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September 16, 1993 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1993-09-16

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Spebi6,19 Pg

My summer
I cringed when my editor first told
me "we like to emphasize the posi-
tive" at the Mackinac Island Town
Crier, the small community newspa-
per where I signed on for a summer
internship. Positiveness, I thought,
was synonymous with whitewash.
Ibalked when he further informed
me that it was newspaper policy for

The many faces of Dwey

Robert DoJr. ruminates on life,
love and reincarnation


writers to review their stories with
their sources before going to press -
a policy which ensured accuracy,
partly at the expense of our egos.
Fourmonths anddozens of stories
later, I wonder whether most journal-
ists would benefit from some of
Wesley Maurer, Jr.'s positivism.
One reason journalists should take
heed: much of the community we
serve distrusts us. Even in the small
resort community whereI helped pro-
duce a positive newspaper, I encoun-
tered a few people who simply would
not talk to the press. Either we would
botch the facts, they said, or we came
with our own agenda: to divide and
cause controversy.
A glance at many newspapers
lends thesecritics credibility. On Sep-
tember 3, the same day the Detroit
Free Press ran a story lambasting
Detroit mayoral candidate Sharon
McPhail for her poor voting record, it
ran a front page story about Bill
Clinton's cabinet.
"President Bill Clinton has hired
an extraordinary number of women
andminorities forkey jobs," wentthe
story, "but his administration still
consists mostly of the well-educated,
upper-crust Eastern elite thathas ruled
the nation for much of its history."
Not only did the news story edito-
rialize, it used negative language and
slurs to do so.
Letus assume thearticle's premise
is correct: that Clinton should install
more poorly-educated, lower-class
westerners or southerners (excluding
Arkansans, I assume) in his cabinet.
There is still a positive way to say it.
The story could just as well have
praised Clinton's successful Affinna-
tive Action efforts and discussed how
some people feel factors besides race
and gender should be considered-if
that is indeed the case.
Instead, the story went for the
jugular, attacking the president and
separating the community along eco-
nomic and regional lines.
On Mackinac Island, I learned a
lessonaboutpositive joumalism while
reporting what I thought was a harm-
less story about the differences be-
tween sailboat racers from Detroit
and Chicago, both of whom con-
verged on the Island for annual yacht
Detroitracers, aslocal tavern-own-
ers reported it, were more boisterous,
and were slightly poorer tippers. De-
troitracers drank beer, while Chicago
racers drank rum. As we reported it, in
exceedingly delicate language, they
were all "fun-loving celebrants."
Even though my story included
different points of view, it managed to
antagonize much of the community.
We were insulting visiting racers,
some business owners said, and we
were imposing divisions between
Writing in a small community,
there was no avoiding the story's fall-
out-something many big-city writ-
ers may be insulated from. The lesson
was clear: if my watered-down story
could cause this much trouble, imag-
ine the damage a truly divisive story
about a more serious issue could do.
To write positively, my editor ex-
plained, does not mean to obscure the
truth, or to portray a world filled with
conflict in a false, rosy light. Rather,
it involves reporting with honesty

Things have changed for Robert
Downey, Jr. Things have become seri-
ous. The actor once famed for his wild
lifestyle has become Robert the Family
Man. Married now, with a baby just
born in August, Downey is settling in
the aftermath of a brisk and sweeping
change that was not a choice, he ex-
plains, but a "biological imperative."
Chuckling lightly, he adds, "It's a one-
step program. I just started getting up."
Downey ("Chaplin," "Less Than
Zero") addresses these quite personal
issues in a suite at the Four Seasons
hotel in Chicago. A circle of anxious
reporters in chairs surround him as he
leans back on avery pinkcouch. Dressed
in chic-but-wrinkled casual wear, with
abaseball cap covering his longish dark
hair, Downey looks tired when he ar-
rives. A beard and mustache sprouts
along his face and, despite the early
hour, he lights up cigarette after ciga-
rette between loud coughing fits. But,
he assures us with a smile, he's "done
this before," so we needn't worry about
a surly attitude. The more experienced
reporters breath a collective sigh of
The purpose of this little interview
routine is to promote the recently re-
leased"Heart and Souls."Downey stars
with Alfre Woodard, Charles Grodin,
Kyra Sedgwick and Tom Sizemore in
this feelgood comedy about the afterlife
and lost souls. Directed by Ron
Underwood ("City Slickers"), "Heart
and Souls" seeks to tap into the same
audience as "Sleepless in Seattle" -
families, couples, fans of old-style
screwball comedy.
Downey is no stranger to a hybrid of
lightromanceandphysical humor. Star-
ring in films like "Soapdish" and
"Chances Are" prepared him for the
fast-paced laughs of his new film. But
Downey sees more than slapstick in
"Heart and Souls." He waxes philo-
sophically about the issues involved in
the movie. When asked his views about
deathand immortality, Downey says, "I
know there's more than this, but I think
that the way it probably works isn't
necessarily how you'd like to make it
(in) a film ... you have to objectify it a
little bit to make it a little more palatable
to the psyche because ... dealing with
real truths like life and death and the
afterlife - it doesn't get any more
serious than that."
Things have become very serious
indeed for the famously-witty Downey.
In discussing this light-hearted com-
edy, he consistently chooses to pick out

its more pithy textures for discussion.
Since "Heart and Souls" follows four
characters who die in a bus accident in
the 1950s (while their souls live on in
Downey's character), Downey likes to
find the sociopolitical metaphor in the
setup. "My dad (famed independent
filmmaker Robert Downey) said the
'50s were the last time it was great to be
American," Downey recalls. But he
finds there has been a lingering disillu-

fessing his fears aboutacting so broadly.
"One of my friends said actors make
faces for cash and chicken," Downey
relays. "And I was worried I might be
making faces for cash and chicken."
Looking around at the faces of the re-
porters after this solemn, half-whispered
pronouncement, Downey laughs and
says, "Okay, now I'm just gonna ex-
periment with simple and concise an-

in recent memory. Focusing on the
country's serial killer fetish (and featur-
ing Woody Harrelson and Juliette
Lewis), "Killers" examines what
Downey terms, "America's obsession
... with the unsavory and the dark."
Downey predicts that many will cry
foul at the film's violence, pettily count-
ing up "how many murders per square
cubic inch." But this doesn't bother
him, as he sees "Killers" as one of the
few movies that are "really about some-
Indeed, aside from a focus on the
public's addiction to violence, "Killers"
also plays slash-and-burn with the
media's role in the phenomenon. "Oliver
(Stone) is the first to admit how he feels
about the media and how they frame our
lives and how they sometimes tend to
shape opinion rather than reflect it,"
Downey articulates.
Stretching his arms across the back
of the sofa, Downey's eyes glimmer
excitedly as he talks about the Stone
film, which he terms a kind of "wake-up
call to the psyche of America." He sees
it as "the funniest and the most scary
thing" he's done. "There's nothing light
about it," he explains, terming it a "not-
feeling-so-good film." Fiddling anx-
iously with his lighter, Downey pauses
and adds, "but it's a comedy."
It's apparent that Downey is de-
lighted to be working on such a hard-
hitting work. When one reporter re-
minds him that he's usually the best
thing in less-than-great films, Downey
nods in a pained manner. Laughing
knowingly, he admits to often asking
himself, "'My god, am I jinxing these?
Do I have, like, a problem? Is there
something wrong with me? ... Am I
cursed?' Little questions like that." For
example, the final product of "Chaplin"
was a stern disappointment to him, as "I
longed for the film to be able to be
'Citizen Kane' but it just wasn't pos-
But with Downey's circular, whim-
sical conversational style, he consis-
tently turns back to the sudden impor-
tance of stability and commitment, as
symbolized by his recent fatherhood.
Eagerly demonstrating lamaze breath-
ing for the group, Downey discusses his
plans to be a "rocking dad." Priorities
have been readjusted, as he now can

split his family from his work and say,
"here's what really matters and here's
what you do with your life."
It's all about a new lifestyle for
Downey,aboutbecoming groundedand
actually liking it. Anddifferent lifestyles
appear to fascinate him. He talks about
"Heart and Souls" co-star Charles
Grodin's trailer with the satellite dish on
it (so he can watch all the East Coast
games), vegetarian Woody Harrelson
doing yoga on the set while pleading
with Downey not to eat cheese and Tom
Sizemore's efforts to sneak into studio
offices. Downey's gift at mimicry, then,
stems not from a desire to parody, but
from a keen actor's eye and an endless
fascination with character.
These are Downey's gifts,along with
an uncanny ability to appear genuine,
despite the plastic trappings of a studio
press junket interview situation.
Downey makes eye contact with the
reporters. He entertains. He tells stories
and bounces ideas around. Though a
veteran of these contrived interviews,
he avoids the jaded stance one might
expect from such an established star. It
would be ridiculous to say he enjoys
this studio chore he's required to fulfill,
but he definitely makes the most out of
it, reflecting on the questions and zing-
ing one-liners whenever possible to
lighten the tension and falseness of the
pseudo-intimate press conference.
Whether or not this ease and grace
came with the change in lifestyle or is
just a consistent part of Downey's char-
acter, Downey appears comfortable in
his skin and yetever-eager to reject it for
another, professionally speaking. He
seems to be excited about this new
phase in his life, and about the way the
recently-acquired personal stability has
affected his acting.
"I really care about(my work) now,"
Downey says quietly. The product, the
film itself has taken on a lasting shape
and meaning for him. The significance
a film can have has affected the way he
views his craft. Rubbing his beard with
his palm, he adds, "I really care now
because I realize something - Oliver
Stone says it, too. He says, 'You know,
this is forever."'
Indeed, for Downey, both the work
and the life have come to stand for
something real, something that endures.

sionment since, as "how many people
in my generation bought into that James
Dean rebel energy and wound up in the
hospital or on the food line," Downey
Downey's ruminationsjump around
a bit, from the weighty to the lightly
ironic. Hejokes about his onscreen mim-
icries of Grodin and the other characters
in "Heart and Souls," but then deepens
the significance of those scenes in con-

But Downey's mind moves fast and
to intriguing places. When he talks of
"Heart and Souls" director Ron
Underwood, Downey gestures gently
with his hands and says, "I just look at
him andI can imagine a little Merlin -
you know, rubbing on a stone and mix-
ing elixirs."
Downey's respect for directors is
quite clear. He is currently filming
"Natural Born Killers," the latest Oliver
Stone work (from a screenplay by "Res-
ervoir Dogs" auteur Quentin Tarantino)
and Stone's somewhat enigmatic per-
sonality permeates Downey's discus-
sion of the film. He imitates Stone's
murky style flawlessly and appears to
closely identify with the director's pre-
dilection towards obsessive involvement
in his work.
Indeed, with "Chaplin," a perfor-
mance which gamered Downey a richly-
deserved Oscar nomination, Downey
admits to falling perhaps too far into his
role. "I learned something from
'Chaplin,' which is: Don't kill yourself,
please. Don't kill yourself for a part.
Don't call people up at three in the
morning asking them about facts from
1916 because you're losing your mind
and are about to shoot an important
scene. It doesn't help and it just drives
you -and everyone else around you -

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