Robert Downey, Jr. and a posse of pals celebrated his American Cinematheque achievement award Friday night at the Beverly Hilton. Downey took advantage of the occasion to plead with the crowd on behalf of his surprise presenter, Mel Gibson (video below), who sat during the show at a table with Iron Man director Jon Favreau, Justin Theroux, Gary Shandling and Jodie Foster, to “forgive my friend his trespasses” as they had forgiven Downey his. “Allow him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame, he has hugged the cactus long enough.” The two men, visibly moved, hugged.
“Courage is part and parcel of who you are, you are Iron Man, indestructible,” Gibson told Downey. “I love you. You are a guy making a few adjustments, and so am I.” Downey thanked his pregnant wife Susan, his mother Elsie, father filmmaker Robert Downey, Sr., and son Indio, as well as Sean Penn, who was in the room, for helping him. “We are sensitive show folks who share our lives in public,” Downey said.
The younger actor was 25 when he met Gibson on 1990’s Air America, and thanked him for getting him a leading role in a movie when he was down and out (Gibson paid his insurance bond on 2003’s The Singing Detective) when no one else would. Gibson told him at the time that if he accepted responsibility for his wrongdoing, “if I hugged the cactus,” all would come around, said Downey. The crowd was warm to Gibson, who also appeared in an hilarious “brainstorming” video with Shandling and Tropic Thunder‘s Jamie Foxx, who tells him, “You’ve had a tough off-season.”
Producer Susan Downey praised her and Downey’s therapist, who was at their table. “Creativity is in Robert’s DNA,” she said.
The tenor of the evening was bittersweet, as old friends from Anthony Michael Hall (John Hughes’ Weird Science) to Jennifer Anniston, who introduced a clip of a very young Downey singing Claude in the musical Hair, remembered seeing Downey through thick and thin, and all were clearly reveling in how far their friend had been able to recover from his excessive drug taking.
The Cinematheque ran a clip from Foster’s Cinematheque Ball when Downey called her on the phone from the penitentiary. Downey “is a lot more than his problems and addictions,” said Foster, who was also a child actor. She directed him in Home for the Holidays. “He disciplined his talent, he’s a true Iron Man, one of the best dramatic actors of our time.”
Favreau, who spoke without teleprompter or notes, said that on the Iron Man movies he had only known the new Robert, who has been a “blessing in my life.” Favreau cited Downey’s friends for supporting him.
Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie sang Downey’s praises as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective: “I wanted someone with the superhuman ability to transcend his flaws.” Co-star Jared Harris said the problem with Downey’s audacious script-free risk-taking is that it sets the bar very high for other actors. Michael Douglas drew a big hand from the crowd; Downey “has the ability to be more open in front of the camera than he is in life,” he said.
Others in the room included CAA’s Bryan Lourd, Sandy Climan, producers Joel Silver (Sherlock Holmes) and Trudy Styler (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints), Jeff Katzenberg, Mike and Irena Medavoy, John Landis, Universal’s Ron Meyer and Adam Fogelson, and Warners’ Jeff Robinov and Dan Fellman.
After they signed the Cinematheque poster collection, I reminded Foster and Gibson of their Premiere Magazine cover shoot on the Warners lot with Kevin Costner. “That was when we were younger and stupider,” said Foster.