Robert Downey Jr. was arrested several times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was also incarcerated. However, following his most recent arrest in 2001, Downey Jr. began to rebuild his career. Mel Gibson was one of the first celebrities to believe in him, paying for Downey Jr’s insurance bond for 2003’s The Singing Detective. David Fincher, who cast Robert Downey Jr. in his 2007 film Zodiac, was another individual who gave him a chance.
Acting in the thriller was one of the most difficult things Downey Jr. has ever done in his career. But, at the time, beggars couldn’t be choosers, so Robert Downey Jr. had to find other ways to cope.
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What is ‘Zodiac’ about?
If you enjoy true-crime dramas, Fincher’s Zodiac is for you. Den of Greek describes it as a “masterpiece” that “has haunted us all these years later,” and it does since we still don’t know who the Zodiac killer is.
The film’s official synopsis read: “In the late 1960s and 1970s, fear grips the city of San Francisco as a serial killer called Zodiac stalks its residents. Investigators (Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards) and reporters (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.) become obsessed with learning the killer’s identity and bringing him to justice. Meanwhile, Zodiac claims victim after victim and taunts the authorities with cryptic messages, ciphers, and menacing phone calls.”
Zodiac is by no means a fast-paced murder thriller. It’s more of a tense, slow-burner, and “a finely detailed procedural.” While Gyllenhaal’s character, Robert Graysmith, gets obsessed and too wrapped up in it, Robert Downey Jr’s Paul Avery is more “dissolute.” Still, it’s one of Downey Jr.’s best films in the reinvigorated half of his career.
Parts like these compelled Jon Favreau to advocate for him and refuse Marvel’s refusal to cast him as Iron Man. In addition, Zodiac gave Robert Downey Jr. the opportunity to collaborate with Mark Ruffalo for the first time.
Robert Downey Jr. didn’t have time to use the bathroom on ‘Zodiac’
While Robert Downey Jr. stated that he works well with Fincher, it was not for the best reasons. He continued to The Times, “Sometimes it’s really hard because it might not feel collaborative, but ultimately filmmaking is a director’s medium,” he stated. “Despite the fact that I wanted to garrote him several times, I was going to give him what he wanted.” I believe I am the ideal candidate to work for him because I am familiar with gulags.”
According to actor Barry Livingston, Robert Downey Jr. appeared to be the “most stressed” of Fincher’s several takes. “He is a performer who thrives on improvisation.” For such quicksilver artists, repetition can sometimes lead to stagnation. Downey would glance at me and discreetly roll his eyes from tiredness after the 20th take (occasionally more),” Livingston recounted in his book The Importance of Being Ernie: From My Three Sons to Mad Men, a Hollywood Survivor Tells All.
However, according to Esquire, Fincher’s comments in Keanu Reeves’ 2012 documentary Side by Side can explain one of the main reasons the cast despised the number of takes. The shooting schedule was so intense that the cast barely had time to use the loo.
“Robert Downey actually came up to me and said, ‘I can’t work like this. I never get to go to my trailer,” Fincher said. “I can never get my shit together. I’m on my feet 14 hours a day.’ He actually left mason jars of urine on the set, like over in the corner. He’d pee and bring it back as a form of protest.”
Whether or not the claim is genuine, Robert Downey Jr. and Gyllenhaal put themselves through a lot while filming Zodiac. But they did get one of the best true crime dramas ever made.