In honor of the premier of The Great Gatsby, here’s one for F. Scott Fitzgerald. He once wrote that there are “no second acts in American lives.” Actually, there are.
Just have a look at this weekend’s other big box-office draw: Mr. Robert Downey Jr. If anyone should write a book on crisis management, it’s him.
Here’s a guy who couldn’t keep himself out of jail for much of the late ‘90s. His drug-fueled self-immolation is a classic Hollywood tragedy. You know you’ve hit bottom when you find yourself telling a judge that “it’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.”
As for garnering public sympathy, that’s pretty much out of the question when you’re an A-list golden boy – not to mention second-generation show-business royalty – who can’t find it within himself to show up for a court-ordered drug test. Also, try getting images of yourself wearing an orange jumpsuit out of people’s heads.
By 2001, a betting man would have been wise to short Downey’s career potential.
Today, Downey spends his time helming money-machine franchises (Iron Man, The Avengers) and rescuing otherwise forgettable movies with outrageous one-of-kind performances (Tropic Thunder, A Scanner Darkly). How’s that for a second act? Or better yet: a sequel.
The reason Downey managed to veer off the path to Lohan-ism is simple: It turns out people are awfully forgiving when you provide them with something that’s undeniably good. Moviegoers know they’ll get their money’s worth when RDII is on the poster. For studios, well, anybody who can reliably get people to open their wallets to see something they can get from Netflix in a few weeks is usually worth hiring.
Downey is also so good at using his weakness as a strength that the guy deserves a black belt in career jiu-jitsu. It can’t be a coincidence that his most entertaining work in the last few years has him playing an insanely wealthy boozer (Tony Stark) and a genius cokehead (Sherlock Holmes).
As for that other talented substance abuser, Fitzgerald, allow me to make one correction in the name of reputation management: the above quotation is total crap. What he really wrote was, “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives . . .” We had him figured all wrong.