Marvel Took a Major Risk Hiring This Actor With a Troubled Past

While it may seem that Robert Downey, Jr.’s troubled past is far away in the rear-view mirror of Hollywood memory, some media outlets still write about it and how hopeless it seemed for a while. At this time 20 years ago, Downey was in serious trouble with constant drug abuse relapses, leading to a year in state prison.

It could have been worse since he was originally sentenced to three years in that CA prison facility. If everyone thought he’d get sober after being there, he fell off the wagon once more, this time leading to rehab.

The story from there is one worth looking back to. Even though some would say he sold out when reaching the Marvel Cinematic Universe, finding joy in his work is proof of how one can overcome vices.

When Marvel hired Downey, he was only five years clean

Kevin Feige speaks onstage
Kevin Feige | Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Not until 2003 did Downey finally find himself on a permanent road to sobriety. Even then, there was never any guarantee he wouldn’t go back to his old ways. Considering he grew up with drugs as an emotional crutch, it was almost built into him. Doing drugs seemed to help him cope with emotions, even if prison wasn’t really the most appropriate place for him to get sober.

After his 2000 release from prison and getting a job on Ally McBeal, he had his last relapse. This time, it put him more appropriately into rehab where he finally got the help he deserved.

Once that was completed, he also had the aid of his then future wife, Sarah Levin, who said she wouldn’t marry him unless he stayed clean. The love of a woman and having a family is almost always the calling card to finally sobering up after a bleak lifestyle.

By the time 2008 rolled around, Downey was back to acting successfully, albeit bouncing around in indie fare, something many wished he maintained. Regardless, it’s worth pondering whether Marvel had debates on whether to hire Downey.

Downey being hired was the result of one key player

Jon Favreau is easily one of Hollywood’s greatest gifts over the last 20 years. If he’s helped reinvigorate Star Wars and helped kick off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he’s also solely responsible for giving Robert Downey Jr. the biggest acting break of his life.

Favreau was the one who insisted Downey be hired to play Tony Stark since former thought latter’s own life mimicked the same temperament as the character. Talk about having astuteness to casting, something Hollywood hasn’t taken for granted in Favreau and Downey bringing the best of everything.

Marvel had a slight tug-of-war with Favreau over the insistence of Downey’s casting. In the mind of Downey, he knew this would enable him to get back into the mainstream while enjoying bigger paychecks again.

Committing to one of the most iconic of superheroes helped keep him focused, something he reiterated in interviews during the time. Back then, Marvel must have felt some relief at Downey’s reiteration in staying serious about the role.

Was Marvel worried Robert Downey Jr. would relapse?

Now sober for 17 years without letup, Downey is possibly one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of Hollywood. So many almost wrote him off as an early casualty in Hollywood back in the mid-1990s, but he proved them wrong.

The chances are small Downey will ever be an insurance risk for a film again thanks to his focused life choices.