The ‘Oppenheimer’ Oscar nominee accepted the Maltin Modern Master Award and spoke to its namesake, Leonard Maltin, on Friday
Robert Downey Jr. has accepted another award on his way to the Oscars.
At the 2024 Santa Barbara Film Festival, the Oppenheimer star, 58, was feted with the Maltin Modern Master Award in a ceremony on Friday, celebrated during the night with speeches from Rob Lowe and, Oppenheimer costar, Cillian Murphy.
Per the festival, the accolade is named after film historian Leonard Maltin and was first created in 1995 “to honor an individual who has enriched our culture through accomplishments in the motion picture industry.”
Taking the stage, Downey Jr. thanked the audience as well as Matlin himself, paying tribute to his "significance in our culture and what you've done from being a scholar to a writer, to critic to a host," adding, "your approval means the world to me."
Next, the actor described Lowe — who had shared a heartfelt speech in tribute to the actor — as, "someone who has demonstrated so much to me."
He continued by paying tribute to his fellow actor's approach to life, "We've been able to reconnect lately and I went on a podcast and we're kind of talking about our origins, but he was the first one in my generation to say, 'Guys, there's this thing called stop and grow up and handle your business and be a good dad and be a good husband and enjoy the privilege of being able to work in this industry,' which is why he's still relevant and why he still looks 27."
Next, Downey Jr. turned his attention to Murphy, who had earlier in the night described himself as "Robert Downey Jr.'s straight man slash loyal wing man."
"Cillian is straight man to no one. He is just, I think, beginning to understand by the reaction he gets when he comes to places that he's a f—--- force of nature," the Iron Man actor said before thanking his agents and revealing that they had "got matching PJs. So this whole Santa Barbara International Film Festival for us, this has turned into like this is party time."
However, Downey Jr. reserved the end of his speech for a special message to his wife.
"And as always, I will never finish any thank you, even though she's probably just getting ready to put the kids to bed soon, without thanking my dearest associate, Susan Downey," he concluded.
Maltin himself joined the Iron Man star onstage for a conversation covering the actor’s five-decade career, which includes Oscar nominations for 1992’s Chaplin, 2008's Tropic Thunder and, at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony March 10, Oppenheimer.
The J. Robert Oppenheimer biopic about the creation of the atomic bomb, directed and adapted by Christopher Nolan, became Hollywood’s third-highest-grossing title of 2023 and highest-grossing biographical film of all time. Among its many accolades are 13 Oscar nominations (more than any other contender) including best picture.
In Oppenheimer Downey Jr. plays the real-life Lewis Strauss, a founding commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission. The film stars Cillian Murphy in the title role, along with Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Gary Oldman, Josh Hartnett, Florence Pugh and Rami Malek.
The wide ranging conversation between Matlin and Downey Jr. covered the actor's first role in the movie Pound at age 5, whether he had considered an alternative career — to which the actor revealed that he had "worked at a sandwich shop. I worked at a shoe store, but I had sticky fingers and I got fired after two weeks," and worked in other jobs including as a bus boy, but due to his lack of skill at those roles, he joked he "had to resort to theater."
The pair discussed the actor's recent documentary Sr. about his late father, Robert Downey Sr., as well as Downey Jr.'s son's appearance in the film, before Lowe gave a speech about his school days with Downey Jr. and their long friendship, describing the Oppenheimer star as "a once in a generation charm, talent, intelligence, empathy, and courageous performer."
While discussing movies including Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, Chaplin, Less Than Zero and True Believer with Matlin, Downey Jr. even revealed a time the late actor Ryan O'Neal, his costar on the 1987 movie Chances Are, had given him a somewhat fierce warning when he was late for a read through.
"I remember even on the first day of rehearsals, for chances are I'd met some friends. We were in Washington, D.C. I met some friends, went out back at the hotel, we ordered some champagne. One thing led to another, and then the read-through was at 11:00 AM and it was about 2:45 PM and I was just sleeping it off and the door came off the hinges and it was Ryan O'Neal. And it was like, 'If I'm here telling you, you're f------ up. Oh my God, you're f------ up.' And I was like, 'Wow. People seem pretty uptight.' Not that I knew I was late, but it was a bit of a warning sign there. But I remember loving shooting the movie, it seemed really sweet," he told Matlin.
As well as discussing working with Oppenheimer director, Nolan, meeting his wife and whether his kids watch his movies ("they'll see them in passing," he actor shared), Downey Jr.'s conversation with Matlin was also punctuated with second heartfelt speech, this time from Murphy, who described Downey Jr. as , "one of the kindest, funniest, most generous actors I've ever worked with."
In a press release from the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Maltin said, “Robert Downey Jr. has staged one of the most spectacular second acts in show business history...and we in the audience are the beneficiaries. He commands the screen without any visible effort, which is perhaps the greatest feat of all.”
Nolan added, “It’s thrilling to see audiences responding not just to Robert Downey Jr.’s incredible charisma, but to a performance which, stripped of any movie star trappings, shows once again that he is one of the greatest actors.”
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Also receiving honors at the 39th iteration of the Santa Barbara Film Festival, which runs from Feb. 7 to 17, are Danielle Brooks for The Color Purple, Colman Domingo for Rustin and The Color Purple, America Ferrera for Barbie, Lily Gladstone for Killers of the Flower Moon, Greta Lee for Past Lives, Charles Melton for May December, Da’Vine Joy Randolph for The Holdovers and Andrew Scott for All of Us Strangers, all receiving the Virtuosos Awards Feb. 10.
Barbie star Ryan Gosling and Maestro writer-director-star Bradley Cooper have already accepted prizes from the fest, which is a major awards season stepping stone. Mark Ruffalo, Martin Scorsese, Justine Triet, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright and Annette Bening will each receive accolades of their own as well.
Last year's recipient of the Maltin Award was Jamie Lee Curtis, who went on to win an Oscar for Everything Everywhere All at Once. Past honorees also include Jodie Foster, George Clooney, Will Smith, Ben Affleck, Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman and Nolan.
Downey Jr.’s list of upcoming projects includes the HBO miniseries The Sympathizer.
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