The official announcement may be a week or two away, but the word is that Robert Downey Jr. is poised to go down the rabbit hole in director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “Harvey,” the Pulitzer-winning stage play that reached the screen in 1950 with a beloved performance by Jimmy Stewart.
Tom Hanks and Will Smith had been among the Hollywood stars whose names were bandied about when word spread this summer that Spielberg would be updating the gentle classic about a pleasant but somewhat daft man named Elwood P. Dowd whose best pal is a tall, sentient rabbit that no one else can see.
I know Downey is a Stewart fan — a few months ago when I visited the set of “Iron Man 2” the actor spoke with affection and awe about the late Stewart’s nuanced timing and camera sense — and it will be fascinating to see how he handles a role that Stewart sometimes called the most challenging of his career. It’s not quite a done deal, Downey is waiting for a new draft of the script, but I’ve heard from several informed sources that it looks strong.
The role was a classic one for Stewart, of course, earning him an Oscar nomination. In Downey’s hands the material could tap into an especially bittersweet sort of whimsy (think Peter Sellers and his understated brilliance in “Being There“), but with Spielberg there’s always some risk in a sentimental flight of fancy (“Hook“ had four actors who now have Oscars and, well, that sure didn’t help).
Downey isn’t intimidated by Hollywood legend — this is the man who played “Chaplin“ and earned an Academy Award nomination with that tightrope task — and, all things considered, it will be hard not to smile at a scene where mental-hospital doctors question his cheery character about his history of hallucinations.
Downey is in Atlanta right now shooting the Todd Phillips comedy “Due Date“ (a film, by the way, that just added Jamie Foxx to its cast, reuniting the stars of ”The Soloist“) and moviegoers will get a chance to see him in Guy Ritchie’s ”Sherlock Holmes” on Christmas Day. For you regular Hero Complex readers, I know “Harvey” is testing the theme-limits of this blog but, well, when the director of “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” makes a movie with ”Iron Man,” I think I can bend the rules a bit …
– Geoff Boucher
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Photos: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, credit: Marvel Studios and Paramount. Downey portrait by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times.