I'm about the biggest fan of Robert Downey, Jr. this side of the Atlantic. There's always something magical about his performances which rivet me. Barring his unfortunate dalliances with various narcotics five years ago, he is indisputably one of the finest actors of our generation. As they say, madness is the flip side of genius.
Finally, Downey seems to have set aside his substance distractions and landing roles displaying his whole spectrum of talent (this summer's comedy Tropic Thunder lets Downey portray the ultimate method actor who darkens his skin to play a black man!). While I was on holiday with the family this week, I found a good article in the L.A. Times covering some of Downey's meticulous preparation for his role in Iron Man.
Once you read the article, you start to see the real genius behind Downey's acting talent—he memorizes lines so completely that he doesn't even have to think about them. His lines become so infused with his subconscious that they form a solid foundation on which he can layer intriguing sub-text or riff a clever ad-lib not accessible to a less prepared actor.
Boldface is mine:
Given his spark-flying mind, it's easy to assume that Downey ad-libs what he does on screen, quipping, prancing, dancing with effortless humor. Ironically enough, however, when auditioning for "Iron Man," he prepared for the test of his life.
Not that he likes giving away his trade secrets. "I'm a little far out with my methods, but it works for me," he says, explaining he believes in energy, and "the feng shui of it all." Still all the mysticism appears grounded in basic hard work, memorizing lines so thoroughly that "literally if you woke me in the middle of the night I could tell them as quickly as I could tell you my driver's license. Then I write it out illegibly so as I think I'm knowing it, if I can read it in this kind of gobbledygook then I actually know it. Then I write it out in an acronym so that the first letter of every word is just a cue. And then I literally read that as fast as I can read it because I'm training my subconscious now to respond to it."
Then he checks himself, and annotates the script with notes about the action's subtext or alternate lines, which he hopes are funnier or more poignant. "You've got your wheels under you and you can start moving upstairs a bit," he says.
"His mind works so fast, and his thought process continues in such a unique way. He's able to make these brilliant connections -- metaphors spring out and he's able to stay right on scene," says Feige, who got to see Downey Downey-ize the character. "A lot of it was in the script, and it sounds like he's riffing. A lot of it was riffed. Most of it was 'branched out' " from what was written. The script had two bland robot helpers for Stark, which Downey transformed into twee British adjuncts in the John Gielgud mode. Link.