Robert Downey Jr.'s joking demeanor on the outside masked fear and uncertainty on the inside, his lawyers said yesterday as they prepared to defend him against felony drug charges.

In accepting a Golden Globe for his supporting role on Ally McBeal Sunday night, Downey made light of pending prosecution in Riverside County. But defense lawyers said their client isn't laughing about the prospect of jail or time away from work. 

"He's putting on a brave front," defense lawyer Robert Waters told The Post

Downey pleaded not guilty on Dec. 27 to two felony drug counts and one misdemeanor charge that could land him in prison for up to 56 months. 

Palm Springs cops busted Downey in his hotel room over Thanksgiving weekend and found him high and in possession of Valium and cocaine, authorities said. 

As customary with non-violent drug cases, a Riverside County judge ordered Downey's lawyers and prosecutors to hold plea-bargain talks. Downey's lawyers said negotiations have been slow, and they don't expect a deal by next Monday's soft deadline. 

Prosecutors couldn't immediately be reached for comment yesterday, but defense lawyers said they expect Riverside County Judge B.J. Bjork to extend plea talks. The 35-year-old Downey remains free on $15,000 bail. 

"Even the most experienced defendant has trepidation about what's going to happen . . . wondering about the uncertainties," said defense lawyer Daniel Brookman. 

Backstage at the Golden Globes on Sunday, Downey declined to take questions but joked about his situation. Downey was released from prison last fall after spending one year locked up on drug-related convictions. 

"I just want to share this with my fellow parolees, er, nominees," he said. "This really means a lot. I really appreciate all the goodwill that comes from everyone." 

Downey has shot all 10 episodes he's contracted for Ally. The last one is set to air on Feb. 5, but a Fox spokesman said yesterday that it's possible Downey will be signed for more episodes this season. 

His comeback on Ally has again made Downey a bankable star, even with the ongoing legal woes, an industry analyst said. Downey's work is widely credited with boosting Ally's rating and critical acclaim. 

"If he didn't have this [Ally] going and didn't have that Golden Globe, I'm not sure how many people would consider him [for work]," said TV analyst Paul Schulman. "He has enormous talent with a lot of baggage." 

 

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