Downey, bear no resemblance to the Palmers in "The Judge," life still managed to imitate art. Downey's mother died Sept. 22. ("Life on life's terms," he said of having to promote the film soon after her death.) The once out-of-control actor recalled in a Facebook tribute last week how his mom inspired him to quit drugs.
In a more upbeat example of "The Judge" mirroring his own life, Downey plays father to a spunky daughter in the film. Downey and his wife are expecting their second child, a daughter, next month. Their son, Exton, is 2 years old, while Downey's first son, Indio, is 21. When asked about the impending arrival of his first-ever daughter, Downey seemed undeterred.
"The closer you get to having a kid, the less daunting it becomes because you're just like, 'OK. I can't take the suspense anymore. I've got to see her,'" said Downey. "And a lot of it is just what's been going on for eons, which is you see something that is completely helpless without you, and you show up."