A version of this story also appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
‘Due Date’ gives birth to comedy
Robert Downey Jr. continues his superheroic hot streak with the comedy “Due Date,” which partners him with Todd Phillips and Zach Galifianakis of “The Hangover.”
LOS ANGELES — The posters for the new road comedy “Due Date” exhort viewers to “Leave your comfort zone.”
Director/co-writer/co-producer Todd Phillips isn’t sure that’s possible for the film’s star, Robert Downey Jr.
“I don’t know that Robert leaves his comfort zone because I think Robert’s capable of anything, quite honestly, as an actor,” Phillips said last week in a press conference at the classy Four Seasons Hotel.
The “buddy comedy without the buddies,” as Phillips described “Due Date,” is just the latest high-profile project in Downey’s epic career comeback. After drug and alcohol addiction derailed him personally and professionally — even landing him in jail — Downey, 45, has been on a superheroic streak the past few years, becoming “Iron Man” for the 2008 blockbuster and this summer’s successful sequel, earning an the second Oscar nomination of his career playing an extreme method actor in the comedy “Tropic Thunder” (The first came for his portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in 1992′s “Chaplin.”) and putting a modern twist on legendary detective “Sherlock Holmes” in last year’s holiday hit.
For “Due Date,” Downey is partnered with rising star Zach Galifianakis and Phillips, two of the talents from the 2009 what-happens-in-Vegas smash “The Hangover,” the top-grossing R-rated comedy in box-office history. And it seems that he is loving it.
“There was something so cathartic … it was the most healing project I’ve ever worked on,” said Downey from his chair between his co-star and director.
“I’ve never come against anyone who is so confident and so thoughtful and so spontaneous that it’s not even daunting. He’s just in a class by himself,” he said, indicating Galifianakis. “And I think Todd is the best director I’ve ever worked with bar none.”
“Oh, did you all get that?” Phillips quipped.
“And don’t forget about the part before that, which I thought he was talking about you the whole time but then he glanced over,” Galifianakis dead-panned.
Although their “Due Date” roles called on them to have what Phillips called “anti-chemistry,” Downey and Galifianakis ribbed each other and the filmmaker like old friends during the presser. In the comedy, Downey plays high-strung architect Peter Highman, who is hurriedly traveling from a business outing in Atlanta back home to Los Angeles, where his wife (Michelle Monaghan) is about to deliver their first child. On the plane, he encounters Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), an aspiring actor whose maddening man-child antics get them booted off the flight and onto the no-fly list. Forced to leave his wallet on the plane, Peter grudgingly accepts Ethan’s offer to drive cross-country.
While “The Hangover” followed the misadventures of three guys about to marry off a pal, with “Due Date,” Phillips chronicles the chaos around another milestone: fatherhood.
“Every time that I feel like I hit critical mass and I’m in the right place is when I feel like the director and I become a third thing and that’s the character. And even though the central subject of the movie is Ethan, the person who you’re kind of seeing it through is Peter and … there’s a lot of fear and his kind of attitude and his anger are covering that fear,” Downey said.
“I always feel like I’m playing an aspect of the director, particularly when he’s an auteur. To me, it’s a way of almost making him a proud parent.”
But the lifelong actor — Downey was only 5 when he made his film debut, playing a puppy in his filmmaker father’s “Pound” — likened his onset relationship with Phillips to a squabbling married couple with Galifianakis a “hostage child.” The trio said every morning they met to hash out the day’s scenes, with Phillips and Downey having what the director dubbed “spirited discussions.”
“Robert has an aversion to things that are typed, I’ve learned. So even if we just rewrote the actual scene … on a napkin, even if it was the same scene, he felt better about it,” Phillips said with a laugh.
“He made me a better director,” Phillips added, “And the reason for that is he’s constantly challenging what we’re doing every day in the larger, bigger picture of it. A lot of times, you know, you hear about actors and they’re worried about their lines and their thing. And Robert thinks about the movie as a whole, he thinks of every character in the movie as a whole.”
Galifianakis joked, “I think that each morning there was a meeting. I would read the minutes from the last meeting: ‘Todd yells. Robert yells back. Let’s get on with the new meeting.’”
For his part, Downey also said “Due Date” was an educational experience, claiming his “tutelage under two guys who know how to play with power” has inspired him for “Iron Man 3,” due in theaters May 3, 2013. The actor was sporting shaggy locks from filming the sequel to “Sherlock Holmes,” a December 2011 release he said is coming along “fantastic.”
“Sequels are always tough but we’ve got a great group,” Downey said of the second “Sherlock Holmes” film after the press conference.
Even if “Due Date” is a “Hangover”-size success, Downey seemed reluctant to take on another follow-up project.
“Yeah, that’s what I need is three franchises so I can utterly have a personality meltdown and no real life,” he said. “But I would do it with these guys.”