Upside Downey: Actor Runs on Coffee

Article excerpt

ROBERT DOWNEY JR. needs a boost.

The actor arrives at a London restaurant for lunch at 2 p.m. with an internal battery that is decidedly flat.

"The first thing I need is a cappuccino," he says before he even glances at the menu. He orders it (with skimmed milk and honey), but it takes a long time to arrive, and Downey - who borders on the hyperactive even at normal times - grows ever more fidgety.

"Where's the coffee? Should we start? No, let's wait. I can't kick in until I get a cappuccino. You'll see. The words will really start to flow then."

So he sits, jiggling his foot, brushing his newly long hair away from his face, playing with this little brown purse that is all he's carrying.

The cappuccino finally arrives, and Downey immediately orders another one.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Now we can start."

Downey's desire for a caffeine kick-start is understandable given his recent schedule. He was in London for three months shooting the costume comedy/drama "Restoration," in which he has the starring role over Meg Ryan, Sam Neill, Polly Walker, Hugh Grant and David Thewlis.

Meanwhile he can be seen in two films in the United States: Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers," in which he plays an irksome TV reporter documenting the deeds of killers Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, and Norman Jewison's romantic comedy "Only You," in which he's the sort of Tom Hanks goofy leading man opposite Marisa Tomei.

He admits the two roles couldn't be more different, but predictability has never been one of his strong points, either in life or acting.

Downey ad libs his way through everything. Once his spiel is cranked up there's almost no stopping him, as he veers headlong from one subject to the next, from an English to a Viennese accent. The variety of his talents, even in an interview, is what makes him so fascinating to watch on screen.

It was Downey's idea to do an accent for the "Natural Born Killers" TV reporter, who starts by glorifying the murderous couple and ends up being taken hostage by them. He was going to do a British accent, but Stone nixed the idea since Downey had just done one in "Chaplin."

"So one day I came to the set and started talking Australian," Downey relates as he walks across Tower Bridge after lunch.

The role in "Natural Born Killers" is the type of crazed, on-the-edge-yet-likable part that Downey has done throughout his career.

Now the challenge is to soften the edge. It's the romantic lead in "Only You" that could finally make him a big (i.e., box-office) star. …