Cillian Murphy and Rob Lowe Present the Award at the Arlington Theatre
The tributes are especially exciting at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) with all of the tributees having long and impressive bodies of work and the nights are selling out. Friday night, it was Robert Downey Jr.’s turn to bask in the adulation of an overstuffed Arlington Theatre.
The ever endearing Leonard Maltin introduced the evening receiving a sincerely appreciative round of applause with even a few squeals. He remarked on Downey Jr’s remarkable career second act stating, “He wears all of this so lightly, his resting face is a smile, I promise you, you’ll see for yourself. He’s truly one of a kind.”
Robert Downey Jr then sauntered on stage dressed in a plum double-breasted bell bottom suit, a low cut black T-shirt and red soled shoes. It was a fashion statement but one you think he would make fun of himself if prompted.
The evening covered the breadth of his truly impressive body of work, starting at age 5 when his eccentric, filmmaking father spontaneously told him to be in a scene because he happened to be around.
In a surprise, fellow ‘80’s bratpacker and local resident Rob Lowe came out to introduce the first two film clips.
“I’ve known Robert Downey Jr. since my freshman history class at Santa Monica High School. SanMo High! and I’ve watched my lovely friend’s adventures that eventually brought him here tonight, and Robert’s story is being a once in a generation talent and courageous performer,” said Lowe.
The first clip, from the 1987 iconic, rich-kids-get-into-trouble film, Less Than Zero, showed Downey’s surprising ability to tap into drug-fueled emotional suffering, perhaps a premonition, but at the time, outside of the scene, he thought “it’s a shame what happens to people in Hollywood.” Here’s the clip Less Than Zero: Tennis Court Scene (youtube.com).
There were too many great stories to recount. However, he referenced a couple of Santa Barbara connections. In 1992, he stayed at the Montecito Inn while preparing for his revelatory portrayal of the silent film star in the movie Chaplin, noting the little tramp’s presence imbued our town. And then, during the ’94 earthquake, he self-effacingly noted that, like other misguided Angelenos, he took off to Santa Barbara because he thought it was probably safer. However, upon arriving at the San Ysidro Ranch, Christian Slater was already there and so was Tom Petty, which he speculated was the reason he couldn’t get the Kennedy suite.
As the clips unfurled, one the biggest rounds of applause was for his brutally funny portrayal of a clueless method actor playing an African American soldier in a Viet Nam war movie. It’s risky comedy and here’s a clip if you haven’t seen it Tropic Thunder (6/10) Movie CLIP – What Do You Mean, You People? (2008) HD (youtube.com) He recounted that his mom told him “don’t do it, either you or Ben (Stiller) will get into trouble.”
On a serious note, when Maltin asked, “what do you want from a director?” he struggled a bit, saying, “You just want to feel like you’re making them happy. It’s one of these weird things where you just want mom or dad to see you’re a good boy, like hey you gave me this job.”
However, after genuine reflection, he said what he wants is to “commune with a director until they become a third thing, the role that I am playing.”
He also frequently mentioned his producer wife, Susan Downey, and his kids. About his kids he said they don’t really know what he does, don’t give him much respect, but one day they will realize exactly who their father is. “I don’t know how my wife did this, but they only have passing interest in my majesty. They’re into what they’re into,” he said.
Finally, he said working on Oppenheimer upped his acting game in the face of Christopher Nolan’s ambition and exactitude essentially showing him “here’s how you make a proper fucking movie.” He also subtly alluded to the movie’s relevance through its reflection of a generation that moved toward destroying itself.
Cillian Murphy came out before the final clip and praised Downey’s work. “I’m thrilled to be here, because I want to take this opportunity to say publicly that I’ve never met anyone like Robert Downey Jr,” Murphy shared. “Robert works incredibly hard to make it look so so easy, because all the great ones do. But he’s not just a great actor, he’s kind of a unicorn, because he’s risen to the level of superstar that few of us can comprehend.”
Murphy and Lowe then handed Downey the prestigious Maltin Modern Master Award. During his acceptance speech, he generously praised Cillian Murphy’s work and predicted a very bright future for him in cinema and thanked the festival.
“This whole SBIFF, for us, was party time. We had a great time, and as always, I will never finish any thank you without thanking my greatest associate, Susan Downey,” he said.
The Modern Master Award was established in 1995 to honor an individual who has enriched our culture through accomplishments in the motion picture industry. It was re-named the Maltin Modern Master Award in 2015 in honor of long-time SBIFF moderator and renowned film critic Leonard Maltin. Past recipients include Academy Award winning actors Jamie Lee Curtis, Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney and Christopher Plummer, and acclaimed filmmakers including Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Clint Eastwood and Peter Jackson.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Learn more at sbiff.org