Downey's Back With a Kiss and a Bang

The notion of destiny — right person, right place at precisely the right instant — underlies Robert Downey Jr.'s (search) film-noir caper "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (search)." Even as he cracks wise about destiny guiding real life, Downey ends up embracing the thought that his journey from brat-pack star to Academy Award nominee to addict and jailbird to Hollywood reclamation project had providence behind it.

After recurring drug and alcohol problems in the 1990s, prison time, court-ordered rehab and probation that ended in 2002, the clean and sober Downey has a new wife and a career as busy and varied as he's ever had.

"I think part of my destiny has to be realizing that I'm not the poster boy for drug abuse," Downey told The Associated Press at the Toronto International Film Festival (search), where "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" played. "I'm just this guy who has a really strong sense of wanting home and wanting foundation and having not had it, I now choose to create it."

Downey, 40, connects the dots that brought him to "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," a comic crime tale in which he plays a petty crook who blunders into a shot at a Hollywood audition and a training session with a private eye (Val Kilmer) working as a movie adviser.

First among the connections is producer Joel Silver, who gave Downey an early break on the 1985 teen comedy "Weird Science." Twenty years later, Silver produced "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," after also overseeing Downey on the comeback trail in 2003's "Gothika," the actor's first studio flick since putting his drug and alcohol problems to rest.

"Gothika" also was the film on which Downey met Susan Levin, one of Silver's producing partners. Downey and Levin were married in August.

Helping Downey land his role in "Gothika" was old buddy Mel Gibson, with whom he co-starred in 1990's "Air America." Gibson, who also produced and co-starred in Downey's 2003 musical fantasy "The Singing Detective," called Silver on Downey's behalf.

"Mel said, 'He's in great shape. He's clear and focused. If he ever needed help, now's the time.' And he was clean, he came in and did it, and that was it," said Silver, who produced Gibson's "Lethal Weapon" movies. "He's doing great. I want him to be back where he was, one of the most sought-after actors in his age group, and I think he can be there again."

Along with the Silver and Gibson connections is "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" writer-director Shane Black, who wrote "Lethal Weapon."

Downey recalls bumping into Black about 15 years ago at a Los Angeles supermarket where "I was in there on some probably insaniac mission at, you know, 2 in the morning," the actor said.

Black said he should write something for Downey, who suggested that Black also direct it. It took 15 years for Black to make his directing debut, and by then, Downey had come through his dark days and evolved into a serious actor with a serious work ethic.

"I think Robert has changed a bit since we were last familiar with him in that he's not a bratty kid anymore. You look at him and you see a man. He grew up," Black said. "His face is different, his manner is different. He has a gravity that he didn't have before."

Then there's Kilmer, to whom Downey had no connection other than that people sometimes confused Downey's "Weird Science" with Kilmer's "Real Genius," which came out the same year.

Now, they're fast friends. Kilmer gleefully recalls Downey putting colleagues in stitches while filming "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" as he spun tales of lost weekends and sordid meetings with drug suppliers.

"I remember literally aching from laughing, with him telling the darkest story you could ever imagine because we'd just passed a motel where he'd spent three weeks one night waiting for the guy to come," said Kilmer, adding he was confident Downey had left that life behind. "I'm a romantic. I hope for the best, and I think the whole town's rooting for him."

"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" is a whirlwind of action, dialogue and wry voice-overs by Downey, the film contorting Hollywood conventions of the detective story while simultaneously embracing them. Downey's thief-turned-actor-turned-gumshoe does all the wrong things and somehow lands on his feet, a story arc resembling the actor's own.

"If I never did another movie again after `Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,' I feel like I finally reached that critical mass where I made a friend that I was going to keep forever and that I loved and that's a comrade, and that's Val," Downey said. "I feel like I had that thing I always craved, which is like our platoon leader gave me a mission and I (expletive) did it, and I donate the medal of honor to my fellow soldiers. ...

"And there's (expletive) Joel Silver, who's literally just like the keeper of the gate. It's 20 years later. It's a trip. It's destiny, I'm sorry to say it."

The son of underground filmmaker Robert Downey, the actor made his first screen appearances as a boy in some of his father's movies. Downey co-starred in Rodney Dangerfield's "Back to School" and earned one of his first starring roles in James Toback's "The Pick-up Artist."

He had an Oscar nomination for the title role in 1992's "Chaplin." After that success, Downey's life began to spin out of control with a decade of fitful career choices and a party that seemed it would never end.

As his partying days wound down, Downey had a brief career resurgence with an acclaimed role in "Wonder Boys" and a stint on "Ally McBeal," a job he lost amid a new round of cocaine arrests.

Now, Downey talks of healthy preoccupations, his wife, his son from a previous marriage, his fitness regimen and his work, which is piling up rapidly.

Downey co-stars in George Clooney's drama "Good Night, and Good Luck" and has three movies due out in 2006: "Fur," with Nicole Kidman as photographer Diane Arbus; "A Scanner Darkly," a sci-fi tale starring Keanu Reeves; and a remake of Disney's "The Shaggy Dog" with Tim Allen.

In his next project, director David Fincher's "Zodiac," Downey plays a journalist investigating the serial murderer known as the Zodiac Killer. Downey also hopes to play Edgar Allan Poe in a film about the 19th century author.

Is it the best time in his career?

"Sure, but be careful what you wish for. It's nonstop," Downey said. "Before, it was a lot of work, working hard and playing hard. And now, it's like I work hard, I work out hard, I rest hard and I love hard, and that's a better deal."